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.
In the “Great Resignation,” an estimated 47 million employees (and counting) voluntarily quit their jobs. The job market still hasn’t recovered from the unprecedented “quit rate” of 3.3% at the Great Resignation’s peak. Now, about 50% of the workforce are “quiet quitters” according to a Gallup poll — meaning, half of workers are disengaged at work and do only the minimum required of their job.
Having engaged talent is a competitive advantage for companies in today’s work environment. Replacing an employee who’s handed in their two-weeks notice can, after all, cost your company 21% of the employee’s annual salary. Employee retention strategies — ones that go beyond a box of donuts in the breakroom — are key to keeping workers engaged in the workplace. But given that overly played-out retention tactics can be ineffective at best and make your company look insincere at worst, it’s important to prioritize the right strategies. To that end, let’s go over some new and improved employee retention strategies that you may not have tried yet.
In this article, you'll find:
- Why employee retention strategies fail
- The best employee retention strategies
- Your employee retention strategy is your DEI initiative
Why employee retention strategies fail
There are plenty of employee retention strategy examples out there, but efforts can fall short. For your employee retention strategies project to be successful, you need to avoid these four common pitfalls.
1. Not delivering on promises. If you say you’re going to do something, follow up on it. Consistency is key to building employee retention strategies. Don’t ask employees to be honest about how they're feeling at work and then ignore their input. Or worse, promise big reform and fall short with token changes.
2. No trust. Studies indicate that “quiet quitting” is largely due to the relationship between employee and boss. Managers need the time, skills, and training to build solid relationships with staff. There are resource forums for people leaders to share ideas. Using tried-and-true best practices is the best strategy to build trust.
3. Siloed initiatives. Employee retention strategies can’t just live in HR. The moment they become siloed within one department or position, they fail. Employee retention strategies need to be a priority in every department and at every level.
4. No resources. Employee retention strategies need resources. To put it plainly, unfunded initiatives don’t work. Employees should be compensated for extra work such as sitting on an employee retention committee or putting together a workplace social. Likewise, pay raises and compensation should be a central part of the conversation. Remember, one of the main issues for quiet quitters is doing extra work for no extra pay.
The best employee retention strategies for 2022
With the don’ts out of the way, let’s move on to the best employee retention strategies you can start implementing today.
Listen to your employees
Well-run companies spend time and effort collecting feedback and customer satisfaction information. But what about employees? Managers need to ask, “how’s my driving?” Having data is critical to understanding how your employees are affected and making the necessary changes in order for employee retention strategies to take off. Send out an anonymous workplace survey asking about stress levels, feelings of creativity, people’s sense of inclusion, and how connected they are with their managers. If you’re not sure what to measure, start with a couple in-depth interviews. See what people want to talk about. The responses in the interviews will give you the basis for your wider survey.
If you ask your employees to be honest in giving feedback, management needs to be honest and transparent too. Acknowledge publicly the challenges the company faces based on what your employees have told you. This is the first step in accountability. Be transparent about compensation, pay raises, and benefits. Did you realize it is perfectly legal for employees to openly discuss compensation? This traditional taboo is becoming a common water cooler conversation. Social media is informing workers how to advocate for themselves. Meet them where they are. Actions speak louder than words.
Recognize and reward people, not just numbers
Over 1 in 5 employees does not feel valued at work. Feeling valued means knowing that your work is worthwhile and desirable. Watching the same sales people get rewarded for hitting their numbers again and again can be demoralizing for those who go comparatively unrecognized. Know your team and what they’re working on. Openly celebrate different kinds of triumphs, big and small, and be specific when you do. Helping people feel seen takes more than a generic “good job.”
Be flexible about work
Rethink how, where, and how long we do work. Research shows that 52% of workers prefer a hybrid remote-office work model. Employees even prefer it over a 10% pay raise. Employers must respond to this need as part of honing effective employee retention strategies.
And, as far as flexibility goes, time ownership is a massive benefit to offer employees — including by enabling them to work fewer days. Iceland is a leader in experimenting with the 4-day work week. Icelandic companies found it reduced burnout while improving work-life balance. Consider flexible arrangements that have proven results like these. Imagine how teams can be ambassadors for the company when they enjoy a new normal.
Employees that can’t see a clear career path within their company will look elsewhere to grow. The longer an employee stagnates in a position, the more their likelihood of leaving increases. Managers need to regularly work with each employee to envision their growth. Movement can be within their same position or laterally, as well. Give employees a discretionary budget for ongoing education and skills enhancement. Encourage projects and rotations with different departments to learn new skills.
Dust off that DEIB initiative
The best employee retention strategies are ones that are formed through a DEIB lens. DEIB strategies can be innovative for employee retention, as they (should) focus on all the things that make everyone supported, safe, and valued in the workplace. DEIB is, after all, not about making special accommodations for marginalized people; it’s about making the workplace better for everyone.
Your best employee retention strategy is a strategic DEIB initiativeDEIB initiatives make apt springboards for a number of successful employee retention strategies by listening to talent, creating custom work environments, and making employees across identities feel valued. Focus your efforts on DEIB, and employee retention will be one of many positive outcomes. PowerToFly has expert DEIB consultants that can help you jump start your DEIB-informed employee retention plan.
💎 Want to thrive as a customer success manager? Watch the video to the end to get some advice on how to do it.
📼Every customer success team has to follow some steps to achieve efficiency. Play this video to get three top tips that every manager in the SaaS industry should keep in mind. You'll hear from Miki Lager, Director of Customer Success at Tackle, who shares her own experience and knowledge.
📼 Customer familiarity for success. Tip #1: Know your customer. Understand their business. There are three steps in knowing how to navigate that. First, don't make it so operational. Build a true relationship with the client. Understand who are their competitors, what are the challenges they're facing, what's their true mission at heart, and how are they hoping to achieve that. Next, truly understand who the core team is that you should be working with. And finally, make sure to understand their key strategic and revenue goals.
📼Achieve customer success by delegating. Tip #2: Co-manage your customer. Not one person owns the client relationship at your company. Lead with others. Make sure to bring other stakeholders in, so that you can make sure the customer is on their path to success and that they can scale with your business solution. Team up with sales. Build a really strong relationship with your support team. Partner with the product team. The customer needs to understand where your business is headed in the future quarters so that they can plan accordingly, but also for your product team to then understand where the customer's product roadmap is headed, so you can align on strategy and best practices for that customer.
Customer Roadmap To Success - Tip #3: Define A Customer Journey
Have a defined customer journey. If the customer doesn't know where they're heading, it's going to cause some problems. Give them a clear roadmap to success. You can always adjust milestones as needed, based on different goals and different initiatives that you're working on with them. Once you have the customer journey defined, you can figure out which milestones align with the growth strategy the customer has in mind.
📨 Are you interested in joining Tackle? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Miki Lager
She’s passionate about building client success teams for rapidly growing SaaS organizations. She’s been a leader at small to medium-sized companies, supporting the life cycle of startups through acquisition, and integration. If you are interested in a career at Tackle, you can connect with Miki on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Tackle
Tackle enables software companies to accelerate and operationalize the use of Cloud Marketplaces like AWS, Microsoft, Google Cloud, and Red Hat, without the need for significant engineering resources. Their platform and team come together to make it easier for customers to build, grow, and scale their Marketplace businesses. Tackle was born and built as a remote organization and welcomes others who believe remote companies are the way companies will be built into the future. They believe that everyone has an opportunity to learn and grow in their community.
Nestlé would like to invite you to their Supply Chain virtual recruiting info session on September 29th from 4-5PM EST. Sign up for this event with leaders from our Supply Chain team to get an insider’s view on what it’s like to work at one of Gartner’s top-ranked supply chains for 2022 and the world’s largest food and beverage organization!
To say that Nazanin (Nazy) Brown and her family lead active lives is a bit of an understatement.
“We've got four young children and all of them are in multiple sports throughout the school year, as well as the summer,” she explains. “My husband and I are both coaches, so a lot of our time goes from work to home, out to the field to coach or watch games, and then back home for showers, dinner, and bed.”
With an always-on-the-go home life, it was important to Nazy to have a career that is stimulating but also allows her to be present in the lives of her children.
We sat down with Nazy to learn how she has mastered work-life balance as a Contracting Officer within the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency while she keeps her busy household running smoothly.
From Crime TV Fan to Special Agent
At a young age, Nazy loved crime TV shows, which influenced her choice to study forensic psychology. She went on to earn a master’s degree in the subject, where she got some exposure to federal government agencies.
“During my master's degree, we had a lot of recruiters come to our program,” she recounts. “One of the recruiters from an intelligence agency told us that they often hired people from our program as special agents.”
Nazy is also fluent in Farsi, and in addition to her choice of master's program, this made her an ideal candidate for many agencies.
“I began interviewing for special agent roles based on my Farsi skills,” she reveals. “I got a few job offers, and I landed a job as an entry-level contract specialist in the private sector.”
Working for a government contractor, Nazy quickly advanced in her career and eventually became a Senior Contracting Negotiator for Lockheed Martin — and she was loving it.
“I just really liked it and thought it was a great field to be in,” she says.
And while her career advanced, so did her personal life. She became a young mother with increasing responsibilities at home, which led her to be more mindful of where she was dedicating her time.
“At that point, I was putting in so many hours — it's not a 40-hour work week,” she admits. “It wasn't uncommon for me to sometimes work weekends, especially during proposal season.”
As Nazy continued to pile on the overtime, she saw that she wasn’t able to be the mom she wanted to be.
“I wanted to be able to cut work off when I'm at home,” she recalls. “I didn't want to be that mom that comes home and is on her laptop. This was when I realized that having a job that is strictly limited to just 40 hours a week would be best for our family.”
A Parent-Compatible Workplace
Through friends, Nazy learned more about working in the public service and realized that not only would she not have to work overtime, but it would also allow her to work close to her children.
“Many agencies have onsite daycares,” she notes. “I knew that would help so much with commuting and my stress level, as well as the cost. That was my number one reason to jump into the federal government.”
So, Nazy applied for a role that looked interesting and soon found herself working as a Contract Specialist in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The onsite daycare took in her oldest, who was then a toddler, and promised a spot to her second child, who was on the way.
“Having my children onsite with me instead of having to drop them off in another part of the city before work every day pretty much changed my entire life,” she reflects.
With her childcare issues solved and a manageable number of working hours, Nazy was able to focus more on her career development and explore her options. It was her husband, who works in the Intelligence Community (IC), who convinced her to consider switching to intelligence.
“My husband told me that the IC is just a different animal, and he was right. The contracting is different. The mission is amazing. So I decided to look into the IC,” she says.
Applying for roles in the IC required her to rework her entire application package, but her preparation paid off when she landed a role as a Contracting Officer at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).
“Since I've come to the IC, I've been able to broaden my skills,'' remarks Nazy. “It's an entirely different contract writing system, and the IC’s mission and impact are far greater in size and scope, which has really expanded my knowledge. I've learned so much in the three years that I've been here,” she says.
The Secrets to Work-Life Balance for Working Parents
Over the past two and a half years, working from home became the norm for some parents. For Nazy, this was not an option because of the sensitive nature of the data she handles at NGA — and she actually prefers it this way.
“I like the fact that I can get my work done without interruptions from my kids. And when I go home, I take my lanyard off, hang it up, and I go right into mom mode,” she says.
For other parents looking to have this same work-life balance, Nazy offers the following tips:
- Look for jobs with short commutes. Commuting to work for an hour each way might not seem like a lot in the beginning, but over time it can take a toll”, Nazy warns. “Try to get everything set up in your local area as close as you can. In an online job search, set the parameters to five or ten miles from home, max.”
- Find an organization that offers practical support to working parents. “I don't think a lot of people realize that many government agencies offer onsite childcare,” she shares. “I've had four young children who all went through them and I have nothing but good things to say about them. So consider an employer that offers this, instead of the commercial child care centers, which are double the price.”
- Have food prep on point. Between work and her children’s sports activities, Nazy can’t cook something from scratch every night of the week. “I start the week on prepped meals. By Thursday, we're finishing everything that’s in the fridge, and then on Friday we order something or go out to eat,”
- Take advantage of employer wellness offerings. “You need to take care of yourself as a mom, '' she advises. “NGA gives us three hours a week for physical fitness training, pilates, or yoga classes, which are all provided at work. Taking advantage of that during the work day is so much easier than trying to work out at home.”