As an industry, technology is so nuanced, diverse, and distinct from product to product that ‘breaking into tech’ can sound trite.
Whether it’s the vocabulary or the technical know-how, many feel there’s an entirely new world to learn for every company they might work for, and that the pace of change makes it impossible to get to the start line.
That frustration is compounded for those that don’t have the right background, or degree, to get a foot in the door. The bar for entry can be high – so without a qualification to help box-tick your way into contention, it can be easy to lose heart.
To overcome these barriers, you’ll need a combination of creativity and conviction, plus the ability to see roles for what they are. It’s equally important to bring a confident and unconventional mindset to bear, while considering the ways that can help you differentiate yourself to a future employer. Here, Caitlin Nowlin explores just a few.
Caitlin leads Hyland’s efforts to design, develop and implement successful Tech Outreach programs, the goal of which is to achieve Hyland’s mission of building and inspiring careers in technology.
Through Caitlin and her team’s efforts, Hyland’s Tech Outreach programs give students the opportunity to learn about computer science while giving employees the opportunity to give back to the community in a skills-based way.
Don’t assume that all roles are technical
Surprisingly, for many tech roles, the technology is secondary. According to TechNation’s Peoples and Skills Report, 64% of people who work in UK tech consider tech skills essential for job security. Surprisingly, this implies that more than a third of technology roles do not necessitate deep technical expertise in their day-to-day work.
From the accounting intern to the Chief Happiness Officer, there are millions of roles in prospective tech employers that are far more focused on the hard skills that make the business run than on the products being produced. A technical background is beneficial for the wider context in which the business operates, but it doesn’t take precedence over a robust understanding of the day-to-day.
This is even true at the highest level. Many ‘career CEOs’ made their living by moving from business to business – often into markets entirely new to them – and implementing processes that focus on financial results or business operations, rather than personally getting stuck into product development.
If that can be done at the very top of the business, why wouldn’t that apply to more junior roles?
Commit to mentoring, fast-track, or internship programmes
It’s in a company’s best interest to integrate new employees as quickly as possible – and for many technology businesses, they’re shopping in a talent pool that lacks the skills they’re seeking. Deloitte’s IT Skills Gap Report 2023 has found that 93% of UK businesses agree there’s a skills gap in IT – with 41% citing insufficient training opportunities as a key factor, and 37% concerned about a lack of “relevant educational opportunities.”
Any business serious about closing that gap will offer initiatives that provide a guided, closely monitored introduction to their organisation. That might be an official internship programme, or something as simple as a mentor responsible for making sure you’re maximising your chances at success.
For someone without the technical know-how or qualifications for a certain industry, these schemes can act as the stabilisers you used while learning to ride a bike. They provide a safe context, and protection against any issues, while you prove that you’re capable of what your employer needs – which makes them a leveller for those entering the space for the first time.
Develop your own solutions to demonstrate your expertise
In many ways, a degree is simply a gateway to prove that you’ve got a certain pool of skills. If you can prove that by making something that requires those skills, you differentiate yourself from the competition. You come to embody the hard work and application that employers want to see in their workforce – whether you’re got the right certificate or not.
For example, Rockstar – the video game studio that produced Grand Theft Auto – has actually hired players who’ve previously been banned for modifying their game. While the modifications breached copyright rules, the ‘modders’ developed a quality of product that they were able to build a community around – proving their skills, creativity, and judgement to their now-employer.
Explore funding and schemes for self-qualification
Technical knowledge is considered a serious barrier for entry into the tech space. Maximising every resource available to bridge that gap is vital – and there are plenty.
In the UK, for example, the Lifelong Learning Entitlement scheme will make up to £37,000 of self-improvement loans available to UK citizens from 2025. For those that can’t commit to repayments of that magnitude, there are centralised government initiatives for free Skills Bootcamps.
There is also a wealth of free, private alternatives. Open University is the conventional option here, but there’s also specific technological companies providing free expertise, like Codecademy. There’s no need to spend big to start bridging your personal knowledge gap – and your capacity to self-start will reflect well in the interview.
Starting to self-start
There are no hard rules to securing a job in ‘technology.’ From the job title to the business to the tech itself, there are innumerable intangibles that can be true for one role and not another. What we do know is that we can’t allow technical qualifications to be the only factor for entry when it comes to breaking into the industry. From funding elsewhere to the ingenuity you can demonstrate at home, it’s important that trailblazers continue to challenge convention right across the technology spectrum – whether they’re got the right degree or not.