No tech background, no problem: How 7 Austinites got started in the industry

by Kelly O'Halloran
May 23, 2018

Contrary to what you may think, you don’t always need a tech background to work for a tech company. While some move into the industry by acquiring new skills from workshops and online courses, others have leveraged their existing specialties to thrive in a new space.

We spoke with seven Austinites, including former teachers, an actor and a nonprofit event planner, to learn more about how they joined the tech scene.

 

aceable
photo provided by aceable

Prior to joining edtech startup Aceable, Josh Hostetler was an educator. He taught English classes in Guatemala and Mexico before teaching first grade for four years in Austin. Hostetler has now been at Aceable for over four years and serves the team as content supervisor. Here’s why he made the move.

 

Show off your skills.”

Why did you transition into tech?

By the end of my fourth year teaching, I was burnt out and decided not to return as a teacher the following school year. I didn’t know I was going to transition into tech. I took on a couple of part-time jobs so I wasn’t completely decimating my savings while I attempted to figure out life. I also started a blog, which helped me rediscover my love for writing and my interest in tech. It wasn’t a completely linear journey, but I eventually got there.

 

What was it about Aceable that piqued your interest?

When a friend shared with me a job posting looking for a contract copywriter to build a defensive driving app, I was intrigued. I hadn’t considered a tech company as my next landing spot, but this position merged my passions for writing and for education. With this role, I could still impact students without ever physically entering a classroom.

 

What advice do you have for people outside the tech industry hoping to get a foot in the door?

Here are three pieces of advice that I’d give the younger, non-tech version of me: First, leverage your non-tech experience and skills, and identify tech companies that need your background. Second, look for opportunities at early-stage startups. Honestly, 2013 Josh probably couldn’t get a job at 2018 Aceable. However, 2013 Aceable received fewer job applications. And while very early startups are typically riskier as they have less funding, they’re great places to get that proverbial foot in the door.

Finally, show off your skills. When I applied at Aceable, I included with my resume a 17-screen script for a hypothetical app where users taught an Amish man how to drive.

 

securelink
photo provided by securelink

Meredith Pierce spent six years working in events and curatorial resources at a nonprofit before transitioning into tech with SecureLink. That experience required Pierce to wear many hats, assisting with programming, outreach, operations and even the rollout of a new CRM. Today, she supports SecureLink as an implementation project manager to ensure its third-party, remote-access security platform gets set up with clients properly and on time.

I didn't have the technical padding on my resume so I relied heavily on networking events.”

Why did you transition into tech?

Having worked at nonprofits that still used antiquated technology, I saw firsthand the massive improvements that more sophisticated technology had on our constituent engagement and for the operations of our entire organization. I was especially interested in the power of technology in making data-informed solutions for previously unmeasurable problems.

 

What was it about SecureLink that piqued your interest?

My first introduction to SecureLink was at an Austin Digital Jobs networking event, where I bumped into a product manager who raved about SecureLink's culture and employees with nontraditional backgrounds. Having worked with protected patient information before, I was especially interested in SecureLink's work with hospitals to protect and secure medical data.

 

What advice do you have for people outside the tech industry hoping to get a foot in the door?

It's certainly not easy, but it is possible. I didn't have the technical padding on my resume so I relied heavily on networking events. There are so many free opportunities to meet seasoned industry players, and commiserate with fellow tech newbies, in Austin. I attended meetups, workshops — General Assembly and Galvanize are great — whatever I could find. I also scoured online education resources for free classes and tools, of which there are many. It also doesn’t hurt to up your side project game.

 

MVF austin team
photo provided by mvf

Making the trek from Arkansas to Texas, Tori Scott joined MVF a year and a half ago as an account executive after graduating from the University of Arkansas with a degree in communications and business marketing. The customer acquisition firm recently promoted Scott to a senior account executive role. Scott said entering the local tech scene was a natural fit.

Companies need the same support systems as a traditional company, like accounting, marketing and sales.” 

Why did you transition into tech?

Once I moved down to Austin and saw how many companies were tech focused, it seemed like a no brainer. I think working in the tech industry gives you so many opportunities to not only grow your career but also to learn new skills you wouldn’t normally get the chance to. Tech companies are generally forward thinking, innovative and focused on growth, so it’s really rewarding to be a part of one. 

 

What was it about MVF that piqued your interest?

While job searching, I was excited to see a range of roles at tech companies that weren’t just for developers or analysts. The account executive position at MVF stuck out to me because I would be able to experience a full-cycle sales position, from prospecting to closing accounts and nurturing them from there. MVF’s perks also looked good, like the traveling opportunities throughout the United States and United Kingdom as well as an annual $1,500 stipend for professional development. Plus, the position would provide me the chance to grow alongside a growing tech company.

 

What advice do you have for people outside the tech industry hoping to get a foot in the door?

You have to be willing to learn new things. While my role doesn’t require me to “do” tech myself, I do have to be able to understand and show our clients how the technology will help them. Tech companies need the same support systems as a traditional company, like accounting, marketing and sales. These roles don’t require actual tech skills, but they do need people to be passionate about the tech and be willing to adapt to a fast-paced, progressive field.

 

mitratech
photo provided by mitratech

Kelly Phillips and Jacky Davis of Mitratech both entered the tech field without prior tech experience, albeit from very different backgrounds. Phillips, who is director of demand generation, was an actress and taught acting classes in Florida. Davis, an operations analyst for the hosting and security department, worked at an engineering consortium as an assistant to the program coordinator. The two shared their journeys into the tech space.

Find capabilities and competencies where you excel and are energized — that’s what companies are looking for.” 

Why did you transition into tech?

Phillips: When I moved to Austin in 2004, I found a contract role at National Instruments in marketing. I was surprised to learn that I had an affinity for marketing technology and processes. I applied for a full-time role as a marketing technologist and stayed at NI for 10 years. Mitratech is the fourth tech company I have worked for in Austin. The tech space is alluring to me because nothing is static. Our need to market the technology moves as fast as the technology itself evolves.

Davis: I was working in a pretty conservative field, mostly for oil and gas clients, and I had a lot of friends working for startup companies. From being around them and their work events, I quickly realized I wanted to be part of the fast-growing, ever-adapting world of technology. I knew that tech companies devote a lot of their time and resources into cultivating a productive, yet relaxed atmosphere. There is a lot of emphasis placed on a good work-life balance, and I would get to wear jeans. Why wouldn't I want to be part of that?

 

What was it about Mitratech that piqued your interest?

Davis: As millennial as it sounds, company culture. If I’m going to spend 40-plus hours a week somewhere, I hope I can enjoy it. Mitratech provides that for me through its snacks, great people, happy hours, casual dress code, foosball table, open PTO policy and growth opportunities. Everyone at Mitratech, my manager and CEO included, genuinely care about my well-being and growth within the company, and not just what I can contribute to Mitratech, but what it can give back to me.

 

What advice do you have for people outside the tech industry hoping to get a foot in the door?

Phillips: My best career advice is to not focus on job titles. Find capabilities and competencies where you excel and are energized — that’s what companies are looking for. Once you land at the right place, your contributions will speak for you and you can make yourself relevant to a variety of roles.

 

netspend austin
photo provided by netspend

Netspend’s Scotty Gaydos, a senior software developer, has been with the company for over nine years. Even though Gaydos started out as a computer engineering major in college, he ended up pivoting to communications. He spent several years as a high school teacher, then as a technical trainer, before discovering his passion for developing business features.

A tech job is available to anyone willing to put in the time to learn the necessary basic skills.” 

Why did you transition into tech?

After learning I didn’t want to teach long term and jumping into a technical training role, I found it useful to learn SQL. That jump-started my interest in learning what I think of as business-oriented technology and development. I found that both databases and coding languages, like Java, can be used to build business applications — and there are jobs that focus just on developing business features. Developing a business-driven feature is much more interesting to me than developing a software driver, operating system component, or anything deeper in the technology world.

 

What was it about Netspend that piqued your interest?

The first big personal project I ever worked on, and still use, is software for managing my finances and budget across all of my personal financial accounts. I really liked that project — it helped me realize that I enjoy working with money. From there, it was an easy transition into a role at a company growing in the financial sector.

 

What advice do you have for people outside the tech industry hoping to get a foot in the door?

A tech job is available to anyone willing to put in the time to learn the necessary basic skills. No one needs a specific technical degree to join a technical team. I took some technical courses online and in community college, and that’s all I needed to get my foot in the door. My partner has a similar story; he recently finished some community college courses and transitioned from a business writing job to a software developer job. Beyond that, standard rules apply: polish the resume, network, get to know people who can help you find the right role and practice communication skills that make for a successful interview.

 

software advice
photo provided by software advice

Lisa Hedges’s background is in education, specifically English. She joined Software Advice just under a year ago as a content analyst. Despite entering the tech industry, Hedges hasn’t derailed entirely from her passion for English. Hedges said she still teaches a few online sections of British literature for her alma mater, Mississippi College.

The technologically inclined are vital to the tech industry, but they can't do everything. ” 

Why did you transition into tech?

As much as I enjoyed teaching English, I made the decision to transition into the tech world because I was ready for a new challenge. This role at Software Advice presented an opportunity to get back to writing long-form content and start working some old research muscles that I missed being able to use.

 

What was it about Software Advice that piqued your interest?

I’ve always enjoyed writing book reports, essays and research papers about topics that interested me and, while I know that makes me weird, it also made the idea of coming to Software Advice and producing that kind of content appealing. But once I walked through the door, it was the atmosphere that clinched it. The culture here is far and away the best I've had the opportunity to work in, and the people I get to work with are all exceptionally talented — and fun to be around.

 

What advice do you have for people outside the tech industry hoping to get a foot in the door?

Yes, the technologically inclined are vital to the tech industry, but they can't do everything. Elon Musk is a cool guy, but his company can't make a profit on his reputation alone. He needs marketers, accountants, creatives, human resources, designers, technicians, salesmen, project managers, engineers and more to help him have any hope of running his companies. Those are all access points for people who come from outside of the tech world.

 

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