Where Do I Start? A Tech Career Journey

Ellen Twomey
May 3, 2019 · 8 min read

Does this sound like you?

I’m not valued at work and I know I was cut out for more…
I work too many hours and don’t have enough time for my family (or my life)…My work is just not fulfilling me. I want to do work that helps the world…
I’ve stayed at home with my children for a few (or more ;) ) years and I’m ready to return to work..

but…

Where do I start?

I don’t know what I want to do. I would love to have meaningful, flexible, well-paid work but I’m not sure where to look, what skills I need or how to make it a reality.

Photo by Emma Frances Logan on Unsplash

Tech to the Rescue

Tech has an enormous gap that needs to be filled. Due to the skills gap and their need to find skilled, talented, dependable people and also because of the nature of tech work and the way the industry has developed, there is an inherent flexibility in the tech industry. The skills gap also requires that tech pays well. If you have the right skills, you can earn a higher salary than in a comparable industry or role. Technology enables massive possibilities. From synthesizing incomprehensible amounts of data to saving lives, there is no end to the possibility that technology can provide.

Let’s look at how to find, obtain and succeed at job in tech.

The Path

Every path is individualized. There are many paths to finding work in tech, but they have some similarities. Yes, you can “fall” into tech roles, but most paths follow this format. Select the job role that you are going to pursue. Let’s call this Step 1.

Now before we move on here, I want to address the challenge for those that say, “but I don’t even know what job to pursue” or “I’m open to a lot of different options”. I get it and I remember when I was home with my four kids and I was reading neuroscience books at nap time. I was going to get my PhD in neuroscience! Yep. I had decided that is what I was going to do. I loved learned and technology and that made sense to me because I figured I could figure out how people’s minds work and then I could use technology to expand their learning! Makes sense, right? Except that I still had this nagging “creation” part of me that wouldn’t quit and I knew that ultimately I would start (another) company (I’ve done this entrepreneurship thing a few times!). So a doctorate seemed like a long path to take when I knew I wanted to created and have the flexibility of my own business.

I decided to start talking to people who had the jobs and paths that I was considering. I read books, blogs and talked to people in the roles I wanted. That really helped me to narrow down what I wanted and how I wanted to do it. If I could go back, I would have done more personal development work and looked at some personality profiles, but DON’T let that slow you down. Just consider that among the mix of factors when evaluating the destination. Eventually, I honed in on experience design. I met with many different professionals in the industry and their generosity of time and follow through blew me away! It turns out, people really do want to help us! Sure, there are some that won’t be that helpful, but I absolutely believe this is worth the effort! Don’t move on until you decide on ONE path! This is extremely important. Set one path with the criteria that are “must have’s” — like when buying a house. You might think that being narrow is going to make it hard to find a job, but actually the opposite is true. Keeping your options too wide makes finding a job impossible because we can get distracted by all of the options and consideration. We need to really try to be specific about what we need.

So take care of step 0 first; doing the research and soul searching and talking to professionals to come to a conclusion and then you are ready for step 1 — select the path.

Once you have selected the path, write it down. Write down what job title you want, where you want that work (define the type of company, not the name of the company) and what your must have are (e.g., I want to pick my kids up from school, I want to double my income, etc.) whatever makes sense for your situation. You have your path!

Can I do it?

Step 2. You will doubt yourself. If you write down what we discussed in step 1 and you do that every day for 30 days around day 4 or maybe day 7, you will doubt yourself. This is an optional step so by all means, if you can skip it — PLEASE DO! But if you are human like the rest of us and this happens, here is how to address this step.

When your brain says, “who am I kidding?”. I’ve looked and there is nothing like that out there. I thought this was a good idea but not I know better. Just acknowledge that you are doubting yourself, take a deep breath and find a different way. There is always a way to get your goals, your dreams, your dream job, your dream life. It will most definitely NOT look like what you thought it would look like when you started, but don’t give up your MUST haves. They are so important to attaining that goal and you are RIGHT to have that desire.

So skip Step 2, blow right through it, but whatever you do, do not stop at this step!

How do I do it?

Okay, so you have your tech goal written out and you know your must haves. You’ve skipped the doubt or moved right past it. Now it is time for the how. Exactly HOW do you find that specific job. I’m going to first tell you what you are not going to do. Here is the wrong approach. Don’t get sucked in. I know from personal experience that this is the wrong move! Scanning endless job listings on indeed and coming to the conclusion that what you are looking for “isn’t a match” so you should adjust what you are looking for to what is available. Nope. Wrong. Don’t do it. Don’t make this same mistake that I made (more than once I’m embarrassed to admit). Instead have a multi-tiered approach to finding a job. One that includes networking and learning. Networking is a word that I hate because it conjures up thoughts of evening events in which every person you meet hands you a sales pitch and a business card. This is the opposite of what you need! Instead, just reach out to your existing friends and former co-workers. Ask honestly about questions and concerns you have, but also tell them what you are looking for and ask what advice they have. Now, you’ll have to be careful. You have to be able to be told that what you are looking for doesn’t exist and then continue right on with your path. You will be told you are asking for too much. They will be anchored in what THEY know. Don’t blame them. Don’t get discouraged. Here is the trick. Just have multiple calls, emails, coffee meetings set up in a day so that you do not fixate on that one negative voice. I want to challenge you to go to people you are not already talking to like your spouse, parents, or siblings. You need new ideas, new voices. People who can see “the new you”.

ALSO! Get out and go to MeetUps and events where you are sure to meet new people. Do NOT expect any of these people to offer you a job. Do expect to tell them what you are looking for in a position and if they have any advice for you. The ones who are going to be helpful will be obvious. The name of the game here is follow up. I have literally selected contractors PURELY based on their ability to follow up. I have gotten clients and jobs, just because I continue to email, call, contact. Now, you have to be sure not to be annoying. Here is how you do it. You follow up within 24 hours of meeting someone. If you do not hear back, you follow up again after 3 days from that contact. If you do not hear back, you follow up after a week from the last contact. You continue to extend the time, following up 3 times with no response. Every time they response, reset the follow up to 3 new times. After that, you can stop following up unless you really like the contact, in which case, email them monthly with a relevant article, contact or content that you provide to them. Offering a contact something of value is the most important way to stay top of THEIR mind.

Your new network will be a great source job opportunities, no doubt. They will also be THE essential source for identifying the skills you need for the specific job that you want. Continue to navigate through your network until you find people who are doing what you want to do. Then ask them:

  • What do you do on a daily basis?
  • What do you like most about your work?
  • What do you like least about your work?
  • What tools and strategies do you use that work best for you?

Compiling a variety of answers will get a pathway to what skills (and what specific practice) you need to acquire.

Will I succeed?

Yes, you will indeed! I LOVE Dr. Seuss. If you aren’t familiar with that reference it is from “Oh the Places You’ll Go”. It is such a beautifully true children’s book that lays out the realities of life. One of the realities of life that you will encounter is there will be bumps and bruises along the way. I highly recommend you create a tight community around you of people who believe the same thing you do about what you are trying to accomplish because you will need the support as you come across those bumps and bruises. While nothing I’ve written only applies to tech jobs, the reality is that tech is a bit of the wild west. You can get a computer science degree, but even then, most developers I know are self taught and many of us with comp sci degrees are doing completely different work. There really isn’t ONE path into tech and so understanding how to set your goal and then work towards it IS the new norm in tech. You’ll want to identify what skills will best highlight YOUR unique skill set. As a UX Designer, I have a unique way that I go about UX. No two UX’ers will do it the same. That’s okay. Unlike elementary school where right and wrong rules the day, multiple “right” answers exist in UX and so finding clients who align with my vision of UX is essential. By learning what skills you need, where your interests and strengths lie, along with what is working for others who are aligned to you, you can build the meaningful, flexible, well-paid career path that is exactly right for you!

******************************************************************Interested in beginning a tech career? Take our free quiz today to find out “What Tech Job is Right for Me?

If you enjoyed this resource and want to learn more, consider joining our Facebook group, You are techY. We have a ton of free resources weekly with loads of valuable information for you, including a podcast, FB live coaching sessions and more!

Ellen Twomey

Written by

You are Techy founder, relentless advocate for humans, UX, bringing women to wech, techy, extreme learning, mom, in God I trust.

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