How to Get Into Tech: Insider Advice from Industry Professionals
Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.
If you're partial to a scientific or technical way of thinking, you might be well-suited for a career in STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The technology portion, in particular, is filled with pathways that require varying skills and experiences.
As rapid technological advances dictate the future of work, you may wonder how you can best prepare yourself for your first role in the field — and the one after that.
Here’s a guide to get you started.
How Do I Start a Tech Career?
The path into tech isn’t a one-way street, but there are certain credentials and experiences that can make you more competitive, including a college degree and a combination of technical and soft skills.
1. Earn a College Degree
To break into the tech field, you’ll want to earn at least a bachelor’s degree. “To be a competitive candidate, a bachelor’s degree is a must,” said Ahlam Alhweiti, a senior software development engineer and information technology faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most computer and information technology occupations list a bachelor’s degree as the required entry-level education. However, Alhweiti said master’s degrees are often preferred.
What you choose to major in can vary, though. Some bachelor’s degrees you might consider obtaining include:
If you can’t commit to a full-time course load, you don’t have to. SNHU faculty trainer and STEM adjunct Steve Villone completed some of his education part-time as he raised his family and built his career in tech.
And if you earn your degree online, you may find greater flexibility than at traditional brick-and-mortar colleges.
2. Build on Your Experience
While you earn your college degree, you may have an opportunity to complete an internship. An internship allows you to gain hands-on experience inside an organization. Not only can this help you develop practical skills, but it can also add valuable experience to your resume and lead to more networking opportunities.
“If you are a student, do at least one, if not two, internships,” said Faryal Humkar, an SNHU career advisor who supports STEM students and alumni.
If you’re already working full-time and going to school, you may wonder when you’ll have time to also complete an internship. Some schools allow you to turn your internship experiences into college credits, which can alleviate some of that stress. At SNHU, for example, you can often earn three credits toward your degree if you complete a set number of hours and a supplementary internship course that helps you connect your experiences to your education.
Humkar said employers are generally flexible with their interns, too, meaning you might be able to create a schedule that works for you and your supervisor. You may also have the option to complete a remote internship, meaning you don’t need to travel to an office setting to gain professional experience.
If you’re not having luck landing a posted internship, Humkar suggests creating your own. “Almost everyone has a tech department these days, right? Your hospitals, your school district, city, colleges, anywhere — just call and say, ‘hey, I'm a full-time student. I'd love to do an internship with your department. Can I email you my resume?’” Humkar said. “A lot of them will welcome you with open arms.”
You might also consider volunteering at local nonprofits. “The great thing about technology is that there are so many places that need help,” said Brooke Goggin, a solutions engineer and computer science faculty member at SNHU. Although unpaid, you can still count these types of volunteer work as professional experiences.
Volunteering can help you grow your network, allowing you to make new connections and gain references who can speak to your work. You'll also have an opportunity to showcase your technical and soft skills, build on your experience and supplement your resume.
Relevant experiential learning opportunities don’t just help you become a more appealing candidate; they can also help you determine what areas of technology interest you most.
“Try to familiarize yourself with the various niches in technology,” Villone, who has a background in programming, networking, cybersecurity and more, said. “You don’t have to be good at everything. Maybe you like SQL (database queries). Then follow that thread. Maybe you like forensic cybersecurity. Follow that thread.”
While teaching a kinesiology course at a community college, Goggin saw an opportunity to automate a fitness center. In collaboration with two computer science students, she wrote a computer program that did just that.
That hands-on experience helped her get started in tech.
3. Explore Certifications
Technology micro-credentials are plentiful. A certificate program or certification can help you zero in on a particular area of technology that interests you, and they typically take less time to complete than a degree.
“The trifecta of a degree, certification and experience really moves applicants to the front of the line,” Goggin said.
Villone recommends earning one or more basic certifications, such as:
- CompTIA A+
- CompTIA Network+
- CompTIA Security +
A good way to tell what certifications make sense for you is to review job listings for a position you want. “(If) you continue to see CompTIA on job listings, you know you may want to... start working on that certification so that way it'll make you more competitive,” Humkar said.
Some colleges, such as SNHU, may offer discounts for specific certifications, allowing you to save some money while obtaining the industry credential.
4. Showcase Your Technical Skills
Having technical skills, sometimes called hard skills, is central to working in tech. But how do you know which ones you’ll need?
Beyond knowing how to navigate computers, cell phones and various operating systems, Goggin believes you should understand security, programming, networks, analytics and machine learning if you want to break into the tech field.
CompTIA breaks some of the most in-demand tech skills into five categories:
- Cybersecurity: Information security, cybersecurity analytics, risk analysis, penetration testing, compliance
- Data and analytics: Database administration, data analysis, data science, data visualization, big data
- Development: Programming languages, web development, quality assurance, machine learning, user experience
- Infrastructure: Linux, technical support, cloud computing, networking
- Professional: Project management, professional skills, business skills, automation
College degree programs cover many of these subjects, allowing you to study and develop your skills. Then, should you land an interview, you can describe how you have gained and applied skills in a bit more depth — especially if you earned an A in the class, Humkar said.
5. Develop Soft Skills
No matter what field you go into, exercising soft skills can be valuable — especially with the advancement of machine learning.
Certain soft skills are particularly helpful for a tech career. Alhweiti, Goggin and Villone stressed the importance of these, in particular:
- Ability to self-learn and take risks
- Accountability, organization and time management
- Compassion and kindness
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Persistence and perseverance
- Written and verbal communication
You can display your soft skills during job interviews. For instance, the question “Why should I hire you?” can be met with a combination of verbal communication skills, problem-solving skills and more.
“This is not (an) ‘I think,’ or ‘I feel,’ but instead ‘I have these skills supported by these examples that will meet your company’s mission in these ways,’” Goggin said.
Villone also offered the ability to let go as an important skill. This can help you move on in your career and avoid burnout. “Being able to say, ‘I did the best I could for now, and I’m going to put this down for a while,’ … This is not easy,” Villone said. “But it is a skill. It is a powerful skill.”
6. Work with a Career Advisor
Your college may have a team of trained professionals to support you as you achieve your professional goals. SNHU, for example, has career advisors you can work with as soon as you’re enrolled, and they will be there for you even after you’ve joined the university’s alumni community.
Humkar, who is also a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), said that advisors like herself are available to help you explore your goals, build your resume, establish an online professional presence and navigate salary negotiations. They can help you prepare for interviews, too, and share other advice that may help you as you seek to establish and grow your career.
Some schools also have a career team dedicated to helping students interested in completing internships for college credits.
7. Open Yourself to Lifelong Learning
As technology continues to change and advance, so will the careers that interact with it. If you want to establish and grow your career in technology, you must be willing to keep up with the advancements. Sometimes this means earning new certificates and certifications. It could mean navigating search engines when you need to learn more about a particular subject or troubleshoot an issue you’re having.
Having the ability to learn on your own is essential to working in the tech field, according to Goggin. “Being able to problem solve and learn are crucial regardless of what skills you know,” she said. “Whatever skills you know, they will change quickly, so you will need to remain up-to-date and keep learning.”
Following publications such as TechRepublic, PCMag and vendor blogs can be another good way to stay up-to-date on the latest tech news and insights. You can also find podcasts and tech forums that will support your ongoing education.
Taking initiative in the workplace and going above and beyond can also help you leave a good impression on your internship supervisor or employer. If you’ve completed your assigned tasks or observed a pain point on your team, Humkar suggests volunteering to help. For example, you could say to your manager: “I noticed that ... so-and-so is a little overwhelmed, and I'm done with my work. Can I help them?’ This really shows initiative and employers like this,” Humkar said.
Is it Hard to Get Into Tech With No Experience?
While you’ll probably learn a lot on the job, it’s helpful to have foundational experiences and skills you can showcase as a job candidate that you’ll continue to build on once you land a role.
Experience comes in many shapes and forms, though — from class projects to pet projects.
When you’re ready to start applying for jobs, here are five entry-level careers to consider:
- Computer Network Support Specialist: You can help organizations troubleshoot computer network issues and maintain regular network maintenance. BLS reports computer network support specialists earned a median of $62,760 in 2021. “Support is such a great place to start because you are exposed to so many issues and learn about users and technical teams,” Goggin said.
- Computer User Support Specialist: Also referred to as a help-desk technician, you can assist people with technical issues they are experiencing. BLS reports computer user support specialists earned a median of $57,910 in 2021 and has a projected jobs growth of 6% through 2031. “If you feel you have some good people skills and tolerance for folks who may sometimes be upset, a help-desk technician is a wonderful way to start,” Villone said.
Those working in this role build important sensitivities to the user experience and get an overview of the technology services with an organization. As a computer user support specialist, you'll also have an opportunity to see if you have an interest in the field which can lead to other roles as well.
- Information Security Analyst: In this position, you are charged with keeping computer networks and systems protected and quickly responding in the event of a security breach. BLS reports information security analysts earned a median of $102,600 in 2021, with a 35% projected job growth through 2031. “Analysts generally get to program some while learning from code that is already written,” Goggin said. "You learn a lot from code — for what to do and what not to do.”
- Junior Software Developer: As an entry-level software developer, you could contribute to creating and maintaining computer programs and applications. “(This) is a great career path if you are majoring in computer science,” Humkar said. “... Strong coding skills are needed for this role.”
- Project Management Specialist: As a project manager, you can see all types of projects through from start to finish. While you could work as a project manager in many different industries, BLS data reports computer systems design and related fields were the largest employers of project manager specialists in 2021 and paid a mean wage of $114,930. “If you feel your gifts/abilities are more organizational in nature, consider one of these two fields,” Villone said. “...project manager or ScrumMaster.”
Becoming a technology professional can take time and tenacity. Believe in yourself, leverage resources, develop your skills and keep learning. “Do not let anyone tell you that you cannot do something,” Villone said.
Is a Career in Tech Worth It?
Between the evolving nature of the field and the multiple pathways available, a tech career could be worth it if it’s an area that interests you. Jobs in this field generally pay well, too. Per BLS data, the median salary for computer or information technology occupations was $97,430 in 2021 — more than double the median wage for all occupations.
Additionally, there’s increasing flexibility in the field to accommodate work/life balance, in Alhweiti’s experience. “Most tech companies allow for working from home and adjusting work hours as needed,” she said. “Also, it’s very rewarding to work in an environment full of talented and innovative individuals — and makes you learn quickly.”
With all the advancements in the field, who knows where a career in tech could take you? It brought Goggin abroad for a year, where she implemented technology solutions at universities in France.
As a tech professional, you can make a real difference in the world.
“It is not an easy career, but the work is well worth it — and think of the impact you can have,” Goggin said. “You might save people from a breach, a bug in a medical device or a bug in a bank that might cause people to lose money — that is exciting.”
A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU technology program that can best help you meet your goals.
Rebecca LeBoeuf ’18 ’22G is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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