Why you don’t need a tech degree to work in a tech company 


tech employee without technology degree

Tech

By Arturo Arrarte

The tech industry is fluid and rapidly evolving alongside a raft of new innovations. There is one constant throughout all of this: demand for workers. Many young Australians rule out the idea that they can work in tech because they lack a degree specialising in an area like Computer Science or Information Technology.

However, the notion that you need a technical degree to get your foot in the door of the tech industry is simply no longer the case. Industry leaders, like Slack’s own Stewart Butterfield possessing a B.A in Philosophy, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky having a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Industrial Design, Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann holding a political science degree, are making this more clear. The countless innovations and game-changing ideas that come out of the tech industry aren’t just born from the hours coders and engineers spend refining tech platforms and services; there are so many other skill sets that employers look for to build well-rounded companies.

The future workforce will rely on strong critical thinking and collaborative skills just as much as technology skills

While there’s no denying that specialisations in everything from coding to platform engineering will continue to be valuable within the tech industry, there is also a strong demand for roles that rely on critical thinking and problem-solving. Roles like those in user experience, which are dependent on applying critical thinking to broadly map out customer needs and then pinpoint the best services and features to meet them, are great examples of this.

It’s part of a wider trend around the changing nature of work. Jobs that have been traditionally considered solo endeavours — such as software development or journalism — are increasingly team-based and collaborative in nature. Today’s employers are also recognising the growing importance of soft skills and organisations large and small are looking beyond tech or STEM degrees when making hires. Of course, there are a multitude of boot camps and vocational programs like those on offer through General Assembly and Coder Academy to equip Australians with the hard skills needed to excel within a more technical role. Often led or taught by people who have worked in the tech space, these courses offer a more hands-on experience that helps them fit into the rhythm needed to thrive in these environments.

Today’s technology companies require candidates to be capable of working in large team environments. It is becoming an increasing norm to see  young professionals in this industry come from an arts or humanities background. At Slack for example, we have a team of more than 40 in our APAC HQ in Melbourne — of which there is a large team of customer experience professionals. When hiring for these roles, we look for individuals who have values that align with ours — empathy, courtesy, playfulness. We believe that technical skills can be learned, but the ability to communicate with other people is at the core of what we look for in our hires. Emotional intelligence is key. Many people think that because they don’t have programming skills, they can’t get a job in tech or startups. That is not true at all these days.

Tech companies need people from all backgrounds to thrive

It’s clear, a focus on soley hiring employees with traditional tech backgrounds will no longer cut it for business looking to remain truly agile. Employers in the tech industry are increasingly investing in a plethora of new specialised roles that are focused on everything from research and analysis to artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, boosting the cultural diversity of their companies in the process.

Companies in this space are increasingly using these “new collar jobs”, a term coined by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, to develop industry-leading products and spearhead new research and insights that drive further innovation.

Employers highly value applicants looking to enter these roles for their ability to remain across emerging trends in the tech space. Also, possessing an understanding into how customers use their products and what their key needs are is also extremely useful. This focus on wider skills sets is crucial for today’s tech companies building balanced and diversified teams of employees with technical and forward-thinking skill sets.

Gone are the days when only those who studied technology degrees can make it in tech. Australians who don’t possess a traditional tech education should never be dissuaded from pursuing roles in tech companies; critical thinking, problem-solving and the ability to work seamlessly within fast-paced team environments are just as important as coding and platform engineering — they all play a crucial role in building truly agile teams.


Arturo Arrarte is Head of Growth APAC at Slack. Read up on his article on how to retain talent here.

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