This is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever have to make, so in this article I’ll share my process for breaking down the various elements that go into making a sound decision.
The good news is that you’re not alone; studies indicate that more and more people are converting to tech jobs every year. The better news – is that it’s perfectly doable, as so many case studies have shown (spoiler alert: stay with me and I’ll share some inspiring stories really soon!)
The slightly less good news – is that it will take time. And resources. And it will not be without sacrifices. But not to worry – I’ve got you covered – we’ll explore all these issues and see how best to palliate them.
We’ll start with this article that will help you ask all the right questions to find out if this really is for you. If this is YOUR path.
Enough said; time to roll up your sleeves.
Step 1: Do some soul searching
Take an inwards look. Ask yourself:
- Do i really want to change careers, or is this a fad? Take a moment to think this through. If you go down the career transition path – joy awaits you, but it won’t be easy. You’ll need to put in time and money, you’ll have to make sacrifices and you’ll need to be really patient. Try to determine if you’re in this for the long term – allowing for the possibility that could this, in fact, be just a phase, a crisis with another, less costly / time-consuming solution? A quicker / cheaper fix?
What you want to be sure to explore is if maybe you’re just unhappy with your current job situation – you know, mean or unhelpful boss, feel like you’ré stagnating, or are simply not happy in the environment? Could there be anohter way to feel happier at work? Maybe a lateral move – a different job in the same industry or a similar position in a different industry? Or maybe you could change sector of activity – go into non profit for more meaning, or business for more money, or government – for (arguably) more impact? Or switch from employee to entrepreneur, or start your own business in your current line of work? Be sure to rule this one out first, before you go any further. Bottom line: are you all in?
- What are my (real) reasons (looking behind)? Explore your reasons for wanting out of your current profession. You could be in an industry that’s going nowhere fast – that would make for a good argument. Or you’ve ALWAYS been a techy at heart, and you life just led you down a different path…. Or you’ve recently been let go. Or you feel like you’re dying inside and really, really need a challenge? Or… (add your own).
- What are my goals? What do I hope to achieve (looking forward)? Jot down what you hope to get out of your career transition. Are you looking for more money? Or more stability? Or a line of work with an actual future? Fame 🙂 ? A path where you can grow, you can grow? Is this something you’ve always wanted to do – and you’re thinking it’s time to be true to yourself? Are you just in for a challenge (and a good one at that…)?
- What are my non-negotiables? We all have them – and you really want to be aware of these upfront. Maybe it’s family harmony – in which case you’ll need to discuss with your loved ones asap. Or maybe you’ve zero desire to relocate. Or you cannot / will not accept anything that will threaten your comfort (well, good luck with that one…). You also need to explore your work-related values – stuff like you’ve absolutely got to be around people or, on the contrary; or you have to be contributing to a cause you care about etc.
- You got the idea – think what are the things where you feel you must draw the line. Knowing these in advance will spare you massive pain down the line.
Look, you don’t need to share this analysis with anyone – so be absolutely honest with yourself about your true reasons. Of course, discuss with your loved ones (family, friends) but take their input with a pinch of salt and listen mostly to your intuition.
The aim of this first step:
- Get some clarity – really know why you’re looking at a transition into tech, what you hope to get out of it and what youre ready / not ready to sacrifice for it (for sacrifices… there will be)
- Be sure you are at peace with yourself – get to the point where you can tell yourself: yeah, there might be temporary downs that I’ve identified, but I’m game anyway
Step 2: Explore your options
The next thing you’ll want to do is learn about your options.
- Get the big picture. Know that there are so-many-possible-careers-in-tech it’ll make your head spin. But no worries, I’ve got you covered – check out this article containing An (almost) exhaustive list of careers in tech. This should give you a first idea of which way you might be heading.
- Narrow the list down and create your own personal shortlist. Include a few – all the ones that you see yourself enjoying doing, that sound like a fun (yet doable challenge).
- Deep-dive in your chosen few. For your shortlisted careers, read up on the job (what does it entail, what skills are needed etc.) and also on the industry (think of the viability / durability of the industry – is it up and coming? Is it a thing of the past? How’s the recruitment trending – lots of job openings?). How do you do this? Easy: make a good cup of coffee or pour yourself a glass of wine and Google the job, then the industry; find out who the major players are and skim their company sites – be sure to look under careers to see what jobs are advertised and understand the specifics; check their press releases to see what they say about the industry; look at job review sites; look for reports on the industry etc.. You got the idea: this will take time but it will come in extra handy not just now, in the décision making phase, but also later – when you’re interviewing, so don’t feel bad about investing the time. Changing careers is an investment of time and money – and like with all good investments, you really want to do your homework beforehand.
- Extract the in-demand skills. As you read, keep a notebook handy and make a list of the skills required in the job descriptions. You can start off with my list here – but be sure to compare this to whatever you find locally, in your area. Highlight those that come up repeatedly – and try to pinpoint the top 5-10 skills. These will be really important in the next step, so hang on to your list.
- Talk to people. Make a list of questions you want answers to and then think if you know someone doing that job, and if you don’t – seek referrals from your friends and family. This is what the social networks really are for – so ask. Look for professional associations or meetups in your area for your chosen profession – and get in touch; they’ll be happy to answer your questions. In a nutshell, you’re doing what’s called ‘informational interviews’ – and they are your new best friend since they allow you to get priceless insider information that will help you confirm (or not) that your career choice is sound. Bonus – these new contacts will be invaluable in later steps as they’ll be able to signal vacancies, maybe even recommend you for a position.
What should you ask?
Here are a few questions to help you get the conversation rolling.
- What does someone in this profession do – what’s a typical day?
- What kind of projects do you work on? Is there a special twist to the industry in our area?
- What’s the industry like – where is it going (growing / decreasing)?
- What kind of training would I need to do this – can I learn alone? Do I need formal training or certifications?
- What are the most in-demand skills?
- Are newbies welcome in the industry?
- Are there a lot of openings in the industry? In your company?
- Are there companies active in this field in our area?
- What’s the salary range – juniors / entry level, progression?
- What would I need to know to get started / what’s a minimum I need to have down before I can start applying?
- Are you aware of internships / volunteer projects where I can build / consolidate my new skills?
- What are interviews / selection processes like?
Based on your research, you’ll be able to choose the option that works best for you. Everyone’s process is different. One way to go about it to make lots of notes and then go through them and highlight what you find to be the keywords. Sooner or later, something will stand out. If this isn’t you – work through the info any way that makes sense to you – as soon as at the end of the process you identify the path you want to go down on.
The aim of this step
- Identify the career you wish to pursue – do whatever you need to do to identify the career you wish to transition into
- Know everything there is to know about it – get a head start by building a solid understanding of the industry
As you research the various industries – start a glossary of terms you come frequently across and write them down. These will allow you to build a new vocabulary that will not only help you understand things better, but will allow you to communicate better with your future peers. Think of it like your own crash-course into the professional jargon – and will prove invaluable later, in your job search. You can thank me later 🙂
Step 3: Consider the skills
Time to consider the skills and knowledge needed and and assess where you stand.
- Identify your transferable skills. Take stock of the skills you’re bringing from your previous experience. These need not all stem from your professional experiences – there are countless skills that you would have developed along the way, unknowingly. Take a look at this other article to understand what transferable skills are and how you can identify yours.
- Identify the job-specific skills. Next, go back the the list of skills you’ve identified earlier on and pick the top 5 to 10 most frequently found in the job descriptions you have studied.
- Identify your skill gap. Compare and contrast with the list of transferable skills. Chances are you’ll find a few that you have already, but there will be some (plenty?) that you don’t. These represent your skill gap – the distance you have to cover, skills-wise, in order to get from where you are now, to where you want to arrive. This exercise will yield the list of skills to acquire – and this will be the basis of your action plan. We’ll get back to this shortly.
The aim of this step:
- Know what you bring to your new career – your transferable skills
- Know what you need – the skills you’ll need to build in order to close the skills gap between where you are now and where you aim to be in order to be able to be functional in your new profession
Step 4: Assess the impact on your life / those around you
Equipped with all this, you are now in ’pole position’ to understand the impact your transition into tech will have on both yourself and those around you.
- Resources. During your transition, especially during your learning phase and even at the beginning of your new career, your resources might take a blow. There will be training costs, equipment maybe, less income if you take time off to study, or during your job hunt, and so on. Do you have some savings you can count on? Can you count on your family to help? Be sure to factor this in when you sit down to make your decision. Still on the topic of resources: if this is a critical issue for you – maybe take the time to think about the future. How big a role do finances play for you? What are the costs associated with your lifestyle (current or desired) – and is your chosen profession going to be able to cater to that? Google the salary range and be sure to refer to this in your informational interviews.
- Timing. Is this the best time? What else is going on in your life? If everything else is on quicksand – meaning there are other major disruptions in your life (a marriage, the loss of a loved one, a divorce, a new baby etc.), maybe hold off for a while. Chances are if your mind is consumed with other events, you won’t be able to focus as much on your learning and subsequent job-hunt. No focus means no results and… no results means lowered motivation. You see how this might not be a good idea. Yet, we’re all different – so just take your whole life into consideration when making a career change decision. Of course, there is one event that can act as a sure-fire incentive to get started: the loss of a job. If this is the case for you, and you’re determined to transition into tech – you’ve got two choices: either find a temporary job that will take care of (some of the) costs while studying – knowing that this might prolong your transition but make it more manageable, especially if you have family depending on you or go all out – make your decision, make a plan and learn full time so you can be operational in your new career asap.
- Overall impact on the family. Don’t assume you’ve got all the answers. Yes, you might know the finances of the family and so on, but having an open discussion is critical not just to making sure that you don’t accidentally start a fire, but also to the success of the whole project. Discuss how this will impact everyone, your reasons and needs – and theirs. And see what common ground you can reach – and how you can leverage their support for the uphill battle you’re about to embark on. As you have your heart-to-heart with your loved ones, know that impact is one thing, and opinion is another. You can ask for opinions if you need validation of your decision, but only really factor in the opinions of those who your decision will impact directly. Make your decision and then… be comfortable with it.
The aim of this step:
- Obtain clarity on the investment needed (time and money)
- Ensure you factor in the impact your decision will have on your loved ones
Step 5: Build a support / accountability system
This will not always be an easy path. Sure, stick with it and you’ll probably know satisfaction like you’ve never known exister, but there will just as surely be plenty of time when you’ll want to curl up and die; you’ll be tired, you’ll have doubts, you’ll think pff…. who am I kidding, this is SO not for me… So this step is critical to your success; don’t overlook it.
- Support system. In those dire times, you’ll need your family, friends to put in a kind word, get you a cuppa, take you out to clear your mind, remind you of other times when things were rough and you rocked and so on.
- Accountability. On the flipside, there might be times when you’ll think of giving up, when you’ll be SO tired or when you’ll have this bug in your code that will make you want to sign up to be an Uber driver instead… Fatigue, frustration, doubts… this is when you’ll need someone to hold you to your initial plan. To remind you of why you set out to do this in the first place. To make you look at your starting point and show you how far you’ve come. And, if need be, to scold you, tie you down, bribe you or whatever else it’ll take to get you to stick to your guns and see your project through.
No support? Nonsense. If no matter how hard you try there doesn’t seem to be anyone supportive in site, not all is lost! In this day and age, support is a click away. There are so many support groups set up by people going through the very same process. If you’re learning to code and are a Twitter person, check out Code Newbie and 100 days of code; similar groups exist on Facebook and on pretty much every other network. Depending on your chosen career and your prefered social network, a quick search will surely get you the support you need. But most of all – for all things transition – you can join my Facebook and LinkedIn groups!
OK, you got this far. Now, equipped with all this information, you’re in the perfect position to decide if you’re ready to take the plunge.
Bear in mind that the more you advance in your transition, the more time it takes to course correct – so make sure you’ve thought of ALL THIS before you leap. However, if ever you feel you’ve gone down the wrong path, just because you’ve already invested in it DOES NOT mean you should continue doing so… so be ready for adjustments along the way.
Here’s what you need to stay the course – so find ways to equip yourself with these. Get your support system to help and to keep you accountable:
- Growth mindset – it’s vital that you understand how the brain works and how it’s crazy able to keep learning and developing. Once you realise that the brain is really a muscle and the more you work it, the stronger it gets – the sky is your limit!
- Perseverance – this is gonna hurt 🙂 but stick with it. Good day? Make the most of it. Tough day? Do it just the same. There will be bumps on the road and obstacles to overcome – but there is always a way around. Go through it / over it / under it, around it – do what it takes and power through.
- Patience – success will definitely not come easy, or quick so this is a biggie for your support and accountability system. You know yourself, and normally they do to; work out a plan, from the get go, of how to keep you in track when you get antsy.
- Humour – always helps! If you don’t have a funny bone 🙂 or if you lose it when you get bummed, look for programmer jokes on your favourite social network. If you’re at all like me, you’ll find it highly motivating when you realise you suddenly crack up at jokes you would never have understood as little as a week ago….
- Self–bribery :). Sure, it’s great when you’re self-driven and keep going through all the hardships. But, we’re not all so lucky! Before you embark on the journey think of little (or not so little) things you really like – and treat yourself to them. Small victories – small treats, large victories… you get it.
The aim of this step
- Ensure you have a support / accountability system in place
So, equipped with all this – you can now MAKE THE CALL – to transition or not to transition. If the answer is affirmative, check out my article on 5 steps to a new you – part 2: build your new career (coming next / soon!). So, what will it be? Will you join me – and the growing community of people transitioning into tech?
You guessed it. It’s decision time!
Sure, this IS scary, crazy scary in fact. But this didn’t stop you when you were 16, right? If this is right for you, go do it anyway – you’ve got what it takes. I’m here to accompany you every step of the way.
There are exciting times ahead – and it’s not all in your head. There are solid objective reasons why you should. The world is resolutely going that way – and securing your place on the ride now is the smart thing to do. If this is you.