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Hilary Normanha is a product manager who hasn’t worked a day from inside a traditional tech city. Normanha does her tech work from Bowling Green, Kentucky, proving that tech is about skills and not geography, and that tech opportunities are everywhere. She told her story to Scott Morris.
I’ve been working for almost a year now as an International Product Manager at Vecteezy, a small tech company that allows users to explore, discuss, and download vector graphics. I’m responsible for localizing Vecteezy’s global sites and managing our translators, which is the kind of work I’ve been doing on and off for 13 years. I came to localization from the linguistic side, so my early work wasn’t in tech per se. Still, localization and tech are two industries that intersect—particularly with advancements in things like CAT (computer assisted translations) tools and neural machine translation—so I gradually transitioned toward tech-based work until I landed at Vecteezy, which is the first full-time job I’ve had working closely with a development team for a tech company.
One twist about my job is that our office is located in Bowling Green, Kentucky—not exactly a tech hub. In fact, while my career has taken me all across the US and briefly to Brazil, none of the tech-oriented work I’ve done in localization has happened in cities or areas traditionally thought of as tech-centric. To be honest, I enjoy doing tech work in a small town—there are pros and cons for sure, but I think the pros are enough to make small town tech work just as attractive and accessible as working at a tech campus somewhere like California—if not more so.
Plus, in a big tech city, you’ll likely be competing just to get in the door at an entry-level job. In a less conventional tech setting—once you’ve developed the right skills—there’s a higher chance of landing and maintaining a dream job since those skills will be in much shorter supply. And because companies with less access to tech skills will place a lot of value on your expertise, you can usually negotiate a higher salary (made even better by the fact that the cost of living tends to be significantly lower in smaller or non-tech cities). And if you’re someone like me with a family or other significant priorities outside of work, the slower pace of a small town is an ideal backdrop for balancing your work life with the rest of your life. Here in Bowling Green, I’m able to spend a lot of quality time with my family without sacrificing professional growth or career advancement. It’s really the best of both worlds.
The challenges I’ve encountered working and living outside of a tech city mostly have to do with distance. Where you live can limit your access to in-person meetups, conferences, and seminars, as well as personal interactions with professional peers and mentors. Fortunately there are plenty of resources that can help overcome these obstacles. Things like online forums, video chat, and the prevalence of industry information online have made a lot of distance issues irrelevant or easy to troubleshoot. Because I’m more isolated physically from the industry than someone in a big tech city, I make it a point to stay active in groups and forums like Stack Overflow. I also go out of my way to initiate web chat lunches and coffee dates with colleagues who I don’t see in person, and I constantly check out new webinars and articles from sources like TechSoup and TechCrunch. In the end, it might take a little bit of extra effort to stay connected to the industry from a place like Kentucky, but it isn’t difficult.
Breaking into Tech From Outside a Tech Hub
If you’re trying to break into tech from outside of a tech city it can be hard to visualize how to get started. My advice during this time is to start by spending about ten hours a month on volunteer work or pro bono projects. You’ll have free reign on projects you might not get to do otherwise and it’s a chance to really show off your best work. These projects will expand your portfolio and introduce you and your skills to potential clients in your area. In the meantime, if you find yourself looking for remote work or are trying to connect with clients from out of town, keep these tips in mind:
1. I can’t stress how important it is to maintain connections. Schedule time for networking, even if it’s one hour a week. Clean up your LinkedIn profile and post once every other week online. Be sure to like and comment on others’ posts as well. Offer advice when you can, but reach out to others for advice, too. You want to be positively noticed by your connections—this way when someone asks for a recommendation you’re the first person who comes to mind.
2. Be a professional and make sure you’re up to speed with industry topics. If you’re remote, your online presence is the only presence potential employers will see, so make it count. Keep an eye on changes in technology and showcase your expertise in your online interactions.
3. Don’t be afraid to take risks! Go ahead and email that person at HubSpot, or Mashable, or Slack. Say something like, “Hey! I loved your article on X, and I wanted to connect and ask your advice on Y.” Grow that connection and ask about opportunities.
As someone who has worked senior level positions, I can tell you finding good people is really, really hard. High-quality companies are always looking for good professionals, regardless of where you’re located. Stay active, invest in high speed internet, and go for it. Your tech hub is wherever you hang your hat!
Scott Morris is Skillcrush's staff writer and content producer. Like all the members of Skillcrush's team, he works remotely (in his case from Napa, CA). He believes that content that's worth reading (and that your audience can find!) creates brands that people follow. He's experienced writing on topics including jobs and technology, digital marketing, career pivots, gender equity, parenting, and popular culture. Before starting his career as a writer and content marketer, he spent 10 years as a full-time parent to his daughters Veronica and Athena.