January 09, 2011

Top 10 Tips for a Career in Tech – Tip #1

Recently, I was speaking with a former colleague who is now a career coach. He specifically works with people making the transition to a career in technology. Often, his clients have a wealth of business domain experience that make them extremely valuable in technical roles such as business analysts, software developers, QA analysts and DBAs.

For example, he recently worked with someone that is a successful CPA. After working on the business side of a number of software implementation projects, she discovered that she was much more interested in technology. Not only that, but she had a real knack for technology. So she decided to move into a career in software development as a programmer.

In our recent conversation, I asked him how he advised his clients transitioning from the non-technical arena into a career in technology. He shared with me some useful tips that have worked for his clients. I also transitioned from working as a network administrator to being a programmer. So over the years, I’ve compiled my own list of tips and tricks for gaining technical skills and getting a technical job.

Waiting until I had a complete list of ten seemed to go against the on-demand nature of information today, so I decided to publish them as blog posts. So here they are in no particular order.

Tip #1: Get Real Experience

There’s no substitute for actual, hands-on experience. You can learn a lot from books, articles, videos and reading about technology. But nothing beats actually writing code and getting it to run (or writing a functional spec or deploying web services or whatever it is you’ll be doing in your technical role).

Solving real-world problems is where learning happens. When we are faced with solving a problem, we are focused on the finding the best solution. So learning occurs without even having to think about it. That’s not to say that the experience is effortless – there will be an element of work to solving any problem. But the focus is on solving the problem and not on the learning of a particular skill.

Real experience creates a situation where you learn skills without even realizing it. This type of learning also “sticks” because it’s visceral. It’s not just theoretical.

To be a programmer, you must write code; to be a system administrator, you must deploy servers; to be an analyst, you must write specifications. In the words of one well-known company: Just Do It.