Making the Jump into Tech

We’re delighted to share this guestblog from Sara Price of KETL on her shift into tech from an arts background. We hope it inspires you to think about your next move:

Just over a year ago, with help from the Women’s Tech Hub, I made the jump into tech from a background in the arts. I’ve now been working as a Business Analyst and Tester for data consultancy KETL for a year, having previously worked first in publishing and then in marketing for a charity and originally studied English Literature at university. And it turns out that this background is no reason to worry about getting into tech.

Experience can be useful in unexpected ways

When I moved to Bristol several people suggested I should get into tech. At first, I dismissed this: my experience wasn’t relevant and my most STEM qualification is an A-level in maths. Like many women, I’d felt more comfortable studying humanities, despite having performed well in sciences and it felt like my career options were set by this.
I went along to a WTH and KETL workshop on data management mostly out of curiosity and because it was free. I was nervous that I’d be out of my depth, surrounded by women who’d been programmers or engineers, studied maths at university or coded in their evenings. What I hadn’t appreciated is that re-skilling isn’t just about updating existing skills but also about bringing in people from different backgrounds, including myself.
And it turns out that having experience outside of the tech industry is really useful. It gives me perspective on what customers need: I find that my experience with managing stock levels in a book warehouse ends up helping when getting requirements for error messages on a stock management interface, or my use of marketing contact lists for promotional mailings (and all the ways that bad data can give you headaches on this) helps me prioritise requirements for cleaning data. And while I’m still catching up on the technical terms, I get a head start in other business terms.

More skills are transferable – and valuable – than you might think

I also found that not only were loads of my skills transferable, some of them which were commonplace in a marketing department were valued more highly in tech roles. Tech companies are full of all sorts of people but, on the whole, there’s a shortage of people with a passion for communication. I’m very much a words and pictures person – it turns out that in tech there’s a lot of demand for this! I have had the opportunity to take a Scrum Master course and enjoyed how much of it was about people management, empathy and communication; not at all as “techy” as I expected. And all of this means your previously ordinary skills can suddenly seem much more valuable.

Support from the WTH

The biggest challenge for me has been feelings of imposter syndrome: that I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m not “that sort of person”. Going along to WTH events has been brilliant for showing me the range of women who do work in technology and hearing that they too have times when they feel like they’re out of their depth. Meetups like the informal Free3Friday are great for getting a bit of space and perspective, and some heartfelt encouragement too.

Working in tech isn’t all coding

Lots of people in tech love coding and in my mind this was what everyone in tech did. I had only a hazy idea of the sheer number of other roles that exist within this sector. Going along to the workshop let me see more of this variety and introduced me to the kind of work that has to happen to make the coding possible. Now I am working with data every day, either writing requirements, testing systems or looking after our internal systems such as JIRA.

Sharing your passion is fun

My love for data started out as an infatuation with Excel, trying to report on budgets or work out ordering patterns and predict materials needed for print runs, and I thought Excel was brilliant – imagine the fun I had when I learned about SQL! But it used to be that no one around me shared this interest. Now I work with people who share my love for data and my drive to have everything organised methodically and logically and it’s great. Plus, I am on hand to answer any questions the dev team have about the plots of Shakespeare plays or grammar rules and provide book recommendations.
Attending a free workshop that the WTH hosted was a vital stepping stone to applying for a tech job and appreciating that it was possible to cross the divide even if, like me, you characterised yourself as an “arty” type. My experience since has been that having a different background can be really advantageous and that there great opportunities for women in tech, whether you studied a STEM subject or not.