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Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

5 Skills From Your Previous Career That’ll Help You Transition Into Tech

two women smiling and working at computers
Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

You don’t have to be a numbers whiz or child prodigy who taught yourself to code as a kid to pursue a career in software engineering. In fact, having a background in a completely different industry can be an advantage if you want to work in tech. Just ask Janine Luk, who left a position in luxury marketing to work in cybersecurity as a software engineer (and admits to not being very good at math).

For help making the switch, Luk attended Flatiron School, a global school that teaches students of all backgrounds software engineering, cybersecurity, data science, and UX/UI design, in-person and online. “We have everyone from journalists to opera singers to investment bankers to baristas,” says Gretchen Jacobi, Flatiron School’s Head of Career Services.

What’s more, tech is the fastest growing industry in America—which means it’s ripe with opportunity for career-changing graduates (not to mention those who want to re-enter their current industry in a technical role). Plus, many sectors of the economy—like finance and healthcare—are seeing disruption and modernization through tech. “You can pick a field you’re interested in, add ‘tech’, and you’re going to find a company in that space,” Jacobi says. “Finance tech and healthcare tech have the largest share of our GDP, but we’ve had students find jobs everywhere from sports tech to church tech to cannabis tech.”

And, Luk adds, “There’s a massive emphasis now on getting people with zero coding experience to join tech companies.”

Every job comes with skills that can help you not only learn to code, but also land (and succeed in) your first role as a career changer. So if you’re considering pursuing a new path as a software engineer, chances are good you already have a slew of relevant skills. Below are a few that will certainly come in handy when pivoting to a career in tech.

1. Collaboration

According to Jacobi, there’s a misconception out there that developers click away wearing headphones in a self-imposed solitary environment. “Engineering is actually very collaborative,” she says. “You’re in teams and you have to be able to share your ideas, ask questions of those around you, draw out their insights, and propose ideas without alienating your teammates.”

Teamwork is something Luk relied heavily on in her marketing work, with clients such as LVMH and Mandarin Oriental—and it helped her succeed during Flatiron School bootcamp, which involves a group project every three weeks. “Sometimes it was hard to collaborate because people learn at different paces, but it was really beneficial to do it as a group and progress together,” she says.

Luk’s previous work experience has also given her an advantage in her current software engineering role. “You have to collaborate in marketing. For example, the PR person has to talk to the events person,” she says. “Tech is the same. And when you get more opinions, it leads to a better project in the end.”

2. Communication

The communication skills that Luk developed in marketing were also a huge asset during group projects as a Flatiron School student. “It was vital to be able to communicate with your team,” she says. “It helped us develop a sense of community because everyone came from a non-computer science background.”

Being able to easily speak with others comes in handy in her current role as well, especially when explaining technical aspects of projects to those outside of her team. “I’m able to really bring the technical side of a project to life,” she says. “I try to always emphasize the purpose of the task, as well as mention a potential use-case for the project, and ultimately explain the impact of how this can benefit the team, the company, and stakeholders.”

Strong communication skills can also help when applying for jobs after graduating from bootcamp. Prior to attending Flatiron School and finding a job as an engineer in e-commerce, Julianna Tetreault was a private English consultant in Beijing, teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) students debate fundamentals for the largest English-speaking debate competition in the world. “When it came time to interviewing for jobs, my comfortability speaking to people as a consultant definitely helped,” she says. “Something that could have been really nerve-wracking actually wasn’t at all.”

3. Interpersonal Skills

Thanks to the tech world’s exploding conference and events scene, the ability to feel comfortable talking with peers, superiors, and industry experts needs to extend beyond the office. In fact, Luk started attending such events when she had only begun to code. “It was where I met my mentor and discovered a passion for ethical hacking and cybersecurity,” she says.

If you come from a field where schmoozing or interpersonal skills are part of the job—public relations, politics, restaurants, even medicine—you’ll have a leg up as an engineer. But if you don’t, have no fear. There are other ways to develop this skill. It’s actually a non-technical aspect of the industry that Flatiron School focuses on. “We help students draw out the soft skills that employers are looking for, just as much as the technical skills,” Jacobi says.

4. Problem Solving

Whether you’re a teacher, a doctor, a salesperson, or a marketing manager—or something else entirely—chances are good you’ve faced setbacks and have had to come up with solutions in the face of a challenge. And if you can do that, you will thrive as an engineer.

“Some coding problems can be really hairy to untangle and master, and we rely on students who follow their love of a problem until the wee hours because they just really want to know how to do that thing so badly,” Jacobi says. “We want students who are willing to try paths A, B, and C, and keep trying even when they don’t get it right.”

5. Global Experience

Tech is a global industry, and many companies place value on employees who have navigated similarly ocean-crossing fields. Therefore, if your previous career involved travel or collaborating with an internal company team outside of your home office, that’s a bonus for those considering the switch to engineering.

Plus, Tetreault found her experience consulting and teaching in China immensely helpful when attending software engineering bootcamp. “By helping others understand English and learning a bit of Mandarin myself, I was better able to recognize what went into learning another language and apply those same techniques when learning to code,” she says.

If the prospect of pursuing a career in engineering seems scary because you lack direct experience, start by taking an inventory of your work. “If you’re communicating, writing proposals, delivering a message in marketing, creating an event that communicates a brand proposition, working with others on moving a project forward, problem solving—all of those are transferable skills to a coding career,” Jacobi says.

Still not convinced? Then take Luk’s advice. “Even if you don’t think you are good enough or don’t have the confidence or expected background to become an engineer, just try it,” she says. Your skill set is likely a better match than you think. Start with Flatiron School’s free bootcamp prep course and dip your toes into the world of software engineering.