November 30, 2021
8 minute

How to transition into a tech role from finance, customer experience, and people operations

Growth & Scaling

There are more tech jobs available today than there were before the pandemic began. In the Prairies, there’s increased VC investment and a large number of startups that are successfully scaling. For professionals worried about long term job security or just interested in making a change into a booming industry, transitioning into a tech role is very tempting. But it can also feel complicated. What if you come from a non-tech background? Is there room in the industry for you?

Absolutely. So long as you’re keen to learn more and reposition your past experience. While 36 percent of people in one study said they had to enroll in training programs to bridge the knowledge gap, 81 percent say they wound up recouping that investment. 

If you’re planning on making a change from one of these areas, here are some tips to get started. 

Switching from finance to technology

Finance professionals bring useful skills to a technology role such as quantitative analysis and a high level of comfort explaining data. Today, the tech industry – really, every industry – is bursting at the seams with data, but there aren’t enough people, technology, or models to make the most of it. Finance professionals have experience taking complex financial information and presenting it to clients in order to help them make decisions whether that decision is investing in a product, merging with a company, or reducing their currency risk. In the tech world, one of the major roadblocks to developing a tech-enabled organization is making data understandable to employees so they can use it to work better. Finance professionals entering the technology space can meet this need except this time their audience isn’t CEOs of other companies – it’s their colleagues. 

Keep in mind as well that many of the soft skills associated with financial professionals – strong work ethic, presentation skills – are coveted by the tech industry as well. As Philip Lang, co-founder of Triplemint put it, “The reality is that Google battles Goldman for recruiting top talent out of college.” 

Ways to get in: 

  • Look for opportunities to help a company understand its value proposition, the business opportunity, and how to channel its technical capabilities into marketable products and services that actually sell. 
  • Consider looking for fintech companies that will highly value the insights of someone who has years of experience in the financial world. 

Remember that: 

  • It’s important to keep your expectations in check. If you wish to make a 100% switch by moving into a technical role, understand that you may not receive the same amount of money as you did in your financial career, especially if there are more experienced programmers working at your new startup. 
  • The salaries are not always the same in the startup world. Even if you do land a position with a nice title, you may not receive the same salary you received in your finance career since most startups are tight on cash and trade equity in return for a (hopefully) big payoff down the road.

Switching from Customer Experience to Technology

The technology sales model has shifted from a seats-based model to a consumption-based model as more products and services migrate to the cloud. In the past, it was about selling as many licenses as possible and moving on to the next customer. Today, it’s about getting your customers to do as much as possible and be as successful as possible with your solution, so they’ll keep renewing their subscription. Consider this example from Harvard Business Review. Netflix has about 8,600 employees. In the old world, a sales associate at a company like Microsoft wouldn’t have considered Netflix a big fish sale since it would have only offered a fraction of an enterprise company’s licenses. But if you look at Netflix from a consumption point of view – it’s the source of about 12.6 percent of all internet traffic – it’s suddenly a major win for any cloud computing company. 

What this means is that there’s a huge demand for people who not only understand technology but have great people skills as well. Tech companies want individuals who can help their customers make the most of their services. If you’re a customer service professional, you already have experience listening to customers, understanding their problems, liaising with the appropriate subject matter expert or business unit, and bringing the organization’s resources together to solve their problems. 

You could make a shift into technology by taking online courses to understand the foundation of popular technology products today (such as cloud computing products) and combine this with your people skills to become a customer experience professional. 

Ways to get in: 

  • Look for roles that require a lot of customer interaction and make yourself extra competitive by familiarizing yourself with the foundational technology these companies use and their success metrics (e.g., if you want to work for Amazon Web Services be sure to understand cloud computing, if you want to work for Refinitiv be sure to understand the market for rapid and reliable financial data)

Remember that: 

  • A non-tech or data background can be a strength, so don’t feel like you need to overcompensate. Tech professionals often struggle to see issues from their customers’ perspective. A smart, but non-tech individual can look at things from the customer’s perspective, gather information, and present it in a way that’s empathetic and helpful. Lean into this strength. 

Switching from People Operations to Technology

This is perhaps the most underrated job role in technology today. With demand for tech talent so high, tech candidates are interviewing companies rather than companies interviewing tech candidates. This also means that engaging people processes, clear expectations, a positive company culture, and development opportunities are more important than ever. 

Moreover, today’s workers are in control of their outputs. It’s easy for knowledge workers to withhold their efforts without a manager taking notice. So it’s up to tech companies to create environments where people feel motivated to expend all their efforts at work. 

This means that it’s more important than ever for companies to bring their human resources functions and operations functions together into people operations. 

Easy ways to get in: 

  • Understand your strengths and how you can make that tech company successful. Do you prefer building a people function from the ground up, or would you rather help a company with an existing human resources function improve their company culture and people processes? Use your previous experience to help these organizations meet their objectives and articulate this in your interview. 

Remember that: 

  • People are people whether they’re working in tech, oil & gas, or finance. They want to feel respected, appreciated, and that they’re spending their time and energy on something meaningful. Your goal is to understand how tech talent works to accomplish their goals and what they need in order to get work done. Focus on this when re-positioning yourself for a tech role. 

Moving into purely technical roles

Not interested in continuing your current role at a tech company? Interested in starting all over and becoming a developer? A cybersecurity professional? A data analyst? Through some re-training and building your portfolio through personal projects, it’s more than possible to make the change.

  • Going back to school: This isn’t always necessary, but if you have the time and money you can pursue a formal certificate program or degree in your chosen field such as computer science. This professional went back to school to earn a degree in Computer Science and now works at Microsoft as a Data Scientist. 
  • Earn certifications: If you don’t have the time or money to pursue a post-secondary program full time, consider earning certifications based on your chosen area of specialty (e.g., IT, data science, programming, cybersecurity). Start with beginner certifications and work your way up. 
  • Build your portfolio with freelance projects: The best way to prove you can do a job is to show that you’ve already done it. While you have your current role, look for freelance gigs related to your dream technical job, so you can develop your portfolio. 
  • Revamp your LinkedIn page: Even if you’re still in the process of building your portfolio or earning certifications, revamp your LinkedIn page to reflect your new career path, so you can start building up your network. This applies to you whether you’re transitioning into the tech industry but staying in the same disciplines (e.g., finance, HR) or if you’re making a hard shift into a tech role. 

There are a lot of opportunities for smart, talented people to shift into tech, even if they don’t have a hard technology background. Understand what problems your target companies are trying to solve – and how your role helps solve those problems – and present yourself as the solution. 

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