You earned your college degree. Maybe you’re fresh out of the cap and gown and ready to enter the workforce. Maybe you’re already burned out on the subject you studied to earn that degree, and you’re dreading spending the next 40 years of your life doing it. Maybe you’ve just seen the writing on the wall, and that Art History degree isn’t going to earn you the money you want.
Tech is a growing industry in the United States and around the world. The world is increasingly globalized, and the baseline level of technology we all use to subsist is growing higher and higher. From software engineering to advanced robotics, there’s room for all comers in tech.
The question is, how do you go about it? If you just finished a degree, you’re probably tired of the academic life and want to start building a successful career and become part of a team. You might also have tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, and you can’t waste time deliberating.
We’ve identified five paths you can take to pivot from your current degree – no matter what it is – into a tech career. Some take longer than others, some are more expensive than others, but there’s one path right for everyone.
Step 0: Perform a Self-Inventory
Before you can pivot into a tech career, you need to do an inventory of your skills, interests, and knowledge. You need to be honest with yourself, so you know where you stand and what possibilities may be open to you. Someone who wants to pivot into tech but has barely looked at HTML before is going to have a much harder time than someone who has a background in mathematics and who codes for fun.
What knowledge do you have of the tech field you’re interested in? Do you read blogs in the field? Do you follow influential people? Do you pursue coding projects for fun? Have you developed an app before?
What skills can you transfer to tech? Remember, not all tech careers are hands-on. You could transition to a project management role, leveraging your business administration skills and your organizational experience rather than any hands-on experience with coding.
What is your eventual goal? Do you want to be one of those hands-on coders, developing the next killer app? Do you want to work in the tech department of an innovative new startup, or do you prefer the more regimented, reliable route of a big corporation like Google or Amazon? Do you want to start your own tech company eventually?
What skills, experiences, and certificates do you need to reach your goal? We’ve all read about the global tech companies founded in a garage, but that’s a lot harder these days. It helps when pivoting to have existing skills and experiences in the field you’re looking to pursue. You’ve performed enough of a self-inventory to learn where you stand now; next, you need to figure out what you need to stand where you want to be.
With this foundation in mind, here are the five general routes you can take to pivot into a tech career.
The Hobby Route
The hobby route is one of the most common routes for pivoting into a tech career, and it has one benefit over others: you can work at it while you’re still working in your current job.
Treat your tech aspirations as a hobby, for now. Spend your own time, in the mornings, in the evenings, during breaks, and learn. Read books about your chosen tech field. Follow blogs and monitor the news. Pick up a coding language and play around with tutorials via YouTube videos or educational resources like StackOverflow. Consider picking up some specific teaching books, such as PowerShell in a Month of Lunches.
Once you’ve developed your skills and your confidence in them, you can start looking for a tech job. Now, a lot of modern tech jobs want certificates or degrees, but that’s not always 100% required. Tech is flexible in that most people in tech recognize that some of their most brilliant minds never went to school for what they do. So, apply for those dream jobs, and see what happens. Certification programs are generally very comprehensive, which is why employers like them, but if you’re a self-starter and a tech-minded individual already, this may be a place for you to start.
The hobby route is often the start of other routes as well. Picking up baseline skills as a hobby, before using those skills to fast-track a new degree, is a common path to a tech career. You can certainly pursue that option as well (if you so desire).
The second route you can take is often a good choice for fresh graduates looking for a change of pace, and for people who need something regimented like a job to motivate them to learn and grow. No shame; many people have difficulty self-motivating. The framework of a job can give you the structure you need while putting both the demands of a career and the obvious routes for improvement directly in front of you.
The idea is simple: start from the bottom and work your way up. For example, you might get yourself hired as a tier-1 helpdesk member at a tech company. You’ll learn a lot dealing with users and getting your hands dirty inside a corporate computer system, but your responsibilities will be limited. After a year or so of password resets and simple troubleshooting, you can pursue promotions to higher levels of the helpdesk team. High-level helpdesk roles tend to deal with more complex problems and might involve certain kinds of coding – or at the very least, working with developers directly – to solve problems.
From there, once you’ve proven yourself as a critical thinker with knowledge and experience with a system, you can pivot into administration. A network or systems admin role is a good mid-level place to land in a tech career. Along the way, you can grow by teaching yourself more about the systems you want to administrate, as well as pursuing tech certificates like a CISSP for cybersecurity, the CompTIA A+ certificate, or the CSM Certified Scrum Master for project management, depending on the career you want to pursue.
A degree matters for a lot of entry-level roles, and for skipping the bottom-tier entry-level roles like helpdesk and jumping directly into development. Once you have a few years under your belt, the experience matters more than your degree in almost every field.
The Certificate Route
The certification route is most common in a pivot to tech. Tech companies look for degrees and certificates first, and then they look for individual skills. Certificates are a quick and easy way for a company to recognize that you do (in fact) have specific knowledge about a given subject. A self-starter who read a book isn’t necessarily going to know what they’re doing in a hands-on situation, but someone who earned a certificate has proven at least a baseline level of knowledge.
Much like the later phase of both the hobby and the bottom-up routes, the certificate route relies on being self-motivated enough to learn and study a given subject. There are dozens of different certificates out there for all manner of subjects, whether it’s cybersecurity, full-stack development, administration, management, or even specific technologies.
The key here is to do your research. With hundreds of possible certificates out there, you want to make sure you’re picking a certificate that means something. Cisco certificates, Microsoft-issued certs, and CompTIA are all good authorities issuing industry-recognized certificates. Some programs, like ours, are very thorough and will even help you study to acquire these certificates, like Security+ and CEH certification.
You can aim to pick up certificates slowly over time, while you study in the evenings and treat tech as a hobby until it isn’t. Alternatively, you can take time off from your current job, cram knowledge into your head, and earn as many certificates as you can. It’s a very flexible route, giving you plenty of options to pursue to reach your dream job.
Again, certificates open doors and prove your basic skills, and once you’ve opened a path into the world of tech, you can expand your knowledge and experience.
The Degree Route
A fourth route you can take is, of course, going back to school. A degree program for a tech career doesn’t have to take half a decade or require hundreds of thousands of dollars. With a college degree already under your belt, you can use it to cover the basics and focus solely on the classes that let you earn the degree you want. You can also pursue tech-focused training programs at universities, emphasizing one area or another that interests you the most.
You can also pursue this sort of additional degree through night classes, online classes, and other flexible programs. There are a lot of tech school and tech training programs available for a self-motivated and interested student looking to pivot into tech.
The Consultant Route
The final route is to eschew the traditional career path and come at it from the outside – literally. Why work to get hired for a salaried position in a company you might only stick with for a few years when you can earn more money as a highly-paid consultant?
This career path is difficult because you can’t rely on just a degree or certificate to sing your praises. You have to build a reputation as a skillful and effective consultant who can come in and solve problems. You start your own company, work as a self-employed consultant, or join a consulting firm, and from there, you do the job.
Consulting has a few benefits, like a higher salary and more flexibility, and it’s ideal for prospective tech workers who love the challenge of solving problems and the variability of an ever-changing client list. On the other hand, if you’re looking to tech for stability and routine, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Laying the Groundwork
When you’ve decided to pivot into a tech career and you’ve decided on a path you want to pursue, you need to lay the groundwork to succeed. You’ve already done a self-inventory, so you know where you’re starting. You know what path you want to take, so you can develop a list of the skills, certificates, and knowledge you need to get where you want to be.
Next, start to pin down some metrics to measure your journey. Set milestones. Develop a data plan. Decide on financial goals, and what you need to do to reach those goals. Data-focused planning is a skill many tech workers need to develop anyway, so using it for your own betterment is a good way to start.
You’ll also want to start pivoting your elevator pitch and your materials. “Dress for the job you want,” they say, and it’s true. You just need to keep in mind that the modern uniform isn’t just a uniform, it’s your resume, your LinkedIn profile, and your self-image.
Remember that, even though you’ve achieved a college degree, that degree won’t land you a tech job unless it’s related to the field. STEM degrees are fine; Humanities less so. Update your resume to reflect your continuing education and certificates. Update LinkedIn and start to build up a profile by networking with friends, coworkers, family members, businesses you’d like to work for, influencers in the tech space, and anyone else relevant to your goals.
Finally, embrace the risk. A career pivot is always a risky venture. What if you don’t like your new career? What if the pay cut – if you’re taking a pay cut – isn’t enough to keep going? What if you need to hit certain career milestones quickly, and you aren’t sure you can pull it off?
Take the leap. Embrace the risk, and recognize that no one has ever truly succeeded by playing it safe. The sooner you pivot, the sooner you can build up to the successful career you’ve dreamed of having.