This is not a cheat sheet or my story about how I knew someone that knew someone that knew someone - this is a story about a TikTok and some good old fashioned luck. I know nobody likes to hear that, but that’s the truth.
Hear me out. This is more applicable than you might think.
To begin - I don’t have a degree in Computer Science, or Software Engineering, or even UX/UI design. The most formal tech training I have is a few courses taken online, with most of my experience and knowledge regarding the tech industry coming from personal interest or conversations I’ve had with developer or designer friends.
I spent the first 2.5 years of my time in the workforce within the provincial government, working in administration in finance. It was a job I didn’t dislike, but I knew definitively it wasn't where I wanted to end up. Unfortunately, entry-level positions in technical fields within the government are few and far between, and the jobs I was interested in demanded either a degree or multiple formal certifications in specified tech fields.
Which I didn't have - and I certainly wasn't planning on heading back to school for 4 years for the completion of another degree.
Enter the aforementioned TikTok.
Entering Through the “Side-Door”
I genuinely can’t remember the username of the person who posted, but I do remember that they worked for Pinterest and the big, bold caption of the TikTok was saying how they got into tech with zero technical background.
Hey, just like me. I thought to myself. So I watched the whole thing.
The video essentially told the story of how the user had entered the tech industry through the quote on quote “side door” - as in, she looked for onboarding and HR positions to get a foot in the door, allowing her to move without technical experience.
This might seem to a lot of you like very obvious information - but to me, it was a game-changer. I’d been frustrated and attempting to scrounge up some level of experience in tech - learning scraps of front-end development, design, and even cybersecurity - kicking myself and knowing I was miles short of any of the formal experience sought by any company.
This changed my focus. Rather than trying desperately to get a job I wasn’t qualified for, I re-thought my entire strategy. Would it not be easier to learn within the industry than outside of it? As my government experience had taught me - it’s much easier to move around once you’re inside than outside. I started applying to administrative, HR, and training roles at tech companies in my city, rather than attempting to jump into a technical role right away. I had a few years of administrative experience coupled with project management, which definitely helped me out.
A Stroke of Luck
The first job I applied for, a Human Resources advisor for a mid-size tech company, told me no in a matter of hours. Okie doke, no worries. I had expected a few months of failures before I even scored an interview or a callback.
Here’s where the dumb luck comes in.
The second job I applied for was an Onboarding Specialist at a local startup that I soon learned was rapidly expanding following some successful VC fundraising. 8 minutes after I hit “apply”, I had an email in my inbox saying how impressed they were with my resume and when was I available to interview?
I was floored. I’d never been responded to that quickly in my life and half of me thought it might be a scam. Nevertheless, I agreed and had my first interview that week - as we wrapped up, the hiring panel invited me to a second the following week. (They were very much not a scam - just a quickly growing company with very fast employees! For reference, I’ve also included the cover letter I used that helped score me my first interview at the end of this article.)
One more interview and a week of stressing later, I received a formal job offer.
As I write this, I’m in my second week of employment with my new company and couldn’t be happier. I already know that this is such a better fit both career and lifestyle-wise, and I can’t wait to grow and learn more.
Tips and Tricks
If I had to sum up my best tips for trying to break into the tech industry, especially if you’re coming from a similar background and don’t have formal training, I’d say this:
- Be genuine. People can tell when you’re just saying what they want to hear and when you mean it. Genuinely wanting to join a company or industry shows that if you are the successful candidate, you’ll put forward that same passion in your role.
- Utilize your pre-existing skills. Even if you’re coming to the job market fresh out of university, you have skills that are valuable in tech. Are you fantastic at putting together and giving presentations? Awesome. Have you overseen or collaborated on projects at a different job? Great, you’re already a team player who knows how to communicate. Tech isn’t only about knowing how to code or how to break down a database. Knowing how to communicate effectively or run a project is just as valuable to an employer.
- Research. What do you want to do, specifically? Tech is a huge, umbrella term for an industry and there are literally hundreds of unique roles available. If you’re interested in design, security, frontend, backend, doesn’t matter - research and look at postings for those roles. What kind of skills are they asking for aside from technical? Do they want someone experienced with working in a team? Great at presenting information? Someone analytical? Those skills aren’t specific to tech and there’s a good chance you have a lot of what they’re looking for already. Like I said in the previous tip - utilize the skills you have. *You are a valuable asset and have so much to offer*.
- Make connections in the industry. You’re the sum of the people you hang out with. Spend time reaching out to online networking events or even ask employees of company’s you’re interested in out for a virtual or in person coffee if safe. People love to talk about themselves, and asking “Hi there, my name is (name). I’m very interested in (insert role). I’d love to know more about it from an industry expert, would you be open to chatting about what you do sometime with me?” This is just an example, but it certainly never hurts to ask.
- Learn the lingo. I can’t tell you how many times knowing basic terminology surrounding coding has made me sound like a way more qualified candidate than I am. This doesn’t mean I’m pretending to know things I don’t, but knowing what key phrases and acronyms mean even at a basic level can separate you from someone entering from outside that has no idea. Do you know what Kali Linux is? Do you know the difference between frontend and backend? Having an understanding of the vocabulary surrounding the industry or role you’re interested in shows your potential employer that your learning curve might be a lot less steep and makes you an attractive candidate.
At the end of the day, my experience here isn’t typical nor can I say it’ll happen for everyone. I am incredibly lucky and grateful for all of the people and circumstances that have led me to where I currently am, achieving something I thought would take me years.
Who knows - maybe all my TikTok scrolling was worth it?
The Cover Letter That Landed Me My Job
Dear selection committee,
Please consider this cover letter and resume as my application for the position of Onboarding Specialist. When I first saw this opportunity and read it over, I knew immediately it was a position I wanted to hold. I currently work as an office administrator within the provincial government and have been seeking an opportunity to enter Victoria’s tech scene for some time now. I have also held customer facing roles for a large portion of my working life, and this opportunity looked like the perfect crossroads between my two passions - positive public interactions and innovation in the tech sphere. It also matches up with my experience in Monday.com, Google Workspace, Keynote, and Slack.
I have served in many public-facing roles throughout my career, and it’s something I greatly enjoy. The opportunity to converse with and assist customers has always been a pleasure of mine, as I consider it an opportunity to meet such a variety of interesting and unique individuals and teams. In my current role, I have had the privilege of running a number of major, organization wide onboarding projects. I was responsible for coordinating the development and staff training of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia’s Business Continuity Planning program, as well as the design, build, and rollout of our new daily Health Check app. I believe I would be a great fit for this position as I possess the passion and eagerness to help that you’re seeking, as well as the determination and drive to ensure projects don’t just get done - they get done well. In my eyes, a job is only considered completed when my customers are happy, educated, and have built a solid foundation of trust with both myself and the company.
I would love an opportunity to chat further with you about being a member of your team. Thank you once again for your consideration!