Why tech (also) needs non-tech people

Catherine F. Simon, Head of Global HR and Culture.

The tech industry's steady growth and undeniable future prospects make it an attractive path for anyone looking to build a stable and rewarding career. IT, however, can feel like an intimidating sector, exclusionary to those lacking technical skills or uninitiated into the tribe.

Newcomers are often dissuaded by preconceptions of requiring technical skills to ‘get in’; others may find the tech sector seems too hermetic to even get a foot in the door. While the former isn't a true blocker for entry, the latter is undoubtedly a misconception that tech needs to shake off if it wants to keep growing. Some top companies are doing just that.

Let's unpack these two things by exploring what a truly inclusive tech company looks like.

Tech is just half the story

You don't need to have tech skills or be a technical person to work in IT. Beyond developers and other technical roles, tech companies also need transversal roles, like HR, comms/marketing, sales, legal, operations, finance, and others at all seniority levels. Depending on the maturity and type of company, these positions can even outnumber tech ones. For instance, in 2018, Glassdoor reported that globally 43% of recruitment postings at tech companies were for non-tech roles, and at one point in the UK, the number of non-tech positions exceeded their tech counterparts.

Often these roles are so abstracted from the tech side of things that core professional skills can be easily transposed. Moreover, entry-level skills, notably in marketing, can be self-taught.

Indeed, adaptability and a willingness to learn are perhaps the most important traits for succeeding in tech. Given the industry's continuous evolution, no course or study program will equip you with full know-how – tools change by the quarter, new channels pop up, platforms reinvent themselves, and best practices follow trends.

That said, there's a deep-rooted pattern of tech companies hiring from other tech companies instead of outside this circle, which has long hindered new, non-tech people from getting into the industry.

It's the same people moving around

One of the main reasons why tech companies hire from other tech companies is because they can. Perpetual demand for qualified talent has shaped an environment where remaining at a single company for an extended period of time is uncommon, in no small part due to the financial incentive of changing jobs. This creates a very fluid job market – among top US tech companies the average tenure for a tech professional is under two years, which is striking when compared to the national US (non-tech) average of 4.2 years.

Additionally, the tech industry suffers from one of the highest employee turnover rates of any industry – 13.2% of people leave within the first year, according to LinkedIn. Mind you, this was before the Great Resignation (increasingly re-dubbed as the Great Reshuffle), which saw troves of IT professionals seek out better opportunities, but never leave the industry.

Chances are that anyone looking to switch to a tech role will more often than not compete with people that already have industry experience. And, not unlike other industries, knowing the right people, and having the ‘right’ education, also plays an important role. In France, two-thirds of C-level executives come from the country's top schools, whereas, in the US, Ivy League alumni take up 11% of these roles.

No doubt aware of such elitism, companies such as Google and Apple made waves several years ago when they announced they'd be getting rid of degree requirements for new hires, looking to usher in a skill-based era of work for both tech and non-tech people. Today, however, degree requirements continue to massively dominate their IT postings, showing little-to-no reduction. That said, they succeed in planting a seed – some studies suggest that tech employers are indeed slowly dropping degree requirements for roles of all levels.

All in all, despite the tech industry touting inclusivity and openness, it can be difficult to find a way in when you’re constantly competing against people that meet the traditional criteria.

Truly inclusive companies

Thankfully, when looking at the broader picture, the hyper-focus on tech experience and degrees may just be on its way out, with some companies creating truly inclusive environments open to tech and non-tech workers alike. Moving beyond such requirements fosters increased social and creative diversity, leading to better decisions, more inclusive products, and better financial performance.

Furthermore, this opens the door to a broader array of skillsets, ideas, and approaches necessary for sustaining innovation in an industry increasingly marred by sameness.

Moving away from technical requirements not only means improved accessibility for anyone who wants to participate in the industry, but it also reimagines the company-employee relationship, aligning the two parties like never before.

The reason for this is that, other than placing significant emphasis on test tasks during the interview process – rather than the candidate’s past experience and education – companies truly open to non-tech people will also pay increased attention to what motivates individuals; what are the passions and values that drive them.

A match in this regard signals fertile ground for long-term collaboration. But, of course, it's a two-way street.

Finding your place

Values work both ways, so be sure to check those of the company you're applying to, too. It is not uncommon for companies to play the social responsibility card to attract passionate talents, without actually having any robust policies in place. Or posture as inclusive and newcomer-friendly with the aim of underpaying for lack of experience. So be wary of opaque claims and boilerplate promises. An inclusive company will never shy away from broadcasting and discussing its social initiatives, values, and the reasons for them.

This transparency is your window into finding a place that suits you best. The best examples will have diversity and sustainability pages online that detail what the companies stand for and what they have done to promote their values.

Never hesitate to uncover what companies mean by the things they preach or promise in listings. These days everyone boasts about their “inclusive collective”, “culture of feedback & coaching”, and “value-driven approach”, but these have quickly become platitudes and must-haves for any job ad. Don't let these things go unquestioned. Dig into what they mean and how they manifest – a truly sustainable tech company that's open to non-tech people will value your curiosity and passion.

A fake one won't.

It's the easiest way to tell if the company you're applying for is truly diverse.

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