Most students seeking technology careers steer towards programming. Why? I believe the reason is as simple as visibility. Programmers or developers are the most hyped, the most portrayed in TV, movies, etc. The term “hacker” is commonplace and has somehow gained cross-over popularity to other fields. Compared to the popular culture depiction of developers, all other trades in information technology have almost become invisible. In fact, only a minority of individuals in any technology company are developers. The reason is that without the rest of the skill sets required to run a company and deliver quality results the company would cease to exist. With this goal in mind, I wanted to highlight the other careers in technology and how a student can approach those career options.
Let me be clear that proponents of the question, “what do you enjoy?”, need to stop reading right here. This article does not address the scenario where individuals have sufficient personal wealth to solely seek personal ‘enjoyment’. This article is intended for people that:
- need to work,
- want to have a career,
- want to have upward mobility,
- seek meaningful continuous employment, and
- desire to provide a better standard of living for themselves and their family.
I call this out upfront because I have seen people coming out of universities seeking a job whose only question in the interview was whether a gym membership was available through work. These individuals though bright and qualified eventually either change or are relegated to mediocrity because they are out paced by driven, hard-working co-workers.
The simple question to ask is “what are you great at?” Individuals that focus on what they are ‘great at’ tend to improve and excel in that skill more rapidly. I am a proponent for life-long learning thus improving on our weaker areas should not be forgotten. But improvement in an area of weakness tends to be more difficult and slower. Focusing on the area of strength then more easily translated into success than focusing on an area of weakness. This seems logical really but is too often ignored. For example, plenty of individuals’ study programming in school or take classes at night. It can be a wonderful, well-paying job in the technology field. The pay tends to be the over-arching objective. But if it is not an area of ‘greatness’ for the individual then the first few years they will learn the most, earn well, and begin to plateau 5-7 years ahead. Why?
- First, because there is always someone that is ‘great’ at this skill out there.
- Second, let’s face it – it is a lot easier to want to work hard and gain more success in an area you’re suited to out-performing.
- And third, any job must evolve for you to learn and stagnation is like poison to a career. The developer that is doing the same job and is getting tasked with the same types of things over and over at year 5, 6, and 7 in a position is either in the wrong career or at the wrong company.
The same person that decided to go into programming ‘because they could make good money’ might be great at something else… like writing. Being a quality writer is a very different skill than being a quality developer. Every company needs a great writer, not just a good writer, but a great writer. I would admit that the starting salary for a technical writer or media writer at a technology company is unlikely to be as high as a starting salary for a programmer. But if you are a great writer then you also have an edge on the writers that are only ‘good’ in the company. All other elements being equal among the team, your efforts at improving this area of strength will get you noticed. And again, you are more likely to be willing to put in effort and training into improving your area of strength. Where are you at year 5-7? You are more likely to be in a promoted position or with any luck you can leap into an accelerated position at a different company if you wish. You only need look at the social media pages for any large company to see there is an entire media/communications staff. This staff writes content, incorporates graphics & video, and takes the lead on not only documenting company activities but creating viable events to promote the company. Becoming a writer may have no interest for you whatsoever. What else is there at a technology company?
Technology companies incorporate almost every job you can think of depending upon the company and its focus. It has a wide range of individuals and talents. The good news is that technology is an industry open to everyone. What follows are descriptions of some of the roles in a technology company. But again, ask “what am I great at?”
- Technical Writer – Every technology company prepares documentation for software, hardware or systems. Technical Writers are critically important to ensuring the materials are readable by the target audience. Developers and engineers can document but they are not the best folks to ensure clarity. What Developers lack in writing and editing skills the Technical Writers can excel at and help make a product successful. Every product has materials such as user manuals, warranties, installation guides, etc. and these require writing skills. Additionally, corporate shareholder reports, marketing materials, training manuals, and many other materials are necessary.
- Contracting/Subcontracting – Why not? People that create and maintain contracts and subcontracts between organizations certainly have a terrific command of the written language. They do not have to be attorneys though they often working for an office under the purview of legal counsel. It is important to understand the requirements of the job and the legalities involved. But the National Contract Management Association (NCMA) has many local chapters if an individual is interested. They provide a great number of opportunities for training, education, and certification.
- Graphics Designer – Every technology company needs graphics people. A business proposal without graphics is almost dead on arrival. Graphics are required for all the materials being worked by the Technical Writer mentioned above. Technical diagrams and specifications often require designs and diagrams – these may have been developed by an engineer but the engineers do not often possess the graphics skills to depict the designs. Again, all the marketing materials, advertising, etc. all require graphic designers and artists.
- UI Designer – If you possess the computer skills and graphics skills then User Interface (UI) Designers are always in demand. It is a specialized area of development and very important to gaining user acceptance. The more mobile our society becomes the more UI Designers are in demand.
- Sales & Marketing – Everyone needs good sales and marketing people to get their message out and get their products sold. If you have an out-going personality and the ability to sell products, there are always positions at technology companies. Technology people are notoriously ill-equipped for sales and marketing – usually they hire those skills because developing those skills is difficult.
- Human Resources – Everyone hires and maintains staff. Managing this process properly is important both for legal reasons but more importantly for retention reasons. Certification programs are available in this field and you can do more research at the Society for Human Resource Management
- Management – No one gets a job in management right out of school. But if you start in a position and find you have a talent for working through difficult situations, if you have emotional intelligence, if you can read clients and employees alike then maybe management is someplace you are better suited for your next career jump.
- Internal Training – All companies provide internal training for employees. This training can be administrative, managerial, product-based training or training required by local, state, or federal laws.
- External Training – Technology companies may also have a staff dedicated to training individuals outside the company. If it is a large software company with users worldwide trainers receive internal training on products and services and are then scheduled with clients traveling as needed to reach their user community. Trainers may also conduct technical training with external vendors, re-sellers, or consultants as part of paid workshops or partnership agreements. Training varies upon the products and the level of expertise among the attendees so some training positions may require technical knowledge. But companies are becoming much better at hiring new employees into their training and sales positions and then putting them through several weeks or months of training to prepare them to interact with clients. Several large companies have dedicated targeted efforts specifically to veterans programs with great success.
Electronics/Making Things Work:
- Networking – Whether wireless or hard wired all organizations require network professionals. Some individuals have degrees in related fields like engineering but certainly not all. Many individuals take training and educational courses leading them to certification exams such as the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP). Frankly, I’ve always thought that an individual capable of becoming a talented electrician would be equally capable of becoming a talented network engineer.
- Microsoft Professional – Many technology companies require the skills of Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs). Again, there are courses and certifications one level after another to get certified at different levels. Performing desktop/laptop support, help desk support, installations and deployments, as well as server level support is all enhanced with Microsoft skills.
I noted above that technology companies have almost every skill employed depending upon their focus. A technology company that builds medical software and systems absolutely employs medical professionals such as nurses, radiologists, pharmacists etc. to test, implement and train their software. Technology companies that build software for aircraft and airports employ pilots, air traffic controllers, and other flight related personnel. Technology companies that are building software for autonomous vehicles employ individuals that understand the mechanics of vehicles but they also employ people that have studied traffic patterns, people that have studied urban planning, and people that have studied transportation (transportation safety in particular). If you are an individual that has career burn-out, then find out which technology companies produce the equipment or software used in your work place…maybe they could use the help.
Technology is a broad category. It is growing and will need record numbers of qualified personnel. Evaluate critically what great skill sets you possess and seek the training and education you will need to excel not only as a college student but through your career. And good luck on turning a great skill into an even greater success.
Written by Lisa Foy, Founder, The Curious Coyote
www.TheCuriousCoyote.com – On-Line Business Magazine