Who comes to mind when you think of tech companies? Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma are obvious ones. But which of those four are technical founders, vs non-technical? Exactly, it’s a 50:50 split. Technology is no longer an exclusive club that’s only for those with an engineering background. Anyone can join.
As Peter Thiel, a former law and philosophy student and PayPal’s co-founder said in his book, “Zero to One”:
“[...] in Silicon Valley [...] engineers are biased towards building cool stuff rather than selling. But customers will not come just because you build it. You have to make that happen, and it's harder than it looks.”
All great legacy-building companies perform like a human body – to function at their best and last a long time, every organ (aka department) is involved. It’s no different when you're building a successful tech company.
Tech companies need both developers and non-developers (and they need each other). Why? Because it really does take a village to make a product succeed. And, if you’re into tech as an industry, but have no interest in coding per se, you’re still a valuable asset in this now non-exclusive club.
Just like me, I’m a woman in tech with no coding skills.
So how did I join the women in tech?
Short answer – through marketing. Long answer – by following my interests, being open to opportunities and challenges, also not being afraid to change my career (a few times), and being curious.
Although it’s been my own unique journey, hopefully there’s something you can relate to, and that it increases your interest in joining the tech industry – to help contribute to making our industry look less like an ‘exclusive’ club.
How my interests led my way into tech
It might sound nerdy (OK yes, it does sound nerdy) but I was a good student in school, and succeeded in all my subjects. I could easily explain a chemical formula, solve a trigonometry problem and then talk about Russian literature... in English. Yet, despite that, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, nor what career options were out there.
Being pushed as a 17-year-old, to pick a life profession, was extremely stressful. There was the usual school pressure and then society added the overarching stigma that your university study choice defines your entire future career, and there’s no way back.
I know better now, but at the time, that pressure felt real.
So... my choice fell to Economics with Finance afterward – something that had a bit of everything – STEM, liberal arts, economics, and business management.
Even though it was the mid-2000s and tech was madly growing, I knew very little about the industry. Growing up in Russia, home internet was a rare thing and laptops were an extravagance way beyond the average person’s grasp. Probably, the only tech founder I could name was Bill Gates – mostly because of an article about him in my English language textbook. That’s it, zero knowledge otherwise.
I had no idea there was such a thing as a career in tech for someone who wasn’t interested in ever writing code for software. But, I was wrong.
A career crisis changed my direction towards tech
With hindsight, I now know you don’t have to be certain where you’re going in life. Or where your interests may take you. And that applies whether you’re 17, in your 20s, or even 30s.
A career is a journey, not a destination.
With a BSc in Economics and MLitt in Finance and Management, I then tried a few (no, a lot) of things. There was an accountancy internship, working in retail banking, a bit of event management and finally management consulting in a big global firm. I was sure that was my lifetime job, but after four years my interests had shifted.
While working with clients’ on marketing-related projects I saw how marketing, and especially digital marketing, had evolved thanks to the tech startup industry – automation solutions, marketing tools, and platforms. They’d even introduced a new term, MarTech.
I was fascinated.
At the time, I thought I’d never be a part of the tech world – I didn’t know how to code (and didn’t want to). But digital marketing had me enthralled and it was a great way for me to be connected to the industry’s raging success and rapid-fire evolution.
So I left it all. Gone was the secure job, promising career prospects in consulting, and they were replaced with studies in marketing at the epicenter of it all, Berkeley, CA. It’s a career shift I’ve never regretted.
Tech has since opened a world of opportunities to me
The year 2015 is one to remember. In addition to my studies at Berkeley, I met talented people – not all engineers – marketers, designers, sales, customer success, HR and finance experts, all of whom deeply influenced my next step. One of those non-tech marketing gurus even offered me a role in a global benefits management and employee engagement software company.
From there, to my utter surprise, tech became my home. I was suddenly in the club – the one I thought I'd never be able to join.
Since that first step, I’ve worked across both big tech companies and startups, and what’s most fascinating is that while I’ve helped tech products succeed, I’ve also been a keen user. In fact, I use TinyMCE and Setka every day, through many of our clients' products (you’d be surprised what apps and platforms we’re quietly powering).
Technology thrives on great people
So, what’s the greatest thing about doing what you love in an industry you’d never dreamt you’d be part of… as well as no code skills being required? There’s a symbiotic relationship between technology and marketing – each plays a vital role in the other’s success – and neither can survive alone. I love being able to contribute to that partnership.
No matter how great the product, it needs to connect with its end-user. Marketing opens the door... and I get to delight everyone who wants to come though it.
But if you think working in tech means you're not really ‘inside the tech’, you’re wrong. There are many roles that help the products (and companies) succeed – and they still need to understand the product, how it works and the technology that it’s been built on. Gaining that understanding isn’t always easy, but it’s as vital to the tech product’s growth, as is adding human connection into the product’s marketing and messaging.
My role involves everything from product launches to user growth, marketing strategy and operations to marketing automation, and even through to design. Marketing in tech is a complex and sophisticated path, where you need to embrace constant change.
Resting on your laurels is never an option, and although it’s not possible to ever know it all... you also can’t learn it from books. Because it's all happening, for the first time, right now.
That makes it hands-on all the way – learning about growth funnels, MQLs, SQLs, performance campaigns and traffic data through experience, on the battlefield. And within the tech marketing banner, you can be involved in growth marketing, product marketing, content marketing, SEO, design – new career paths keep appearing.
Although many still see marketing as a place for writers and creative minds, it’s drastically evolved in the last 5–10 years, and it’s more closely aligned with the pervasiveness of technology. Luckily that new marketing profile perfectly suits my personality – interested, curious and dabbling in all sorts of things, all at once.
Tech companies need non-tech people and coders
Tech’s probably never been an exclusive club – it just appeared that way, on the outside. At its core, it’s patterns are the same as every other business… where the non-technical job opportunity list goes on and on.
Sadly though, many also still believe it to be a solitary, technical, and uncreative environment. But that possibly stems from a lack of awareness, the way it's portrayed in the media (think dark rooms, people in hoodies and glowing green code on computer screens) and fear of the unknown.
The reality is, there’s lots of opportunities for non-coders, and especially for women.
So, if your interests lie in working within a field that’s making a difference to people’s personal and professional lives, their country’s, environment and even space – explore all the options available, because tech is our future.