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Work-Life Integration

What It’s Like to Work in Tech Without a Tech Background

Partner Content

A version of this article previously appeared on Skillcrush, an online education program for creatives, thinkers, and makers that gives total tech newbies the tools to make major career changes.

Haele Wolfe, Skillcrush

I'm a Junior Editor here at Skillcrush—my job is to work with our editorial team to edit this website you're reading at this very moment. When you picture editing, you probably think about someone staring at long blocks of text on a computer and making cuts or even marking up a manuscript with a big red pen. And you're not wrong—a lot of editing does look like that. It can be super low-tech and there are certainly editing jobs that don't require any tech skills. But those are becoming fewer and farther between, and as someone who doesn't come from a tech background, it was clear that my career wasn't moving in any positive direction taking the analog approach. I just knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with the changing media landscape if I were only to rely on my red pen. I never expected this, but if I wanted to keep editing with any type of job security, I'd need to start applying my tech skills—and up skill—to my career as an editor.

When I started at Skillcrush, I had just the basics of HTML under my belt and a solid background in tech skills like video production and sound editing. There was still a learning curve with the amount of skills I needed to gain to be a digital editor, but luckily, picking up things on the fly is kind of my favorite thing, and learning tech skills isn't exactly a huge time investment.

In addition to more job security, moving from media to tech gives me flexibility I couldn't have imagined—especially in the form of remote work. Since I began this position seven months ago, I've logged in everywhere from Ohio, to Chicago, to Dallas, to Martha's Vineyard! A typical day for me is filled with equal parts chatting with coworkers, organizing marketing strategies, adding to my growing tech skills, and of course, a lot of writing! Here's a breakdown of how I spend my time.

7:30 a.m.
On a good day, I like to get up, start the coffee, and prioritize my to-do list before jumping on the computer. I'm currently based in Brooklyn and live with roommates—three human, one feline—who all work outside the home (except aforementioned feline, who is my daily co-worker). Mornings can be quite busy at our place, with people vying for bathroom and kitchen space. I like to avoid the cluster and sip my coffee while plotting out the day or catching up on reading for one of my book clubs. (Right now, I'm very behind in three of the book clubs, but doing okay in one. Making a mental note to carve out some extra reading time this week.) Taking time to assess what I need and want to get done for the day has been critical while adjusting to my position with Skillcrush. I also have a background in the arts, and enjoy having several side projects going in addition to my day job, so its vital that I create at least two—usually three—daily to-do lists to address the separate needs of each facet of my life.

9:00 a.m.
Time to log on! Depending on the day of the week and what projects I'm helping facilitate, I may get on a little earlier to make sure things are running smoothly. Skillcrush was my introduction to many tech tools, but the one that has most dramatically reshaped my thinking is SCRUM.

My day runs on the principles of SCRUM—a project management strategy that began in the software industry and is now widely used to track projects and help keep team members connected. We use a program called JIRA to track our SCRUM progress, which allows us to break projects down into smaller tasks and move them from To Do, to In Progress, to Done. I love this system because—as I mentioned above—I love checklists! SCRUM also bakes in time to check in daily, to have hard and fast deadlines, and to spend time looking back over the last working period (these are called sprints) to see what went well and what needs to change. In fact, I've just finished implementing SCRUM to every facet of my personal, creative, and professional lives and use free online tools to manage my own projects. (Airtable and Trello, I love you.) I've been SCRUM-ing my life for about a month now, and I'm already seeing improved results. So first thing in the morning, I'm likely looking at our JIRA dashboard to see what tasks I need to do today, see if there's anything I need to run by my co-workers, and make a plan for what I hope to move to the Done column by the end of the day.

Oftentimes, the first thing on my agenda is to build posts in our content management system, WordPress. Sometimes I think of WordPress as the coworker with whom I spend the most time. WordPress is a staple for any editor—tech or otherwise—since so many sites run on the platform. Every story that appears on our site has to be formatted and scheduled through WordPress, which requires some HTML know-how. One of my big goals right now is to dive deeper into HTML and to finish learning PHP, the coding language associated with WordPress.

In the last minutes before I start our big meeting bloc, I spend a few minutes every morning checking in on our social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. This ends up being one the most fulfilling aspects of my day, since the Skillcrush community is so active, funny, and supportive. Getting to celebrate goals with students, check out the work they're posting, and laugh at the latest corgi gif being passed around is a pretty perfect way to start the day.

11:00 a.m.—1:00 p.m.
The Marketing Team works across several time zones, and 11 a.m. is our sweet spot for daily check-ins, planning, weekly reviews, and the hottest gossip about everything from goat yoga to paragliding. We use Google Hangouts to connect with each other, as well as the chat program HipChat to talk throughout the day. Though it was weird only connecting on video at first, I now absolutely love the balance between facetime and digital chatting. Having focused meeting time makes it easier to concentrate on hitting goals, and makes my workday way more efficient—and we use this time for my favorite thing: SCRUM! Every day we have a 15 minute daily check in where we provide updates, resolve blockers, or ask for support, and then we either have a planning session for our next sprint, a presentation of the sprint that's just ended, or a review of how we think the sprint went. There's also one-on-one meetings with my boss or worksessions with other coworkers where we collaborate on projects.

1:00 p.m.—2:00 p.m.
Lunchtime! Stepping away from the computer for a bit helps me to refocus after a block of meetings, so I try to force myself to take this break. It can be tempting to just keep going, but I need the down time so that I can shift into writing or editing—which for me requires more uninterrupted concentration.

Since I have chronic back pain and often have trouble sitting for long periods, I also use my lunch break to do yoga or go to a class at a local studio around the corner from my apartment. I feel super strongly about how the flexibility of remote work helps me to accommodate my physical needs—which change day to day—and have often been difficult to work around at other jobs. Although this daily exercise may seem insignificant, it has radically improved my physical and mental well-being.

3:00 p.m.—5:00 p.m.
The second half of my day is reserved for writing and editing, since it's usually not as meeting-filled as the morning. I start by checking in with the Editorial team about what stories we're working on, what stage my teammates are in, and what we need to plan for in the coming weeks. Then it's knocking out edits, fact checking, telling our writers what changes I need from their articles, marking the stories as done and ready to be built in WordPress the following morning. I also write a fair amount of articles for the site, so that means researching, interviewing experts, and then—of course—the actual writing. My favorite editorial task is interviewing Skillcrushers—both current students and alumni—for articles we run about learning to code, remote life, or their winding career paths. I've picked up so many new tips and tricks just from having to do research for this position, everything from how to timebox my day like a pro, to the smartest ways to gain clients as a freelancer.

6:00 p.m.—10:00 p.m.
After work I like to cook dinner, look at my personal and creative to-do lists, and start knocking some things out before I have to hit the hay. In a perfect world I get to roll into bed around ten, read for a bit, and the turn out the lights. But living in Brooklyn, there always seem to be events, creative meet-ups, dinners, or other fun things to attend, that often keep me out later—what a great problem to have! Depending on what kinds of artistic projects I'm working on that are most pressing, I'll look for events that sound like they'll help me network or will add to my skill set. Often, I'm working on deadline and am stuck drawing or editing right up till bedtime, but the satisfaction of finishing something I love is totally worth the late nights. And, having a packed schedule forces me to be more conscious of my time and more organized at the beginning of every day. So whether I'm logging in from my house or the highway, I know what I need to do and how long it should take me. In another seven months, I'll be moving onto new coding languages, video calling in from even crazier places, and still touting the magic of SCRUM—watch out.

Work-Life Integration

11 Women on How Tech Skills Can Give You More Control Over Your Life and Work

Partner Content

A version of this article previously appeared on Skillcrush, an online education program for creatives, thinkers, and makers that gives total tech newbies the tools to make major career changes.

Randle Browning, Skillcrush

If I could gather every article I've read in the last few years about the trouble with women and work-life balance—and the concept of "having it all"—I'd have binders full of articles (see what I did there?).

And even if "having it all" is a loaded term, it makes sense. I see more and more of my friends looking at the traditional 9-to-5 model and realizing it doesn't work for them.

These days, we don't have to choose between a typical full-time office job (and the schedule restrictions that come with it) and opting out of the workforce entirely or choosing a less rewarding job. With the rise of remote work—also known as flexible work, working from home, or telecommuting—you can work in a satisfying, high-paying job when and where you want to.

According to a Timewise study, "more than 5.4 million people already work in flexible roles, while an additional 629,000 people (mainly women) want to work, but can't find a job with the flexibility to fit with their caring responsibilities" (via FlexJobs).

It's not just working mothers who can benefit from flexible work, though. In a Harvard Business Review article, Henrik Bresman found that, "Work-life balance doesn't mean the same thing to all. Millennials strive for work-life balance, but this tends to mean work-me balance, not work-family balance." (HBR via FlexJobs).

A flexible job can give you the control over your day that allows you to spend more time on your own passions, take care of your kids, or just stop wasting valuable hours and energy commuting to an office.

I'm lucky enough to have a full-time remote job here at Skillcrush, and it's been life-changing. I can schedule my day how I want, skip the daily commute, travel without taking vacation time, and go to the doctor's office or run a quick errand without asking for permission. Plus, I gave away everything you might call "business casual" without a second glance. ^_^

It's exciting to see Skillcrush students learn tech skills that can give them the same freedom. People with tech skills are especially well-positioned when it comes to finding flexible work. First off, they can earn a living freelancing and work on their own time. But because of their skills, they are set up to succeed in a working environment that relies entirely on what you can do with your personal computer. A 2015 Glassdoor article showed that 14 of the top 25 jobs for finding work-life balance were in tech.

We interviewed 11 women here at Skillcrush and asked them exactly how learning new tech skills has made a difference in work-life balance.

And if you're like I was a few years ago and you're feeling excited about what tech skills could do for your career but not sure where to start, you're in the right place. Enroll in Skillcrush's free 10-Day Coding Bootcampto get an approachable introduction to the tech industry, common terms explained, and the chance to write your first lines of HTML in our code editor.

1. Nathalie Lussier, Founder, AmbitionAlly.com

"Having tech skills has allowed me so much flexibility in so many ways! First, being tech savvy helped get job offers right out of college, which gave me a lot of options when I was graduating and deciding what to do next with my life. What's even better is that because I had these tech skills to fall back on, I was able to turn down these job offers and start my own business right out of college. This gave me a head start toward building a location-independent life and business, that's enabled me to move to a different state and start living the life that really matched my personality and work/life balance.

I was able to grow my business to the point where my husband could quit his job to join my company, and we now develop software tools together with a small but mighty team. We just had a baby and I was able to take time off, and now I'm working part-time (all from home) and we both get to spend time with our little one, too."

2. Ann Cascarano, WordPress instructor, Skillcrush

"The flexible opportunities that come with learning tech skills allow me to fit work around my life rather than the other way around. Have to run to the pediatrician? No problem. My daughter's school needs a last-minute volunteer? Be right there! Need to travel to see the in-laws? Heck, I can work from the car! Perfectly portable, endlessly interesting and fun to boot!"

3. Cameron Chapman, Staff Writer, Skillcrush

"I love tech. But I also love living in what's pretty much the middle of nowhere — Northern Vermont. Tech jobs in this area are limited, to say the least, and most of them don't pay all that well. But the beauty of tech is that I don't have to be sitting in an office somewhere to have an awesome job. I can work from home (which is currently a tiny house situated on an "island" between a river and a spring-fed swamp, complete with high-speed internet) while doing something I love — in my case, that's content marketing. Without tech skills, I'd probably still be working as an insurance agent, or in advertising sales, neither of which I was truly passionate about."

4. Jean Juliano, Freelance designer and developer, Skillcrush alumna

"I feel that there are a lot of benefits in having tech skills. For one, it will help with our work-life balance by providing us with opportunities to work remotely. It can give us the flexibility to work from home if we need to care for loved ones, work from our favorite locations (like a beach, cafe, or another country), and offer us the ability to do the activities we love and want to do when we want to do them. I have missed special occasions in the past due to "normal" work hours and schedules I couldn't get out of, and I am confident that with tech skills, that won't happen again (or as often as it used to)."

5. Atty Cronin, Front-end/ WordPress developer, Skillcrush alumna

"Some years ago, I was traveling down the escalator in the London Underground and I saw an advert: "Learn computer skills". I had a vision of sitting at a desk in my home, working flexible hours, children running around me, earning a decent wage and dictating my own hours.

This may not be everyone's idea of their future career – but my dream literally has come true and is really working. Now that I have tech skills I do work flexible hours from home as a freelancer, plus I also recently landed my first 'proper' job in 7 years as a junior web developer, which also allows me to work from home for most of the week.

So now, I work from home, earn a decent wage, spend time with my children, code (which I love) and continue to learn. Thank you, Skillcrush!"

6. Stephanie Dickard, HTML email developer, Skillcrush alumna

"Tech skills have positively impacted my work-life balance. My previous role in social media marketing made a predictable schedule difficult to maintain. Learning more coding skills opened doors at other companies that value work-life balance. I am able to work remotely, collaborate with others and pursue further professional development. I feel less stuck in my career, and empowered to push my career forward without sacrificing other parts of my life."

7. Beth Alessi, Graphic designer/Developer/Blogger, Fates Allow, Skillcrush alumna

"I've been a graphic designer for years, but over the last year I've taken it further by learning how to code WordPress sites. I discovered that I really love working on the code side of things, and I'm grateful for it because it's opened up a lot of doors for me.

There's comfort in knowing I have in-demand skills, and I love that as a freelance developer I'm in control of my work life. I don't have to ask someone if I can have time off, or have to deal with a busy commute. I can work at home with a cat on my lap, or I can be somewhere else on my laptop. And I really like that the more work I put in, the more income I see. There's no salary cap. It's what I make of it, and that feels good."

8. Laurence Bradford, Founder, Learn to Code With Me

"Gaining tech skills has made my life better because it has opened up new opportunities, allowed me to advance more than I believe I could have without digital skills, and of course get paid more. I always loved to create things. Articles, infographics, slideshows—you name it. Essentially, I love putting together helpful information for others.

Since I've been able to couple that passion for creating with coding, life certainly shifted dramatically. Being able to code and use tools like Illustrator and Photoshop not only allows me to create better things for my own purposes (like learntocodewith.me), but it also makes me a more attractive job candidate. And, of course, get compensated better.

When it comes to "work-life balance", though, there is certainly more "work" than "life" right now. However, that is completely by choice. I know that if I wanted to have more "life" and less "work," it could easily be arranged.

…But I love what I do every day! So, I chose to design my life like this. Which is another important distinction: having tech skills gives you more freedom to set up your life the way you want to."

Check out Laurence's new podcast featuring our CEO and founder Adda Birnir!

9. Lily Herman, Co-founder, The Prospect

"From coding and web design to social media and apps, tech has totally changed how I manage my career and my life. I honestly don't know where I'd be without tech at this point! It's opened up so many huge career opportunities, but it's also been responsible for the majority of my personal and professional networking. Since I spend part of my year not based in large metropolitan areas, it's so incredibly helpful to be able to use social media and apps to connect with people in ways I wouldn't be able to otherwise."

10. Libby Espeland, Marketing team, Skillcrush

"For me, learning tech skills has made a world of difference in both my career AND my personal life. The act of actually learning tech skills allowed me a much-needed escape from a less than fulfilling day job at the time and an opportunity to think bigger for myself. I ultimately learned tech skills to better position my custom-made bridal accessories that I sold on Etsy at the time. In an effort to differentiate myself from other Etsy sellers, I dove head first into WordPress without knowing a single thing about what I was doing.

There were definitely hours upon hours spent Googling, lots of trial and error, and even a mistakenly deleted website that may or may not have resulted in a few tears…. Little by little though things started to make sense and it didn't take long before others started reaching out asking me to build websites for them too. I was eventually able to put my notice in at my day job and started freelancing, all the while continuing to build my skills and take on new and different projects."

11. Jessica Rowshandel, Coder and Author, Skillcrush alumna

"I wanted to do something remotely because I was tired of the 2-4 hour a day commutes that I had done for nearly two decades.

I decided Skillcrush was right for me because I am the type of learner who needs guidance and support — a real person to talk to and who allowed me to ask questions. So I took the Web Design course, learned design fundamentals as well as CSS and HTML.

About two months after I started the course (maybe less?), I applied for a job in tech doing software support that includes some CSS and HTML for client website redesign. Because I could demonstrate interest and skill in coding, I was able to apply for the job, which required some interest or involvement in tech. It's amazing to me that I was actually able to change careers pretty quickly, successfully, and relatively inexpensively.

Plus working remotely is amazing. My quality of life has vastly improved. My commute is 60 seconds. I can work in PJs if I want to. I don't have to fret about getting to bed too late because I save time not having to spend time getting ready and commuting to and from work. I never have Sunday night dread anymore. I get to have lunch with my dogs and play fetch with them in sunshine. When I'm done, I'm done. I just shut off my computer and I'm home.
I have set hours so there's no issue with working too much. If I want to, I can travel somewhere, take my laptop (though they provided me with a work computer), and work while traveling. Other perks are not having to spend tons of money on buying lunch. The list goes on."

Inspired? Me too. Don't forget to sign up for Skillcrush's free 10-Day Coding Bootcamp to get an approachable introduction to the tech industry, common terms explained, and the chance to write your first lines of HTML in our code editor.

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