Hey Tech Lady,
In efforts to help ease my transition from nonprofit & education to tech, I am reaching out to ask for some advice on how to make that leap? Any best practices, things to look out for or avoid? Ideas on where to find mentors (I have made some blind connections on LinkedIn, semi-fruitful). I have started applying for opportunities, and will be looking for internships as well as apprenticeships, but I find that first-hand advice is truly invaluable.
— Gabrielle Hodgson, Creative Director, via email submission.
hen I look back at my career path, it wasn’t a straight and easy trajectory. It took many zigs and zags and I tried a multitude of jobs on the journey to find my calling in code. Tons were epic fails that made me miserable, but a few were key steppingstones that led me to the technical roles I loved, and ultimately, to where I am today as VP at Forbes. Before finding those techie roles I thrived on, I tried my hand as a server, bartender, house cleaner, administrative assistant, video store clerk, graphic designer, lifeguard, and swim instructor, to name a few. Navigating through is never perfect and you should expect to make a few mistakes along the way.
At first glance, this seems like a complex and highly specific question, but it can be simplified into something we can all relate to: how do I get where I want to be? There are obvious answers such as gaining expertise through training and certifications, but for me, networking has proved the most valuable of them all, though the approach may vary depending on where you are in your career.
If you’re just starting out as a professional, or you’re working towards a career change, but haven’t gotten your foot in the door quite yet, seek out connections via social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter. Individuals in the industry are always a plus, but also connect with organizations you consider leaders in your field, especially if you there are options that cater to both your field and you as an individual. Women in Tech (WIT) is a prime example, for me as a female in technology. A little looking and you’ll find your niche.
Look for either junior or intern opportunities you can apply to. Do your homework and figure out who the hiring manager is and if possible, write them directly to express interest. It works, and to prove it, in recent weeks I passed on the names of several Jr Engineer candidates who pinged me on LinkedIn and they’re now setup with interviews. Hiring managers won’t curse you for contacting them, and if they do, you probably don’t want to work for them anyway. So don’t be shy.
Another perk you can take advantage of are organized mentorship programs. Just this past week, I saw Girls in Technology’s (GIT’s) Mentor-Protégé Program mentioned on Twitter and applied to be a mentor. Monitor relevant organizations that offer professional support and apply to be a mentee to gain individualized help.
If you’re already in the game, I can’t stress enough how important it is to constantly build your network. Schedule one-on-ones with peers and leaders just to introduce yourself and check-in regularly. In individual and group sessions, don’t pass up the opportunity to ask questions or give input. I often notice radio silence when a call for questions arises, and it’s certainly a wasted moment if it isn’t used to familiarize everyone with you. You won’t be handed those opportunities very often, so when they pop up, use them to distinguish yourself.
Establish yourself as a problem solver by working improvement ideas into your check-in conversations. Not only will you establish a solid professional relationship by proactively scheduling time with those you work with, but if you come up with ways to optimize operations as part of those discussions, positive buzz will spread and you’ll be an unstoppable force.
If you’ve been in the game long enough to be considered experienced, your networking strategy should evolve to where you establish yourself as an expert. Seek out panel and moderator opportunities at conferences and training events and volunteer. The more public speaking, the more you establish your brand.
Most vital for you as an experienced professional is acting as an example and prepping those more junior than you. Take on as many mentees as you can. Get involved in organized mentorship programs such as the Girls in Technology’s (GIT’s) Mentor-Protégé Program already mentioned. Spread your knowledge readily and willingly.
It’s our responsibility to train the next generation to take the helm. If we don’t, who will?
Have a question or work challenge you’d like answered in a future article? Email me at TechLady@forbes.com. And you can read the previous column Girl On Girl Crime In The Workplace.
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