Hacking a career in tech

Imagine going to university and completing your degree, slaying C++ and precalculus, only for your parents to tell everyone that you “know computers”. Your high precision skills are now relegated to “fixing the internet”, which of course involves hitting reset on the router. It isn’t just “outsiders” having a hard time navigating the tech space, individuals aspiring to have a career in tech struggle to find a stream that is most suitable for them.

Here’s some insider information on how you can be a champion in the tech industry.

Find something that fits your personality

Contrary to the popular belief that tech people sit in dimly lit rooms, wearing t-shirts with parrot memes on it (don’t ask) while churning out lines of code all day, there is much more to tech than this.

From the perspective of someone like myself who is largely introverted, it’s easy to feel that your career options are severely limited as a result, but this is far from the truth. There is a space for all types of personalities. Here’s a few prospective career paths that you can consider.

Data Engineering / Data Science

It’s only right that I give this a mention first since it’s something close to my heart.

I grouped these two professions together, even though they’re not the same thing there is a lot of overlap. Do you have the ability to spot a pattern when you watch your favorite football team play? The ability to consume data and derive a story from it means a career working with data may be the right fit for you.

A Data Engineer focuses on moving data efficiently, ensuring data is clean and accurate, and builds models to make it easy for the Data Scientist to analyze. The Data Scientist looks for insights in this data and translates this into something meaningful which can be used for decision making. As you can see, the Data Engineer and Data Scientist rely heavily on each other to complete the data chain.

Business Analyst

If you’re one of the few people in the tech space who enjoys interacting with people and communicates well? You’d probably excel (pun intended) in gathering requirements and translating that into something that stakeholders understand, a career as a Business Analyst awaits you.

Cloud Platform Engineering

This is one of the hottest streams to be a part of now with the rapid growth of cloud computing. Even though many functions are being moved to the cloud, someone needs to administer this. If you enjoy optimizing processes and finding a way for something to run as efficiently as possible, there are enough puzzles for you to solve here.

Application / Mobile Development

My love / hate relationship with development has seen me steer as far I possibly can from software development. Programming has become much easier over the years, with the ability to create “no code” applications a thing now as well.

However, the software developer is still a core component of the tech ecosystem, and they aren’t going away anytime soon. Especially suited to people who may not want to be in a client facing role.

Find a mentor

The most important piece of my own personal development was being able to seek advice from someone who had “been there”. Even if the truth hurt, I needed someone to give me honest assessments about how I was progressing.

A good mentor will help you navigate challenging situations, assist you with drawing up a development plan and help you execute this plan.

Learn to love your self-learning

When I started this journey, online learning platforms were rare and expensive to access. However, I came across a PDF document “Learn SQL in 21 Days”, which I used to learn how to code in SQL in my spare time. These few weeks provided the basis for the rest of my career because it’s a language I use extensively to this day.

Online platforms like Udemy, Coursera and Code Academy have made acquiring new skills easier than ever before. Want to learn how to build a chatbot? There’s an online Python course for that. If you want to be a kick ass mobile developer, tutorials for Kotlin and Swift are readily available.

Many of these platforms also provide “Certificates of Completion” once you have gone through the tutorial. This may not have any NQF value but provides great value to beef up your CV especially if you’re just getting started and lack the experience.

Showcasing your work

I’ll get straight into this here, CVs are necessary, but a boring and a very tedious way of selling your abilities. Does it really matter how well you work “as an individual and as part of a team”? We live in a superficial world and if you’re able to present these skills you will fast track your career.

Presenting a website that you created or a catalogue of images demonstrating your fire photoshop skills, that’s a next level flex. During interviews, I would present work that I have done as a hobby / self-learning project to showcase my skills.

Knowing your mission

My mission is a simplistic one of “Helping People”. This may not sound as sexy as a motivational speaker charging you by the hour for listening, but it’s a great motivation to “keep going”.

It’s also a great topic to discuss in an interview rather than discussing your “5 Year Plan”. Not only does it give others an insight into what drives you as an individual, you also mentally reinforce your end game.

Interviewer: “What made you interested in becoming a mobile app developer?”

You: “I can make people’s lives easier by making this accessible to a wider audience…”

Salary Expectations

Short story, you most likely will not be able to afford a R1m home and a Golf GTI on your first salary. With salaries for beginners ranging from R7,000 - R10,000 a month for new professionals, patience is key considering that most of it will be spent on transport money anyway.

Fields that are in more demand will naturally attract higher salaries. To quote Ben Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Before you consider pursuing a career in a specific field purely because the pay is higher, a reminder that the requirements are much stricter to enter these professions. The roles are more demanding regarding accountability, deadlines and working hours.

A Security Architect (R80,000 – R100,000 p.m.) will get paid much more than a Desktop Technician (R15,000 – R25,000 p.m.). Though the technician plays a vital role, the person responsible for security carries much more risk. Ensuring that the organization's network doesn’t get hacked is quite a big thing.

Corporate vs Consulting

Corporates tend to pay a bit more than consulting firms; salaries can sometimes be 70-80% higher especially after accounting for consistency of income. The drawback to this is consulting fast tracks your career and offers you much more growth and experience, since you will be exposed to various clients.

My early years working in a consulting environment allowed me opportunities to travel to other countries, while working at different organizations in various industries, which essentially crammed 4 years of work experience into 2 years.

I’m sure you can tell that I have a strong preference for taking up consulting roles, since it offers better long-term growth even if it was not something that fit my personality at the time, which forced me out of my shell. However, taking up a role in corporate because you don’t like being away from home and prefer the familiarity of your surroundings, you’re more suited to a corporate role.

Permanent vs Freelance

In a previous article (read here) I delved into detail on this. Permanent and Freelance roles at its core share many similarities regarding time management, project management and delivering to your client.

When I began freelancing, the biggest challenge was dealing with the increase in accountability. You become the “go to” person when the client needs answers, both positive and negative. If a project is tracking on time, all good. If you’re running behind, you must provide reasons for why this is happening, maybe even clocking extra work hours that you aren’t able to charge for.

If you prefer stability and have a low appetite for risk, having the safety net of a permanent salary is for you. In permanent roles, the accountability is centered around your own personal deliverables.

Managing your Expectations

A common mistake that many of us make, especially when we’re starting out, is to assume that we should know everything at once.

“Too much too soon” is a recipe for disaster. As a young professional, I had a misguided confidence that I was ready for something bigger. I would get frustrated when overlooked for more senior roles.

There are no shortcuts to success, if you want sustainable results, you need a firm foundation to build on. Channeling this energy positively is a great way to keep you focused on your ambitions.

What does the future for tech look like?

This is the most exciting era in tech history. The pandemic was a great case study on remote working. Not only did this situation showcase how far technology has come in enabling us to work from home, but it has also expanded our range of options.

Employers don’t necessarily need to recruit in the area that they’re based, employees don’t need to relocate to pursue job opportunities as well, opening opportunities to live / work in another country from wherever you are.

The tech industry is also opening to professionals from all industries, rather than being the closed shop that it was until recently. If you’re a healthcare professional who is interested in Data Science, who better to be a subject matter expert in the data space than someone who has actually worked in the industry? From a personal perspective, this is the most exciting aspect, having a tech industry that’s democratic.

My conversations around tech naturally gravitate towards data, but what excites me most is the increase in the number of people studying this at university. I’m expecting some fire ideas and a fresh perspective to really inject life into the data space. A space that has become too closed off by an old guard that’s entrenched in archaic ideas.

We’ve already seen a boom in IoT (Internet of Things) and technology infiltrating many industries like Transportation, Investing, Dating, etc., expect this to continue. If you still have to sign and initial each page, there’s a long way to go… which also means there’s an opportunity waiting for you to take.

There has been no better time than the present if you’re passionate about technology.

Now, just get started!

When he isn’t making magic with data, Clyde also hosts a football data analytics show, Datasetpiece. Check it out here

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