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According to Tech City UK, the UK has nearly 2 million digital tech jobs, with the growth rate of digital jobs more than double that of non-digital jobs in the last few years. Furthermore, these jobs are highly skilled and similarly compensated, due to the recognised contribution to the productivity and growth of the wider economy.
Having transitioned to an operational role at a startup two years ago after several years as an investment analyst, I can say from a firsthand perspective that a switch to tech is not only possible, but might be the most impactful move you make for your career.
On the other side of the table, as a hiring manager for a growing FinTech startup that has more than doubled its staff count every year, I would like to debunk the myth that tech companies only hire from other tech companies. Most fast-growth companies recognise that hiring seasoned professionals who have been trained in corporate environments benefits fledgling team construction, as they have much to bring in the form of discipline, best practices and knowledge.
I’ve been privileged to share my nascent career journey as a speaker at workshops, and as an advisor/therapist to many brilliant corporate/finance “escapees” who are seeking a new challenge and looking to take a plunge into the world of tech.
While by no means exhaustive or directive, I have calibrated these shared experiences and personal learnings into four suggestions that I hope might guide your transition when you reach that fork in your career.
Speak to as many people as you can who have successfully navigated career transitions and excelled in multiple fields. Careers are not as linear as we might think they are and success rarely comes in the first stage of your career.
Immerse yourself in the world of tech – you have to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. There are a ton of publicly available resources in the form of blogs, podcasts, books, workshops, events – these will all help you calibrate toward the functional area in tech that you are interested in, and where in the ecosystem you will best fit.
Working in tech, particularly in startups, can be overly romanticised today. I would avoid the outdated adage of “do what you love” and instead focus on what gives you purpose and what you are willing to struggle for. Tech jobs can be high-pressure environments where your stakeholders are relying on you to fix problems, deliver value and maintain high velocity in the business. But they are incredibly rewarding as well.
Charlie Munger famously said:
“Try to be consistently not stupid rather than consistently intelligent.”
Figure out what you value in a job and this will help you maintain discipline and eliminate subpar options that are not meant for you and will only serve to distract.
I’m a huge believer in inversion, particularly when you are faced with a myriad of opportunities and a blank slate to start afresh. It can be difficult to be proactive rather than reactive and backsolving what’s important to you is a good way to start.
For instance, if you value autonomy, you should avoid hierarchical corporations and instead opt for a startup or a fast-growth company. On the other hand, if you value a stable paycheck and predictability in your day to day, perhaps a more mature organisation is better suited for you.
This is a concept from Barry Diller, chairman of IAC, and as it relates to a career transition, I couldn’t agree more. I started my career in an environment where work product was expected as soon as possible, and where my to-do list shrank as I completed tasks and could move on to new projects/opportunities.
When I first started at Yoyo, I was initially frustrated that projects dragged on, people I was relying on had a multitude of other things they were focusing on, and my to-do list kept growing and growing. For an inbox-zero person, this was both brutal and humbling at the same time.
If I hadn’t discarded my old habits from my prior career and embraced the fluid, cross-collaborative daily firefight that is involved in scaling a startup, I would not have learnt how to survive and thrive in my new career.
Over the years I have learnt (and am still learning) the invaluable skills of triaging and prioritisation that have been necessary for me to build teams, products and processes in an ever-changing startup environment.
Keeping an open mind that there are always new ways to look at an old problem, and that humans are adaptive creatures of change – this will serve you well in your journey.
Given the fast-paced nature of working in tech, when hiring for non-technical roles companies are often looking less for a specific skillset, but rather a combination of desirable attributes that will equip someone to adapt and excel as the organisation grows.
With a huge focus on matrixed collaboration, team players who others enjoy working with and learning from are highly valued.
Pick up an interesting hobby, work on a technical project, get cracking on a top 100 books list. Having deep insights about a particular topic that show how you are a creative thinker and doer will help set you apart from the crowd.
“I read this article on Bitcoin” – you hear this daily on the tube. “I collect Cryptokitties” – now that’s an instant conversation starter (in a slightly weird, but highly positive way…).
Yoyo has grown from 20 people to a team of 70 rockstars since I joined the company in 2015, and I’m lucky to have been involved in hiring many of these team additions.
When evaluating candidates, I’m less interested in finding someone who can plug and play and ultimately be a mediocre BAU contributor. I’m more intrigued when I meet someone who might not meet the specific job requirements, but are able to convince me that they can swim in the deep end, learn fast and ultimately help scale the company to new heights.
With that, I’ve also got four bits of advice that might help you nail that tech interview:
What tangible work experience do you have that might solve a pain-point for your interviewer? It could be international work, conducting risk analysis or managing large projects to fruition. How can you make their lives easier?
Rather than thinking “I have never done this before”, frame your skills in a way that conveys “I have done something similar, so I am confident I can get this done too”.
Come armed with an app or tech business that you like, or thoughts on a development in the field. You could also provide some feedback on the business that you are interviewing for – there is no better way to demonstrate that you have thought critically about the product and how you can add value.
Unless you are interviewing for a technical position, learning how to code is not a necessary requirement, although it does show commitment and interest. What is necessary is the ability to flourish at your job in a digital environment.
Demonstrating a basic knowledge of how the tech stack works, as well as a willingness to learn basic tech tools, is essential.
I’ve spoken to several people looking to switch from traditional finance to a data analytics / BI role who are relying on their extensive experience of conducting financial analysis on Microsoft Office tools to make the transition.
That’s great, but not enough. I’m sure they are smart and will figure it out eventually, but I would expect them to know basic SQL so they can extract data independently from the get go, be able to opine on the various KPI dashboard in the market, and understand how data warehousing works. Bonus points if they are learning R/Python but that’s just a cherry on top!
Tech interviews are generally focused on assessing your critical thinking, flexibility, and work ethic as opposed to testing your knowledge of the facts.
Asking thoughtful questions demonstrates your strategic thinking abilities and also provides you with an opportunity to reverse interview the company that you will be spending many of your hours of your life with.
Being able to navigate situations in a high-intensity environment with scarce resources, and unlearning all you know to learn new skills, tools, and methods of collaboration is part and parcel of working in an innovative company.
In order to be effective, one is required to learn the art of ruthless prioritisation, cross-functional teamwork, iterative learning, and balancing strategic planning with efficient “get-sh*t-done” flawless execution.
It’s no easy feat and is a continuous work in progress for all of us, but I believe that a combination of a positive attitude and willingness to adapt is the precursor for any professional growth.
Serendipitously, If you are looking to make the switch from the finance world to an impactful role at a fast-growing startup, I have a great opportunity to share.
After 2.5 incredible years at Yoyo, I am moving on to my next challenge and taking some time off to travel and work on charitable projects in between. The team is looking for a dynamic VP Finance to replace me. I can personally vouch that this is a rare opportunity to work at a well-funded startup with a stellar team building products that are revolutionising mobile commerce. I am so excited to watch what Team Yoyo will achieve!
I highly encourage you to apply even if you don’t have all the necessary requirements, and feel free to ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.