By 2025, nearly 70 percent of employees will be expected to use data at some level in their jobs, compared to 40 percent in 2018. That expectation, combined with the ongoing shortage of skilled tech talent, will force organizations to start considering nontraditional candidates – including those who might lack formal education or a degree but are eager to learn and grow.
As the Chief Operating Officer of a company with a mission to empower the world through data literacy, I’ve witnessed firsthand the exceptional talent individuals from all backgrounds bring to the workplace. Rather than looking at formal education as an indicator of success, focusing on candidates’ aptitude, willingness to learn, and data literacy skills will help lay a foundation for the future of the IT workforce.
We’ll increasingly experience this fundamental shift in the job market as more emphasis is placed on alternative backgrounds and hands-on experiences. Boot camps, mentorships, open-source contributions, and other such experiences matter most when it comes to demonstrating a commitment to mastering a new skill and entering an environment like IT.
[ Also read 5 unconventional tips to grow your career in 2023. ]
If you lack a traditional tech background, here are three tips to help you land an IT role.
1. Register for industry boot camps
Bootcamps provide great crash courses and foundational knowledge for technical topics. These industry-specific programs offer many different learning paths and skills development courses across data science, coding languages, user experience design, user interface design, software, and cybersecurity – you name it. Today’s digital economy has just about every type of boot camp imaginable.
These courses are faster-paced than a four-year academic path, but they successfully cover areas of interest concisely and efficiently. You can select from full-time or part-time offerings that best fit your goals. Better yet, many boot camp opportunities are free, especially for those pursuing a path in coding languages like Python.
After completing a boot camp, identify areas where your newfound skills can be applied and further developed. This can be done in myriad ways, from taking additional courses to contributing to open-source projects or applying for internship positions to test your new knowledge in a business environment.
[ Also read 4 tech jobs for people who don't code ]
When you’re ready to apply for a new role, look for organizations that publicly share that they don’t require degrees for roles like software engineering and that are known for hiring boot camp graduates or those from different working and educational backgrounds.
2. Identify reskilling opportunities
As organizations realize the benefits IT talent brings, they’re modernizing learning and development (L&D) initiatives to fit the times. Roles that help organizations enhance their technical capabilities are now essential. Nearly 7 in 10 employees are willing to retrain and learn new skills, pushing employers to provide reskilling opportunities to maintain and grow their talent.
Some organizations have training programs that help to build mandatory proficiency for IT employees. These programs can sometimes be provided in tandem with boot camp offerings, or they may be specific to an organization’s curriculum. If your current role is outside the tech realm, but L&D initiatives for upskilling are offered internally, take advantage of them.
Mentorship is also beneficial for upskilling cross-departmentally and tapping into available knowledge resources. Collaborate with peers who possess valuable input into how to excel in a new role.
Successful reskilling involves maintaining up-to-date knowledge by seeking out training opportunities, attending seminars and conferences, actively testing new technologies (such as ChatGPT) as they emerge, and hands-on activities to re-sharpen what you’ve learned, whether through solo projects, mentorships, or intern experiences.
Given a chance to tap into hidden talents, non-technical employees can provide the IT expertise organizations need. So even if your role is in an entirely different field, when your organization offers an opportunity to pursue a tech path, take it.
3. Feel empowered to self-teach
Hands-on experience is invaluable. In some occupations, employees learn more in the first few months on the job than they do in years in an academic setting. For up-and-coming talent eyeing the IT landscape, carving out time for self-educating and personal projects should be a priority.
This path depends on personal areas of interest. Interested in coding? Take free online courses to start learning Python. Then take that knowledge and bring it into the real world by creating projects and applications that automate parts of the job or by contributing to open-source projects. From personal experience working alongside top managers with self-taught coding experience, the willingness to put in the work and time can result in some of the best knowledge and coding capabilities.
Individual identity also plays an important factor. Having experience in a role where you built interpersonal skills like communication and collaboration can make you even more valuable as a candidate. Use strengths from past experiences to see how they can favorably apply to technical positions.
[ Related read: Learn Python: 7 of my favorite resources ]
In your current role, volunteer on projects that contribute to the business as much as possible. This provides time for upskilling while also highlighting to your employer the benefits you can bring. If projects aren’t available for you to develop new skills during the 9-5, seek ways to block dedicated learning time that works for you and your professional schedule.
Over time, learning morphs into practice, and that practice becomes a talent when nurtured.
Data literacy for tomorrow's IT leaders
Data literacy is an essential part of any successful IT career. In today’s increasingly AI-driven environment, being data literate isn’t just about learning the role data plays or how to use tools like AI; it’s also about understanding the fallibility and limitations of these tools and how data helps us to better comprehend the world around us.
[ Also read 5 ways data can make you a better IT leader ]
Prioritize and develop data literacy to help build a strong base and attractive technical quality for future positions.
Unconventional paths require organizational buy-in
Rather than pigeonholing learning and development as solely an HR practice, organizations should ensure it’s a collective commitment shared among all departments and leaders. While learning new skills and tools is always necessary, organizations must allow the space for their employees to grow and progress on new career paths – even if these stray from their current ones.
Allowing employees to try out a different role or tap into other skills within the company without committing to leaving their current position can keep skilled staff and build closer bonds.
There are excellent resources available for anyone interested and committed to taking a chance at building a career in IT. Certain requirements that were once standard will phase out as the hiring landscape evolves to become more skill-centric. Organizations that open the door for unique IT prospects – whether boot camp graduates, self-taught or current employees who have been upskilled, or others with unique qualifications – will outperform those stuck in the past.
[ Check out essential career advice from 37 award-winning CIOs! Get a variety of insights on leadership, strategy, and career development from IT executives at Mayo Clinic, Dow, Aflac, Liberty Mutual, Nordstrom, and more: Ebook: 37 award-winning CIOs share essential IT career advice. ]