How your skills are transferrable to tech jobs — explained by 6 Austinites who made the move

by Kelly O'Halloran
November 10, 2016

 

The bustling Austin tech industry has led to many career pivots, given its vast employment opportunities. Tech companies draw talent from a number of other sectors, including education, non-profits, carnivals and more.

We connected with six folks who made that switch to hear more about what their experience was like, why they pivoted and what advice they have for others looking to break into our tech scene.

 

 

Katie Butler

Now: customer support lead 
Past: advertising consultant

Butler joined Procore about nine months ago after leaving her role as an advertising consultant for the Texas Press Association. Her previous work responsibilities included cold calling, placing and facilitating orders with newspapers across Texas, and playing collection agent when companies failed to pay on time.

Why'd you move into tech? 

Much of the newspaper industry still functions with outdated technology, particularly in state press associations. I really felt like I was missing out on opportunities by staying in a place that used fax machines and a several decade old order system. I'm someone who likes to learn new things, and my previous environment really stagnated. I knew I had to search for something new.

What's been your biggest challenge and how'd you adjust?

So many things about the two roles feel so different. My role in advertising was very isolated in that I worked mostly on my own almost all of the time. It could be high stress and fast paced because everything was always at the last minute. In my current role, I work with a really large team that is extremely supportive with lots of resources.

Things are fast paced, but in a very different way. We're innovating and constantly adapting and changing. It keeps me on my toes and energizes me by constantly teaching me new things. The transition was easy for me because coming into a tech role felt like coming home. I had a passion for tech, innovation, and learning which helped to smooth over much of the transition.

What advice do you have for someone on the move and into tech?
 
Leverage the transferable skills you know you have. I shaped my retail and advertising background to showcase problem-solving, customer service, and communication skills. Make a list of things you want in a role and a company and start your search from there. Be patient and don't get discouraged!
 
 
 

 

Blake Hutchinson

Now: publisher relations manager
Past: science teacher

After four years teaching science for the Hutto Independence School District, Hutchinson joined the tech world in 2013 to help manage budgets and promote advertisements with AdAction's publishers. Hutchinson said he loved working with students but left teaching due to growing pressure from Texas state testing. Since joining AdAction, he's most enjoyed the change of pace, flexibility and working with people from all over the world. 

Were you trying to get a job in tech?

It just kind of happened. Internet advertising is something that I was aware of; however, I didn't fully understand how it worked. I fell into the roll with AdAction and was really lucky to get connected with a company that's on its way up and had an opportunity at the time I was interviewing. 

What are some of the similarities between your AdAction role and teaching?

With any job, there are parallels. You have certain things that need to be done on a daily basis. With teaching, it was lesson plans and helping kids get the information that they need for the day. With my job now, I have daily responsibilities like budget checks every day.

What's been challenging?

It's not hard; it’s just different. I didn’t really have a background in this, so I had to learn all the new verbiage, learning the industry, and the ins and outs of it. But I enjoy that challenge, and I'm still learning every day. Things are changing and evolving with interaction in mobile advertising. It’s different now than when I started. It's fun. 

Tips for people who want to do the same?
 
Do your research so you have an idea of what you're getting into. Learn about the field, learn about the role you're interviewing for. So many people demand your experience, but it’s not always necessarily true to what they are looking for. As long as you show knowledge and interest, people innately want to make an investment in that. If they see you’re driven, then you can have a chance
 
 

 

Erin Jones

Now: senior marketing analyst
Past: fine arts director, K-12

Jones moved to Austin in 2004 after earning a degree in art education. Teaching art, theater, speech and debate, and music, she moved into a directorial role as fine arts director for seven years before joining Praecipio Consulting. When meeting the owners of Ingredients, an Austin favorite of hers, and interviewing for a marketing role there, they instead offered her an opportunity with their other company, Praecipio Consulting. 

Why the shift?

When I worked in administration, I had gotten as far as I wanted to go in the program. Going into my role at Praecipio, I had very little exposure to the tech industry, but I knew people who worked in the field and was excited to learn more.  

What in your past career has helped you succeed at your new one?

I've done everything including event planning, writing, presentations with high school students, and I use these same skills on the tech side as well. In my role at the school, I oversaw a staff of 40 fine arts teachers across grades K-12. I'd put on regular events that required a strong need for communication and skills in advertising and public speaking. 

Here I'm hosting webinars and helping people create content. It's been a really collaborative environment, and every time I'm working on events or webinars, I'm learning more about the technology side of things. 

Any regrets?

This is definitely a decision I'm really glad I made. If you would’ve told me five to 10 years ago that I'd be doing marketing for a technology consulting company, I would’ve never believed you.
Being willing to be surprised and go down rabbit holes where life takes you opens you to new things and helps you learn more about yourself.
 
I could’ve stayed in education, but it’s been great to see how that experience translates outside of education.
 
 
 
 

Mike Hanschen

Now: product management
Past: carnival operations manager

Hanschen's family has owned a traveling carnival company since 1928. When his aunt and uncle retired from the biz, he and his dad took over. But being on the road for nine months is a challenge. When Hanschen was ready to settle down permanently for the entirety of the year to start a family, he looked to job boards in search for a role in operations in Austin. He joined the OwnLocal team in June 2015, knowing their culture and tone matched what he was looking for next. 

What do you mean you worked for a traveling carnival?

I pretty much did everything. You could call me an operations manager, but in a small family business like this, I did a little bit of everything. We assist in getting it all set up, making sure the carnival opens on time, handling the contracts, the permits, etc. There's nothing you don't do. 

Is the role at OwnLocal easier than your last role?

It’s different. The carnival is more challenging mentally. The stress working 14-hour days for nine months straight during fair season no longer applies here. Obviously, the stress of having hundreds of thousands of people coming to your carnival every year, they’re relying on you to provide a safe, clean and fun show. It's a lot.

Has it been hard to transition into tech?

It’s been pretty different, but the soft skills you learn at the carnival really apply well with my current responsibilities with communications and a detail-oriented approach. You really have to have that attention to detail in the carnival and that definitely carries over to my current job.

 

 

 

Jennifer Dahlin

Now: technical project manager
Past: customer support rep

Graduating with a degree in English, Dahlin struggled to find work that matched her formal education. She joined the OnPrem team last year. At a previous company, she worked first as a customer support representative, then moved into a self-help content writer, and through a series of pivots within the company, she worked her way up to become operations manager. As the startup and tech world evolves and adapts over time, so has Dahlin.

What are some of the parallels between roles as you've moved up?

My communication style must adapt to many different kinds of team members in order to enable the project/team to be successful. Communication is immensely important in any industry.

How did you adjust?

In many established industries and large companies, the prerequisite knowledge and definition of success are fairly clear from the outset. In tech and startups, the main trait that enables to you succeed is to constantly be learning, building on your foundational knowledge, and redefining success. I had to learn quickly that information would not be packaged neatly for me to read and process, and that I needed to get my hands dirty with self-motivated learning in order to thrive.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to transition into tech but isn't sure where to begin?

The jargon can be intimidating! But that doesn't mean that all conversations are impossible to comprehend. There's the traditional advice such as "start going to meetups, watch some coding youtube videos, consider taking a coding class," but I'll admit that none of that will stick if you don't get comfortable with the language of tech. Read some articles that feel like 'word salad' and look up what you don't understand to start breaking down the wall.
 

 

 

 

Yvonne Dutchover

Now: content strategy manager
Past: managing editor for non-profit

Dutchover worked in nonprofits for almost a decade. Her role at LIVESTRONG entailed telling the stories of those who were fighting against cancer. Then the CEO of OutboundEngine reached out to her directly to go to lunch. While engaging in a conversation about what OutboundEngine is about and where they were trying to go, the opportunity came for Dutchover to make a move. 

What's been the biggest difference in working in tech?

No one has cried yet at my company updates. At LIVESTRONG, they'd share their experiences with us. At our monthly meetings, we'd call survivors to share their personal stories on coping with cancer. 

What are some similarities between a startup and a nonprofit?

You’re wearing a lot of different hats, and roles aren’t always clearly defined, so you’re switching between projects and responsibilities. At both positions, I've been responsible for producing a lot of content and for figuring out how to meet competing deadlines. 
 
Tips for people looking to transfer fields?
 
There are a lot of skills that can transfer across industries. You don't realize how much your skills are needed, whether it's companies that are selling something or nonprofits that are serving people. Working with different vendors, managing a building, etc., these skills are transferrable. I'm doing similar work just for a different audience. If you're on the move, research the company that you’re interested in, identify the problems, and try to understand how you fit into that.
 
 
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
 
Images provided by participating companies and LinkedIn.
 
Want to get in touch? Say "Hi" with a tip or on Twitter @BuiltInAustin

 

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