In 2013, after returning from overseas and in search of a fulfilling career, I came across a role at a company I’d never heard of before—SilverStripe. I’d never heard of it because I was, as you say in the web world, a noob. Growing up in the ’90s, computers and the Internet had always been around me (and I was proficient enough that I could show my parents how to pay their bills online). However, the inner workings of what goes into building a great website were mostly a mystery. It seemed like magic to me. Pure wizardry.
The role was “Support Coordinator”. The job was liaising with clients and keeping everything support-related organised. Despite no tangible experience, I managed to convince Diana that I was the best person for the job. After successfully landing the role, I realised one of the most valuable career-related life lessons is this: a good interview and the ability to sell yourself is everything. While experience is important, your attitude and willingness to learn is what will ultimately get you the role you want. Having now been on the other side of many interviews, I believe this more strongly than ever. Are you going to bring passion into this job? Are you willing to immerse yourself in this organisation to learn as much as possible? So, while I was a total noob, my answer to both of those questions was a blaring “YES!”. I really wanted to work at SilverStripe and I was ready for the challenge.
I quickly realised that while I had a lot to offer to the role, I also had a metric tonne of knowledge to gain to get to where I wanted to be. Everything was new and foreign. My team were quite literally working in another language. So while it was daunting, I had to figure out my strategy to get up to speed and find my niche within the company.
To anyone entering the tech world for the first time, I would give you the below advice:
Don’t panic. You got your role for a reason. Your interviewer saw something in you that they knew would click within the organisation. Trust that you are capable and up for the challenge. Yes, your colleagues do incredible things with programming, but you were hired to do incredible things in other areas.
Make the most of the skills that come naturally to you. For me, this meant research. Reading. Asking questions. Googling. Learning. Writing. Repeat (constantly). I also knew that I was hired because I was efficient and organised and that’s what the role required. So, I was efficient and organised with everything I did. Lean on your strengths while you work on your weaknesses and you will quickly prove yourself.
Learn from the tech experts. In the tech world, you will be surrounded by uber experts. You will likely become part of a team with some of these experts. Build good relationships with them and let them teach you. These people have truckloads of passion for what they do and will be happy to answer your questions about how it all works, no matter how silly they seem (you may have trouble shutting them up!). Don’t let pride get in the way of building your understanding. No one will expect you to immediately know everything. Be honest about what you know and what you need help with.
Remember the gap you are filling. Remember what you were hired for. In my role, I was hired to keep our support clients happy by being their go-to person. I was hired to be personable, communicative and a leader. Your team will be happy to have you fill the position, so remember you are already valuable just for being there and doing your best because you are filling a gap they couldn’t.
Choose a role model. Pick someone in a somewhat similar role who is notably successful in what they do. Learn how they became so and go to them for advice. Set up regular catch-ups if you can. Your company may very well assign a mentor for you, so make the most of this. While it’s important to find your own way of doing things, your role model has been exactly where you are now and at the very least, it’s motivating to see how much they’ve learnt about your industry in their time.
Make mistakes. Yes, that’s right. It can sound a bit cliche but how often do you make the same mistake twice? The best way to be outstanding at something is to do it wrong, then to inspect and adjust your approach. Did you use the wrong technical word? Did you explain something completely incorrectly to a client? I sure did. Those mistakes helped me realise what I didn’t know and gave me an opportunity to ask an expert how to do it better next time.
Don’t let the acronyms scare you. UAT, AJAX, CSS, DNS, JSON, SQL… (there’re a lot!). Again, learn from the experts. Most scary sounding acronyms and other technical language can actually be broken down in a way you will understand for your purposes. Google is your friend.
I might be biased, but I can’t think of a better place to go through all of the above than at SilverStripe. By applying our core values to everything we do, I was supported in every way to ensure I got to where I needed to be. While it sometimes felt like slow progress and an impossible learning curve, I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to achieve in these few years.
The Support Coordinator role turned into Operations Team Lead where I was responsible for 8 developers and I eventually moved out of this team and into a Scrum Master role working with a project delivery team. I’ve thrown myself into the world of Agile web development and it really feels like home now.
Moving into a new industry can be intimidating but I encourage you to be fearless, confident and up for the challenge as it may just be exactly where your skills fit best.
PS the perks of working in tech includes cool offices, full fridges and great parties… Come on over!