Buckle up for this one because I’m about to give you A LOT of information. As someone who works in tech and creates tech content, I am aware there is no information shortage on “how to get into tech.” Some of the content is great and helpful and some of it is close to predatory, and if you’re someone who is unfamiliar with the field, it can be difficult to sort the good and bad. I would be skeptical of any information coming from someone trying to sell you bootcamps or tech career consulting services. I would also look out for people promising big results in a short amount of time.
People are trying to capitalize on the question that most frequently ends up in my inbox. So here is my opinion, free of charge. I cannot make big promises of a six-figure job at a FAANG company with no experience, but I can offer you this resource and what you make of it is totally up to you.
If all my technical experience was going to be erased from my brain and all I could do was write a guide to myself on how to rebuild my career from scratch, this would be it.
Step One: Identify Your Area of Interest.
Working in tech can mean a thousand different things. When I originally picked my degree, I did so based off the recommendation of a customer when I was working at Best Buy. I didn’t do any research on all the different roles, educational resources, or what I would find the most interesting. My biggest concern was who’s hiring and if I could make a living with it. I went into networking. I do not regret it, but I do wish I had a better idea of what I was getting myself into before I threw myself into the proverbial deep end.
Spend time researching different areas of tech like networking, systems administration, software development, data analytics, cloud, cybersecurity, even sales. Then, once you pick an area that you would like to pursue, look at the different options within that field. For example, working in cybersecurity can include jobs like network security, software security, penetration testing, soc analyst, threat hunter, malware research, incident response, digital forensics, and cloud security (and this isn’t even a complete list).
When I decided I wanted to move into cybersecurity, I spent a year looking at different options and speaking with professionals before I made my decision to move into penetration testing. Take time to pick, but it’s ok if you change your mind later.
Step Two: Start the Job Search.
Start looking at job openings as you get an idea of the roles that interest you. I recommend reviewing at least 3 open positions. While reviewing each position, pay close attention to the job duties and the qualifications. Eventually, you will start to see patterns. Write those down because this is going to give you a good idea of the skills you’ll need to obtain one of these positions.
Two disclaimers: first, the position you are exploring might not be the first tech job you land — it probably won’t be. You are creating a goal, and it might take several steps to reach it. Secondly, think of the listed qualifications as the company’s “wish list.” In most circumstances, the requirements and qualifications listed are negotiable, and candidates rarely meet every qualification. Managers often make exceptions relating to educational requirements and experience with specific technology stacks. Keep that in mind when looking at the postings because it might seem a little daunting at first.
Step Three: Revamp Your Resume.
This step comes after reviewing a variety of open positions because now you know some of the language they use and qualities they’re looking for. This is the area where people miss opportunities. You want to get your resume ready to apply for tech roles, which means you need to highlight sought after skills that apply to tech positions. You don’t need to have any tech specific experience on your resume to do this. Here is a list of some examples:
- Working with customers to identify and meet their needs
- Problem solving
- Communication Skills
- Leadership / managing a team
- Project management
- Collaborating with coworkers
- Ability to prioritize
- Coordinating with vendors or business
- Meeting deadlines
- Detail oriented
- Documentation and writing
Some companies use automated programs to filter applications, meaning your resume may not even be read by a human. I created a list of keywords that can help you highlight your skills and hopefully get your resume in the hands of a real human.
Support, Lead, Facilitate, Ensure, Maintain, Initiate, Implement, Manage, Coordinate, Improve, Evaluate, Performance, Monitor, Identify, Participate, Deliver, Resolve, Design, Analyze, Increase, Adapt, Review, Develop, Produce, Provide, Revise, Apply, Adhere, Configure, Recommend, Enhance, Execute, Upgrade, Install, Test, Assist, Educate, Efficient, Guide, Approve, Assign, Solve, Create
Sometimes you must make the system work for you. If you are a student at a university or community college, find your career center and see if they offer resume services and interview practice, I was able to do this at my university and it was completely free. Alternatively, Harvard and other universities have documents available with resume templates and advice. Harvard’s is available here: https://hwpi.harvard.edu/files/ocs/files/hes-resume-cover-letter-guide.pdf. I personally use the second resume template in the document.
Step Four: Start Applying for Jobs.
Start applying for jobs once your resume is ready to be sent off. I recommend making a weekly goal such as sending out 3 job applications a week. Entry-level jobs can be difficult to identify. If you filter for ‘entry-level’ jobs on LinkedIn, you’ll notice many of the positions require 3-5 years’ experience or a four-year degree in computer science or similar. I still recommend applying for those jobs. At worst, you won’t hear back from them; at best, you might land it. Consider technical positions for your own city or school district, they often have positions available for people without much experience and you’ll get hands on with a wide variety of vendors, equipment, and issues. These positions can usually be found on your city’s or school district’s website. Also look out for apprenticeship programs like the one offered by Cisco.
Consistently apply for new roles and take opportunities to interview when available. Interview experience is valuable, and feedback can help you improve. Remember, if you don’t get a call back or land the job, it’s ok to apply for opportunities at the company in the future.
Step Five: Beef Up Your Resume.
While applying for tech jobs, you should come up with a plan to add some tech experience to your resume. There are many ways to do this, and I have outlined a few below.
- Research your local community college. Community colleges often offer discounted or free classes to residents in the area. 20 US states offer free tuition for residents. The community college closest to my home offers classes to residents for $70 a credit hour. Most classes are 3 credit hours making one course $210. For comparison, the four-year university 15 minutes away from the community college costs $2,389 per credit hour.
- If financially viable, you can enroll in your local community college part time, even if just take one class a semester and add that to your resume. You are now a student pursuing a technical degree at an accredited learning institution.
Free College Classes
- Harvard and MIT both offer free classes to the public. You can take Introduction to Computer Science And Programming with MIT Open Courseware or Data Science: R Basics through Harvard
- EDx partners with different universities to offer classes for free in a variety of different fields. Some offer a certificate on completion for a cost, but you can still list you completed the course even if you didn’t purchase the ‘official’ certificate.
Different organizations offer free and low-cost course options.
- Antisyphon Pay What You Can (Cybersecurity)
- AWS Educate (Cloud)
- Grow with Google (Various)
- Cody Academy (Development and Data)
- The Linux Foundation (Linux Operating Systems)
- FreeCodeCamp (Development)
- Cisco Networking Academy (Networking)
- Microsoft Learn (Various)
Hands-on learning resources and projects are a great way to showcase your knowledge.
- TryHackMe (Cybersecurity)
- HackTheBox (Cybersecurity)
- Projects (Development)
- Work on coding your own project and publish it on GitHub
- Open-Source Projects (Development)
- Once you have some coding experience and have worked on a few small projects on your own, try to find and contribute to open-source projects on GitHub.
There are many industry certifications available and most of them cost money. Some of the most well-known certifications include CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Security+, Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), and AWS Solutions Architect. Some employers may require a specific certification, for example some government jobs require the Security+ certification. Most companies do not require any certifications but may list it as a preference.
On occasion, there are opportunities to test for these certifications for free. For example, the Texas Workforce Commission has a program called Skills Enhancement Initiative and offers free training for all Texas residents, certification voucher funding for eligible participants, and even job referrals.
There’s a lot of conflicting opinions regarding certifications. Personally, I recommend them for someone who may have no formal higher education or previous industry experience. And job recruiters love them.
A growing list of free learning resources can be found on my GitHub.
Step Six: Network!! (Not the Computer Kind)
You are applying for jobs and learning, now it’s time to meet some people in your prospective field. People want to hire people they know. All the steps previously mentioned are important, but this one will yield results.
Do from home:
- Get active on social media — follow and interact with people in the field.
- Attending Virtual Conferences. There are tons of conferences you can attend virtually for free.
- Join a Discord Group! Discord groups like the BHIS one is a great place to connect with people who have the same interest and offer a friendly space where you can ask questions and get advice. This is the best way to get your questions answered quicky.
Do outside your home:
- Attending in-person conferences.
- Participate in local meetup groups. Meetup.com is a great place to look for local events. In the Dallas area, our local DEF CON group and Dallas Hackers Association meet up every month. These groups are a great place to learn and meet local professionals. You can get some job leads and make friends.
- If you’re participating in Discord groups and local meetup groups, then you will eventually find someone who you could call a mentor. Mentorship does not need to be a formal arrangement and comes in many forms. Look for mentorship from people you already have a friendly relationship with. These are people who have extra time to answer your questions or provide you with feedback.
Finally, Be Consistent.
All these steps will take time and consistency. Don’t give up after a month of no results. If you notice you aren’t getting any results after 6 months, ask a mentor if they would be willing to look at your resume or give you some feedback. Talk with them about the jobs you’re applying for and what you’re doing to improve any knowledge gaps on your resume. I got my first technical job in 2012 selling computers, then my first full-time networking position in 2018, and my first pentesting position in 2022, 10 years after I started working with computers. Consistency and time for the win.