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Non-linear paths to tech are the new black!

You don’t need a computer science degree to get a job in tech. In fact, many successful people in tech do not come from a computer science background. This talk discusses why this is becoming more accepted and why it can be beneficial.

Geeky. Quirky. Puzzling. Mom. Wife. Part-time surfer and Mortal Kombat player, and full-time JavaScript nerd.


Natalia Venditto: [00:00:00] Yes, I work at Microsoft. I lead the JavaScript developer experience in Azure and Jen said, I have a non-linear path to take as well. And I also have a confession to make. I oftentimes feel that I am really bad at choosing the name of my conference talks. And here is. Typically when I apply for a call for paper or I’m invited to speak at a conference, I have a certain idea of what I want to speak about, or I may speak about, I create.

Nice outline and give it a conference talk and or title because the organizers need to create their their agendas or their promotional material and upload the, those to the web so everybody can see. And then sometimes days or weeks, or even months later, I start working on the actual content of the conference.

And in many cases, [00:01:00] Obviously that involves slides code demos. So from the time I apply or I’m confirmed to a conference to the time I actually deliver the talk, a lot of time goes by and things. Change. And I’m no longer want to talk to talk about a certain thing, or I don’t want my talk to be called that way.

I maybe realize from experimentation practice or even technology evolution or maturity, that the outline I had prepared is no longer valid. Because it doesn’t map to how I want to structure my talk. Then I left. I realized I left an important piece out of, something I want to speak about or that something I was planning to describe or demonstrate is no longer relevant or doesn’t work as I expected it to.

Sometimes I wanna scratch everything and I want to start all over again. And I didn’t know if you can relate to. Maybe in other contexts, [00:02:00] but I feel it is really a characteristic of life. It’s a feature of life that things change. They mutate, they move. And in many cases it may appear to us that it’s the environment that changes only.

And it certainly does in many cases it does. But the most important change is. We as human beings, we change over time. We change our perspective the way we think, the way we feel about things, we change our position with respect to the environment as well. And because we stand at a different place and the environment changes.

Imagine you are standing on with this beautiful sky above you and it changes. It moves. We may feel different about things and maybe where we want to get to in the end, it also changes. So we may change direction, speed focus. And in my [00:03:00] opinion, that’s completely normal. This is why making a career choice at a very young age as they expect us to.

It’s very complicated. We may be 16. Old or so it depends on the country, of course, but around the age, we’re supposed to have it all figured out what we wanna do with our lives, for the rest of our lives. And don’t get me wrong. Some people do have it all figured out and that’s great. But if we think in terms of the majority of teenager, We can assess that.

This was probably fine. 200 years ago when modern education programs started taking shape or I’m not really sure exactly when but about that time, but now is it really, this is a map of worldwide life expectancy over time from 70, 70 to 2018. and this is laid out without any gender [00:04:00] discrimination or any other kind of tear down.

And as we can see the average for most continents except Africa right now is around 77 years old. But during the first half of the 20th century, it was somewhere in the. Or when the person was 50 in average, and the further back we travel in time, life expectancy gets lower and lower. So now the education models, they haven’t changed much ever since the 1950s, we still have to make a lot of decisions at around the same age we did back in the day when this was designed, this model was designed when we lived 30 or 40 years less on average.

And also with the evolution of society and technology, the amount of possible choices that we have right now has increased exponentially and continues to do so take a minute to think [00:05:00] about the amount of roles and specializations, now that did not exist 10 or 15 years. The reality is now we have more time and more choices and are still bound to one single choice made at a very young age.

And in many countries, this is not a very cheap choice, right? It’s expensive to get university education is not only expensive in terms of money. It’s expensive in terms of. So if we bring back the life expectancy graph to the table and we consider that we may leave another 60 years after we made that very crucial decision of what we want to work at to a total of 77 years old or more, if we’re lucky to live so, so long.

And that the average retirement age is 67 years old. The reality is that we might have to live with that [00:06:00] decision we made when we were teenagers for 50 years, that’s really too much pressure for a teenager. And looking back, I can barely agree with anything my teenager persona ever decided, that Natalia more than 25 years ago decided she was going to be an.

She was really excited about the idea of designing living spaces for humans, drawing the blueprints, calculating the structures and directing a construction site. But was she really because actually the main reason Natalia, back in the day wanted to be an architect was because her dad was a dropout from the university and he was starting to be an architect.

And for reasons he had to drop out. And she or me, we wanted to realize that dream for him. Hold on to that thought, because later on, we will speak about why making decisions to live up to [00:07:00] another person’s or people’s dreams. And expectations is very bad. But back to young Natalia, she went for it.

She was convinced that it was her pass. She got a technical associate degree, became a draft woman ready to go to university and become an architect. But while studying that, Natalia got acquainted with computer assistant design and she ended up a totally different place studying a totally different thing.

She was at the fine arts university in the end, starting to be a graphic. And years later, after moving countries, even continents and getting married that same, Natalia took another turn and started learning to cope. And this is basically my path. To the place in tech where I am today at, and as you can see is a very nonlinear path with some coincidences.

At some point I did [00:08:00] become an architect, but not of buildings right. Of software and cloud solutions. Quite a stretch. If you think about it, and. Not even after switching careers to become a developer, was my career linear. At any point, it was never constant. There, there were opportunities to, to take turns and change the direction of my journey at all times.

Now, is it bad when we change careers? Should it be considered a failure? Should we feel sorry? Because we wasted precious time. Will that remove opportunities from us? My humble opinion is that it’s not bad at all. It’s just a different approach to get to the same place. And when you change your career path, everything you bring with you, every skill, every learning from experiences is applicable.

In your new context, there is always a way to [00:09:00] apply that knowledge you have, and you bring with you in a creative and innovative. So there is no way in the end that joining a team after a career change, or even when we choose our career at a later time is bad. It is always good because it adds yet another dimension to diversity.

And when we have diverse teams, we give voice and influence to different groups and particularly minorities. And that’s especially through in. I read this article published by Harvard business review. After a study, any claims that diverse teams are simply smarter, but it’s not only in my opinion that the teams are smarter, the products or projects they work on are smarter, and the results are accepted and welcomed by a much broader group, because there is the likelihood that a typically underrepresented group of users and their [00:10:00] needs.

Are now accounted for at the time of product design and implementation. Now look at the design of signage. Maybe it could have been done different, or maybe in this case only the women’s restroom features a changing station. And that’s assuming the figure is a woman, so many questions, and user experience should be simple.

My impression is that companies that are committed to delivering a good user experience will go the extra mile to have diverse teams, including folks with different career backgrounds. Now, of course, changing the path of your career journey or deciding to start a new professional adventure is not easy.

It can be really scary. We may face the dreaded fear of failure, which is a combination of many fears. And there is this fear of, and sometimes sorrow, I will say of having wasted part of your life. Completing studies, you won’t [00:11:00] use the fear of. What other people will think of you if you change, if you give up, there’s also the fear of never getting a job because you are underqualified and competing with people that have the academic knowledge or training. The fear of not being able to maintain a job, because you’re not competing enough. The fear of never being able to progress because you are underperform.

Of not understanding well, what you have to do of never standing out because of lacking some sort of foundational base. I had all of these fears myself as I started my journey in tech and later on as well, I remember I had developed and maintained multiple websites. For a small agency. And then later as a freelancer and I was doing everything from the hosting, the configurations of the servers the development, the design the quality assurance, all of [00:12:00] it myself.

And then when I decided I was going to apply for a larger company, I remember I applied as a web designer, not as a web develop. And the hiring manager, when she saw my portfolio of live production websites with real customers, she told me you should be applying for a, for an engineering role. It pays better.

She was very honest about it. And I was shaking. I remember this. I was like me an engineer. That’s not possible. Fears can be overcome though. And. If we know the source is much better and much easier. So remember when I mentioned how I tried to realize my father’s dreams and that’s why I chose to be an architect at that time.

I was not even thinking about it, that I was not really connecting the dots and thinking that the main reason why I wanted to be an architect [00:13:00] was because my father couldn’t make it. But now I know I just wanted to make him. The same happens when you suddenly realize that you want to pursue a different career path after having completed another one, right?

You may feel like you’re disappointing people who invested financially or emotionally in the completion of that education. It’s important to remember the only one who matters is you. There is no other person you should be making happy with a career choice. If it doesn’t matter, if it’s in or out of the career.

There is another important contributor to fear of failure at career change when making a career change. We for sure don’t want to live up to other people’s E expectations like we said, but we also don’t want to compare ourselves with other people. We want to celebrate and recognize the uniqueness we, we bring with us.

[00:14:00] We bring our unique perspective. We need, we bring a fresh way to look at things and we may have that influence by our background and other characteristics of our identity. But when switching careers, we for sure bring with us a unique set of skills that our team can use to succeed. So not only us, but the team we’re.

In every team I’ve ever been a part of. There’s always been people that are better programming. There are others that are better at communicating others that are better at interpreting the designs and some others that are really good at talking with the customers or other stakeholders, comparing ourselves to other people, especially other members of the.

and their accomplishments or the pace at which they grow in their career. Because sometimes we see, oh, somebody got a promotion. Somebody is already, I don’t [00:15:00] know, 10 levels ahead at the same time. And we, or we joined at the same time this company, but they made it faster. We should not be doing that because it’s not only an unhealthy.

It typically has a very undesired effect. Like the very infamous imposter syndrome, a change of perspective can help us see opportunity in our differences. And that can only happen when we are a part of a knowledge diverse team when there is less likelihood that there is Ever present, archetype repeated over and over.

This is what a member of our team should look like. Saying, and we are not competing or com comparing and competing with other people because we fi we, we feel we should be like, We all have things we are good at and other things that we may need to improve. [00:16:00] And that’s an additional opportunity for team interaction because everyone, irrespective of their level of seniority can both learn and teach mentor.

And be them and T right. And that kind of dynamics creates bonds and makes everyone feel very valued and very appreciated. And the more different backgrounds we have, the more we can learn and teach from each other or to others. And that leads me to believe that diverse career backgrounds contribute to a team being more knowledgeable, overall and strong.

Because we should celebrate the ability to contribute with our own distinct superpowers and the superpowers are nothing but those things we do really well when we understand what those superpowers are, it is easier to identify what’s our purpose as a part of a team. [00:17:00] And then we can start our journey to upskilling or reskill.

Imagine you come from a marketing career and now you want to become a software developer. You will probably need to learn how to code in a certain language or many of them that’s up to you. And the fundamentals of software engineering. That’s the app skilling part. Getting or refining programming skills on the other hand, teams need advocates and you have a lot of experience with that because you come from marketing, you will be really good at finding value propositions and advocating for your team.

It may be easier maybe for us to interact with designers and UX researchers, as well as with the client and somebody who comes from a marketing career may even be very good at demonstrating, like demoing a feature they’re working on because they know how to sell it. That’s re-skilling. [00:18:00] Now of course, if you’re preparing yourself to change careers, you may have signed up for one of the amazing boot camps offers.

Front end focuses, or you may be preparing yourself using community created content. So you already have guidance or are part of a community that will help you get ready for the first gig. You may land as a developer. Let’s explore what you can do to get your first job in tech, as somebody who decided to change careers.

So many folks that joined the tech industry coming from a completely different background. They access tech jobs via front end development. It’s true that front end development or client side development is more intuitive because you can see representation of what you’re doing, your coding, your’re laying out your styling and you can see.

Live in your screen, right in the browser. And that’s not the case for backend technologies. For example, if you’re working on the server side, but you should still [00:19:00] research the opportunities available that the other alternatives or the alternatives to front end development. Here’s the thing, many people access web development through the front and door, and many people may not be too much into graphics or designs or visuals.

And they may feel they don’t have a way in, there are many other alternatives, like even. Things that don’t have to do with code or no code or low code platforms. There are, of course other roles you can switch to, which are not necessarily imply or have anything to do with coding. The important thing is to find something that you enjoy.

So for development is about solving problems. There are multiple ways to be a part of it. And once you’ve found your focus feed, backend, front end, jump stack, blockchain quality assurance, program management, why not like I do whatever I can stress enough how [00:20:00] vital it is to find a community network. A community and a network that you can be a part of.

There are multiple channels depending on your preferences, some people like, to hang out on Twitter, some other people prefer to be part of of the Twitch community. There is Reddit, there is YouTube. You name it disc. It’s good to always be interacting with other developers even through commenting on blogs.

Like they’ve done two hash, no medium. Introduce yourself. Because people are very, or typically very welcoming and they will also introduce you to their friends. And that’s how you’re going to be growing a network, but don’t just use the community because that’s something that some people tend to do.

Like they, they use the resources and then yeah, they never sh show or give back. That’s okay. Also if you don’t have the time, but [00:21:00] or whatever the means to give back, but if you have the opportunity to give back, then do it right. If you’re not I don’t know an introvert or have social anxiety, try to, for example, intensify that net networking by attending local.

That’s if it’s possible for you and you feel comfortable with it, this was a luxury like Jen just mentioned that we didn’t have for a long time while the pandemic, and we missed it a lot, hanging out with other developers because that makes you feel very integrated in, if you are joining tech from a different career, particularly it’ll make it all feel more real.

It’s not only a chance to make new friends in tech. It’s also a chance to find mentors, allies, and also recruiters tend to hang out at meetups. So it may [00:22:00] even open doors for you. Now, if this is something that appeals to you, of course it’s not for everybody, but if appeals to you, you can speak at a meetup, even if you’re only starting and don’t have a job yet, there are some career backgrounds that you may be coming from that for sure will give you the tools and the skills to comfortably jump on stage and you should use them.

Developers with public speaking or communication abilities are very sought. They have additional career career options like developer advocate or developer relations, content engineering, and guess what? You will even have skills to to share with other members of your team or your community, and even become a role model for them.

Remember, it’s all about telling a story and bringing your unique perspective. Again, for others to learn from you don’t [00:23:00] need to be an expert, a super expert in tech that knows everything to speak outta, meet up. It’s all about sharing with other developer folks. You may be able to help other developers again, to become better, not only at technologies, but at communi.

If you wanna start a speaking career at any stage, it’s a good idea to find mentors or at least somebody with a bit more experience who can give you feedback and help you maybe Polish your technical slides. But with time you won’t need that anymore. When you’re on stage or in the spotlight, don’t be afraid to be in asked questions.

That’s something that many people ask me. Aren’t you afraid that they ask you a question? You don’t know how to answer? That happens to me all the time, because it’s, again, impossible to know everything. What you need to learn to do is to deflect. You need to learn to deflect those questions and maybe invite [00:24:00] folks to research with you and find the answer together.

And finally remember that humans love stories they can relate to. No matter if you will talk about a very technical topic, connect with your audience, with the people that are listening to you at a human level, the rest usually goes super smoothly. Last, but not least create a GitHub account and get involved in open source.

It is by far the largest developer ecosystem. It will help you with networking, but also to improve your coding skills your version control skills, learn about C I C D. You will be able to access. I don’t know, thousands of open source projects and even contribute to them. And remember that open source contributions are not necessarily always in the form of code.

People think that they can only contribute with code. That’s not true. You can help maintainers with other tasks like documentation issues, [00:25:00] triage, interacting with the communities, spreading the word and knowledge. This may even open chances for you, or sorry, give you the chance to to join experts programs or ambassador programs and having a kid have account with your side projects visible to the world, it also feels scary that everybody will see how you write code.

And but it’s very useful, especially when you are applying to a job, speaking of which. When you’re ready to apply. It’s very important. You keep in mind that you don’t need to satisfy 100% of all the requirements listed because nobody does . And so if you see a job that appeals to you, Apply anyway, maybe they read your CV and you have that one skill that nobody else does, and they want you, so most companies train their new hires on tech staff.

They have extensive onboarding programs where you learn the trade. And they [00:26:00] assign new bodies. And so typically you will be covered. The only thing I do recommend is that you always research the companies before applying, particularly on the subject of diversity. So go to their website, read about careers and ask them questions.

What do you do for minorities? Do you offer flexibility? Do you have diverse. Do you require a tech or a CS degree to join you? If you start the process and participate of interviews, ask as many questions as possible. Remember, interviews are both ways. You are also interviewing them. You are evaluating yourself as much as they are if there IST much.

And if you have the bandwidth. And time participate of as many processes as possible. There is no better way to practice, know where you’re at, what gaps you may have to feel and where to focus or where to spend your time to finally make it in. Now, let’s [00:27:00] imagine you’re in now. What. You landed the job.

Congratulations. Now find mentors. That’s super important, especially when you come from a different background, because we already mentioned this. We, everybody has strengths and weaknesses and yeah, you may be able to identify those on your own, but sometimes you need a. And mentors can help you acquire new skills as well.

They can inspire you with their own journeys. They are not a coach, a mentor, and a coach are different things, but they can be right. They can be both. And once you have identified those areas, you need to improve. Make sure they don’t define. This is important, work on them. Yes. Try to do better every day, of course, but also take them as an opportunity for growth rather than a blocker.

I’ve come across people. During my career who did this, I did it myself that I obsessed so much with those things [00:28:00] that need to improve that I could not see my advantages and my strengths. And remember that even the strengths of today need attention. So particularly in highly dynamic professions web development, where things change and evolve very often and constantly you need to always keep it up.

And this is another one. Don’t think there are hidden tech rule, take white rules that prevent anyone for from making progress in their career because they are not simply, it is true that some companies may still impose requirements to achieve certain levels, but it’s less the norm today and more of an exception.

And you will find out. The more like modern companies and organizations are, they have already learned the value of diversity and try to promote it and try to promote their leaders based on their accomplishments [00:29:00] and their hard work and not so much on their academic credentials. You may, from time to time read somewhere that you cannot make it at all to tech without a CS degree, or that if you do, you will always be a junior that you will never be a leader.

I can assure you that is not the case. And to conclude find allies, find people that identify with you and you with them. Because they’re very likely to open their doors for you connect to the right people. They can back you up. And particularly when you have to talk to groups that you are not a part of having a lies in those groups can be really helpful.

So until now I told you what you can do to succeed as a person that decides to change career path. But I also want to talk about a topic that is close to me, which is the impact of [00:30:00] developer experience on those who change career paths end to end developer experience is basically the practice that makes sure that user experience of developers when working with tools with services with technologies in general is smooth.

It’s simple and helps them succeed with whatever job they’re trying to get. It involves documentation and other types of content, the technology in itself. So the development of technology and the ways to implement it and integrate it with other technologies. That’s what I’m working on right now.

And one thing I learned by working in developer experience is what developer experience is not. , it’s not a golden path meant for a developer prototype. So if you are interested in exploring or learning more about developer [00:31:00] experience, make sure you have that clear developer experience is about generic paths like for developers building and deploying applications to the cloud, their journey may.

Something like this, you have a development cycle with certain steps and you want to make sure developers go from one stage to another of this very not linear path, by the way with this, once you understand what they have to do, what are all the things that they may need to do to succeed, then you need to use empathy to make sure you provide those tools.

Those environments. This is the way in which you will meet developers, where they are at with empathy in mind. Some of the things you can do or and this is because I’m trying to speak to people that do the same as [00:32:00] I do, so they can they can also consider the folks that come to tech from a different background.

One, one way to make it easy for everyone is working together with other vendors to create standards that facilitate and reduce the learning curve and enable developers to confidently move across technologies. This may be important for every type of developer, but it’s particularly important for those that come from a different back.

Also making sure that the developer experience has components that are part of the open source ecosystem has proved to be an incredible way to onboard developers coming from different backgrounds and bring everyone on the same page or to the same page. In times when remote work has been an enabler for people from different backgrounds to join technologies, we can provide with a great developer experience by [00:33:00] considering not only remote access, but also collaboration tools that help developers getting started, even if they live far away.

And again, particularly for those that. Coming from a different background, having the ability to be always connected to mentors and to, to coaches and to their team is very important. Simplifying tools and interfaces. So developers have to think less about how to use a tool and more about coding.

Awesome features is a great way to make sure everyone stays focused and developers coming from diverse career backgrounds have to sacrifice sometimes valuable time. They need to learn how to code in this case or write applications in a differentiated tasks. We. Work hard for that not to happen at the same time.

We want to make sure we document and create learning content in ways that can be [00:34:00] understood and enjoyed by developers from different career backgrounds. And this is my favorite. Making sure that we have a team of developer advocates that is diverse in all aspects. We mentioned before, including the career background.

So we can be sure to represent the needs of all developers regardless of their education and path to take equally when designing experiences. Thank you so much. This has me know.

Ifeoma Nwosu: All right. Thank you very much, Natalia, for a very, really fantastic presentation. And I’m very sure everyone here has something to pick for me. So a couple of things I, myself, I personally, I did not study any theory related to computer science in university. So then I’m a software engineer oh, thank you.


Natalia Venditto: okay.

Ifeoma Nwosu: So yeah, we have a couple of questions [00:35:00] and so here’s a question. I have something like three different careers background already. I have something like three different background, three different career background already in my journey. And I always feel very insecure about that as I feel companies might see that as a lack of commitment or indecision.

But the truth is I just either did not like the job or the company or the poor paycheck. What’s your advice in that matter on how to approach that subject to companies, the subject of having three different careers in ones?

Natalia Venditto: Yeah. I see what they mean and I think it’s very important. , they are convinced that from each one of those career paths that they followed prior to applying to.

A company, they bring value, right? They, if you are convinced yourself and you present it [00:36:00] as an opportunity to add value to your team and contribute to their strength, it’s very likely that you end up coming across the right company that will see it in the same way. And by the way, Of course not everybody has the luxury of deciding, oh, I don’t want to work for this company.

Or this is not the right company for me. Sometimes we need to work and we need to accept an offer. But as we progress in our career journey and we are, advancing and acquire more, it’s always good to make sure that we when possible Validate that the companies were going to be joining see our diverse career path as as an advantage and not as a blocker to progress.

Okay. So this is the advice. Try to present it in a way in your resume, in, in your cover letter, that it makes them feel that you are perhaps You need to [00:37:00] improve certain things or you are welcoming training on certain more technical aspects, but that you are bringing some complimentary skills with you that they probably don’t have, and that will help them succeed.

Ifeoma Nwosu: Okay. Thank you for that, Natalia. So here’s another question. Do you typically include your non-tech experience on your resume? If so, any tips on making past non-tech experience appealing to employers, your presentation has been very helpful. I think this also request your previous

Natalia Venditto: answer. Yes I, right now I have Too many years of experience that usually companies are very interested in the last five, at least in the European and American market.

So this is what they also check your background for so that I don’t list everything. I [00:38:00] don’t list. Since I when I first started, I joined a printing shop as a designer. This is something I don’t list anymore. But back in the day when I had my career experience or my working experience was more reduced, of course I did.

And definitely it connects to the first question. I answered, try to present it in a way that they see it as an advantage and never is a deterrent.

Ifeoma Nwosu: Thank you for that. So just one more question from the comments section. Someone asked how do I join any community and participate?

Natalia Venditto: You’re very likely going to find communities on Twitter.

I don’t know if you are a Twitter user, but it’s very likely that if you join social media yes, Reddit has [00:39:00] also a tech section or subrate, I’m not a ready user. So I don’t, I’m not very familiar with the way they call those. Areas that focus on a category or another of content. But yes, typically people find their niche when they go to, to take Twitter, what it’s called and it’s in connection with the technologies they are exploring.

So for example, if you’re exploring view and you go to Twitter, or even to YouTube or whatever, Place where developers post learning materials and they start interacting with other developers in the commands, or again, tweeting to step two, for example, where they have also let’s say categorized blocks.

This is where you are likely to find people that have the same interests are learning the same stuff. And then you start Yeah, interacting with them and probably you end up also collaborating in some cold repo on. On GitHub or [00:40:00] whatever other open source hosting for code, and this is the way to make it in, into a community or that’s online and then offline.

You will need to research what kind of meetups or developer. Gatherings are available in your town, in your city and just show up. Usually those events are free. They don’t need any kind of registration. Although there is a a platform called meet up precisely that you can sign up to and then search for events in your geographical area and yeah.

And start participating.

Ifeoma Nwosu: Okay. All right. Thank you very much, Natalia.

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