With students across the country getting into their back-to-school routines amid what some economists have said could be a significant economic downturn, now is the time to plan for a career that will last into the next generation. For many people in non-technical roles, this means expanding their skills and moving into a career in technology or IT industry.
With advancements in AI and automation already upending many blue-collar jobs (along with white-collar roles which can be replicated efficiently by a machine), there’s growing anxiety about everyone’s jobs being at risk. According to the World Economic Forum’s “The Future of Jobs Report 2020”, AI is expected to replace 85 million jobs worldwide by 2025. One needs only to look at the impact automation has had on the agriculture industry in the U.S. for proof: in 1900, 40% of Americans were employed in agriculture; today, it’s 2%. But it’s not only the manual labor jobs—receptionists, copyeditors, data specialist roles, and many more office jobs will also soon be automated.
But there is hope. Thankfully, the slightly apocalyptic vision of an army of robots coming for our jobs is overblown. Broadly speaking, technology has always been a job creator, not a job destroyer. Yes, there are indeed far fewer farmers today than in 1900, but there are also far more social media managers than a century ago.
Advancements in technology have resulted in the tech sector being the fastest growing job sector over the past decade, adding more than 1.2 million jobs—an annual growth rate nearly triple of the overall economy. Computer and information technology operations are predicted to grow an additional 13% between 2020 and 2030, and salaries are rising more quickly than in other industries. Despite growing recession fears, the tech sector remains strong. For example, there were almost 500,000 job postings for cybersecurity roles alone between April 2020 and May 2021.
So, how does a “non-techie” move into a career in technology? The good news is STEM degrees, or coding skills aren’t required. I never had any formal IT training, but today I’m a Head Geek™ (yes, this is my real job title!) at SolarWinds, an IT management software company. I was able to move into the industry merely based on a curiosity about how things worked. Having this curiosity and a desire to understand is one of the most significant ways a non-technical person can move into the industry.
The technical skills you need can all be taught, but with the right soft skills, free online courses, and some networking, you can succeed in the tech world. While I loved tinkering with my family’s computer and have always been a geek, I learned on the job through bold experimentation and lots of curiosity. Here are a few tips to help make the jump to a career in technology.
Understand and use your transferable soft skills
Despite how it’s often portrayed, technology is typically not a solitary field. You’ll need to be able to communicate well with your supervisors, colleagues, customers, and partners to help them solve issues or utilize their tools. An ability to understand and explain complex technical topics in simple terms is beneficial as well.
Tech roles also require a mix of analytical and creative skills. Analytical abilities allow you to diagnose technical issues and fix them—to figure out why a server may be down or why a database is not functioning how it should, for example. And creative thinking is equally relevant for devising new ways to provide customers solutions or improve existing company processes.
The best IT professionals are highly perseverent—willing to continue working with a particular technology to find solutions to challenges after everyone else has given up. Technology jobs also require a commitment to learning and self-growth, as best practices and technologies are constantly changing.
Take advantage of free online resources and courses
Programs offering free and low-cost online courses, certifications, and training can help you gain marketable and relevant technical experience. For example, with LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com), you can choose topics such as programming fundamentals, CSS training, web development, networking basics, and data science foundations. While not all the courses are free, LinkedIn offers a free month’s trial.
Microsoft Learn includes free training and certifications on specific Microsoft products, such as Core Cloud Services, Microsoft 365, Microsoft Teams, and more. Udemy offers thousands of tech training courses, some of which are free. Courses cover topics such as AWS, database and SQL querying, and intro to cloud computing. Google offers various free programs, including certificates for Workspace and Cloud, as well as IT Support Professional Certification.
Additionally, many of these platforms have courses to improve non-technical skills like communication, writing, speaking, and more. You can also find options for improving leadership skills and improving your accessibility stance in your everyday work.
Like any career, networking is key
Tech pros often land jobs through colleagues, friends, and other acquaintances. “Networking is about building relationships, and it takes time to do it,” says Patti Wilson, owner of The Career Company in Silicon Valley. “You’ve got to try all avenues. You network through industries, you network socially, and you network with colleagues. It’s never-ending.”
Form a study group to motivate each other, build contacts, generate job leads, and think through career decisions. You can create a group with former work colleagues and school classmates or by contacting a local career center. Email lists can be another way to jumpstart the process. Send an email to everyone you know—friends, relatives, former colleagues—and tell them about your goals. In other words, have an accountability buddy, someone who’ll build you up and remind you to keep making progress.
In the end, pivoting to a new industry, particularly one where you may feel like you know nothing, can be intimidating. Thankfully with plentiful roles and entirely new technology careers being created regularly, you can transition to a career in technology and be confident in your decision. Don’t forget to assess your current skillset for transferable skills and add them to your resume.