Transitioning to Tech: A Guide for Career Changers and Non-Tech Backgrounds

Transitioning to Tech: A Guide for Career Changers and Non-Tech Backgrounds

If you're contemplating a career change into tech, but you're currently in a non-tech field, this comprehensive guide will help you plan every step of your transition. We’ll cover topics including how to describe your interest in tech, crafting your career story, building your network, recognizing your skills and skill gaps, and more. With these tools at the ready, your tech career might be closer than you think!

Why Tech? Crafting Your Story

Before making the leap into the tech world, it's essential to understand why you're drawn to this field. This is where you craft your story: a succinct, but descriptive overview of why you’re interested in tech and how you can contribute to the field. Having a compelling and well thought-out story is not only helpful in pitching yourself to others — it also helps you better understand, yourself, your motivations and interests, ultimately helping you land in a role or on a path that better serves your ultimate goal.

A good career story involves several key elements:

  • Importance of Visualizing Your Desired Career: Begin by vividly picturing your future in a tech role. How do you see yourself contributing to this dynamic industry?
  • Setting Clear Career Goals and Objectives: Define your objectives within the tech sector. Having well-defined goals helps you maintain focus and motivation.
  • Goal Setting as a Critical Tool: Create a roadmap with specific short-term and long-term goals. This roadmap will guide you through your transition.
  • Specific Description of Tech Roles: Research and gain an in-depth understanding of various tech roles to identify the one that aligns best with your interests and skills. Here are some resources from the Merit blog about common titles and distinctions in tech:

A great way to practice and further perfect your transition story is by asking friends or colleagues to listen to it. You want your story to be just about the length of a 60-to-90 second elevator pitch — long enough to allow you to include key details, but short enough to keep the listener (friend, stranger, hiring manager, etc.) engaged.

Remember, the fact of your transition is interesting in and of itself. Your goal is to have a clear, concise, and compelling “why” behind your interest in jumping and your ability to succeed at it.

Set a Goal: Talk to 25 People in the Industry

Once you have your story down, you can start sharing it with people who have further insights or avenues into the career path you’re angling towards. This is crucial for a successful transition because your growing network not only provides insights specific to the roles you’re after, but also opens doors to potential job opportunities.

  • Join online tech communities, forums, and social media groups to stay updated on industry trends and connect with professionals. Check out this compilation by GitHub of all of the relevant tech community Slack channels, organized by region.
  • Actively participate in tech events, meetups, and conferences, whether in person or virtually, to expand your network.
  • Don't hesitate to reach out to professionals in the tech field for advice, mentorship, or informational interviews. Merit offers access to mentorship from tech pros at top companies — making it a great place to find access to perspectives and tips that are highly sought after.
  • Explore courses and practice for tech-specific interviews on platforms like Exponent, where you can connect with peers and coaches in your function and industry.

It’s easy to stay accountable to this part of the process by setting a goal: maybe you speak to 25 people per quarter, one person per week, or six people in a month. Whatever the cadence, make sure it’s a reasonable stretch. The more people with whom you speak, the more informed (and likely more capable) you’ll be in pursuing your new role in tech.

Create an Inventory of Your Skills

Now that you have your story and you’ve been learning from the tech community at large, you can start to identify key skill gaps (and skill crossovers!) that, when filled, will be the bridge to your new career.

First, consider your existing skills. There are several soft skills — including communication, problem-solving, time management, and more — that are critical to success in any career, no matter the industry. Make sure you highlight these in your resume and your networking conversations as much as possible.

Then, when perusing job descriptions and career paths, make note of the skills you may not have. Want to be a product manager? You’ll need to have a grasp of the web development process. Software engineer? You’ll have to be fluent in several of the top coding languages. Data scientist? Data visualization examples should be referenced in your application.

Keep a list of the skills you have and the skills you need to learn. Depending on your existing familiarity (or lack thereof) with the capabilities in the latter group, you’ll get a sense of how long your transition will take — including potentially pursuing “bridge roles” that introduce you to key skillsets and provide proof points on your resume. You might also consider pursuing courses and certifications in your spare time to speed up the process or introduce more responsibility, higher salary range, or other advantages to your next position.

Certifications, Trainings, and Courses

You’ll need hard skills for any role in tech (or in your career, more generally).

BudgetReputation and RelevancyWhat you should do
Low BudgetHighly RecognizedDo it!
Low BudgetMinimally RecognizedExercise Caution — likely a no!
Medium BudgetPreferred program structure and high impactSeems like a good investment
Medium BudgetLong durationCost per class could help justify the spend
High BudgetHigh potential career impactEspecially if there’s a possibility for you to transition roles within your current company, it would be worth checking with HR or relevant hiring teams about their ability to sponsor.
High BudgetHighly recognized, but minimally related to your career trajectoryCertifications are most useful when they are directly tied to your career growth and goals. Start with a low budget option so that you can establish fit — then consider this option if it significantly affects your potential!

We previously published a Complete Guide to Professional Certifications in Tech that outlines relevant certs and courses for common tech roles. Before you dive in, you’ll want to consider the decision-making matrix that will keep you honest in terms of the overall investment you’re willing (and able) to commit to these — especially when they’re purely extracurricular.

General Framework for Transitioning

In short, here are the five steps to help you break into the tech industry:

  • Understand Your Why: Clarify your motivations for entering the tech industry and define your target roles.
  • Tailor Your Story for Tech Audiences: Craft your career story in a way that resonates with professionals in the tech field.
  • Build Your Network: Establish connections within the industry to gain insights and opportunities.
  • Highlight Transferable Skills: Recognize the value of your existing skills and emphasize them during your transition.
  • Acquire Missing or Hard Skills: Identify and acquire the specific skills necessary for your chosen tech role.

While this is presented linearly, remember that each step informs the other. It’s smart to understand your why before tailoring your story, and then using that story to build your network and then identify missing skills. But, as with any good project, leave room for iteration. As you start teaching yourself a new skill you might realize that the fit isn’t as compelling as you thought — this could inform new questions to ask your growing network, which might set you on a path towards assessing your fit for a new role or function. Keep your “why” top of mind and move through the other steps with frequency and intention until you find the job or career path that fits. And remember: diversity of experience is a valuable asset. If you bring your perspective and past skills to a new role or industry, you have the potential for great success!

When you’re ready, add yourself to the candidate directory for relevant roles in tech:

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