Getting Into Tech Doesn't Mean Starting From Scratch

Career pathways look different for everybody. It depends on where you begin and what skills you already have. The CompTIA Volley podcast addresses these complexities.
Getting Into Tech Doesn’t Mean Starting From Scratch

With so much recent focus on layoffs in the tech sector, there have been questions about the demand for tech workers. CompTIA’s research shows that demand continues to be very strong across a wide range of industries, making technology jobs a promising choice for starting or switching careers. On a recent Volley podcast episode, Careers in Technology, CompTIA researchers Carolyn April and Seth Robinson talk about the different types of people considering a tech career and the three stages of career progression: Education around the fundamental fields in tech careers, building the necessary skills to take an initial role as well as ongoing breadth and depth of skills needed to reach more advanced positions.

The Elephant in the Room: Tech Layoffs

Over the past year, one of CompTIA’s major focuses has been serving the broad audience of people trying to get into technology careers. And then we started seeing tech layoffs in the headlines. What do these layoffs mean for people thinking about beginning a tech career? According to Robinson, these layoffs aren’t actually digging into the net hiring that happened in the previous two years.

“If you look at where these companies were in 2019, they are still ahead of their headcount even after layoffs,” he said. “Overall tech unemployment is still very low. These layoffs aren’t about companies saying they don’t need tech workers anymore; the general trend line is going to keep going up.”

April agrees. “The unemployment rates are historically low right now,” she said. “While there may be waves of tech layoffs, these workers are finding jobs in other industries so quickly that they never apply for unemployment, and they never register in the statistics. We should be focusing on that more than the gloom and doom of the headlines.”

The 3 Stages of Tech Career Progression

So, let’s focus on what a tech career looks like. The pathway isn’t as clear as becoming a doctor, for example. If you want to become a medical doctor, you know you’re going to have to earn an undergraduate degree, then move on to medical school and complete residency. But becoming a data analyst, for instance, doesn’t map out the same for every single person.

“If you’re just starting your career and you want to become a data analyst, you’re probably not going to get there with an eight-week bootcamp,” Robinson said. “You may be able to do that for an IT support or network administrator role, but not for a data analyst. But, if you’re switching careers and have been working on the business side for a while, you probably already have a lot of skills that will translate. You may already understand what questions the business wants answered by data analysis. In this case, you bring a lot to the table already, and maybe then you can do an eight-week bootcamp to level up your technical skills.”

The key difference in the data analyst example is foundational knowledge and transferable skills. If you have those, you don’t have to start from scratch in launching your tech career. That brings us to the three stages of tech career progression:

  1. Getting education around the fundamental fields in technology careers.
  2. Building the necessary skill set to take on an initial tech role.
  3. Continuous learning and acquisition of skills to reach a more advanced position.

While these are the three basic stages of tech career progression, they can look very different for people depending on where they are starting from. Are you just out of high school or college and thinking about starting a career, or are you changing gears in the middle of your career?

The 6 Common Entry Points to a Tech Career

The good news is that getting into tech looks very different today than it did 10 or 20 years ago. The biggest difference is there are now multiple points of entry, followed by the fact that we’ve busted the stereotype that you have to be a math or science whiz to succeed.

“There are so many different plug-in points,” April said. “From being a very skilled tech person to someone working on the periphery to a project manager whose skills are on the durable side. We’re trying to make that more known.”

IT support was previously the gold standard for launching a tech career, but it’s not the only option these days. Those looking to start a career in technology can do so in any of these areas:

  • IT support: Working at the help desk or in the field troubleshooting issues.
  • Infrastructure: Working with laptops, routers or servers either on-prem, in a data center or in the cloud.
  • Software development: Writing code and putting applications up internally or externally.
  • Cybersecurity: Securing devices and networks and responding to incidents.
  • Data: Managing, mining and analyzing data.
  • Enablement: Working around tech to understand how systems come together.

If you want to get into tech, the first step is mapping your skills to a particular area of interest. But don’t worry, starting in one area doesn’t preclude you from switching to another. An IT professional has skills that blend and cross over. You won’t find yourself stuck in one bucket.

The Skill Set You’ll Need to Get a Job

Once you have a solid understanding of the different areas of technology, it’s time to drill down and determine the types of job roles you want to pursue. This can be intimidating because of the sheer number of job titles and the fact that they don’t always mean the same thing.

“There are so many job titles,” Robinson said. “But a lot of them boil down to a smaller number of skill sets. That’s what you should focus on – building your skills.”

Robinson suggests that you may be looking at three, four or five different titles that boil down to the same skill set. And while the day-to-day responsibilities may vary depending on a variety of factors, like company size and location, it will require a lot of the same foundational skills.

“There might not be a role that comes right out of learning the foundations. That’s important for people to understand,” Robinson said.

But your career is a cumulative journey, and you acquire transferable skills along the way.

“You’re not clearing the chalkboard and starting from scratch,” April said. “Don’t be daunted. There are a whole host of skills you’ve acquired over the years that are applicable to what you’re moving into – and that’s a great place to start.”

Of course, this same mindset applies to growing your technology career. The more you continue to build your skills on the job, the more it will help you get into more specialized roles.

The Next Steps

Education and training are the first steps in your tech career progression, it’s how you build that foundational knowledge. And there is a lot to consider based on where you are in your career journey. But once you’ve built your foundation, you can start taking steps to make your career happen. That’s where CompTIA comes in. You get the training and the foundational knowledge, and CompTIA certifications validate those skills to potential employers.

“Technology is an ‘always be learning’ career,” April said. “Technology advances so quickly that you’re always learning something new and that’s one of the selling points. That’s what attracts people in the first place.”

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