Careers in Tech: Changing Paths
By: Sydney MaHan, Dave Pradko, and Megan Rosser
The internet is awash in statistics about how many times you’ll change jobs during your working life. But what if there was a career where changing jobs was a good thing? Information Technology (IT) is an incredibly broad field in terms of the skills and experience needed to build solutions that satisfy customers. It’s also one where many non-technical skills are highly valued. You don’t need to know how to code to excel in IT; IT is a big umbrella, and it needs people to contribute in lots of different ways.
Here at iWorks, many employees have had the opportunity to change the trajectory of their careers: Technical Editors becoming Proposal Managers; Administrators becoming Business Analysts; and people from multiple background becoming project managers.
Regardless of where everyone started, the changes they made with their careers were not only based on company need but also their own interests and skillsets. So, if you are thinking about making a change in your own career path, here are a few quick tips and personal anecdotes from iWorks employees including Project Director Dave Pradko, Business Intelligence (BI) Developer Megan Rosser, and Analyst Sydney MaHan on how to successfully transition from one career to another while still enjoying the journey.
Don’t be Afraid of Growth.
Whether you are staying at your current company and moving into a new role, or changing companies and careers altogether, welcome the opportunity to evolve with open arms, not letting any sort of uncertainty hold you back.
BI Developer, Megan Rosser, has first-hand experience of what it’s like to make a career change while staying at the same company.
“iWorks hired me as a Consultant with the assigned role of a technical editor, which enabled me to catch on quickly given my background,” says Rosser (who has a degree in English), “Once settled, I volunteered to assist with SharePoint development. I had a relatively quick learning curve, and that didn’t go unnoticed, because I was approached by an executive team member who inquired about my interests and proposed a change in the direction of my career.”
Project Director, Dave Pradko, adds that over time, exposure from previous experiences can lead to or influence the direction one takes with their career.
“Once you’ve gotten into tech, odds are you will wear a number of hats and have several different roles over the course of your career,” says Pradko. “Over the years, I’ve been a Business Analyst, Tester, Product Owner, Scrum Master, User Experience (UX) designer, Project Manager, and more. Many times, you’ll be asked to take on a new role based on you wanting to try a new area; or you’ll be asked to take on a new role based on experience or subject matter expertise you already have. People with an artistic or design background may be asked to work with front-end developers or UX designers on the look and feel of an application. People with prior experience with an application’s subject matter may be asked to work with Business Analysts to model workflows and review business rules and decision points.”
Embrace your Current Skillset while Learning New Ones.
Don’t forget to use your current knowledge to your advantage. Whether you are good at managing multiple tasks, coding, software development, or even writing and editing, use those skills to help you within your new role and when embracing new opportunities.
“The idea of doing a complete 180 and pursuing something in which I had negligible experience was incredibly daunting,” says Rosser. “Despite my concerns, I trusted in my abilities and have since been learning an overwhelming amount of information as I explore data visualization through online research and work experience. By no means did I dislike technical editing; as a matter of fact, I use my proficiencies I gained from technical editing regularly to better gather requirements, record feedback, and track timelines. Believe it or not, I jump at any opportunity that comes my way where documentation is needed.”
Analyst, Sydney MaHan, had a similar experience, as it was by volunteering for different projects that led her to take on a new role.
“I started as a technical editor, but by volunteering for various projects like organizing iWorks Quality Management (iQM), managing new hire onboarding, and leading the internship program, I expanded upon and further highlighted my organization and project management skills,” says MaHan. “The execs and team lead saw that, and I was offered a position as an Analyst on the Project Management track.”
“In IT, the technology is always changing – new programming languages, new tools, new frameworks,” says Pradko. “Having strong interpersonal skills, having relevant subject matter knowledge, and having a learning mindset are valuable for how they compliment those technical skills.”
Ask Questions, Take Notes.
Understand that the transition to a new role or the education for a new skillset takes time. It could be that you are learning new software or adjusting to new processes, but, either way, with each new change, there lies an opportunity to ask questions.
Asking questions and taking notes is vital to not only understanding your role better and performing it well, but also in helping to teach others about your responsibilities going forward.
“As I was transitioning from being a technical editor to an analyst, I helped onboard the new hire who was taking over my previous position,” says MaHan. “Using the notes, I took as a technical editor I was able to teach her my previous responsibilities while still learning about my own role. Doing so not only allowed me to have a solid foundation but her as well.”
Being willing to share your prior experiences can make you more valuable by having more skills and expertise to draw upon. Back in the early 90s David Guest introduced the concept of “T-shaped individuals” to describe people with broad knowledge in an area like tech, plus their expertise in one specific area. Today, there are several different shapes for modeling experience, and each type is considered valuable at different times and on different projects.
Below are examples of I, T, and X-shaped individuals. I-shaped individuals are considered experts in a single area. T-shaped individuals are considered desirable for interdisciplinary teams where roles are not strictly defined, and collaboration is essential. X-shaped individuals are considered good candidates for leadership and management positions because of their ability to relate to individuals with different types and levels of experience.
“Part of filling project needs is being open-minded about the people you already have, and what their whole set of skills and experience is,” says Pradko. “In doing so, the conversations are rarely about coding or development languages or automation. Instead, it’s questions like, “What do you like about your current role?” or “What don’t you like doing?” or “Tell me more about this thing you did in the past” and finding transferrable skills like analysis, writing, facilitation, and ability to work with teammates. Teaching someone who works well with others to code in Python can be easier than teaching someone with a Computer Science degree to be a team player.”
Be sure to check in with yourself. Checking in with yourself allows you to reevaluate your own priorities and how they align with your current project work or career path. Also, every so often, check in with your manager. Doing so not only keeps the line of communication open, but also helps you to set goals, keeps yourself on track, and helps you address any questions or concerns you have early on.
So, if you are on the fence about where your career is going, whether you want to be an expert in a different field or a ‘jack of all trades,’ take a step back and identify your possibilities by leveraging the breadth of knowledge on the internet, networking with your colleagues, friends, and family, or taking time for self-reflection to define where you want your career to go – it just may be worth the risk.