You may be surprised to discover that aspiring technologists don’t always have to follow a traditional technical education or training track in order to launch a successful IT career.
Professional skills, such as communication and collaboration, can provide a solid foundation for professional development in the technology industry, per Maddy Martin, head of growth and education at Smith.ai, a firm that provides companies with virtual receptionists.
“We are training people who never would have had exposure to this level of tech training based on their education,” Martin said during a recent CompTIA podcast interview.
Students thinking about getting into IT after graduating high school or college, and working adults considering changing careers to tech jobs, should not be discouraged if they lack a technical background. Many organizations in a wide range of industries place higher value on experiences that develop business acumen – such as project management training or a background in service or sales roles – than specific technical skills when recruiting for entry-level IT positions.
Martin described this type of educational or working history as a sort of vocational training that makes non-technical candidates really valuable in the marketplace and does not require them to go back to school to land a job at a tech company.
“They’re certainly extremely valuable to [Smith.ai],” said Martin, who has also served as a leader of CompTIA’s Emerging Technology Community.
Hear More of the Story
Listen to Maddy Martin share her insights into developing an IT career on Technologist Tales, a podcast produced by Creating IT Futures, CompTIA’s tech workforce charity. Hear the rest of the conversation with Michelle Lange here.
Building a Tech Career with Communication and Collaboration Skills
Martin cited her own story as an example of building a successful career in the IT industry on a foundation of communications and collaboration skills. After earning an economics degree, she worked in a variety of businesses and industries before moving to a technology company in 2014.
One common thread running through all these positions: marketing communications skills.
“I sort of have an almost obsessive focus on messaging and communicating for people who aren't great at explaining why they're so good at what they do,” Martin explained.
“What I have really done, and I think we do so well at Smith.ai, is gather user research, customer stories and client requests, and put them into a story that the engineers can understand.”
Martin’s storytelling approach works well when collaborating with technical experts, like engineers, on project briefs.
“If you start out on the right foot, you have a much more successful and accountable project,” Martin said.
Her tips to collaborating with a technical audience include:
- Articulate the Problem: Clearly summarize the problem and include external proof.
- Illustrate the Opportunity: Detail the size of the impact.
- Demonstrate Your Plan: Show how your solution will work and how you’ll get the word out.
Martin emphasizes the need to trust your team and their expertise. Once you do your job, let them do theirs.
Creating Value Beyond Technical Skills for Technology Businesses
Martin believes her non-technical experience trained her to read an audience, a skill that has served as leverage for advancing her career in the IT realm.
“Part of it is also knowing your role and honestly evaluating where you sit at that table, and what you can leverage to get more done,” Martin said.
For example, if you don’t have a huge budget, but you have a strong network, you can bring value and you can negotiate, she said. It’s all about leveraging the assets that you have.
“How do you see things with new angles to achieve your business objectives?” she continued. “There's been a lot written about this, that entrepreneurship, creativity and new business growth come from the need for it, and the pressure behind it.”
“And there's a lot of pressure right now to explore those new opportunities and ideas,” she added, alluding to the economic disruption caused by the pandemic.
Martin encourages workers without extensive technical experience not to dismiss technology careers as an option. Certifications like CompTIA A+ can pave the way to entry-level tech jobs such as the IT help desk. From there, aspiring technologists can find their business niche, just as she did.
Heeding her own words, Martin got her start by volunteering to apply her communications skills as a contributor to panel discussions at conferences. Over time, invitations to speak multiplied and her repertoire of topics broadened. In fact, Martin has been a featured speaker at the CompTIA EMEA Member and Partner Conference and Creating IT Futures’ Women in Tech Summit (WITS) series.
“You start to do it and you realize, ‘I know more than I thought I did,’ and the comprehension I need for tech is just [being] someone who can see all the moving parts and how they fit in in a marketplace,” Martin said. Start walking the walk and you can get there too.
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