Advice for career switchers
This is the story of my journey so far, I’m looking forward to what comes next with more challenging projects and working with others making the change.
Making it as a career switcher is not easy, especially as there are technical skills you need to gain. I hope this post can help other career switchers and those supporting them do it.
You are not starting from zero
If you are considering a career change, you are not throwing away everything you have done so far and starting again. Nor are you competing with 20-somethings who have been coding since they were toddlers. You bring a unique point of view and experience that makes you stand out. Not hold you back.
You aren’t in competition with new graduates, as you have years of experience already. Dealing with stakeholders, holding meetings, and managing deadlines, are all transferable skills.
Adding coding to the experience you already have is an additional skill, not a starting point.
Explore your career options
There are hundreds of different roles in the tech industry and no checklist of what you ‘must’ learn. In the same way that your career journey so far is unique to you, so is the journey to make the switch to a career in tech.
This is the time to test out what makes you happy and explore your options. None of this is wasted time.
When I was going through this process I went down plenty of avenues to discover what I liked and didn’t like. Starting with watching the videos from Harvard’s CS50. Just watching the videos introduced me to different computer science concepts.
I am not planning on becoming a computer scientist anytime soon but I appreciate what the concepts are.
Don’t be afraid to fail
Starting a project, setting aside time to work on it, and taking on the challenges that come with it, is a win.
It may not feel like it at the time but even if you don’t cross the finish line, the learnings happen before then. You learn valuable skills taking the time to spot bugs, understand the issue, and solve problems along the way.
Having a series of unfinished projects is not a failure.
Be part of the community
Career switchers are often advised to talk to people in the role they are interested in. To go to informational interviews, and learn with others.
Easy to say, but harder to track down these people if you are not part of the ‘who’s who’ in your local community.
My first Meetup was R Ladies London. At the time I was exploring junior Data Science roles. The organisers and attendees were great to chat to at our monthly events. I got to find out what Data Scientists work on in their day to day work, and what I would need to do to join them.
While Data Science was not for me either I only found that out by chatting one-on-one in a friendly environment.
Get comfortable, being uncomfortable
This is a shift in thinking that will help you from feeling overwhelmed. In the IT and tech industry, things are always changing.
The hot new library or language may not be hot for long. It is not important to learn everything about everything, as you are setting yourself up to fail. What is important, is to learn how to learn so you can get to grips with what’s new when things change.
My strategy was to find all the tutorials, videos, and blog posts on the topic I was attempting to learn. Then I would try and work through the list. Not only did this quickly feel like ‘work’ and a box-ticking exercise I wasn’t getting anywhere.
My new way to keep in the loop is to take a few hours each weekend to focus on a topic that interests me and enjoy it. Trying to take on everything is the quickest way to lose enthusiasm.
Teach others what you know
Teaching someone else reinforces knowledge. You will need to break concepts down into chunks and take questions from who you are explaining it to.
It doesn’t have to be delivering a workshop or standing up in front of hundreds of people, just chatting to your friend about what you learned this week is beneficial.
Blogging is a great way to lock in what you have been learning about and find out where the gaps are in your knowledge.
Good things take time. You may take multiple steps to get to where you’re going.
There is no rule that says you should switch straight into a technical role right away. So don’t put pressure on yourself to do so.
Maybe being a technical administrator is a good stepping stone into a developer role. Maybe working in a non-technical team in a software development company is a way to transition. Taking small steps towards a bigger goal is a way to keep up your enthusiasm.
Career change isn’t easy. But you can get there by taking a staggered approach and keeping the end in mind. Learn how to learn, what you enjoy doing, and how important soft skills are as well. Good things take time so remember to be kind to yourself as well.
Hey Helen, loved your article as I can relate to it. I'm a career switcher myself, but I don't bring any experience with me. I'm in final year of a Bachelors program in Mechanical engg. and yet putting my efforts in learning web development because that's what my heart wants.