15 Things You Didn’t Know About Working in Tech
A look at what it’s really like to work in tech.
When it comes to working in tech, there are a lot of misconceptions. Some people think it’s like a closed-door community, where only certain folks can make it.
In fact, all kinds of people—from different ages, backgrounds, parts of the world, etc.—can be found in the tech industry. And making the switch into a tech career is a lot easier than most realize. People are doing it every day. Sure, it may not be easy. But it’s certainly doable.
Below, I am going to debunk some of the most common misconceptions about working in tech, and instead share what it’s really like in the industry.
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1. It’s a lot easier than you think to transition into a technical career.
Nowadays, every company has a website as well as some form of online presence. The need for tech workers is not confined to a single city, country, or even industry.
If you’re overwhelmed, here’s what you should do: start where you are. Find ways at your current company to get your hands dirty with tech. Adda (the founder of Skillcrush) was first exposed to the world of coding while working at a digital magazine. She found other ways to weave it into her role—at the same magazine—by raising her hand to do certain technical tasks.
There are little ways in your day-to-day you can incorporate it. Get creative!
2. You don’t need a CS degree to get a good job.
Another huge myth is that you need a Computer Science (or related) degree to get your foot in the door—let alone land a high-paying job.
However, this is not the case. Stack Overflow’s 2016 Developer Survey report found that 69% of all developers surveyed said they were at least partly self-taught. 13% of respondents reported to be only self-taught.
Looking at US Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the 2014 median pay for software developers was $97,990 per year. Meanwhile, the 2014 median annual wage for all workers in the US was $35,540 annually.
Regardless of whether they’re self-taught or not, software developers get paid more handsomely than the average worker in the US.
3. You CAN flex those creative muscles.
Many people associate technical jobs with not being creative. This is another misconception. In reality, tech is all about finding creative ways to solve problems and build things.
In fact, one could even say that knowing how to code empowers you to take your creativity to the next level. You know that great app idea you’ve had for months? Well, now you can actually build it!
4. You don’t have to be naturally gifted at computers.
Embarrassingly enough, I was placed in a remedial computer course in college. As in, a non-credit course I was required to take because I did so poorly on the basic computer competency test given to all freshmen at orientation. Cringe.
But I didn’t get placed in that course because I had tried really hard to be a computer whiz and failed. Instead, I had this preconceived notion that I would never be good at it. So, I never even gave myself a chance to learn how to use a computer. Even at the most basic level, where most of my peers were.
The point is: you don’t have to be naturally tech-savvy to break into the tech industry. Just like learning how to write well, or speak a foreign language, you can teach yourself and get better over time.
5. You don’t need to be good at math (or science).
In high school and college I disliked math—despite being good at it. Not only that, I really disliked science. (And wasn’t good at it.)
However, your ability to answer algebra, physics, or biology problems doesn’t relate to how proficient you’ll be as a coder.
Coding is all about problem-solving and logic. In fact, some people who have the easiest time learning are those coming from professions where problem-solving is involved, as well as attention to detail. (Like lawyers and musicians.)
Besides, if code still intimidates you, there are a ton of tech jobs that don’t even involve writing code on the day-to-day.
6. You don’t have to spend all day coding
Just because you learn how to program doesn’t mean you need to spend all day hunched over a computer screen, working in a text editor, writing code.
By choice, I spend lots of days not writing a single line of code. And then there are other days where I spend most of my time tweaking my website or that of a client’s.
Learning how to program doesn’t mean you need to become a programmer. There are lots of jobs and technical skills that don’t involve coding at all. For instance design, data analysis, setting up systems and processes, project management, technical writing, and the list goes on.
7. Not everyone is under the age of 30.
Sure, there are people in their 20s who grew up with technology being the norm. But there are also those in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s.
For instance, my father has worked in tech for the better part of his adult life. Despite being in his mid-60s, he still works as a solutions architect. (Which, by the way, was recently ranked third on Glassdoor’s 2016 25 Best Jobs in America list.)
He gets to work from anywhere as well as occasionally travel to cool places like Brazil to work with clients. And most importantly, he loves what he does and has no plans of retiring anytime soon.
I talk to people everyday in their 40s, 50s, and 60s learning how to code. As my friend Lori Smith says: “Age is of no importance unless you’re a cheese or wine!” (Lori, by the way, is teaching herself how to code at the age of 60.)
8. Not everyone in tech plays video games.
People who work in tech have a range of personalities, interests, and hobbies. For instance, Randle Browning from Skillcrush. Sure, she can build websites and helps create awesome content for the Skillcrush blog. But she also has a blog (Week of Plenty) and Instagram, dedicated to vegan cooking.
Another great example is my very own boyfriend. While he has a full-time job as a user interface engineer, he also loves to ski and skateboard. In fact, his passion for skiing and skateboarding, coupled with his web development skills, has landed him previous consulting jobs at action sports companies. Like Bern Unlimited and Flylow Gear.
People who work in tech don’t fit a stereotype. Your outside interests can even be one of your selling points.
9. The tech industry is NOT entirely male-dominated.
There’s a lot of talk in the news about the lack of women in tech. While this is true in many professions/companies, not every area in tech is completely male-dominated.
For instance, it has been estimated that data science is made up of 90% men. On the other hand, design fields typically have more women. A study released by the National Endowment for the Arts found that, “54 percent of the designer category are women.”
When it comes to particular companies, some (like Skillcrush) have a majority of female employees. In others, women are represented near-equally with men. In a visualization made by David McCandless, companies like Groupon, Ebay, Pandora, Pinterest, and LinkedIn have a workforce made up of 40% female workers or more. (Pandora is 49% female!)
Statistics can vary depending where you look. However, there are women in tech; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
10. There is diversity.
Just like with gender, some professions/companies are more ethnically diverse than others.
A study released by Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) found that tech jobs are more diverse than people think. And the industry is becoming even more diverse. Asian workers have consistently comprised the largest share of non-white employees in tech, but In 2009, black and Hispanic workers comprised 9% of total tech employment. In 2014, the number had grown to 12%.
The biggest predictor for a black or Hispanic job-seeker landing the tech gig? A college degree.
And as you can see in this visualization of showing diversity at top tech companies, some (like Apple, Amazon, and Yahoo) have a more diverse workforce than other big-names.
[Editor’s note: After receiving some feedback from readers, I wanted to address this section. It wasn’t intended to claim that tech was a perfectly diverse field (sorry that it came across that way!), and instead was meant to encourage more diversity in tech. The figures currently aren’t great, but considering they tend to trend upward year over year, they are promising! Unfortunately, tech can have a reputation as being “elitist” (according to the Progressive Policy Institute in the link Laurence mentioned above, which is definitely worth reading in full), which can make it seem inaccessible to many. By showing the positive statistics out there, it helps dispel that myth, and will hopefully encourage more people from all walks of life to learn tech skills and use those new skills to land better-paying, more fulfilling jobs.]
11. NOT all tech jobs are outsourced.
Yes, outsourcing is a real thing that companies of all sizes do. After all, companies, especially large ones, want employees around the world. Think of it this way: if you’re serving a customer base in multiple time zones, you want people on duty all the time.
Moreover, many large companies have offices in multiple countries. And true: it can be cheaper to hire workers abroad than back at home.
However, there is still plenty of demand for tech workers in the US (or wherever your home country is). Outsourcing, while cost-effective, comes with certain drawbacks: time differences, language differences, cultural barriers, and so on.
The fact is, certain responsibilities and tasks are much better handled domestically. And employers know this.
12. You don’t need to live in Silicon Valley (or even a city).
Another confession: I have never set foot inside California. Except the LAX airport—if that counts.
When I began teaching myself to code, I was living in Bangkok, Thailand. While it is a large city, when you think about where the hottest “tech scenes” are…Bangkok is not exactly one of them. (But just to throw it out there, Thailand offers many other great things like delicious food, pristine beaches, some of the happiest people in the world, Buddhist culture, and more!)
I then returned to my hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Which is not exactly the epicenter of tech culture, either.
And even now, living in Boston, it doesn’t really matter that I live here, because I don’t even go to a real office.
The fact is: you don’t need to live in Silicon Valley, or even a city, to get a job in the tech industry. You can live pretty much anywhere. Which brings us to the next point…
13. It’s easier to work remotely/from home.
When you have in-demand technical skills, you have more leverage in terms of structuring your work environment. Essentially, employers can be much more accommodating. In fact, US News found web developers report high levels of work-life balance.
Moreover, often all you need is a laptop and internet connection to do tech work sufficiently, unlike some jobs, like retail, where you need to be at a physical location to do your job. According to FlexJobs, tech is one of the top three industries for remote workers.
14. You don’t need to become a “full-stack developer”.
No wonder people get frustrated!
Here’s the deal: unless you’re a freelancer working solo, you’ll be working with a team of people. And you won’t be responsible for building every nook and cranny of the app/website/product.
So, you’ll specialize in one aspect, or component, of the product. Maybe you’ll be on the user interface team. Or perhaps the mobile team, where all your duties have to do with the mobile app. Or maybe the quality assurance (QA) team, where you’ll test software all day.
Whatever it may be, in most cases you won’t be building full-scale web applications from the ground up, all on your own. (For those asking, “What about full-stack developers? Isn’t that what they do?”, read this.)
Now, if you want to build full-scale apps from the ground up, great. But you don’t have to. So don’t let the idea of having to learn everything prevent you from getting started. Instead, specialize in one area that you enjoy the most.
15. Soft skills matter. A lot.
When it comes to transitioning into technology, everyone worries about the technical skills. And for good reason: it’s new territory for most people.
But here’s the thing…soft skills matter. A lot. Maybe even more than technical know-how.
Let me explain: hiring managers, or clients, want to hire people who are easy to work with. Those who are team players, good communicators, can adhere to deadlines, etc.
For this reason, most employers do a phone interview before even inviting a candidate into the office, to gauge whether their personality is a good fit. It’s a screening interview. Are you easygoing? Could you mesh well with the rest of the team?
And most of these decision-makers know that unlike a technical skillset, a rockin’ personality and driven work ethic cannot be taught. Which is what makes them so valuable!
Tech is a flexible industry, with a diverse workforce. It can offer amazing work-life balance, higher-than-average paychecks, and other great perks. There are tons of job opportunities—some of which don’t even involve coding in the day-to-day. Ultimately, it’s a lot easier than most think to transition into tech.
Even so, there are lots of misconceptions about what it’s like to work in tech. But don’t knock it before you try it! Instead, keep an open mind. Because there truly is something for everyone.