In the past few decades, the world has seen household name technology companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook launched by a succession of young engineers. The massive success of these enterprises, and their famous founders, give many people the impression that tech companies are always led by engineers. Not so. In a Harvard Business Review article titled Tech Startups Need Non-Techies to Succeed ,” tech entrepreneur Ndubuisi Ekekwe noted that non-tech-related factors often play an instrumental role in a tech company’s success.
For example, it was not Microsoft’s engineers, but its legal and strategy pros who designed innovative licensing agreements to prohibit buyers of Microsoft software from owning and distributing these products. These agreements ensure that Microsoft earns big bucks year after year. Another example of the non-tech factor” occurred at Intel. During the 1990s, it was Intel’s marketing pros, not the engineers, who drove the chip-maker’s surge in growth. They created the Intel Inside” campaign, catapulting Intel from a little-known company outside of its industry to an iconic brand.
The tech world’s non-technical stars include Scott Cook, co-founder of Intuit, Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, and Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook. So if you can’t code or build a microchip, don’t let that keep you from seeking work at a tech company. Perhaps you’re a graphic designer, marketer, accountant, sales manager or writer. Your nontechie” expertise and perspective are sought-after by many of these companies. Your mind works differently and that is a great thing” said Charise Flynn, COO of Dwolla, the online payment network, in a Fast Company interview This perspective may create a better understanding of user flows, barriers to entry, and better context for non-technical customers’ needs.”
You should also look outside of companies that make tech products and look to companies that are driven by technology but are better known as marketing or services companies such as American Express and other like organizations. These companies offer fantastic opportunities to work with innovation without being technical.
On the Money
Like all other enterprises, tech companies need financial managers to help them plan and steer their financial activities. In 2007, Bluehost, a leading provider of web-hosting services and other cloud-based solutions, invited Miglena Aaron to serve as the company’s chief financial officer. At the time, I was working in compliance at a large, public company,” said Aaron, a self-described accounting geek.” The idea of working for a small tech firm was exciting, and I felt I had the skills to help them grow.” The position was also a chance to expand her knowledge of the tech sector and become part of a creative and booming community.
A CFO at a startup wears many hats because he or she not only plays an oversight role and works with the executive team on high-level strategic and growth decisions, but has to roll up his or her sleeves and be in the detail also-gather information, perform calculations, set up processes, policies, procedures and systems from scratch, do anything from processing accounts receivable and payables to compiling financials.” In building financial reports, Aaron works closely with engineers. She finds that the logical reasoning she acquired in accounting makes communication with them easier, because software programmers are also logical.”
Her major accomplishments at Bluehost? Building the finance team and processes from the ground up to facilitate the company’s growth,” says Aaron.
Tips for Landing, and Thriving in, a Non-Tech Job in a Tech Company
Landing a non-tech job in a tech company is not easy, but you can make the transition if you are willing to do the work. Here are some guidelines from leaders at tech firms:
Try a Disruptor. Pursue a startup that’s looking to disrupt the industry in which you spent your career, advised Aaron Shapiro, CEO of global digital agency Huge, in a Mashable article : A friend of mine used to be a salesperson for radio, a dying industry facing myriad high-tech competitors. And, as happens in these situations, he got laid off. But rather than fighting for one of the last jobs in his native field, he went after a gig selling ads for Pandora. They liked that he knew the radio industry and hired him.”
Be Open to Taking a Less Senior Job. Just because you’re an art director for print doesn’t mean you’re qualified to be an art director in digital,” said Shapiro. Just because you’ve managed significant client relationships doesn’t mean you’re qualified to manage client services at a tech firm. When I meet fairly senior people whom I’d be interested in hiring, I ask if they would start as a project manager. Not a single person has ever taken me up on that offer. Invest time to learn the business and the pay cut won’t have to last long.”
Learn Basic Tech Skills. There are plenty of resources out there, including MOOCs, , Skillcrush and other online courses to help you acquire basic tech skills on your own. Some of them even allow you to earn certifications, which you can highlight on your resume and LinkedIn profile. Learning code may not be an absolute necessity if you are a marketer or graphic designer at a tech firm, but knowing this language is empowering. It will give you a better understanding of all things digital, and help you to communicate more comfortably with engineers.
Ask your tech coworkers for help. Don’t let your ego stop you from asking questions,” said Flynn. Tech teams have a high B.S. meter and won’t believe you if you just nod and act like you know what’s happening. By asking the question you may actually shed light on an area taken for granted.” During her first year at Linode, a virtual private server hosting service, digital marketing manager Stormy Mayersky had to overcome her shyness about asking for help: It seemed a bit daunting at first to admit I did not know much about the terminology being used in meetings, but as I got more comfortable I began to ask my tech colleagues to explain what they mean, and they were more than willing to share their knowledge. Everyone has different strengths but ultimately we all have the same goal in mind, and we work together to achieve that.”