Getting into tech with no IT background: Tips & stories
10 min read
Are you passionate about technology? Would you like to be involved in projects that combine communication, logical thinking, and problem-solving? If you are considering or are already learning frontend or backend development, you might sometimes feel lost: what is the right learning path? What kind of technologies are important to get a job? What am I still missing? What skills do I need to improve? What do I need to know before I start applying for a job? When am I ready to apply for my first tech job?
It doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you don’t stop—Confucius
Do these questions sound familiar to you? Sometimes they may even make you hesitate about your career decisions—and your skills. However, learning about other techlovers’ stories is always a great help and a dose of inspiration. Thus, we asked some career switchers about their experiences and top tips. Let’s get to know Julia Undeutsch, Bram van Zalk, Damaris Göebel, Karen Hoyos, Daniela Fedyakin and Yelizaveta Crofts. All of them have diverse backgrounds, but one day they decided to change their career completely and never looked back. So, our first question is…
How did a non-technical background help you get into tech?
Some of them, like Julia, who studied Musicology and Japanese, didn’t really find a connection between their background and tech. Following her dreams and being consistent helped Julia get into tech, though:
My background itself did not help me get into IT, but my passion about coding and creating things on the web did. I am eager to learn new things, and I like talking about code and writing blog posts about these things—Julia
Some others had the chance to work with developers in the past, so they had a good understanding of what their day-to-day looks like:
I worked pretty closely with frontend and backend developers, wrote tickets, tested deployments, and scribbled with the product team new user interfaces. This gave me a little insight into the IT world—Damaris
I worked in marketing for about 3 years and got curious about tech because I was writing about software development. I did a bootcamp but didn't follow up on it initially. I took some more time to learn and became more confident and eventually found a small project through a friend. This gave me a good base of experience to start applying seriously to junior developer positions—Yelizaveta
And some others were simply able to take advantage of their previous soft skills to connect their background with a tech career:
I think my management background helped me a lot. I was very honest in my interviews that I don't want to be a developer for the rest of my life, and that I see my future in project/product management. So, I think my soft skills and my personality helped a lot, probably more than my coding skills—Bram
Having worked in the hospitality industry meant that I had to deal with clients on a daily basis, listen to their concerns and issues, and try to help them as much as possible. Later on in tech, having had this experience meant that it was easy for me to connect with people in different parts of the organisation and be able to 'speak the same language'—Karen
My architectural studies gave me an advantage when it comes to learning how to code, as it’s A LOT about problem-solving. While it’s not necessary to go through similar education to be able to learn how to code, I noticed that some logical things were clicking faster with me than with my peers—Daniela
Different backgrounds, different stories, but all of them made it into tech without any previous coding experience. However, we were also wondering what kind of things they were still missing during their first job experience, so we asked them:
What did you wish you had learned earlier?
The coding basics are essential, but some other details are worth paying attention to during your learning journey:
I feel like breaking down the problem into smaller problems and taking things one step at a time is very important when coding. When I started in coding—and even now, sometimes—I jumped very quickly to the implementation, and sometimes I didn't pay enough attention to the details of the issue. So, I would say, if you are thinking of taking a coding course or enrolling in a bootcamp, practice as much as you can, try to understand the basic concepts and syntax to build a strong foundation once you start. One day, things will start to click and make sense, and that’s a beautiful moment, so having clear concepts before will help you get to this moment—Karen
The very, very, very basics. I feel like because my goal was to get employed quickly, I caught the knowledge I needed in order to get things done and delivered—but if you had asked me some low-level questions, I would have probably struggled to answer. And testing. I don’t know why, but it almost feels like a taboo topic within the tech community, and that the camps are split into ones who are experts in testing and ones who know nothing about it—Daniela
Time to start searching for a tech job! But how? If you are still not feeling confident enough, don’t panic! Our techlovers have gone through the same situation, and luckily, they have told us about…
What helped you the most in searching for and getting a job?
LinkedIn and building a network probably helped me the most. The recruiter who eventually introduced me to my current employer was one of the first contacts on LinkedIn. I am not on any social media and started on LinkedIn from scratch. Just spending an hour a day on LinkedIn was worth it for me—Bram
For me, it was talking to people and going to conferences and meetups. The week after I finished the bootcamp, I attended a tech conference in Berlin and started talking to the different companies that had a booth there about their open positions, especially for juniors, to get a better idea of the job market—Karen
Persistency and transparency. Be very clear about the level of the skills you’re bringing to the table. You are a junior, people are hiring juniors, but they need to know your level. Not only for you to contribute to the tasks of the business but also for them to know how much time and effort they will need to dedicate for mentoring and to clear up their schedule. Otherwise, it can be quite frustrating if you end up in a position of not meeting expectations from both sides—Daniela
In general, communication is not only crucial when searching for a job, but also once on the job. However, when you get your first tech role, you will probably realise what kind of skills will be extremely useful for you. That is why we also wanted to know…
What skills helped you the most at your first tech job?
Before I got into tech, I had this idea in mind that developers were lonely creatures, but this is far from reality, I found. My experience is that developers do enjoy working together as a pair or a group, as well as having implementation discussions and brainstorming sessions, so being able to work in a team and be part of one is very important. I would say curiosity as well. I'm sure you’ve heard the expression, 'under the hood': how things work behind the scenes, how things are connected. I think a developer should be curious enough and not simply make things work but understand, to an extent, why your code works, and why it works that way and no other way—Karen
Observing how others code, think about solutions, and trying things out really helped. I tried to get as much as I could from everyone in order to learn from them—almost like a sponge. I also had great people and developers around me, so it was an amazing learning experience—Daniela
Being keen to learn from more experienced developers and to ask questions about things you don't understand without worrying about how they sound really helps to speed up your learning and usefulness within the team—Yelizaveta
At this point, you probably have a better understanding about how connecting your learning path with certain skills (like communication, team collaboration, and networking) can help you get into tech. But what else could motivate you to keep going?
What advice do you have for career switchers like you?
Be aware of who you are, what you know, and what you don’t—and do not be afraid to ask questions even during an interview, show passion when you do not know certain things. Show that you are interested in learning the things you don’t know yet—Julia
It is what most people say: build things. Don't copy and don't keep watching tutorials, just build things. E-commerce sites, HR staff management apps, multi-page forms. Things where you can show managing state, conditional rendering, fetching, and handling data. Those are the core things that you'll be doing in the future—Bram
Don't give up. It gets better with experience. Celebrate the little successes!—Damaris
I would say if you are sure this is the career you want, just go for it. Coding can be very frustrating sometimes: you get stuck, can’t find the issue, and to me, it helps to start fresh sometimes.
Another thing I would suggest is to get a mentor. Just because you got a job doesn't mean you’ve got nothing else to learn or that you'll learn everything in the job. Don’t be afraid of asking questions, and don’t waste too much time stuck on a problem. If you don’t understand something, ask a colleague or your mentor. Trying to fix things by yourself is great, but sometimes copying and pasting code without understanding it is not useful, so ask someone with more experience to explain the issue, and I’m sure you’ll find a way to solve it. Sit back, relax, and code—Karen
I think it’s good to remind ourselves that everyone is/was a beginner at some point. It’s a bit tougher if you are out of school and need to study again—especially something completely new—while balancing adult responsibilities. But if you like it, you want it, and you’re interested in what tech can give you—then put that on the wall as a daily reminder and go for it. Don’t doubt yourself, be loud and ask questions (after you’ve Googled them first though), and find an online community of people who are also going through the same thing. For me personally, it really helped having the community on Instagram, as I had no one in my circle who had gone through a similar thing or worked in tech. You can do this!—Daniela
Ask a lot of questions (even if you think they are basic). There are no stupid questions. I see many people being concerned about when to apply because they do not feel ready. Just apply. You can’t know everything. A job is a win-win (for the company and for you). Not everything is about what the company wants but also your interest. Another important thing is being willing to learn: tech is a never-stop-learning field. Do not try to make things perfect and take breaks—Yelizaveta
Connecting the dots can be a long and frustrating journey, but with some dedication and passion, it is possible. Put all your energy into it, be open, and embrace the tech community. You belong in tech!
Collaboration with Cristina Padilla: an online marketing specialist and a self-taught frontend developer based in Berlin with a passion for technology, learning, and solving real-world problems through code.