Aaron Shapiro.

6 Ways to Get a Tech Job Without a Tech Degree

Originally published in Mashable

Article/ 5.21.12

Jobs in tech are stronger than ever. In 2011, Amazon hired 22,500 people, bringing its workforce up to 56,200, and Google hired 8,000 people — more than ever in a single year. The technology sector is booming, and while not all of these jobs require an engineering degree, getting a gig can be harder than getting into an Ivy League school. Competition between businesses is too steep for firms to hire those who aren’t qualified, and demand for these positions is greater than the skills that exist in the marketplace.

Incredible job opportunities exist, if you know how to get them. Yet, college students are still earning educations for jobs that technology will eliminate in the next decade, and people without backgrounds in technology are stuck in unemployment or at the dead-end of a long career, hoping their field will be revived before their luck runs out. But none of these people are actually stuck.

You can transition to the tech world, if you’re willing to put in a little work. Here are six steps that will help you get there.

1. Learn How The Web Works

I’m consistently amazed at the number of businesspeople who have no concept of where a website comes from. There’s no need to be an expert coder, unless you’re an aspiring engineer, but you should know enough about technology to make informed business decisions about it.

I taught myself how to code in the mid-‘90s after leading an e-greeting card site that could have been successful but didn’t have the technology to scale with demand — I never wanted to be stuck like that again. Similarly, Instagram founder Kevin Systrom taught himself to code at night while working in marketing, possibly inspiring a new generation of business guys learning to program.

The first thing anyone should do is learn HTML and maybe even some JavaScript. Codecademy and W3Schools are two great places to start. Or pick up a newbie book from Amazon.

2. Start With a Digital Job in Your Current Company

Without any digital experience, landing a job at a tech company will be tough. Get an advantage by going after low-hanging opportunities.

Many non-tech companies, like the one you probably work for, are desperate for help building an effective presence on the web. If you can be of service, you’ll not only gain valuable experience, but you’ll also be likely to have the chance to make a real impact. This way, you can show up for your first interview at that desirable tech firm with a success story behind you.

3. Knock on the Door of a Disrupter

A friend of mine used to be a salesperson for radio, a dying industry facing myriad high-tech competitors. And, as happens in these situations, he got laid off. But rather than fighting for one of the last jobs in his native field, he went after a gig selling ads for Pandora. They liked that he knew the radio industry and hired him.

One of the easiest ways to get into tech is to go after a job at a startup that’s looking to disrupt the industry in which you’ve spent your career.

4. Position Yourself as an Innovator

The technology space is all about innovation. Working for a scrappy disruptor or the digital department of your current company will surely give you the chance to be a pioneer. But if these roles are inaccessible, you should demonstrate your inventive and courageous side within your present role by starting a new department, devising and implementing a fresh strategy or producing a cutting-edge marketing product. It’s advantageous if technology is inherent in these accomplishments, but not necessary.

5. Accept That You're Not as Senior as You Think You Are

Just because you’re an art director for print doesn’t mean you’re qualified to be an art director in digital. Just because you’ve managed significant client relationships doesn’t mean you’re qualified to manage client services at a tech firm.

Individuals switching industries need to start with a more junior role. When I meet fairly senior people whom I’d be interested in hiring, I ask if they would start as a project manager and not a single person has ever taken me up on that offer. Invest time to learn the business and the pay cut won’t have to last long.

6. Become a Thought Leader

It takes some creativity, charm, smarts and nerve, but you can become an industry thought leader before you even have a job in the industry. JD Beebe, a young copywriter, creative and entrepreneur, is a good example. He made his way into the agency world by starting a Paper.li online newspaper called Ad Agency Thought Sauce that aggregated links from ad agency tweets. Agencies saw him re-sharing their links, and this functioned as a constant series of soft introductions.

If social media acrobatics aren’t your thing, you can still build a profile for yourself as an expert by sharing your point of view on industry issues. Do it in-person, at industry events and Meetups, and digitally through Facebook, Twitter and comments on relevant articles — maybe even this one.

Question? Ask Aaron on Twitter.


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