Making a career change is hard no matter what industry you’re trying to break into. But getting into tech is at the top of the list of tough industries to enter. We sat down with Leah Zillner, a Product Quality Analyst, to understand her career path and process for making a career change into the tech world.
How to Break Into Tech
Q: To give our readers a quick overview of your career change, can you tell me what you used to do and what you currently do?
A: I worked as a Program Associate for a nonprofit organization that supports students in underserved communities. There I managed multiple student programs and a caseload of individual students, as well as ongoing projects. I also assisted with technical support out of necessity.
Now, I am a Product Quality Analyst for a learning technology company that offers a Learning Management System (LMS) Software to our customers. I test new features, updates, and bug fixes for an LMS, let developers know if it has bugs, they fix it, and I test it again. Once I give it the green light we release it to our customers.
Q: What is your background? Did you have tech experience?
A: I received my Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and International Studies with a concentration in Security, Norms, and Cooperation. My first job out of college was as a recruiter for a staffing company. I didn’t have any formal technical training prior to my current position.
Q: What got you interested in leaving your old job and making a career change into tech?
A: I was burnt out in a nonprofit and wanted to return to a more corporate environment. I chose the tech field as it is ever-growing, and an industry that will continue to progress instead of stagnating. Plus, I am quite tech-savvy, so I felt it'd be a natural fit.
Q: Did you go back to school, or obtain any certifications in order to make a career change?
A: I did not, however, I am now pursuing a Product Management Certification to advance my career. As a QA I work closely with Product Managers and am taking their advice/watching how they work to be better prepared. It’s also been helpful to continue learning about the industry as a whole.
There may be an upfront education cost, but if you don’t have that previous experience/or have the connections like me, certifications can really give you the edge against someone who doesn’t have exposure.
Q: How did you go about your job search for a tech job outside of your field?
A: I utilized my network, focused on transferable skills from my previous jobs like project management, and focused only on the industry I wanted to be in. I was first looking for renewable energy, space, or progressive technology — really looking into the future and how we’re innovating as a society.
It’s key when you are thinking about switching industries, that you don’t go into a dying one. It’s important to pay attention to things like layoffs and what’s trending upward in society versus what is becoming obsolete.
Q: What would you say was the most powerful tool for making the switch?
A: Networking. Without a doubt. As I mentioned, I got a job out of college as a recruiter and then moved into the nonprofit sector. It was there that I actually met the CEO of my current company and kept in contact with him. They were responsible for setting up a program we used at the nonprofit and he was a member of the student mentorship program I oversaw.
Once I knew I needed a change, I reached out to him immediately and told him I wanted to work for him. I had no knowledge of product management and so the CEO really educated me. He connected me with the VP of Product and he continued to educate me. He thought just based on my personality that I’d be good for the role. It wasn’t even skills related, he knew I could do the job because I put myself out there and what do you know, they hired me.
Q: What other advice would you give someone who is trying to leave their current job and pivot into tech?
A: So many things! It takes effort in multiple areas to make the change.
Cultivate relationships with people in your network and specifically with people in the line of work you are interested in. Don't treat networking as a transaction — you won't get very far.
Practice how you'll respond to typical tech interview questions.
Learn about what positions are out there (there are SO many) and find one or two you're interested in and focus there. Don't go into it with an "I'll take anything" attitude.
Don’t settle for anything less than you deserve. Know what you want for your future and go after it. It’s going to be hard while you’re doing it, but it’s totally worth it.
Finding a new job can be a full-time job, but the more effort you put into it, the better the outcome. It’s going to be hard while you’re doing it, but it’s totally worth it.
Think it’s time to make a change? Channel some of that effort into creating a free profile with Purpose Jobs today and get connected with amazing Midwest tech companies and startups.