Career changes can be downright scary, I get it. Especially when you’re looking to jump into a new field like tech. In this post, I want to share some encouragement for mid-career folks.
With the right strategies, you can leverage your niche expertise from a previous career and find the perfect tech role matching your strengths. That initial leap of faith in yourself is the hardest part, I won’t lie.
But once you start gaining new technical skills and networking, you’ll see all the exciting possibilities within your reach.
A Career Switcher Success Story
Let me tell you about Amanda. She’s a friend of my friend Zack, with whom they go way back to their college days. She was always the organized one in our group, holding a part-time job and taking her classes at the medical school. After graduation, Amanda quickly rose to the local dental clinic ranks. She’s been working there for over a decade, most recently as one of the leading doctors.
Turned out dentistry was never Amanda’s true passion. They talked with Zack just recently over Zoom, and she seemed restless. “This pandemic has given me a lot of time for self-reflection,” she confessed. “I think I might be ready for a total career change.”
Amanda is not alone in considering a career change. We’re constantly looking for new talent to join our team, and I’ve seen many people leaving their industries, taking CS or related classes, and looking to join the ranks of tech workers over the past few years. The surge of remote definitely played a role as the pandemic progressed.
I told Amanda I knew just how she felt. That’s what happened to my school friend Paul back in the day. He was toiling away at a video production company when he became our team’s junior QA engineer. It was scary, but he haven’t looked back since. Now, he leads QA teams, and some of my best hires have been “career switchers” like himself since then.
Leveraging Transferable Skills
Take Jane, for example. She used to manage a whole team of people at a bank but jumped to tech as a project manager. Her vast management background makes Jane a wizard at her job, even though she started in a junior position.
Paul, my school friend I told you about, leverages his creative eye from the video editing days to spot subtle UI issues.
I’m not going to lie — it took them time to get up to speed on various internal systems and tech stack. But their soft skills from past careers make Jane and Paul so valuable.
Age is Just a Number
Ageism and worries about being “too old” can make career switchers in their 30s or beyond hesitate to transition into the tech industry. There’s this idea that older workers may not absorb new technical skills as rapidly as recent grads or lack their mental agility.
But while younger people may initially grasp new concepts quicker, older career changers bring invaluable real-world experience to the table. Soft skills like communication, planning, and stress management have improved over the years in the workforce.
Every perceived weakness has an upside. Take Alex, a backend developer who started programming in his late 40s. Now in his 50s, Alex’s years of experience working in different companies helps him stay calm in virtually any situation — he has been there before. He also collaborates smoothly with teammates of all ages.
If Alex can successfully change careers, anyone driven to learn new skills can, too. Age is just a number, not a roadblock.
Leverage Your Niche Expertise
Career switchers often assume they must discard prior industry knowledge when entering tech. However, niche expertise from a previous field can be a competitive advantage.
Insider understanding of a particular industry is invaluable for tech companies aiming to develop products for that niche. You could provide sorely needed innovation and perspective.
Say you’re a dentist changing careers — health tech companies would love your insights into improving dental care through technology. You’ll be able to easily spot things other engineers might overlook, given their lack of dental experience.
Consider Non-Coding Roles
If considering a career switch to tech, don’t limit yourself to only programmer roles. Many positions like testing, analytics, and project management play to soft skills over technical coding chops.
This dramatically expands your options as a career changer. A marketer could leverage your communication strengths as a product manager. An accountant’s analytical abilities could smoothly transfer to data science.
Play to your existing strengths rather than reinventing yourself as a coding expert.
Taking the First Step
The first step is the hardest. Taking the leap into a new tech career takes courage, especially mid-career, when staying put seems easier. But tech needs diverse perspectives — different backgrounds, skills, ages.
Your age or former career is unlimited. With dedication, you can successfully switch to a rewarding tech role. The hardest part is taking that initial step outside your comfort zone.
But you’ll uncover possibilities once you start gaining new skills and networking. Be bold. Take a chance on yourself.
Originally published on Medium.com