April 26, 2022

How to Switch to a Job in Tech: 3 success stories. 3 different paths

Do you need a degree in computer science to land a job in tech? Not today. People from all walks of life have busted that myth. We talked to a few people who left nonprofits, education, finance and the hospitality industries to join the team at Volta. They shared snapshots of their career journeys and how they got hired without degrees in tech.

QUESTION

What do you do at Volta? 

ANSWER

SARAH: As a Technical Program Manager, my job is to enable the product and engineering teams to meet our shared goals. It’s part project management, part team facilitation, and a lot of cross-team and cross-cultural communication to navigate the challenges of delivering new products to market.

THOMAS: I work on the Volta iOS and Android apps that help electric vehicle (EV) drivers find and use our charging stations. I architect and implement new app features while ensuring our existing features are free of bugs. Most of my time is devoted to developing the front end. But sometimes I jump to the back end.

TERESA: I’m the Principal Program Manager for Volta’s Service Operations. I lead initiatives to improve our hardware, processes, and systems. I also ensure that multiple departments and third parties collaborate as an awesome cross-functional team to make it all happen.

QUESTION

What was the driving force behind your transition to tech?

ANSWER

SARAH: Before I got my first tech job, I worked at nonprofits focused on youth development and social and emotional growth. I also spent a year teaching at a Malaysian high school through the U.S. State Department’s Fulbright Program. As much as I enjoyed the challenges of cross-cultural communication and education programming, I wasn’t sold on a career in government or nonprofits. I was curious if the things I liked to do - facilitating teams and organizing creative projects - were things I could do in tech. The answer was yes. 

THOMAS: I was a financial analyst working in a mortgage company. A significant part of that job was to crunch numbers all day long and report findings to executives. It was a promising career. But I wanted to work on something more practical that could reach a broader audience. Mobile development was an easy choice for me. By building a mobile app, I can reach millions of people around the world. The other driving force that motivated me to transition was the potential amount of learning opportunities. With all the new technology coming out every day, there will always be something new I can learn and explore.

TERESA: I realized I wasn’t maximizing my potential and started to crave a career that offered more intellectual stimulation. I knew I needed to work in an environment where I could learn and grow and feel challenged. Volta is the type of company where you can learn something new every day.

QUESTION

What’s been the secret to your success? How did you get to where you are today? 

ANSWER

SARAH: I’ve been very lucky to find supportive communities to help me grow throughout college, my initial career in non-profits, and in tech. I attended a liberal arts school where my classmates and I got to explore lots of different ways of thinking and learning. A few years after school, I joined a cohort of women applying to MBA programs through a nonprofit focused on women in business. The cohort was a fun and supportive community to learn about other women’s career ambitions and explore my own growing interest in climate tech. I ultimately landed a job at Volta instead of heading to business school and continue to grow with my stellar colleagues here.

THOMAS: I started my career transition by taking online classes to gain some technical background. Then I attended a few in-person coding bootcamps that were free and very helpful. As much as I believe the technical skills can be self-taught, studying in a group setting gave me the idea of what it felt like to work with peer developers. Those bootcamps also gave me helpful career advice, such as how to rebrand my resume as a software engineer and how to prepare for coding interviews.

Then I pulled the trigger and started looking for opportunities. Out of all the offers I got, Volta stood out because of its mission and culture. I started as an intern, got converted to full-time three months later, and have been a happy member of the mobile team ever since.

TERESA: I have an incredibly strong work ethic and have challenged myself to be highly productive, dependable, and deliver the best results possible in every role I’ve had. I’ve also been lucky to work with managers who are always supportive and encouraging.

QUESTION

Was it a struggle to break into the tech sector? 

ANSWER

SARAH: Every job search is a bit of a struggle. I wish I understood sooner that even people in tech are constantly learning. For example, we launch projects to break into new markets with new technologies, and we’re almost always learning new tools. It helps to be good at climbing steep learning curves. That’s a skill set that applies in every industry, not just tech.

THOMAS: I wouldn't call it a struggle but it definitely required a lot of preparation. For example, coding interviews were completely new to me, so I had to spend a few months going through different coding interview questions. And I didn’t want lack of former experience to be an issue. So I participated in as many tech-related activities as possible, such as contributing to open-source repositories, attending hackathons, getting professional certificates, etc. On the other hand, I started low by pursuing an internship.

I was often asked why I took the internship route. Internships often have fewer requirements, so they’re easier to get. If I applied for a full-time position, it might take three months or longer to land an offer. But if I started with an internship, I could get three months of work experience while getting paid and it could eventually convert to a full-time job.

I admit it's not easy and it can be frustrating in the beginning. But with preparation and perseverance, I think most people can do it. And it's worth it.

TERESA: It was difficult landing my first non-restaurant job. I was worried that I would be automatically excluded from the application pool because I didn’t have a four-year degree. I paid for a resume writing service to highlight transferable skills from my roles in the restaurant industry. And it paid off. 

I ended up leveraging my network of friends for potential job opportunities and got lucky. A friend recommended me to her former manager, I submitted my resume, secured an interview, and got the job.

QUESTION

What’s one piece of advice you would give someone with an unconventional background who’s interested in a career in tech?

ANSWER

SARAH: Jump on the learning curve with us now. Or any learning curve. There are lots of emerging technologies that will be a part of a macroeconomic shift to a low-carbon economy. Volta is a leader in the shift to electrified transportation and everyone working here, even people with deep experience in tech, are learning how to make EV charging more accessible. It’s a lot easier to climb a learning curve with a team than to do it solo. And good work takes people with all types of backgrounds.

THOMAS: Whenever I talked to people who expressed interest in the tech field, the most common thing I heard was they didn't feel like they could do it because it would be too difficult. Although I agree it's not the easiest sector to break into, it’s not as scary as many people think. In fact, I've convinced a few of my friends to switch to the tech sector. There are tons of great resources online, and many are free. Plus, many modern coding languages and platforms are designed to be as intuitive as possible for new developers. Some technologies that were very complicated five or ten years ago are much easier to learn and work with today.

My number one piece of advice is to give coding a try. You might like it. You can get a head start without spending much money, and it can start as a part-time commitment. Someone is always hiring, and you might be the next candidate they are looking for. It's never too late to try.

TERESA: Challenge yourself to constantly learn new skills. If you are on a video call, watch what the presenter is doing. Are there new shortcuts, tools, or tricks you can learn simply by paying attention to what’s happening on the screen?  Nerd out on knowledge base articles and tutorials. Never let a new platform intimidate you. Learn how to navigate a platform just by clicking around; just remember to not click “save.”

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Sarah Shoemaker, Technical Program Manager
B.A. Political Science

Thomas Zhu, Sr. Software Engineer
Bachelor’s in Business Administration and Economics

Teresa Klein, Principal Program Manager - Service Operations
Non-Degreed