When most people think about the information technology department, aka “IT,” they usually picture the tech whiz who upgrades your hardware or patiently helps you troubleshoot. (That British sitcom The IT Crowd only reinforced this stereotype.) But IT is a vast field that’s full of opportunities for people who want to work in tech.
Deanna Christy is an IT manager at the fashion portfolio URBN, which includes Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People. As the senior manager of engineering operations, Deanna’s role at URBN entails strategizing long-term retail e-commerce projects, performing quality assurance testing, and helping developers manage their workflow.
Broadly speaking, IT involves using technology to organize, store, share, and process information. “IT, to me, is the back-end functions and workers that have to make the click-of-a-button work,” Deanna says.
Deanna sort of fell into the retail e-commerce field, but found that her leadership and organizational skills were well-suited for IT. “When I first started out, I used to call myself an investigator,” says Deanna, who’s worked for URBN since 2017. “If there was an issue, I wanted to figure out what it was, what system it was involved in, and how we can fix it.”
Now, Deanna describes her specific role as a “relationship-builder” between developers. “I want to be a developer's partner and help provide a shield so they can work on what I'm asking them to do,” she says. For example, if a developer needs more time to complete a project or has questions that need answers, she advocates for them and makes it happen without compromising the project’s deadline.
Here’s what it’s like to work in IT at a fashion company like URBN, plus the technical and soft skills you’d need to be a successful IT manager.
What got me interested in the job
“When I got into tech, I thought that I needed to become a developer. Development might make a little bit of money in the long term, but that might not be the best path for your skillset. Deep down, I love organization and I really love building a bond between teams who work on certain systems and being that connector.
Sometimes in tech, people like to work in their own bubbles at their own pace. It really takes a lot of relationship-building, so that individuals know you're not just pushing them to get an end result — you know how they work, and you know what level they work on. From that partnership, you build this little team to work with other individuals down the line and in other systems. I really found my niche was that I can understand their work levels.
What really intrigued me about the fashion industry is that customers are buying, for example, a T-shirt, and I am worrying about all the functions behind the scenes. That goes from how the website functions, down to our order management system, down to our warehouse shipping system, down to delivering a package on your doorstep. To you, it takes three clicks — but to us, it's this huge order of operations. I just love that there’s this whole lifecycle of simply ordering a product.”
How I got in the door
“I studied marketing in college — I did not study tech or computer science at all. A family friend knew somebody at David’s Bridal who was looking for an e-commerce systems analyst. All they told me was that they need somebody energetic who they can mold. I was like, Sign me up. That's what I want.
That was my very first job in the fashion industry, and I wasn’t really sure even what e-commerce meant at the time. They handed me a book, APIs for Dummies, and I was like, What is an API? [It’s an Application Program Interface.] It was a challenge. I said to my co-worker at the time, ‘You need to sit with me one hour every single day and teach me what a systems analyst does.’ We actually work together now at Urban Outfitters, so I always give him the props that he taught me everything.
Anyone who gets into tech is going to first think: What did I get myself into? Is this the right avenue for me? You can learn through working with other tech teams where your avenue might really be. That’s how I got to where I am now. I started as a systems analyst, which you'll often see called a 'business analyst’ or ‘BA.’ I moved into this project management role because I liked overseeing all the functions for one project across multiple teams. From there, project management and program management kind of went hand-in-hand.
Really, what I loved at the end of the day was coordinating across multiple teams, and being the person who says: You’ve got to do this. You have to do that. And once you do it together, I will test each of those individual functions to ensure that the flow works all the way downstream. I want to be the leader across teams to connect it all together.”
What I actually do every day
“There's a couple of different aspects of what I manage here at Urban Outfitters: We can manage something that’s front-end and customer-facing, like curbside pickup or membership programs where customers can get exclusive discounts at checkout. Another thing is, if we open up a new warehouse, making sure you can get your items quicker from a warehouse source in an area closer to you. But then there's these projects that are a little more technical, like moving our back-end servers to a cloud functionality.
What I really like is you can be involved in IT without actually coding. You have to understand what each team can do to get your project out the door and how to test it for them. I do a lot of testing myself, [which requires] understanding what they're developing. How can I test it for them to ensure that there's no issues?”
Here’s what you need to get started
If you want to learn more about IT, our course Introduction to IT is a great way to get a taste of the field. The beginner-friendly course will cover the basics of how computers work (including the hardware and software you should know and a guide to troubleshooting), plus dive into operating systems, databases, and cybersecurity. You’ll also have a chance to work on a hands-on decryption project.
As an IT manager, you should be able to understand the different use cases for various programming languages, Deanna explains. “You don't really need coding experience, but you need to understand the levels of coding,” she says. Introduction to IT actually includes a review of programming basics, where you’ll learn how to communicate problem-solving with flowcharts and pseudocode. (Codecademy has lots of additional courses that cover Code Foundations.)
For example, if there's a project that requires front-end and back-end engineers, Deanna has to know who from the engineering team is best suited to execute it. “What we need to do [in IT] is understand the function of each developer, what they need to do, and what their outcome could potentially be,” she says.
Since IT management also involves working with teams and managing individual timelines, getting experience managing or owning a project is good, so you can “dig down deeper into how system integrations and flows work,” Deanna says. Positions like business analyst can also be a gateway to ultimately becoming an IT manager, because you’ll learn how the business side interacts with IT, she adds.
Also consider being a quality assurance manager or tester, which is someone who tests a developer’s code, Deanna says. “Testing functions of a developer's output is also an easy entryway into understanding different tech systems,” she says.
Deanna’s biggest piece of advice: Don’t write off IT as an option for you. “I want anybody to get involved in tech, because I think anybody can,” she says.