This editorial article is a part of Tech Career Paths Month of Technical.ly's editorial calendar.
There’s no “right” way to enter tech, or move through a career. But there are ways that those already working in the industry can make it easier for newcomers.
The dynamics behind who has access to tech careers pops up often in Technical.ly’s reporting, from pipeline diversity efforts to workforce development and upskilling. Much of this work is top-down, as institutional backers create new initiatives. But lots of work to identify opportunities and support those who might move through them happens in daily interactions that happen between people. It begs the question: How can individuals do this work, too? We asked a handful of them.
Perhaps first and more important is sharing awareness that welcoming people and spaces do exist. Most local tech communities have meetups where aspiring technologists can plug in and learn about job opportunities and the wider innovation ecosystem. At their core, though, they’re about meeting others with shared interests.
“Engineering is not something that happens in a vacuum; one thing that I find extremely important about coming into the technology space is the community,” said Sundi Myint, a developer at dev agency SmartLogic who also co-organizes the DC |> Elixir meetup. “I wouldn’t advocate for every new engineer to be a part of a technology community if they didn’t want to, because the social stuff isn’t for everyone. However, I think it’s important for new developers to know that the community is there. There’s a support system, people who’d love to share advice, and experience, or provide a networking opportunity that would otherwise have slipped by. If I had known there was a whole world of helpful strangers out there when I started in my career, I might have had a less stressful time.”
From the inside of an organization, technologists can advocate for greater transparency in posted jobs, including salary and benefits. But local tech communities more broadly should consider branding campaigns, too, said Dr. Leshell Hatley, an associate professor of computer science at Coppin State University, where she established the Lab for Artificial Intelligence and its Applications. Advocates can shout out what’s been accomplished, collectively, in the past few years, and what else is needed to further that progress, to get new people excited to join.
Rachel Cohen, a cyber software engineer at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Baltimore, agreed that “tech” more broadly can do more to highlight the unique benefits the industry can offer to potential future workers.
“Show prospective tech workers the flexible work environment, casual dress codes, and remote work opportunities that are inherent to the technology sector,” she said. “Also, emphasize the impact of working in the technology sector. One of the most exciting things about working in technology is that it’s always changing, and it’s pervasive through almost every industry. If you have interests in any discipline (education, finance, art) there is a way to exercise those passions through technology.”
Individual technologists can make their own contributions to this effort by sharing their experiences in the industry via social media, personal essays for local tech publications or by speaking at public events and the like, Cohen said.
(Has your tech career path been a straight line, a twist or a zigzag? Technical.ly wants to hear your story.)
After awareness, there’s training for those entirely new to technology, including free, short-term programs teaching programming basics, said OmbuLabs founder and CTO and Philly.rb meetup co-organizer Ernesto Tagwerker.
“One thing individual developers can do is recommend these programs and volunteer as coaches/teachers for these free events,” Tagwerker said. “Technical leaders can sponsor these programs all over the world. We recently sponsored Rails Girls Kumasi (Ghana) and a few instances of Rails Girls Buenos Aires.”
More experienced technologists can also take junior devs under their wings by working on technical projects together — say, volunteer hacking projects. But the former should be cautious of doing too much.
“Don’t be the hero,” said Jason Anton, a full-stack engineer with Bellese Technologies and tech lead for Code for Baltimore, which itself is a volunteer-run, project-based hacking group. “Too many developers look to jump in and solve all of the problems. This is great enthusiasm, but it can have the negative effect of dissuading beginners from trying to solve some of the tasks themselves. It’s great when experienced developers and newbies get together because new perspectives are gained and everyone wins, but that doesn’t happen if the experienced dev takes the whole task on themselves. Instead, I suggest they identify the solution and then delegate the tasks of implementing it. They’re there to fill in any gaps and provide help.”
And once someone is trained, they’ll be looking for work. Hiring managers should be more open to bringing on newer talent, including remotely, Tagwerker said.
“I’ve had many conversations with other founders and it seems that most of the companies that hire remotely usually don’t hire junior developers,” he said. However, “I believe that will change in the near future considering the pandemic.”
Knowledge is power!
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