Are you curious about a tech career but worry that you don’t have the necessary background? Don’t worry. Many paths lead to exciting and rewarding careers in tech. Take some advice from a panel of five diverse CareerMash role models from completely different backgrounds who spoke at the recent Hive Toronto Hack Jam about why they love working in tech and how they got there.
The Hack Jam was organized as part of the Mozilla Summer Code Party, a global event to help millions of people transition from using the web to making the web. Organizations like Maker Kids, TIFF, TVO kids and GamerCamp hosted hands-on event stations for kids aged 8 to 14 to explore ways to become creators of content, not just consumers. Participants learned how to make video games with easy-to-use programs like Scratch and animations with Popcorn and much more.
CareerMash joined the event to talk about how you can make a career out of tech skills like animation, videos or web making. And what better way to learn about careers than to hear from people currently working in tech. Two things that these professionals all agreed on was that there is not only one path to a career in tech and you shouldn’t be surprised if you change directions many times along the way.
Here are what panel members at the Hive Hack Jam group talked about:
Melody Adhami was a Biologist and Psychologist with a MBA. She worked in two different industries before joining the tech industry and she has no regrets. “It is fast paced, exciting and full of opportunity,” she told the group. Now she runs her own company that makes apps for mobile devices, yet she never writes any code. She took a programming course in high school which she really enjoyed, but she was discouraged from pursuing tech as a career.
As the Chief Operating Officer (COO) and co-owner of Plastic Mobile, Melody is a CareerMash Leader, always on the lookout for Builders – the programmers and designers who bring her team’s ideas to market. As the head of a company, she said that a degree in computer science is not required to work in tech, but it doesn’t hurt. Melody says that skills and attitude are far more important than specific credentials and encourages students to learn as much as they can, either in school or on their own at events like the Hack Jam. She says that some of her staff have a non-programming education like herself – while many have studied at College or have transitioned to programming from other education.
Jonathan Resnick creates software that is changing the way medical teams use medical imaging, like X-Rays. His software is more efficient and reduces environmental impact because it eliminates the need for film and chemicals, plus the images can be stored on computers rather than in huge warehouses of old x-rays. Jonathan is an Innovator and a Builder, utilizing the latest technologies to transform medical imaging, and then he works with a team to program and build his ideas. Jonathan studied electrical engineering at university, but he fell into medical technology thanks to his first job after graduation.
But Jonathan’s education didn’t stop when he began working. He has taken two breaks in his career to pursue further studies and is just completing a part time program in design, strategic foresight and innovation at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). Each work and education experience takes Jonathan in a new direction and he is open to exploring new opportunities as they come. He stressed to the group that it is important for people to be aware that their career will rarely be a straight path and to embrace the journey that your interests will take you on.
Lin Chen is another tech Leader with little education in computers and programming, yet she works as a technical account manager at Microsoft. Lin studied biomedical engineering at university and developed new products that could make synthetic bones. But this was very solitary laboratory work and she wanted to be with other people, so she studied organizational behavior. Understanding how individuals and groups work together is invaluable for a tech manager. Lin has been able to learn the specific technical skills on the job, as part of the MACH program (Microsoft Academy for College Hires). She encourages students to not discount a career in tech just because they haven’t taken any programming courses because there are so many roads that can lead to a fulfilling career in tech.
Mike Connor was always interested in computers but decided to study English literature in university, against his mother’s advice. He hacked around with computers a lot in his own time, but never had any formal education in programming. One of his first jobs was in tech support and it was obvious he had a knack for it. He became a lead volunteer on Mozilla Firefox, an open source web browser. Because the source code of Firefox is available for anybody to view and modify, community members are encouraged to contribute to improving the software by writing code or testing patches to software upgrades.
Mike admits that it was like a second fulltime job for a long time, but he learned so much and found it very satisfying because it was something he was really interested in. Eventually Mozilla hired Mike as their lead developer on Firefox. In a few short years, Mike became the Director of Services Engineering at Mozilla, and he gets to travel to developer conferences around the world and takes monthly trips to California.
Mike is now responsible for hiring programmers to work on his team and he says he is not afraid to hire people with non-traditional backgrounds like himself. He doesn’t care if an applicant knows specific languages like C++ as long as he thinks they can code. His advice to students is to follow your passion and volunteer whenever possible, as it can lead to a world of new opportunities that you’d never imagine.
Adil Dhalla is a CareerMash Leader, who runs his own tech business but has never written a line of code. Adil co-founded My City Lives, a web platform that connects videos to a location in the city by linking them to an interactive map. Adil stresses that finding the right career is not linked directly to education but to life experiences. After graduating with degrees in history and business, Adil found the inspiration for My City Lives while volunteering in Tanzania, teaching students how to use the internet. Now he leads a team of dreamers and developers. As a person who hires new graduates, Adil agrees with Melody and Mike that specific education is not the key to landing your dream job. He reiterated that learning skills in any setting, whether that is formal education, through volunteering or by teaching yourself, is what makes a valuable team member.
So if you’re curious about a tech career, it doesn’t matter exactly what you studied or how you learned your skills, but how you apply them. Find something that interests you and immerse yourself in it. You’ll be surprised where it may take you.
- Want to know more about these careers? Watch videos of Melody, Adil, Jonathan and Lin in action at their job.
Curious about how other professionals got to their current position? Read the “Roadmap” section of each CareerMash profile to see the steps taken to arrive at a certain career. No two paths are the same!