Creating Access to Tech Jobs
The most fulfilling thing about managing people, especially those early on in their tech career, is enabling their growth. What do they want to be when they grow up—do they even know? In tech the options aren’t particularly clear-cut, especially when a person doesn’t have a CS or CIS degree. But folks who come into tech from other industries bring difficult fights and wins, varied knowledge and unexpected energy, resulting in diverse points of view and experiences. And that’s exactly what we need to succeed as businesses and teams.*
My own path into tech was a winding one. I previously worked in financial services and education. About six years ago, when I was almost 30, I moved into the industry in an entry level role. Now, I’ve been managing people for two years. Bringing others with unconventional backgrounds into this well-paying, challenging, and often fun industry is my passion—what I believe to be my calling. And after some experimentation, I’ve found some strategies to help clear the way for those who are looking for their own path into tech.
So what’s a surefire way to get these folks with fresh ideas into tech? You can’t expect this with a straightforward job posting, full of intimidating requirements and posted to niche job boards. Unless your employer has an established partnership or program, you gotta get creative. A couple of years ago my former boss and I brainstormed on this topic, coming up with program that I’ve been managing for a couple of years now.
This internship (sometimes, returnship) has done wonders for the diversity of our team, as well as wonders for our pipeline. Since April 2017, we’ve had Dana, Rosemary, Kimberly, Chloe and Giselle join the team for six-month internships. While I wanted to keep them all on my team forever, open reqs weren’t always available. In these cases, we hug as we part and hopefully see that person continue a fulfilling career in tech.
We’ve had the glorious opportunities to retain Dana, Kimberly and Chloe after their six-month stints, promoting them into different roles. All started in an entry level position as a Business Support Engineer (now Specialist), a unique role that requires them to answer phones, triage tickets, and work cases as they build up confidence. While these three have tech experience in the form of various code schools, this wasn’t necessary, and was not a quality I was attracted to screening their resumes. Instead, it was that they’ve lived other lives, including serving in the Army, opening a clothing store, studying nursing, earning an MBA, and raising families.
Dana’s our team’s rock: he’s the elder statesmen, having the most tenure of the tech support engineers, and nothing rattles him. His calmness and willingness to help answer any question, from customer and coworker alike, is a gift to our team dynamic. Kimberly is our overachiever, apparently effortlessly juggling a high quantity of tickets while offering team-building ideas and taking on extra projects with vigor. She set a standard of excellence on her first day that she has maintained brilliantly through role and team changes. Chloe took charge of an ownerless customer community, bringing her business background and ambition along with her. She’s certainly upping our game and getting notice.
I was really sad to see Giselle and Rosemary go, but I am happy they decided to chase the right opportunities. Overall, this experiment has been a boon for our team—and Jama Software itself—so I hope we continue it infinitely. Our team of nerds with previous tech experience and CS degrees are certainly benefitting from these alternate points of view. Together we see ourselves as happy misfits, maintaining an excellent customer satisfaction rate and growing our skills constantly.
I cannot recommend this hiring strategy enough. For our interns, it solves the problem of needing experience to get experience. For us at Jama Software, it has enabled us to find thoughtful, credible, creative employees who have the potential to grow into major contributors in our company and our industry.
Kristina King manages the Customer Care team at Jama Software, where she had the opportunity to grow from support engineer to community manager. In a previous life she was an English teacher, a role she misses quite a bit—but she’s able to capture that magic by on-boarding newbies at work and volunteering as PDXWIT’s Content Manager. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Medium.
*Recommended reading: https://hbr.org/2018/07/the-other-diversity-dividend