8 Things We've Learned Working in Tech
Tips to Navigate a Tech Career Transition
by Jessica McManus
I wouldn’t qualify myself as a luddite but an early adopter, I am not. And then, six months ago, over a decade into my working career, I found myself accepting a position at Promptworks, a tech company. Lacking a tech background, degree, skills or otherwise, I was apprehensive about how it would play out. Technology moves at such a rapid pace, and I sincerely wondered If I would ever be able to “catch up” or speak from a knowledgeable place. I worried my generally cautious nature would put me at a deficit.
I felt like Anne Lamott’s brother, trying to write the report on birds. The story goes her older brother had a report on lots of birds due the next day,
- “... he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”* ― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
With the help of some amazing teammates, I’ve been able to take this whole tech journey bird by bird, one thing, one day at a time. I quickly learned Promptworks has a very strong culture of openness and friendliness. We work together, listen to each other, share knowledge. There’s never any stigma attached to saying, “Hey, I don’t know how this works.”
Early on, I said that often. And I thought, if I felt immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead, others transitioning into Tech, probably do too. With that in mind, I reached out to the team and asked, What have you learned navigating a tech career transition?
Senior Software Engineer
I came from a semi-typical background (studied Information Technology instead of Computer Science), but I also took a lot of non-technical classes. which provide me with more value and insight today than any of my technical classes. Among others, technical & creative writing, philosophy of arts and aesthetics, organizational psychology, and organizational change management all provide me with more value and insight today than any of my technical classes. It made understanding and navigating professional spaces significantly easier, allowing me to get to the fun stuff (coding/tech problems) while also knowing I was doing the right fun stuff and would be recognized for it.
- Your non-technical knowledge is an asset.
Both of my degrees are actually in English literature, but I developed an interest in graphic design as a hobby in 2012, and then freelanced during grad school. My first "real" job out of grad school was as a web designer in San Francisco. Some things I've learned: Working in silos is bad. Even if I don't know how to code my whole design, it's helpful to work with devs to learn about technical (and performance) limitations. The tech space is far more welcoming than I assumed from the outside. The space is intimidating largely because the language (or languages) used are unfamiliar. When you hear people batting around terms like "CI/CD," it's easy to feel stupid quickly.
- Jot down unfamiliar terms & abbreviations as you hear them, look them up after the meeting or conversation. Create an index you can refer to until you’ve committed them to memory.
Chief Operations Officer
I’ve been a consultant in technology since 1997 and I’ve always been surprised at how many people really don’t understand technology. A strong skill that many of us have at Promptworks is the ability to explain tech to non-technological people. I think the ability to explain technology in layperson's terms is a real asset and a predictor of how someone will do in the software development field. It's all about understanding the landscape and knowing what’s possible with various tools and how to combine them to get the result you want. If you can MacGyver things together in the real world, you can figure out how to use technology to combine things that weren’t meant to work together to get to an optimal solution.
3. Allegories & metaphors are your friend.
4. Bring your problem solving skills to the table.
Business Development Manager
I came from a non-technical background in museums, with an undergraduate degree in Art History and a Master’s degree in Museum Studies. My professional career has always been in a sales/business development role - and at Promptworks I largely help advise innovative companies on bringing their most ambitious software projects to life. Working in technology has taught me that we’re all collectively out to solve problems, even those that have yet to be imagined - and this takes the capacity to understand people, always being eager to learn, and staying at the forefront of new tools & resources...as these things are changing every day around us. I rely on the technical acumen of our engineers, designers & project managers, while bringing a unique set of soft skills that represents our team’s value, process, and expertise in building digital products.
- Stay Hungry.
Director of Sales and marketing
Before going into tech in 2006, I had a few false starts with other careers: law, education, and hospitality. While my start was somewhat accidental (I got a job at a San Francisco startup during the recession and just figured I’d take it), it ended up being a long-term career choice. My degree was in American Studies, and I was always fascinated by how big historical shifts (e.g., wars, inventions, industrialization) shaped the way people feel, behave and think. Tech is a place where I can explore - and be part of - those shifts. If applied ethically - with a focus on what humans actually believe and want - technology can be a powerful part of shaping history and inciting progress. It’s a connection between my liberal arts studies and my career that I never expected!
- Explore! You never know what you may find interesting.
I have no technical background, whatsoever. My undergrad degree is in Design & Merchandising, with a minor in Art History. Then a few years later, I decided to get my MBA and pivot into Business Operations and Finance (I love spreadsheets. I know I’m super fun). So safe to say my tech “stack” is not as impressive as my co-workers at Promptworks. That being said, I have never felt undervalued working in tech.
The tech community is essentially a collective of forever students. Everyone is incredibly open to learn, teach, and share - especially here at Promptworks. What I’ve learned is that you don’t have to be an engineer or have a traditional path to work in the industry! The Tech industry values various skill sets, even from tech adjacent roles, as it can help bring to light new approaches and solutions. Surrounding ourselves with new ways of thinking, experiences, and capabilities can only strengthen the team.
- Diversity is Key.
Software Project Manager
If you had told me ten years ago that I'd be working in technology, I certainly never would have believed you. My background is in Fashion Merchandising and I’ve spent most of my career as an Assortment Buyer & Planner for national retailers. Making the switch to become a Project Manager opened the door to exploring new industries, and I was quickly allured by the Tech industry because of its focus on exploration and the empirical process. From working in tech, I’ve learned that you don’t need to know everything before taking the first step. Experimenting, digging deeper, and learning something new every day are all part of the job. As a Software Project Manager at Promptworks I have the joy of continuously learning new skills and applying them to solve our clients’ unique business needs.
- You don’t need to know everything before taking the first step. Experimenting, digging deeper, and learning something new every day are all part of the job.
Whew! What a team! I hope you were able to find something to encourage you on your journey, I know I did. If you have any questions about working at Promptworks, please feel free to connect with me on Linkedin.