If you’re considering switching careers and breaking into tech (or a new role within tech), now’s a great time to do so. More industries than ever now rely on people with technical skills to power their products — whether we’re talking about entertainment, finance, or even healthcare.
Obviously, changing careers can be a daunting prospect. But there are a few helpful strategies you can use to make the transition smoother. So, before you start applying for jobs, here are a few steps you may want to take to give you some structure and help you stand apart from the competition.
1. Narrow your focus
As we explain in our breakdown to a career in tech, the first step in switching careers (or starting a new one) is finding the right role. In this stage, you’ll likely find yourself reading articles like What Does a Game Developer Do? and How Much Do Data Analysts Make? as you try to figure out the best path for you.
Then, you’ll move on to skill-building — diving into various programming languages, libraries, and frameworks, as you put them all together to build projects and portfolios.
In this step, you’ll want to be selective about the languages you learn and the projects you build. Data-driven and automated hiring processes have made recruiters more particular than ever, with 99% of Fortune500 companies reporting using ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems). To make it past these systems, your resume and portfolio should closely align with the competencies outlined in the job description.
2. Find a mentor
Wherever you are in your career, it always helps to have a resource you can turn to when you have questions or need guidance — whether you need big picture direction or feedback on a cover letter. That’s where mentors come in.
Ideally, your mentor should be someone whose career path is similar to the one you have in mind (but that’s not essential if they have a perspective you value). They should be someone who can tell you when you might need to brush up on a specific coding language, give you tips on how to present your work, or even suggest companies or roles you may not have considered.
Say you’ve just built your first web app and want to see how your code holds up in the eyes of a professional. Not only could your mentor help evaluate your work, but they might also share tips for improvements and optimizations to include before featuring it in your portfolio.
But how do you find one?
Start by thinking about people you’re already connected to. If you know any developers or IT professionals personally, reach out to them and see if they’d be open to chatting through some questions you have about your career path. Most people love talking about themselves and will be flattered that you reached out.
If there’s no one in your immediate network who comes to mind, take a look through social media. Maybe you already follow a few developers or Product Managers on LinkedIn or Twitter? Reach out to them and try to schedule a time to talk. If you cast a wide net, you may be pleasantly surprised to see that plenty of people out there are willing to devote a bit of time to pay it forward. (Remember: They were once new to the industry, too!)
It doesn’t have to be a long conversation — 15-30 minutes should suffice. You just need enough time to establish common ground. You can tell them why you admire their career path and/or their work, ask questions about their background and experience, and see if they have any advice for you. Then, if all goes well and they seem open to the idea, you can ask if it’s okay if you reach out again in the future with one-off questions. Oh, and make sure to send them a quick thank you email or text message after the initial call.
You could also attend a local meetup, like one of our Chapters. Developers of all experience levels join our Chapters to support and learn from each other. Some even build group projects together, like in the video below.
In an ideal world, once your skills are up to par, your mentor might even leverage their own connections to help you find a job — which brings us to our next point.
3. Build a network
You know what they say: “It’s not what you know…”
While cliche, the idiom often holds true — who you know really matters! CNBC reports that up to 80% of jobs are filled through personal and professional connections. That doesn’t mean your skills aren’t relevant or that you should flood Elon Musk’s LinkedIn DMs until you land a data science gig at Tesla, but it’s a good idea to start brushing some elbows (metaphorically, of course).
“Through technology, applying for jobs has never been easier, which means that orgs are often overwhelmed with inbound applicants,” says Codecademy Senior Technical Recruiter Danny Roberts. “It’s very easy for a candidate to get lost in that pile and overlooked.”
It’s not uncommon for Danny to get hundreds of applications per week for a single role. So, he says that standing out among that virtual crowd of applicants is more important than ever. That’s where having a good network can really help.
Aside from our Chapters, tech conferences like Datanova and Web Summit are a great place to connect with other devs. Even if those connections don’t turn into job opportunities, meeting professionals of varied backgrounds (including career-switchers like you) will help reinforce your self-confidence.
Even if you’re not quite ready to start networking face-to-face, you can still meet and connect with other developers in online communities like the Codecademy Forums and Stack Exchange. Or, sign up for a local hackathon! Hackathons are a great place to meet other devs, showcase your projects, and find inspiration.
4. Develop a personal brand
This might sound daunting, but hear us out.
When interviewing candidates, recruiters and hiring managers are looking for more than just a set of skills. They’re looking for a valuable addition to their team — someone who will support and reinforce the company’s culture.
Developing a personal brand allows you to give prospective employers a glimpse of your personality. Plus, as others come across and engage with your brand, you’ll gain both credibility and visibility, potentially leading to more professional opportunities.
So, what do we mean by “brand”?
It really just boils down to having some online presence that you can direct prospective employers to. By the time you start applying to jobs, you should (at least) have a LinkedIn and personal website or portfolio to showcase your work. With these, you’ll already have a solid foundation for your personal brand, but to expand it, you could also share your projects on GitHub and Stack Overflow.
“I once came across an engineer who had taken the time to include a message in his profile about the type of work that would get him excited,” Danny said. “It wasn’t just language about the type of roles or companies, but rather, it was about how he wants to impact the world through the types of projects he works on — and he included some examples of domains he would be interested in tackling. Those keywords in that message helped me find him.”
Or, you could try creating content around your area of expertise. This could involve building projects with new or niche tools that are gaining popularity. Then, you could copy your projects into workspaces, share the links on your website, and write blog posts telling the story behind them, including the problems they were designed to solve and how you found your solutions.
Note that you don’t have to be an expert to start creating content — you just have to be interesting (which you are!). What unique perspectives do you have to offer?
If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, why not write about your transition to a new career? Sharing your insights could help other people who are embarking on their own career journeys, and it’ll also allow you to illustrate how your past experience and soft skills tie into your future role. As Danny explains:
“You don’t need a detailed book of your experience listing every duty you’ve had. In fact, the best profiles are beautifully simplified and succeed at telling a story with fewer words. For those who are shifting careers, telling stories of your future goals is even more important; the narrative of the WHY needs to be there, and of course, focus the wording of your past experience on your transferable skills in every way possible.”
If you’re looking to make a career shift, articulating your goals for the future is even more important to standing out among prospective employers. Danny says to home in on the why when you tell your story — why you’re looking to make this change and why your past experience is valuable in this new chapter. Your journey brought you to this decision, so the why is there. You just might need to practice telling your story a few times before you land on it.
Next steps: Where you go from here
- Read through our blog and forums to learn more about the different careers in tech.
- Sign up for a programming course to start building your skills. Or, jump right into a career path to learn everything you’ll need to know all at once and start building projects to feature in your portfolio.
- Reach out to other learners in our forums or Chapters to find a mentor.
- Check out our Career Center for tips from tech recruiters and interview prep resources. Browse through our Learner Stories to find people (just like you) who found new purpose and meaning after changing careers.