Mid-Career Transition to Tech: A Step-by-Step Guide

If you’ve lost your job or your company has become unstable due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be considering a new career in tech.

A mid-career switch could be beneficial, not only because full-time employment in information and communications is expected to reach more than 62 million jobs in 2023, but also because learning coding and other tech skills can elevate your career no matter which job you choose.

Based on advice from those who have done it before, here is a four-step plan to help make your mid-career change a success.

Estimate Your Odds of Success

This is not meant to be a downer, but not everyone is cut out for a career in tech. So how do you know if you have what it takes?

“Think about whether you are truly willing to keep learning and expanding your skillset,” advised Kanika Tolver, who transitioned into web and mobile development before eventually becoming a federal government project manager as well as the CEO and author of “Career Rehab.” 

Some people are more comfortable in a job where things change at a slower pace.

The financial cost of training is another thing to consider. According to Indeed, transitioners who pay to learn new technology skills spend an average of $38,507. However, 81 percent of tech career-changers recouped their financial investment. Meanwhile, there are lots of free resources available online, particularly if you’re trying to learn something like a programming language. 

Although you don’t necessarily need strong math skills or deep technical expertise to work in tech, the best way to relate to developers—and meet the needs of internal and external stakeholders—is to understand the key fundamentals of object-oriented programming, networking, database systems and computer architecture, Tolver added. 

Find a Crossover Position

Take note of your strengths and transferable skills as you explore specialties and roles that will let you combine existing knowledge with new experiences and concepts. That’s one way to get your proverbial foot in the door.

Do some research online, and network with working professionals to figure out the general path you want to pursue, advised Kelli Smith, who did not start out in tech. “The good news is you don’t need to follow a clear career path,” she said, citing her own experience as proof. “Just get a start somewhere and take it from there.”

Smith mastered web basics such as CSS and HTML, built a website for a local school, started in customer support at Skillcrush and went on to become operations manager.

Tolver agrees with this idea: “You can always change jobs once you get on a team and have the opportunity to figure out what you’re really good at.”

However, finding an appropriate “bridge position” will help you select the right training courses and build a community of support—mentors, role models and teachers—which is vital to making an effective and smooth transition to the tech industry. 

Think about yourself and how you like to work. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you like to put people and tasks together, or do you like to work with detail and solve problems? 

For instance, someone with a background in finance might be best suited for a role as a data analyst or data scientist, while someone with strong administrative and communication skills might be more comfortable starting out as a business analyst or project manager.

Build a Portfolio as You Go

Anticipate the hands-on skills and experience employers will be looking for by opting for training courses that let you work on real-world problems and projects. Start developing your portfolio of work samples, code and websites from the outset to hone your skills and impress an employer. Make sure that links to these projects/apps find their way into your CV and application materials.

Learn Manual Testing

Once you have mastered an object-oriented programming language that is most used by professionals in your desired role (such as Java, C++, Python or JavaScript), Tolver recommends segueing into manual testing for a while before pursuing an entry-level job.

Performing manual testing or QA provides an overview of the development lifecycle. It can also teach you a lot about what goes into creating a truly great app or software program.

“You can see if the developers did what they were supposed to do,” Tolver said. 

For example, you will see firsthand whether the team wrote clean, readable code—or whether the mandatory fields work, or the interface is user-friendly. Most importantly, you can see if the result, whether app or software, aligns with the needs of stakeholders as outlined in the requirements.

No matter what job you choose, when it comes to building great technology, everyone has a role to play.

For more COVID-19 content, check out the COVID-19 Jobs Resource Center.