The Passion vs. Tech Trap
Tell me if this sounds familiar: All your life, you’ve been told to follow your passion.
“Follow your dreams and the universe will open doors to you.”
“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
“Whatever you decide to do, make sure it makes you happy.”
So you figured, “Wow - an idea with so many great quotes can’t be wrong!” And then you went off and majored in art history, education policy, or interpretive dance studies - or whatever made your heart sing.
And everything seemed great until you graduated and started seeing another series of quotes in the media:
“Computer science majors make 3x more money than liberal arts grads.”
“The hottest job in the world is the programmer.”
“Learn to code - or else!”
Whatever happened to following your passion? Especially if your passion includes working for a cool tech company - but now the world is telling you that your first strategy left you woefully under-qualified???
How to Escape the Trap
Well I’m here to give you a third kind of quote: “You don’t need to code to get a tech job - you just need to find your fit.”
Here’s what I mean:
While it’s true that there are lots and lots of coders in the tech space, it’s also true that there are actually more non-coders working in tech than programmers!
That’s because complex technology products - from apps to electric cars - require the collaboration of dozens of specialists. Designers, researchers, marketers, accountants, and, yes, coders, all come together to bring tech magic to life. And so for every coder that’s hired, a tech company typically hires a few more non-technical collaborators.
But here’s the catch: Those collaborators are hired to perform specific tasks, not just because they love technology. So if you want these jobs, you’ll need to make the case that you’re the perfect fit for those tasks, not just that you think Google/Apple/Facebook is so cool!
Finding Your Fit
So how do you find your fit in the first place? It turns out there are three steps:
1) Understand the Roles
First, you need to have a good grasp of what the tech industry’s non-coding jobs are all about.
I’ve included a cheat sheet below but to get an even deeper understanding of what each role entails, check out my complete guide to every major non-technical role.
In addition, it’s important to see through these fancy titles to understand what a role is really about. For instance, Marketing might sound like something you’re unqualified for, but it really boils down to just four basic skills:
- Understanding your audience
- Developing plans to reach them
- Executing on those plans
- Measuring your impact
And as you’ll see in the next step, lots of different experiences prepare you for this kind of work.
2) Understand Your Experiences
Did you start your career as a teacher? A nonprofit staffer? A pizzeria chef?
Surely, there’s no way those experiences qualify you to work in tech, right?
Because I actually did all three of those jobs before landing my first tech role. And it turned out that, not only weren’t those roles a handicap, but they actually helped me make the case that I could come in and get tech jobs done.
The trick is to ignore the formal titles (“Program Associate,” “Teaching Fellow,” etc.) and focus on what you really did in those jobs.
For example, as a kindergarten teacher, I was responsible for doing these things every single day:
- Understanding my students and what motivated them
- Developing strategies to reach them
- Communicating effectively with my audiences (students + families)
- Measuring my students’ progress
And I eventually realized that these same experiences were exactly what lots of tech firms wanted - I just needed to help them make the connection.
3) Make the Connection
While tech recruiters come from lots of different backgrounds and have very different approaches to finding talent, one universal truism is that they don’t have much time to find that talent. They’re often trying to fill dozens of roles simultaneously, so they can’t pause to understand the unique nuances of your career.
As such, it’s up to you to help them quickly see the connection between what you’ve done before and what they need their candidates to do in the future. And the best way to do that is to draw a map between the two preceding steps.
In my case, here’s the connection between teaching and marketing:
So once I drew out that map, I could use my application to make explicit connections right in front of the recruiters’ eyes. For instance, in my cover letter to Apple, I said:
“I know that an Apple marketer must be the master of the company’s audience, communicating new products in a way that makes every single customer feel like that product is tailor-fit for their unique desires. Well, that’s exactly what I’ve done in my classroom, convincing 25 very different students that math is something worthy of their time and passion. And I’ve done that by getting to know each and every student - and then designing lessons that speak to their unique needs (from wanting to feel proud of their success to wanting to go to the store by themselves!). The result is that “math time” has gone from a lesson to be dreaded to something to be fought over, with students jockeying to answer first. Not unlike an Apple store on launch day!”
And that connection - as simple as it was - was enough to land me my first tech interview and job.
Now it’s your turn. If your passion is to work in tech, don’t let your lack of coding experience hold you back. There are too many cool jobs out there that don’t require a line of code - and that do take advantage of the awesome experiences you’ve earned. You just need to follow those three key steps:
- Understand the roles
- Understand your experience
- Make the connection
Because once you do that, you can forge the ultimate connection - between the burning passion that launched your career and the awesome opportunity that will take it forward.
Want a complete guide to a dozen awesome tech jobs that don’t require any coding? Download my free guide to all these jobs - including what they do all day and the kinds of experience you need to land them.