A career in tech is something on the minds of millions of people around the globe, but how do you know if this path is right for you? What questions do you need to ask yourself to ensure you’re making the right decision?
Between 1997 and 2012, the number of technology jobs in the US almost doubled from just over 2 million, to just less than 4 million . These careers range from the obvious (programmers, data scientists, database administrators, hardware engineers), to the downright obscure (erection engineers, evangelists, cloud architects ). When you see the full range of options available to you in the tech industry at large, it even becomes apparent that you don’t actually need to be technical to be in this industry.
So with that in mind, what does it take to know that a tech career is the career for you?
We covered a similar topic not too long ago, looking at soft skills that’ll help you nail your interview to enter the tech world, but now, we’d like to go a little further. All of the skills mentioned in that article will be needed in abundance later on in your tech career. But there are some specific questions that you must be able to answer in the affirmative before even embarking on a tech career. This will help ensure that it doesn’t feel like a regrettable mistake further down the line.
Are You Creative?
Any career in tech needs a hearty dose of creativity. Ask any programmer how many creative workarounds they’ve used to solve a problem. Take a look at the layout of any beautifully-designed mobile app to realise the creative processes that were needed to make that particular app so damn enjoyable to use (I’m looking at you, Any.do). The examples go on.
This is precisely why most of the largest tech companies on the planet are ploughing colossal amounts of cash into fostering creativity in the workplace. Whether that’s by inviting celebrities to talk to the team, yoga classes, or simply enforcing regular, creative meetings. In short, they know that being in tech without creativity is akin to being up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
Hardly unexpectedly, Apple is going one step further with its ACOT2 program, which aims to nurture creativity from as early an age as possible. Teaching an old dog new tricks, after all, is much tougher then capturing the young ones during their years of pliability. In ACOT2‘s own words,
“Business leaders recognise that the new competitive frontier in the world of work is place-based innovation — the ability to innovate again and again within one environment…”
Do You Love to Solve Problems?
Take a glance at any job description in tech and you’re almost guaranteed to see the age-old “problem-solving skills” criteria crop up. So if you’ve grown up attempting (and likely failing) to fix a broken TV, figuring out the best way to get a faster wifi connection in your bedroom, and ‘wasting’ countless hours on problem-solving games on your smartphone, a career in tech may just be your calling.
After all, what is tech if not the use of new innovations to solve individual and global problems? That can be boredom, the need for better education, or the drive for efficiency and health.
Look at how Android phones helped to slow deforestation in the Amazon, or how affordable solar energy is reaching the developing world. The world abounds with technical solutions to large-scale problems. But there’s still plenty left to tackle.
According to a recent study by the Educational Testing Service, however, American Millennials, despite being the most educated American generation to date, “consistently score below many of their international peers in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments.”
Given that problem-solving skills have been predicted by Microsoft to be the most in-demand skill for tech companies, being gifted in this area gives you an easy advantage over your American counterparts.
Are You an Obsessive Learner?
With the tech space evolving so rapidly, keeping abreast of developments is no easy task. If you’re happy to learn new skills (how to use new apps, platforms, programming languages, for instance), then you’ll love a career in this industry. If you’d rather work in a more static environment where you can rest on your laurels once you’ve attained a certain standard of knowledge, however, look elsewhere.
Part of this character trait includes not just being able to build a reservoir of knowledge in many unrelated areas, but also to bring this to the fore on a specific problem. This hunger for self-motivated learning will help to propel your tech career forwards. And that hunger for variety and new challenges will keep your mind occupied, and your work significant (if only temporarily — more on that later).
Could You Sit at a Computer All Day?
As discussed, not every job in tech requires technical skills, but the majority will require you to sit in front of a computer screen for hours on end working on a certain problem. If you’re happy with an active brain yet sedentary body, welcome aboard! But if you’ve always dreamt of a career that allows for physically energetic pace, you may be disappointed (though this isn’t impossible in tech).
Sitting all day causes all sorts of strain on your body (leading to increased risks of heart disease and cancer). Don’t let this put you off. So long as you’re prepared to perform some basic exercises, consider a standing desk, or even a treadmill desk, I’m sure you’ll be fine. As employers learn the benefits of having an active and healthy workforce, the era of 8 hours in an unhealthy sitting position, strained eyes, and tight hips is coming to an end.
Are You Willing to Go Beyond the Call of Duty?
Anyone in the tech space knows that many projects end up taking longer and costing more than anticipated. This isn’t (usually) due to laziness or ineptitude, but rather a commitment to going beyond the call of duty. Programmers are notorious perfectionists, and the good ones pay attention to detail. If there’s a bug, it needs fixing. If there’s a feature that might be useful, it’s worth playing around with. If there are options, they all need a trial.
You won’t be accepted into a tech team unless you get what that team is trying to accomplish. You must truly understand the problem they are trying to solve. And so in order to hit those goals, deadlines and budgets, you’ll have to be more than willing to put in the time, accept the sleepless nights, the late shifts, and the extra stress that comes with being part of a close-knit (or large) team that’s attempting to work on something meaningful.
Are You Prepared for Obsolescence?
Remember how we all thought that dial-up modems, physical data storage (i.e. CD-ROMS), pulse telephone networks, answer machines and dedicated MP3 players would be around forever? Oh how wrong we were.
No matter how impressive or ground-breaking the tech, its days are always numbered. There are only so many years before that pervading innovation will be cast upon the heap of forgotten technology that’s home to floppy disks, Myspace, and paid-for email accounts (seriously?). Are you prepared for this obsolescence?
Are you happy to pour your valuable hours, energy and patience into technological projects that are almost guaranteed to be obsolete within 10 years if you’re lucky?
In short, if you’re looking for a long-lasting legacy, technology is a scarily difficult place to do this. Bar the charismatic billionaires like Musk, Zuckerberg and Jobs, the overwhelming majority of people and projects in this space are unlikely to make even a ripple in the ocean. Indeed there are long-lasting exceptions, such as electric circuit design, some basic programming principles, and the QWERTY keyboard. But for every success, there are literally millions of unknown ideas that barely saw the light of day.
If this doesn’t phase you, come and join the crew!
Find Your Inner Muse
“Yes, a career in tech is right for me!”
It’s all well and good to say this based on the answers to a few questions, but you have to be excited by the opportunity that’s in front of you. If you’re not energised by your role on day one, how do you expect to feel three years down the line, when you’re past day 1000?
Before embarking on a career in tech, first read articles like this one that explain what you can expect. Look for tech job descriptions that give you an idea of what different roles involve. Use new age career tools that take you behind the scenes. Speak to an advisor. Hell, speak to anyone you can who’s working in tech to see if it’s right for you. Reach out in real life, over Twitter, or email. Learn as much as you can, and leave no stone unturned. Shadow someone for a day or two.
Then, once you’ve discovered an area of tech you feel you can be truly passionate about, go full steam ahead. Learn all you can. Get qualified. Build relationships. Network.
If you are in working in information technology, tell us your stories? How did you make this key decision?
Image Credits: man in cable chaos Via Shutterstock, Apple Heaven by John Marino (Flickr), Get Creative! by JD Hancock (Flickr), Computer Problems by College Degrees 360 (Flickr), Studying by Clay Shonkwiler (Flickr), Backpain by Eugino (Flickr), All Nighter by Michael J (Flickr), Tring Tring by Mahender G (Flickr)