Misconceptions of a career transition into tech

More people should transition their careers.

There are too many people that hate their jobs, or more insidiously, tolerate them.

At least when you hate your job, you are motivated to leave.

If your job is just good enough for you to stay, you can coast on comfort for years while time silently slips away.

Having recently made a career transition into tech, I can tell you firsthand some of the benefits I experienced by making the switch:

So, it makes me really sad when people have an interest in doing something different with their career (like becoming a software engineer) but convince themselves not to.

I'd like to lay out some of the reasons people don't transition to becoming developers, specifically, and why these reasons are either not true or should not stop them from making the switch.

#1 - It's too late

People think they are too old to get hired as a junior developer. Or, they feel self-conscious about the idea of reporting to an early twenty-something.

The truth is, there are numerous examples of people getting hired by top tech companies like Google for entry-level engineering positions in their 30s or 40s.

It doesn't have to be the norm for it to be possible.

I got hired at Microsoft at age 30 after having a completely unrelated career path in my twenties.

It's not too late.

Besides, ten years will pass regardless. When you get there, would you rather have built a successful, rewarding career in tech, or continued down the path you are on now?

If you like your current path, great. Stick with it. If not, might as well spend the next ten years getting to where you want to be.

Regarding reporting to twenty-somethings, that shouldn't stop you from choosing a rewarding career. There's always going to be someone younger, smarter, better and more successful than you. Learn from them. Appreciate them.

Most of them are not judging you. If they are, it's a problem with them - not you.

You'll probably hear (or have heard) about ageism in tech.

If you listen to enough of these conversations, you may be discouraged from even trying to overcome this perceived hurdle in the industry. You might feel like you're fighting an uphill battle.

If this is the case, I would say to say to focus on the examples of people that made it work and are so happy they did. Simple Google searches will give you plenty of examples to be encouraged by.

What hiring managers care about most is that you can help them and their team succeed. If you can figure out a way to do that, age is irrelevant.

It's possible to break into tech at any age if you can demonstrate your value convincingly. Don't let the number of years you've been alive dissuade you from building a career you love.

#2 - But I need a degree!

No. Fortunately, you don't.

Don't get me wrong, CS degrees are awesome. If I had to go back in time, I would have gotten a CS degree over my accounting degree without question.

But, the good thing is that you don't need one to get a great job in the tech industry and transition your career.

I can name so, so many examples of people getting great jobs as software engineers without STEM degrees (at "prestigious" companies).

I got a job at Microsoft without one. App Academy has had dozens of students land jobs at Google without one. The point is, you don't need to go back to school for a 4-year (or 2-year) BS or MS degree in Computer Science.

What you need is the knowledge. CS degrees are proxies for employers to gauge your competence and knowledge of concepts that they need you to implement on the job.

If you can gain this knowledge elsewhere (and more importantly, demonstrate it to the company), you can get a job as a software engineer.

Quality bootcamps serve this purpose, but so do self-paced curriculums if you can maintain the discipline over time and get feedback to keep improving.

This may come across as downplaying traditional computer science education and the hard work that many engineers put into their degrees.

To be clear, building this expertise and knowledge base is challenging and rigorous. You just don't have to enroll in a 4-year program to do it.

#3 - I'm not cut out for tech

I.e. Impostor Syndrome.

Many people have backgrounds completely unrelated to software. They were musicians, teachers, waitresses, retail associates, accountants or marketers.

Now, they question whether they have the ability to succeed as a software engineer.

It's actually pretty hard once you get attached to an identity surrounding your previous work to create a new one.

If you've always identified as a "creative", you might not think you can do well in a technical role.

The truth is, technical skills are just those: skills. Skills can be learned. This includes developing the ability to think like an engineer.

I always considered myself a "creative". I made and produced music, enjoyed design and was drawn to other artists and entrepreneurs.

However, I also developed a love for tech and developing software. It's endlessly fascinating and involves both creativity and a high-level of technical curiosity and understanding.

What will determine your success in tech is not what you did before, but how much you commit to building the skills and mindset necessary to solve the problems you're getting paid to solve.

The key is to be genuinely interested in the subject matter. If software architecture, development, computer science and building things through code all seem boring or unappealing, then this reveals not a lack of ability, but a lack of interest.

As long as the interest is there, you can develop the ability.

#4 - It's not practical

Switching careers can be hard. It takes time, money and emotional energy to build the skills necessary to become a hireable software developer. Many people have kids, jobs and little financial wiggle room to pay for an expensive coding bootcamp up front.

Even if they see the value in the outcome, they are understandably overwhelmed by the means.

As far as the financial side of things go, many coding bootcamps now offer Income Share Agreements ("ISAs") that only ask for payment if you land a job as a developer after graduating.

This removes the risk of dishing out a big chunk of cash (that many of us don't have) with no outcome. Your incentives are aligned.

However, not everyone can financially afford to take 9 months off of work to focus on a bootcamp and the job search.

First of all, it's worth seeing if there's any way you can pull this off.

I had to live with my Dad to make it work and use whatever savings I had to cash flow my bootcamp and job search.

In the end, the career satisfaction and compensation far outweighed the cost for me.

But if you really can't afford to take 9 months off, that's completely understandable and there are other paths to take.

Some bootcamps provide part-time programs (evenings and weekends) over a longer period of time.

You can teach yourself via online courses like MIT Open Courseware and others. App Academy's curriculum is available for free online.

Following your own self-paced educational path will take longer and require a smart strategy, but if you have the discipline and willingness to figure it out, it is a totally viable solution.

Whichever route you take, what's important is that you focus on gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to make yourself valuable to the market. This will require study, practical experience building software and feedback to sharpen your craft and understanding.

Go at whatever pace you can afford to move at, but be encouraged that you don't need to let finances or the impracticality of taking a year off block you from making a career transition that you want to make.

#5 - Fear of failure

Perhaps the most important reason people don't become software engineers is that they're afraid to fail.

This can be from an internal voice or from an external one. Friends and family might question your decision. You might hear a lot of negativity online about people transitioning into software engineering "later" in life.

You might just be questioning whether you can do it.

At the end of the day, the only one who is in control of your ability to succeed is you.

If this path is something that you're interested in, I fully believe that you can build the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

It's hard, but that's why it's valuable.

Changing careers is not easy. In fact, it's really challenging.

Being a software engineer requires a lot of work and the willingness to apply rigorous problem solving to complicated technical challenges.

It's also fascinating and rewarding.

In many cases you are building the future through your work. You're surrounded by smart, interesting people. The field is constantly changing, so you are constantly learning.

There are so many reasons to become a software developer. The most important one is interest.

If you have an interest in this field, don't let the mental barriers and misconceptions above stop you. Let me know how I can help.

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