4 Tips to Keep Tech Fears From Derailing Your Career Dreams
While tech stands out as an ideal path for people seeking a lucrative and flexible side hustle, or a new career that pays well and can fit around the rest of their busy schedule, many of those same people let a fear of tech derail their career aspirations before they even get off the ground. It’s perfectly understandable that tech might seem intimidating to someone on the outside looking in, but the good news is that most tech fears have clear answers and actionable solutions for addressing and overcoming them.
Convinced a tech career requires a doctorate in computer science and post-graduate level math skills? The truth is, tech jobs like web development are much more dependent on your ability to find coding solutions from online forums and code libraries than they are quantum mechanics. Worried that living outside of a major tech hub automatically disqualifies you from tech work? In reality, remote opportunities abound in tech, opening up an entire world of tech career options outside of Silicon Valley.
But specific fears like these aside, it’s also helpful to have strategies to deal with the more general fear of starting something new. In order to illustrate that tech fears are completely natural (but that you shouldn’t let them get in the way of a worthwhile side hustle or dream career), I spoke with five tech professionals to get the scoop on how to best blaze ahead on your own tech path and leave your fears in the rear view.
1. Adjust Your Tech Investment Expectations
Starting out, it can feel like getting up to speed with tech skills and tech terms will take years of time and tens of thousands of dollars in investment—time and money you probably don’t have to throw around. This can be the point where a tech-hopeful gives up entirely, which is why one of the most important things you can do to make sure fear and doubt don’t sabotage your future is to seriously adjust your tech investment expectations.
For Monika Kamoda and Viktoriia Staienna, Tester and Web Developer at online resume builder site Zety.com, respectively, each of their journeys toward tech work took about three months to get started. Neither woman was convinced their entry into tech would be easy—Kamoda was worried about tech’s male-centric workplace reputation, while Staienna similarly envisioned being confronted by teams of unhelpful “grumpy geeks”—but they each decided to confront and combat those fears through independent study.
Kamoda would spend a few extra hours reading tech books at the end of each day, which she supplemented by take a handful of certified tech courses. After several solid months of study, this was enough to make her feel like she had a handle on the basics. Meanwhile, Staien spent three months learning with free online resources, which left her feeling confident going into a three-month internship that started off her own tech career.
The takeaway here is that calibrating your expectations regarding the amount of time and money it will take to learn basic tech skills is a huge step toward confronting tech fears. Through free online tutorials from sites like Codecademy and freeCodeCamp, or more in-depth instructor-led courses from paid schools like Skillcrush, you can realistically put yourself in a position to make money with tech in a matter of months.
2. Realize That Tech Is More Than 1’s and 0’s
While the popular image of tech work usually involves someone sitting in front of a computer for hours on end inputting arcane lines of code, the reality is that tech careers are a lot more varied than that. Whether your tech path takes you to a traditionally coding-heavy position like web development, or to a tech field like UX (User Experience) that has very little to do with coding at all, it’s important to remember that—in addition to skills like coding—tech calls on skills that don’t sound particularly “techy.” In fact, they might even be skills you’re already familiar and comfortable with.
Bridget Bedard, Marketing Manager for tech services company Catapult, says the best way to think about tech is to look past the industry-specific jargon and technical specifics and drill down to the root of what tech is all about: solving people’s problems. “You can be very successful in tech just by understanding what customers actually need, what problem you are solving for them, and how to articulate this,” Bedard says. Bedard says that tech is as much a sociological and psychological field as it is a technical one, and that as tech continues to become more pervasive and spill out into all industries, being able to approach tech from the the human/customer side of the equation will only continue to be a critical part of the industry.
Growing and lucrative positions like UX are built specifically on UX professional’s ability to understand customers’ pain points and solve their problems, while more technical positions like front-end development also call upon general problem solving skills and the ability to communicate and work well with team members and stakeholders.
Whether you’ve worked professionally on a non-technical team that required similar soft skills, or you simply have experience lending an ear to a friend in need, you already have this foundation. As referenced above, the technical skills you need can easily be acquired and layered on top of what you already know. So really, what do you have to fear? Tech might sound scary, but at the end of the day those 1’s and 0’s have a lot more to do with the world you know than with than an alien one you won’t be able to figure out.
3. Accept Imposter Syndrome
One of the most pervasive tech fears is imposter syndrome in all of its forms. No matter what your specific fear about starting in tech may be, it all boils down to feeling like you don’t belong. And even when you do start learning tech skills, there will still be times when fear and doubt come creeping in, threatening to stifle your progress.
Karen Luton, Web Developer at branding agency Lewis Communications, has been working in tech for a year and a half, and still has moments when she feels like she’s masquerading as a tech pro. “It’s hard when you’ve been doing this for a couple of years, and there are other developers sitting beside you who seem like they’ve been doing it their whole lives,” Luton says. Luton says that—even after successfully landing a job in tech—she still felt looming feelings of fear and inadequacy. However, with time she started to learn that even senior developers share this fear. “There is so much to learn in the tech space,” Luton says. “You’ll never know everything and you’re always going to be learning, so you have to come to terms with that. It’s something I fight on a daily basis.”
The takeaway here is that—while Luton still feels imposter syndrome creeping in after more than a year of being gainfully employed in tech—she’s successfully spent over a year being gainfully employed in tech. In other words, imposter syndrome is a natural symptom of working in a relatively new industry that’s constantly changing and evolving. Rather than looking at imposter fears as a barrier to entry, go ahead and accept those feelings, work through them, and realize that most of the people you’ll be working with in tech grapple with imposter fears themselves from time to time.
4. Remember—Regret Is the Scariest Thing of All
As Dr. Ximena Hartsock, Cofounder and President at digital advocacy platform Phone2Action, puts it: “The biggest fear you can take to your grave is regret.”
Hartsock says that, in her case, she took the energy she could have spent on fearing a jump to tech and instead put it to use learning the skills she needed to start a new career. But she stresses that her situation wasn’t unique—it’s a blueprint that anyone can follow. “Tech opportunities are up for grabs,” Hartsock says. “There’s no need to be afraid when it comes to those opportunities, but quite the opposite—you need to jump onboard now since the tech train has already left the station.”
According to Hartsock, the fear you feel isn’t a fear of tech itself, but rather anxiety of the unknown and having to learn the ropes of a new industry. Hartsock says that the best way to overcome these anxieties and—and the same time—save yourself from permanent regret is to simply start learning. You may have hiccups, stumbles, and outright failures along the way, but you can always pick yourself back up and continue moving toward your goal. However, you can’t do any of this if you don’t get started—you can only regret what you never did. And that’s the only outcome that’s truly scary.