woman at a computer

It may seem like you need a magic wand to help you decide when you’re thinking of what may interest you in such a vast industry as tech, but as JK Rowling so rightly said in her Harvard commencement speech, we already have the power to do everything we need inside ourselves.

We can all dream and imagine, and then we can take a more pragmatic approach and plan our future. It’s just about asking yourself the right questions, so I advise you to take some time and reflect a little during and after reading this article.

I frequently emphasise that it is possible to enter a career in this industry without really being technical. It is not always necessary to know coding. I would advise you to start your tech journey by thinking about what you enjoy as a hobby or what you were good at in school.

Take a minute and write a few things down. If nothing comes to you right away, do not worry. By reading this article you’ve proved you have an interest in tech, and I know you have it in you to take action and achieve your goals.

If it is a specific role or area you may be interested in, then make a point to research more. Look at job adverts and job descriptions for the role you desire.

After you’ve identified your interests, I suggest you look at your past and current experience, including holiday jobs, work or academic experience, or even volunteer work. Review any feedback you received in the past as it can be a good indicator of your strengths. Please think about all your talents and skills; everything counts.

Once you are clear about which area you are most interested in, it is vital to focus on your career goals. Where do you want to put your ladder up against?

What is the reason you want to go into tech? What really excites you about the industry? What do you want to achieve in tech? Goals that truly excite you will ensure you keep going to achieve them.

Regarding job descriptions, it is good to get an idea of how big the gap is between your current skill sets and those required for the role you desire. For example, if the role is requesting intermediate Excel skills and you have never used it before, then you know the gap is large. Alternatively, if the job description requests proficient Excel skills and you are a basic user, it could be that you won’t have too much difficulty learning some more.

I encourage you to apply for jobs regardless of whether you meet the criteria according to the job description or have more to learn. However many boxes you tick for each skill required, please still apply. Studies show that females will not apply for a job unless they meet at least 78% of the criteria (Harvard Business Review, 2014). This has to change because if you never try to join the party, you will never get invited. Males are likely to apply even if only 60% of the criteria are met.

People in tech benefit from constant learning, this is something that may need to start before you even enter the industry. I researched and looked at many options, including short courses, before I opted to study full time at university for a year. However, many hiring managers in companies are aware that a college or university degree is not a sign that a candidate will succeed in the role. Often, hiring managers complain that college graduates need more practical skills for the job and require a lot of training as newly hired recruits.

In my experience, the degree I chose gave me plenty of hands-on practical work through the assignments and teaching, so I gained the skills I’d require. Some employers place more value on this practical work than class-type learning. This is something to think about when you are researching your entry route into tech.

It is also important to know the best way you learn new things. I preferred the route I chose purely because the course gave me all-round knowledge with practical experience so I could quickly achieve my goals. It was not about gaining the formal education of an MSc. In addition, it suited my circumstances at that time. The experienced tutors were helpful and always answered my questions with good examples from the industry, as quite a lot of them had worked in tech.

Also, because it was a conversion course, I had the opportunity to meet other students from all around the country – some with similar goals to mine and some with vastly different ones. This expanded my network and it was good to see all these different people bringing their experiences to the table. It was a surprise to me how many older students like myself were completing the course for different reasons.

She Chose Tech coverHere are some useful questions to ask yourself when you are researching training options for a career in tech:

  • Would you be able to commit to a programme or course for longer than a year?
  • If a formal education route is not your preference, is it necessary for the area you wish to go into?
  • Are you able to select a few courses to fill in any skills gaps?
  • Do you prefer to take courses emphasising technical skills? Do you enjoy the practical side of things?
  • Would you consider taking challenging courses that are not directly linked to your primary chosen technology area?
  • Would debt be something you are willing to take on to pay for the cost of training? Could you rely on the better salary and prospects to pay off this debt when you secure your job at the other end?

I appreciate these days there are considerable costs involved in obtaining degrees, so consider your situation carefully. Look into sources of funding such as grants or schemes or voluntary sectors that may assist you. Outside of the traditional university route there are several ways you can also gain experience, such as online learning, hackathons, bootcamps, conferences and seminars, and volunteering. Research the options that appeal to you and you will soon find your own unique path into a career in tech.

This is an adapted book extract from She Chose Tech by Sonal Shah.

About the author

Sonal Shah is a speaker, coach, tech advocate and vice president in banking with over 20 years of corporate experience. She is committed to helping women fulfil their potential in tech careers and has received several prestigious awards. These include the Tech100 and Diversity awards at the WeAreTheCity Rising Stars Awards. and for her work promoting diversity, advocating for women in tech and for the future of technology, the community leadership award at the EmpowerHER Access Awards in 2023. This work has also led her to be named as one of Brummell’s Most Inspirational Women 2023, and listed as one of Computer Weekly’s Most Influential Women in both 2022 and 2023.