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How to start a tech career coming from a non-tech background

flippedcoding profile image Milecia McG Updated on ・4 min read

We all know that there is uncertainty in the air about the state of our economy. Minimum wage is crap and it's not going to get any better any time soon. Well I want you to know that there is a way out. You can learn how to change careers and start something way better than you could imagine.

One career that you can get started in without going to college or needing 10+ years of experience is web development. This has been my best career path so far and I've already been down 3 different paths.

Web development has offered me the best opportunities and the most flexibility. I'm going to walk you through some of the steps you need to take so you'll know how to change careers for yourself.

Decide that you want to change careers.

decide you want to make that kind of change

*I know this one sounds dumb, but it's the hardest step most people take. When you start looking at how to change careers, that means something is wrong. Maybe you aren't making enough money or you aren't getting the same fulfillment that you once had.

*There's a reason you are at this point. This is where most people get stuck. You're unhappy and you know it, but it doesn't seem like there's anything better out there so you just tough it out. You don't have to live like that.

*But you will need to make up your mind that this is the best decision for you and your family. Staying in a dead end job leads to problems in your professional and personal life. Make the decision that you've had enough and you are ready to make a change.

Learn a new skill.

spend the time and money on a new skill

*Take some time to test out different things. Trust me, you have the time to do it. If you only spend an hour a day trying something new you'll find what you like or what you're good at pretty fast. This is when you should explore those things you kept in the back of your mind for later.

*Maybe you always thought about getting into IT. Now is the time to try it out. You want to have a new skill before you decide to start looking at jobs. Remember, you are learning how to change careers. Not how to get a new job doing what you already do.

*That's why web development is such a good option. You can learn at your own pace and you can start making money with it as soon as you are competent enough. Sure there is a learning curve, but there is a learning curve with anything new you try.

Gain some experience.

you don't need a job to practice your new skills

*Most people take this to mean you need to get a job and start working. That's not it. If you have anything you can start working on to show you are ready for your new career, do it.

*Of course that's fairly easy to do with web development. You could work on freelance projects so that you can get good references for later jobs. You could start designing and building your own websites and show them off to potential employers or customers. The freedom you have to gain web development experience is unbelievable.

*After you learn your new skill, that doesn't mean you're good at it. At the very least just practice. Do a little something every day until you start moving to the more advanced stuff.

Remember that you already have other experience.

your other experience still matters

*When you are looking at how to change careers, it's easy to get caught up in how much you don't know. You have to make sure that you highlight everything you already know. Unless you've been sitting at home doing nothing, then you already have experience in some career.

*Start looking at the job descriptions in the career you want to switch to and start connecting the dots between what you know and what you need to learn. You'd be surprised how much you already know. I'll use web development as an example because of course I would.

*Yes, you need to know how to code, but you also need to have great time management skills and the ability to talk to people well. Anybody can learn how to code, but not everybody can manage their time well. Your past experience will matter in your new career.

Put yourself out there.

a closed mouth doesn't get fed

*The job application process is nerve-wrecking, but if you go into web development and follow the steps above, you shouldn't have too many problems. You do have to be ready to work though. When I was looking at how to change careers, I did 2-5 job applications every day.

*I can't tell you how many interviews I did during that time and how many times I heard "no" or didn't hear anything at all. But it was worth it when I started my new career. All of the time and energy I put into the process of changing careers paid off.

*Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it or that it's too hard. Putting yourself out there is the only way you'll get anything. There will be some low points, but my goodness do the high points make up for them!

It probably sounds simple to start a tech career because it is. The catch to it is that it takes some time to really understand what you're doing. It takes at least a full year of practicing before you can explain what you're doing.


Hey! You should follow me on Twitter because reasons: https://twitter.com/FlippedCoding

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Milecia McG

@flippedcoding

Starting classes soon! | Software/Hardware Engineer | International tech speaker | Random inventor and slightly mad scientist with extra sauce

Discussion

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I'll chime in with my own path as I've just about completed the switch at the age of 33.

TL;DR: Try fiddling and customising existing code (like a wordpress site) to see if you enjoy coding. Try different technologies and types of development to see what fits best in your head. Make use of free learning sites like codecademy and udacity. Find projects to build / tasks to work on within your social circles. When it comes time to find a job - be aware that bringing you up to speed is an investment for an employer, but there are employers out there who will do that for you so don't get disheartened if at first you don't succeed.

I started out with web development in order to make a portfolio for some photos. Like a lot of people, I ended up with a wordpress site and theme that wasn't quite the way I wanted it to be. So I started tweaking and along the way found out that I had some pretty strong opinions on how the thing should work, and got real satisfaction converting my vision into reality using code.

That lead me to dig deeper into web development and trying a variety of technologies and frameworks. I would do courses on codecademy, follow tutorials from udacity and pluralsight (pro-tip - you get 3 months of access to pluralsight free when you sign up (also for free) to the Microsoft Dev Essentials program) and various other guided learning exercises. I didn't really have a path or goal in mind, I was just trying stuff out to see what seemed to fit in my head the best. The things that interested me most were more back-end oriented, but whenever I looked up how to be a good back-end developer I got put off by scary words like algorithm complexity analysis and data structures. I figured that, without a CS degree, I was better off doing front-end.

Then a friend, who had started a small company of his own with an API as its primary product, asked if I wanted to do some work for him. The task was to build a web interface that helped him test his API with some frequently-used requests. He's a great guy and so this ended up being my first paid development task.

Soon after that, an opportunity arrived for me to switch what I was doing on a full-time basis, so I started applying for development jobs. But in the various interviews I went into, it seemed like there was always something missing in the recipe - I was lacking in unit testing experience, or the development team at the company was too small to dedicate the time to a real junior developer.

So I ended up finding a traineeship program that offered 3 months of training, followed by 9 months of work placement for those looking to start a career as a developer. I didn't really need the training, but I did need their network of contacts and their assurance (to the employer) that I was a candidate worth taking a chance on.

They found me a placement at a payment solutions provider where I've now been a full-time, full-stack member of the development team for 8 months. The ability to ask questions to a more-experienced group of developers and just work on code 8 hours a day has really accelerated my learning. And as a bonus, most of the work I do is on the back-end, which I'm finding to be the natural fit that I always suspected it would be.