Insight on Transitioning Into Tech with a Non-Traditional Background
Emily King much prefers road-tripping over flying.
Having lived in many places – from Florida to Texas to Colorado – she’s always enjoyed the adventure of travel. “I love to get in my car and just drive for 30 hours to Florida and just see what’s out there,” elaborates Emily. “I could fly, but just driving through and seeing the country and meeting people in each town; it’s super fun to me.”
Emily’s ambition and attention to detail also translate to her professional life. It helped her transition into tech without a software engineering degree or a Bootcamp certification. We sat down with her to hear more about her journey pivoting from wedding photography to becoming a Software Quality Assurance Manager at cloud marketplace Pax8.
Keep reading to learn how she’s broken barriers throughout her journey and advice for women looking to pivot to tech.
Breaking into the tech world
When it came time to pick a career path after high school, Emily wasn’t sure which route to go down. “I literally had no idea what I wanted to do,” Emily reminisces. “I am very methodical. I remember one of my teachers telling me I had the brain of an engineer, but you want to rebel from that for a little bit when you’re a kid.” Encouraged by her family to explore more of her creative side, Emily opted to study one of her hobbies: photography. “I enjoyed it, so I decided to go down that path,” she explains. “But at a certain point, I realized that that wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.”
After doing some wedding photography and other side photography work to make ends meet, Emily decided to find a job where she could leverage some of her different strengths. “I knew that I’ve always been really great at helping people. I’m very patient. I love to help,” she says. “And so I was at a point where I needed to pay the bills, and I was like, let’s go to Apple.”
She started on the sales floor, showcasing the newest Apple technology to customers. But she quickly moved on to the tech side of things – doing repairs on computers. “I wanted to work towards something. I wanted to know the ins and outs and why things work the way that they do,” says Emily. This is why she wasn’t afraid to ask questions and dig deep into solving problems. One of her store managers noticed her drive and attention to detail and connected her with an opportunity that would change her life.
“He pulled me aside and explained career experiences at Apple’s corporate locations – Austin or San Jose – where they offer people in retail to go out to their campuses and work in a career job for four months,” she elaborates. “It doesn’t guarantee you a job, but it’s something to get your foot in the door.”
Without hesitation, Emily packed up and left for Austin, Texas, and dove into her first official engineering experience. “That’s what led me into Quality Assurance,” Emily explains. She began testing different hardware parts for iPhones and computers, which she already had experience with at her retail store. “But when I started to get into diagnostic testing, seeing all the different things that go into testing software and hardware was eye-opening. I had never felt that before. It made me so excited being able to solve a problem that I couldn’t figure out,” Emily shares.
Her corporate experience at Apple extended from four months to six months, and she eventually joined a team to continue her journey there for four more years.
Tech leadership at Pax8
A move back to Colorado is what sparked her next career step. “There came a certain point where I didn’t see myself making a home in Texas, so I moved back to Colorado. But when I moved back, I honestly didn’t like the remote experience,” she says. “I was still working at Apple, but I felt really disconnected. I didn’t feel as motivated as I was before.”
In search of the work camaraderie she experienced in Austin, she reached out to her local network to learn more about the Colorado job market. One of her colleagues mentioned the cloud solutions management platform Pax8. “The way he spoke about the company convinced me,” says Emily. “He loved what they did, the opportunities he got, the training that he got, how supportive everybody was.” So, when a position opened up, she jumped on the opportunity.
Emily’s former QA experience set the foundation for her new position. “Because I had hardware and software experience, I was able to translate that into the role here, and I came in as a QA II.” Within a few weeks, her manager approached her about taking on a new project. “They needed a senior engineer to create a process to QA their tools and collaborate with the team to find opportunities to make a more efficient process,” Emily explains. “I was honestly excited that people trusted me to be able to do it, but man, it was a little intimidating at first.”
Yet she moved into the role with confidence, thanks to the support of her team. “They really encouraged me, and I thrived,” she says. She worked in that role for a year and a half before transitioning into a new one. The decision to take that role helped her gain the leadership experience she needed for her current management role. “I took an opportunity that really not that many people wanted to, and I made the best process that I could for that team,” she elaborates. “I created that relationship to where, when I got out of it, it just kind of eased me into leadership because I had to train people to take it over.”
Emily then started spearheading different projects and moved to QA Lead, and most recently took on a role as QA Manager. “I’ve been in the manager role for six to eight months, so I’m still new, but I feel like I’ve been doing it for a long time now,” Emily shares.
Emily’s drive, inquisitiveness, and problem-solving skills have helped her advance her engineering career. However, riding the tech wave was not always easy. Being a woman in tech with a non-traditional background has not gone without its challenges.
“I didn’t go to school for software development,” Emily shares. Although she had a bit of coding knowledge, she didn’t start with the foundations that most software engineers have when they enter the professional world. But the hands-on experience she obtained while working allowed her to gain all of the knowledge she needed to thrive in an engineering role. “Certifications and everything are really great, but a lot of times now when you look at software development, it’s more of the skillset that you got from other jobs,” she elaborates. “I had real-life experience, and I was able to apply it. The ability to adapt and run with that is what got me to where I’m at,” Emily says.
But that’s not to say that imposter syndrome doesn’t creep in now and then. “Anxiety is real. And if you don’t feel like you’re meeting [expectations] or maybe not [meeting them] perfectly, it just becomes too much.” This is why Emily works with a therapist to learn how to combat those feelings. “There’s a stigma to it, but therapy is one of the things that really just allows me to open up my mind a little bit more,” she states. “It’s really hard to give up that control sometimes and I continue to work on it.”
With the help and support of her team, Emily can see herself from a different perspective. “I want to be the best version of myself at work, and I think that’s something that helps me out with my imposter syndrome, and the anxiety – understanding that I’m seeing it in one way, but [my team] sees me in a completely different light,” Emily shares. “It just gave me the platform to stand on. You have the confidence at that point to know that you can shine and help out where you can.”
Advice for women pivoting to tech
According to Emily, “working in tech, in general, is an uphill battle, especially for [underrepresented professionals] like women and people of color.” She’s experienced exclusion and people doubting her intelligence first-hand. “I got to a point of frustration,” she explains. “I got to a certain point that I wanted to see representation. I wanted to see more women in a higher role, a leadership role,” Emily explains.
This challenge motivates her to focus on developing her team and encouraging them to break down their barriers. She values all of “the experiences that somebody can bring – different life choices and cultures – to bring more opportunities and different mindsets to the table,” she explains. “The biggest thing is just keeping people’s minds open, and they get really excited about [new] opportunities and seeing other people grow in their roles.”
Not only is Emily passionate about supporting her team, but she also wants to help other women with their transition into the world of tech. Keep on reading for her advice.
- Don’t take on too much. When you come from a non-traditional background, it can be easy to overcompensate for your lack of formal training. Ambition is good, but “you can’t take it all on,” Emily shares. As she continues to grow in her role, she’s eager to learn more about her industry, dive into leadership, and support her team with their roles. “My director makes fun of me all the time; I have ten books behind me of stuff I want to learn about work.” Emily shares. Now she’s working on “being able to find the right things to put my time and effort into that will have long, positive gains.”
- Listen to what others have to say. When you’re first attempting to enter the tech world, the different entry paths, careers, industries, and job titles can get confusing. “There are so many different things in tech, it’s overwhelming if you try to even narrow it down initially without knowing the experience or knowing what goes into it,” says Emily. She encourages career pivoters to network and form relationships with people who know their passions and know the industry. “What made things easy for me is that I listened to the people that told me what I was good at,” says Emily.
- Find your passion. Once you’ve figured out how your skills align with different industries, Emily encourages people to do some exploring to find a role you’re not only interested in but a role that you’re passionate about. “If you’re not passionate about it, get out as fast as you can.” Emily advises. “Life is too short to spend it in a job you’re not happy with.”
- Be persistent. Emily follows up her advice about passion with persistence. “There are going to be a lot of roadblocks. There are going to be a lot of people that are probably going to tell you no. There are going to be a lot of people that maybe don’t agree with you,” Emily explains. “If you can get through all the nonsense that comes with [being a] woman in tech, it’s great on the other side, once you get there, and you can say ‘I made it,’” Emily encourages.
We all have our favorite websites– the ones we frequent, bookmark, and recommend to others. You might even enjoy some website features so much that you’ve found yourself wondering why they aren’t more popular. Or maybe you’ve experienced times where you were frustrated with a website and wished you could add features or even design your own!
If you’ve ever found yourself intrigued at the prospect of designing and developing your own websites, then a career as a web developer might be just for you!
As a web developer you would be responsible for coding, designing, optimizing, and maintaining websites. Today, there are over 1.7 billion websites in the world and, in turn, the demand for web developers is on the rise. In order to figure out what kind of web development work best suits you let’s start with an introduction to the three main roles in web development that you can choose from.
The Three Types of Web Development Jobs
Front-End Web Development: The Creative Side
In addition to programming skills, front-end developers need to be detail oriented, creative, willing to keep up with the latest trends in web development, cyber security conscious, and geared toward user-friendly designs. The median salary for a front-end developer can reach well into the $90,000 to $100,000 range.
Back-End Web Development: The Logical Counterpart
While a house can be beautifully decorated, it’s incomplete without a solid foundation and efficient infrastructure. Similarly, a well-designed website depends on logical and functional code to power the features of that website. Back-end web development is code-heavy and focused on the specifics of how a website works. If you enjoy the analytical challenge of creating the behind-the-scenes code that powers a website, then back-end development is for you.
Full-Stack Web Development: A Little Bit of Everything
A full-stack developer is essentially the Jack (or Jill)-of-all-trades in web development. Full-stack developers need to be knowledgeable about both front-end and back-end roles. This does not necessarily imply that you would need to be an expert in both roles, but you should fully understand the different applications and synergies they each imply. In order to work in this position, you will need to know the programming languages used by front-end and back-end developers. In addition to these languages, full-stack developers also specialize in databases, storage, HTTP, REST, and web architecture.
Full-stack developers are often required to act as liaisons between front-end and back-end developers. Full-stack developers need to be both problem solvers and great communicators. The end goal for a full-stack developer is to ensure that the user’s experience is seamless, both on the front-end and on the back-end. In return, you can expect to earn a median salary of $100,000 – $115,000 a year for this role.
Taking the Next Step
Web development is both in-demand and lucrative! All three roles described above contribute to specific aspects of web development and the scope of each one can be customized to the industries and positions you feel best suit you. Regardless of which role you choose, all of them need a foundation in programming.
To gain the programming skills needed in each role, you can enroll in courses or learn independently. Coding bootcamps are a great way to boost your skillset quickly and efficiently.
Click here for some of our highly rated programming bootcamp options! Make sure to check out the discounts available to PowerToFly members.
Culture in the Time of Covid-19
When I began writing this entry on culture in the time of Covid-19, I initially had a doom and gloom outlook on the future of organizational culture. However, through deeper insight and conversations with colleagues and clients, I realized that the pandemic has instead provided an opportunity for companies. This time and the challenges brought with it have provided organizations a cultural diagnostic in and of itself. The measures companies have taken to address Covid-19 put a microscope on culture that exposes things more visibly than ever before. Think about how you have defined your culture and look back at the past year. Is your organization’s definition of culture still reflected in your workforce?
In our model of organizational culture at Collective Insights, culture is an interconnected system of elements that carry the instructions for company growth, development, and day-to-day functioning. Of the six elements, place is a key component of the system, and place has been substantially altered for most of us since March. “Place” is the geography, architecture, aesthetic design, and physical location of your organization that inherently impacts the values and behaviors of people in your workplace. However, our new “workplace” during the pandemic is within the confines of an individual’s home or a transformed space that adheres to the restrictions of Covid-19. It is no longer the shared, in-person location we traditionally identified as the work-“place”. Since organizational culture is an interconnected system of elements, this dramatic shift in place puts significant strain on the five other elements:
- Behaviors – those actions that the company encourages, discourages, accepts, or rejects
- People – the individuals we work with, hire, and retain
- Values – a set of beliefs held by the company that explicitly define expected behaviors for how work is done
- Purpose – the company’s “reason-for-being”
- Stories – those narratives shared and passed down by employees
When nurtured the right way, these elements can align successfully with your strategy to create a powerful combination. Right now, all companies have had to develop strategies to deal with the operational, financial, and human capital (e.g. employee fatigue) strains that have arisen due to the pandemic. In concert, leadership is faced with the stark reality of whether or not their Covid-19 strategy is consistent with the values and purpose of their company culture.
Make a deliberate effort to focus on your company’s purpose and values. Do your current actions and decisions align with your purpose and values?
Consider if leadership decisions and actions, especially in handling the impact of the pandemic, reflect the purpose and values that define your company’s culture. Is your company doing what it says it believes in? Are leadership behaviors, especially in decision making, reflecting what they say their culture stands for?
Have there been actions or decisions that conflict with your organization’s purpose and values?
If so, how can you address these contradictions in leadership behaviors and the impact such actions have had on the “current” culture (i.e. cultural climate) in comparison to the culture the company says it upholds? This is key to prevent lost trust from your employees and customers.
How can leadership avoid making these contradictions in future decisions and actions?
If you cannot avoid these contradictory decisions to keep your business operating, then address each decision with upfront communications that incorporate the language, tone, and spirit of your culture and values.
Show empathy, transparency, and awareness of the conflicts. Bring your customers and employees along the journey with you, to help them see why leadership had to make the difficult decisions they did, and hopefully maintain (or even grow) their trust in your organization along the way.
Leaders should act as “advocates” of your company values and exhibit these in their communications and actions as frequently and consistently as possible.
What is the story being imprinted on the “organizational mind” of your company right now? Is it the narrative you want to be shared and passed down in the coming years?
Write the story taking place right now the way you want it to be remembered. There is no doubt this moment in time, and the way it is handled, will be personally remembered for years to come. This 2020 narrative will be imprinted on the “organizational mind” forever – passed down by current, previous, and potential employees and customers.
How are employees interacting in this new virtual environment? Are new mediums and cadences being put in place, and do they effectively bring your culture and values to life?
Redesign your company’s “socialization process” to take advantage of the current all-virtual environment. Bring employees together from across the organizational hierarchy to talk about the culture, what is going well and not well, so they are able to get to truly know colleagues from across the company. This redesign facilitates exposure to a wider, more varied set of experiences in understanding your company.
Research has shown that culture is more about shared values – making sure all employees believe they share the same organizational culture – than physical artifacts and place. All-remote companies argue that their model is more effective in communicating and facilitating shared values across the organization than in the in-person model, claiming how seldom a coincidental watercooler chat will occur between individuals on another floor or building.
This year and all of the challenges brought with it have put the magnifying glass on leadership action and the culture that is truly being upheld within organizations. Use this time to reflect on your organization and better understand how your culture manifests itself within the workforce. For instance, if your organization claims to foster collaboration and initiatives, and you see ad hoc teams popping up, then your people and their behaviors are reflecting the values defined within your culture. However, if you see aspects of your people, stories and behaviors that do not reflect your organization’s definition of culture, it is time to reevaluate and take serious consideration of if and how your culture is being upheld during this shift in environment and working conditions.
Consider, if the challenge is maintaining your current company culture in this new normal or if the challenge is tweaking, or even reinventing, your culture to meet the new normal. If you are a leader, use the guide above to steer through the evaluation and solutioning process. If you are a current or prospective employee, use this guide to assess the organization’s handling of culture in one of the most challenging times in our history. You decide if their approach aligns with the values, purpose, and stories written on the walls, website, and employee handbook purported by the leadership and company itself.
The New Normal: What is the role of the office?
Most states have started hinting about re-opening to full capacity. Some of them have eased locked down measures so that companies and social events can start functioning like they did in the past. Prior to the pandemic, offices were critical to fostering productivity, instilling company culture, and promoting collaboration between colleagues. However, the pandemic shifted the expectation and attitude of the role of the office and drove companies to conform and adjust to new behaviors. There was an obvious uptick in the remote workforce and some companies, such as Twitter, are urging their employees to continue to work remotely while others are becoming more flexible and allowing the option to come back to the office.
Unfortunately, not all companies are the same and there is not a “one size fits all approach” to coming back to the office. So how can companies take measures to provide a safe working environment for their employees?
The Corporate Culture Transformation
As companies ease their way to opening their offices, leaders need to design and decide different approaches to come back to the office based on their employees’ roles and what is best for the company. There are 3 different models to consider.
- Full Snap Back: 100% Back to the office: In this approach, employees are completely back in the office 5 days a week. Smaller companies (<100 people) are more likely to adopt this approach and typically would work best for roles that require onsite tools and technology.
- Hybrid: 50% In-Office / 50% Remote: In this approach employees may go back to the office 2 days a week and work remotely for 3 days or vice versa. This approach gives the employee the autonomy to decide when to come to the office but also allows some work/life balance.
- Remote: 100% Remote: In this approach, employees are no longer coming to the office and are working from home. With new technologies and collaboration tools, this approach is typically adopted by larger companies (>100 people) where productivity is not impacted.
Regardless of which approach companies take, management teams should conduct a full role analysis to understand which roles are required to come back to the office to minimize business impact.
Managing the New Culture of Working
Incorporating a new way of working is likely to go awry without employee buy-in. It is crucial for leaders to manage employee expectations, demonstrate empathy and flexibility and create new processes on how work is completed. This new way of working will present a change management challenge and leaders need to be prepared on how to address concerns, communicate the new company’s vision and strategy, and put employee safety first. Leaders can use this as an opportunity to strengthen their culture and increase employee engagement and morale.
We have talked about the potential new role of the office and how to manage a new culture of working but what are some tactical measures companies can take as they open up their offices?
- Prioritize what roles need to come back to the office and when
- Leverage tools and technology for roles that can work remotely
- Provide safety and guidelines for roles that need to be onsite
- Communicate the shared vision of the company
- Be creative and create new processes on how work is completed
Navigating the post-pandemic world is going to be an adjustment and business challenge for most companies. To maintain operations and to minimize business impact, companies and management teams need to consider what approach is best and remain flexible. They need to remain agile and nimble as they adapt to the new normal. If your company is going back to the office, visit our website to learn how Collective Insights can help your business through any change management or culture transformation to get you back on the right foot.