Breaking Into Tech

Trying to jumpstart a career in tech can feel like you are breaking in — like, an actual breaking-and-entering, forceful trespass into a world-where-you-don’t-belong kind of break-in. It can feel foreign and unwelcoming, and when combined with significant lack of knowledge it can be overwhelming. 

The fact that the tech world can be really tough to get into is well-known information, as is the existence of a significant gender gap. It is a lucrative career field dominated by highly specialized experts who, more often than not, look the opposite of my reflection. What is less well-known is that there is actually a huge need for women in the industry. Think about it — if primarily men are responsible for the majority of all technological development, but both men and women of every demographic use technological products, the industry is missing out on an important variance in development and design. Women represent a valuable and largely untapped skill pool.

There is also expected to be a massive shortage of computer and information technology workers as the industry is projected to grow at above-average rates along with the increase of retirement rates of those already in the industry and failed retention of women already working in technology.

The National Center for Women and Information Technology projects that there will be 4 million computing-related job openings by 2028 and that based on the current trend of computing-related degree achievements, only 18 percent of those jobs will be filled.

There is a lot of speculation around why women aren’t nearly as well-represented in tech as men, but in my opinion, it boils down to the fact that if we don’t see our own reflection in an industry, it’s more difficult to visualize being capable of doing the same work or occupying the same role. Lack of community (in the form of woman-to-woman mentorship and male allies in the industry) can magnify feelings of inferiority and inhibit a woman’s motivation to find their place in the tech world.

The Beginning

As a newly aspiring Web Developer with no background in tech, I was at a loss about where to begin learning. I had no idea what language I needed to learn first, or how I wanted to use it, or what program I should go through. Researching online wasn’t exactly helpful with the onslaught of information that exists. I like having options, but sometimes having them can be crippling if you’re even the slightest bit indecisive. 

So, I did some manifesting — and I don't mean holding a seance or meditating or talking to crystals, but intentionally telling those closest to me about my goal to learn how to code. By having those who care about me know my goals, I had accountability in their pursuit, as well as having access to their connections and potential opportunities. 

Through sharing my goals with those closest to me, my housemate knew to send me information about a free workshop in App Development that she had come across. Through that workshop I found Wahine Coder. Through Wahine Coder, I got a job and my boss became my mentor. Now, through this opportunity, I am being guided by a local professional through a global network of coding and development in a way that is beyond what I had even manifested. If you haven’t already, start verbalizing your dreams and goals and watch for the magic that can happen when you intentionally share your life with those around you.


The Plan

After talking with my mentor, Marion, we came up with a game plan to conduct a thorough exploration of multiple learning programs via their free introductory courses. The goal in doing so would be to gain a foundational understanding of Web Development as well as to identify which program could fit best with my goals and learning preferences. 

This idea helped me simplify my search to include only the programs that offered free samples of their courses. To me, a free introductory course communicated that the program placed a greater value on their customer and on learning instead of materialistic gain. The programs that offered free course samples tended to be the smaller startups with less renown, but their commitment to an accessible learning environment was more important to me than a fancy certification. 

This plan made sense for my goals of a remote, freelance career, however, if your dream is to work at a major tech corporation, a certification or even degree from an accredited institution might be a more direct path for you (but isn’t necessarily required either).

The Process

There is only so much prep work you can do as a beginner who knows nothing, until that work becomes a bit redundant. Eventually you have to just dive straight in even if the water is still pretty murky.

I launched my experiment with very little knowledge of what I was getting into, only a few programs identified, and the goal to complete at least one a week. Taking my first intro course was like stepping onto one of those walkway conveyor belts (that go a little faster than you expect) and I got whisked away. 

The main thing I would recommend before starting an intro course is to spend some time learning the lingo. As if it isn’t enough that there are myriads of computer languages, even the way people in technology talk about computer languages can be a language in itself. The tech world has its own colloquialisms that can make it pretty difficult to read something even slightly technical. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to google terms or just completely skipped over sections in exasperation. Skillcrush offers a helpful guide to tech terms that all beginners should review and keep handy throughout their learning journey.

Initial “Aha!” Moments

For my first week of coding, I tried CareerFoundryʻs free, 6-day Web Development for Beginners course. I discovered on day four of my learning journey how incredibly specific code is, and how trying to find a single mistake in my code could be like “trying to find a needle in a haystack.”

I spent two frustrating hours trying to figure out my mistake. I poured over the github code for both my HTML and my CSS and even rewrote multiple sections. It came down to the absence of just ONE LETTER that was missing from my CSS. I was amazed at my inability to spot the mistake, especially because of how obvious it seemed when I had finally found it. I later learned that spending hours on trying to find a mistake is very common in Development and sometimes it takes people days to debug their code. Attention to detail is key, but apparently so is solving problems on the regular.

When I finally got to JavaScript on the last day of my first course, my momentum on that conveyor belt of learning came to a screeching halt. JavaScript was completely different from HTML and CSS and felt much more mathematical in its use of conditional statements — and I consider myself the opposite of a mathematician. However, it was easier to understand what we were telling the computer to do because the code reads very similarly to how you would give the directions in english. In that way alone it made sense. This particular section of the tutorial with CareerFoundry also seemed to be taught differently than the HTML or CSS sections so I also felt disconnected from the rhythm I had found.

Summary

The biggest barriers that could prevent you from getting into technology aren’t the complexity of computers nor whether you are intelligent enough — they are barriers in opportunity. Your success is largely dependent on whether you have the determination and patience to navigate an overwhelming amount of information in a constantly growing industry, and whether you have access to a support group to keep you motivated and hold you accountable in your journey. Learning to code is much more of a long-term quest than a weekend jaunt and you have to be in it for the long-haul.

Try new things even after you think you’ve figured out your career trajectory. Most designers and developers have cross-functional skills because they tried one route to a tech career and then switched, and then switched again. I started off interested in UX Design, then found Web Development but the little bit that I learned in exploring UX Design improves upon my skill and knowledge of Web Development. 

The truth is, whatever you learn can be an asset, even if it doesn’t directly relate to what you end up doing. And even if it’s something you end up absolutely hating, you might need to work with someone in that field in the future so a good appreciation of what they do couldn’t hurt. So, forge ahead, knowing that time spent learning is never wasted. 

Check out our Checklist for New Web Developers and other free resources HERE.