The technology industry has grown in leaps and bounds during the past decade, causing a surge in the global demand for tech roles. However, students without a background in tech often assume they may not fare well in the competitive tech labour market.
We want to reassure you that this is far from the case, so here are 10 top tips that non-tech students should apply to kickstart their careers in tech:
Pursue a personal project
Try to identify a real-world problem and build a project to work on it. For example, young people living in London often struggle to find suitable housing. If you wanted to compare flats across property websites with greater ease, you could develop a web-scraping app that sources flats finetuned to your own specifications (number of bathrooms, nearby tube station, etc).
You can create your own GitHub repository, share your code, receive comments from other developers and interact with them. Try building projects around tech to compensate for any lack of internships or experience in the field and link that to your CV. Your portfolio should reflect the role you’re applying for, hence giving you something to talk about in an interview!
Use transferable skills
With your soft skills like communication, adaptability, research, or interpersonal skills, you can gain basic knowledge of tech and engage with people better which will be enough to get you started. Tech roles often offer full training, so having prior tech skills should not be a priority. You can apply for entry-level jobs which accept little to no prior experience or even attend a two-month bootcamp to get yourself up to speed.
Don’t get bogged down by things you haven’t mastered yet. Technical skills like programming can always be learnt even if your academic background is different, and the Digital Skills Lab is a great place for current students to start. In the meantime, apply the skills you’ve already acquired (relating to business, the social sector, etc) into a larger problem-solving framework to demonstrate your suitability for the role.
Understand the basics
It’s crucial to familiarise yourself with concepts in tech such as scrum master roles, to understand how tech companies work and to start adding value through the successful management of tech projects.
This is an opportunity for you to make the most of your alumni network. Try reaching out to LSE alumni to understand their company and different tech roles from their perspective. LSE recently launched its digital engagement tool Ask an Alum, giving our students access to a network of 200,000 alumni who are eager to share their valuable career advice with current students.
Embrace hybrid working
Following on from the COVID-19 pandemic, hybrid working patterns have become more popular. Working patterns vary a lot across the tech sector, depending on the type of organisation and professional area. As a tech consultant, you will need to adapt to the working patterns of your client organisation and your working pattern will change from one project to the next. In a tech start-up, working patterns are usually much more flexible.
If fully remote, a lot of companies invest money into organising events for colleagues to meet and socialise. Google, for example, encourages all their employees to spend certain days of the week in the office to build a shared sense of purpose, instil common values, and promote open communication. In any case, if you’re new to your career, try to be in the office as much as possible. This is the best way to integrate yourself into the company culture and develop interpersonal relations with your colleagues. Naturally, everyone will have their individual remote/office working preferences so it’s important to be openminded.
Consider the working hours
If you’re looking for a 9 to 5 job, then digital and tech consultancy/strategy may not be the ideal career path for you. Realistically, the working hours are more like 9am to 7pm. You’ll need to be on hand to manage expectations of the client, the partner, and the project– and this can be very demanding work! This will also depend on who you work with as your clients (CEO level or lower) but, overall, tech consultancies often do not follow a ‘9 to 5’ work culture if that is what you are looking for.
Adopt a client-driven attitude
Tech consultancy is a highly client-driven sector, so the working pattern entirely depends on the client’s working pattern – ranging from completely remote work to being based in the client’s office full-time. In consulting, the pattern is typically split between working in the consultancy’s office, the client’s office, and working from home.
However, while it’s good to show enthusiasm and demonstrate your commitment to your clients, be careful not to bite off more than you can chew. Taking on more responsibilities than you can handle in the long run is a common cause of employee burnout. It’s crucial to also prioritise your wellbeing at work and learn when to say “no”, whilst explaining why and offering feasible alternatives.
Choose your employer carefully
Ask yourself: What problems do you want to solve? What do you have passion for? How are these related to the business of that organisation?
Many companies offer certain benefits such as funding further studies if relevant to your role. This is perfect for graduates from a non-tech background looking to advance their technical competencies. Similarly, look out for big companies that offer internal training. It’s a major red flag if a big company does not offer such training, but more to be expected of small/medium companies and start-ups. A good organisation should offer a large range of training opportunities, whether by funding an MPA programme if you are a top performer, through internal training, or access to professional certifications (CFA, AWS, etc).
Play to your strengths
Understanding the different roles in a tech company is key when identifying where you best fit in. For example, strategy consultancy mainly involves delivering reports and PowerPoints, whereas working in tech consultancy requires more specific and technical expertise. There can be a balance between the two as a career path and, with the right skillset, it’s possible to switch between them within the same company. In fact, being a tech consultant in a strategy consultancy gives you the best of both worlds!
In this case, it’s probably better to gain experience in strategy first and cross over to tech after two years. Having experience in both will give you a widespread and sought-after range of skills and, ultimately, a competitive edge.
Be flexible career-wise
A valuable career strategy that everyone should embrace is to “go with the flow.” You must first start somewhere and then see where it leads you. Your career path is not expected to be linear and it’s important to see your career development as a cycle. This becomes easier if you surround yourself with the right people along the way, both in terms of maintaining an immediate healthy work-life balance but also with regards to finding the right opportunities.
Remember that you always have the option to change companies or even change fields further down the line. But don’t be afraid to leave your position if it isn’t working for you (e.g. if you feel unfairly compensated for your efforts). London is an important FinTech hub but the UK at large is a great place for tech jobs, with many companies basing their headquarters here. Nowadays, with remote work in tech being so widely available, it could also be worth broadening your geographical horizons.
Reflect on your career goals
You should research different companies’ leadership structures when looking for a role with potential to progress in the ranks. For example, if the senior leadership is based in the US, it’s likely that your career progression will have its limits within the UK unless you’re willing to relocate. Salaries are also higher in the US so that could be an important factor for you to consider.
Medium/large companies often have clear progression structures so consider changing companies if you can see they don’t offer the progression opportunities you’re looking for. LinkedIn is a good reference point to see how long people typically stay in their job before moving on while Glassdoor is very accurate about the salary you can expect at different stages of your career.
Some final advice…
Looking for a graduate job can be a daunting experience and students can often feel demoralised at the thought of applying for a role they feel underqualified for. Women especially may feel excluded from the tech industry, but do not be afraid to be a minority. In fact, tech needs women now more than ever! And the truth is you’ll never know if they’ll hire you if you don’t bother applying.
Keep in mind that LSE students and graduates can add a huge value to the tech sector, integrating the social science and human factors into tech-related challenges to address.
Making the most of the LSE Careers service can help you overcome any undue feelings of imposter syndrome, giving you the push you need to stand tall and be confident throughout the application process and beyond!
How we can help…
Take a look at our Discover | Tech hub for more useful information and resources about the technology sector.
If you’re interested in getting more career advice tailored to your specific circumstances, book an appointment with one of our careers consultants on CareerHub.