In the tech industry, fitting in is easy if you know who you are
I have a confession to make: Growing up, I wasn’t much into video games or superheroes — knowledge of which can seem like prerequisites for a job in tech. Graduating from college all I knew about Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality was what I had gleaned writing a quick case study for a marketing class. I don’t even remember what the paper was about, but I do recall thinking, “Hey, that’s kind of cool.”
When I first started my career at Marxent, I had no idea what I would talk to my co-workers about. How would we bond? Would they trust me after they found out I didn’t know the difference between the X-Men and The Fantastic Four? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good superhero movie, but I’m not the type of fanatic that can carry on a conversation about the tiniest of minutia that seems to delight so many comic book fans.
Walking into the Marxent office on my first day I encountered a room full of people armed with Nerf weapons engaged in a pitched battle from behind desks adorned with movie posters and superhero action figures. You could say I was a little bit overwhelmed — and I suspect my response is more common than people think.
I’m happy to report that all my fretting over fitting in was unnecessary. The tech industry can be challenging, but it’s also hugely dynamic, always evolving, and filled with smart people from diverse backgrounds with varying interests. Rather than shun the noob, my co-workers embraced my lack of geek cred and celebrated what made me “different.” They made me feel a part of the group from day one, and now I can’t imagine working anywhere else.
Making the leap into tech — and taking a job at Marxent in particular — was the best career decision I could have made. And if I can make the transition, I’m sure that you can too.
Here are four tips for tech beginners looking to ease their way into the industry.
1. Embrace what sets you apart
Accept it: You won’t be able to keep up with every conversation. In fact, there will be many times where you’ll think your co-workers are speaking a foreign language. Don’t start doubting your qualifications or abilities just because you didn’t know some jargon (or cult movie reference). You may not know how to code or build a 3D model (I don’t), but your skills are just as essential to a successful project. As a project manager, I have to stay exceptionally organized, maintain a solid understanding of customer relationships and how to grow them, all while remaining extremely adaptable.
2. Ask dumb questions
Do you know everything? I don’t. Sometimes I feel like I should, but then I have to remind myself that no one knows everything. My background is in Marketing and HR, so technology and VR in particular were new to me when I joined Marxent. It’s easy to try and hide behind the scenes in a fast-paced company like ours, especially when you feel uncomfortable and a bit out of your depths. But to be successful you need to grow. And to do that it’s important to ask questions — even dumb ones! Questions are the best way to gain deeper insights and develop more innovative solutions. Always ask questions, give your opinions, and share your thoughts. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn just by asking.
3. Understand your skills and role, then BRING IT
Almost every tech company is a collection of smart and talented people brought together in the hopes they’ll gel into a cohesive unit. In this type of environment, it’s important to know your best skills, abilities and personal qualities, as they’ll help you find your niche and become an indispensable part of the group. Interpersonal communication your thing? Become a bridge between your less-communicative co-workers. Or maybe you’re an ace with spreadsheets? Don’t keep it a secret! Highlight the things you can do, and offer your services where you know you can make a difference — even when the task is outside your normal discipline. It’s amazing the impact you can have on a company just by doing what you do. Own it!
4. Learn as much as you can from as many people as possible
Knowing what you’re good at is crucial, but knowing what you don’t know can be just as important. To be successful, there will come a time when you have to break out of your comfort zone and grow. I’ve learned so much by sitting down with people and asking them to explain what they do, picking their brains on current projects inside and outside of the office, and by actually watching them work. Don’t be afraid to pepper your genius co-worker with questions. It can be intimidating, especially if they’re busy. They might even shoo you away at first. Be persistent! People love to share what they do; it makes us humans feel smart and valued, and who doesn’t like that? And when everyone is well-informed and prepared for the challenges that lie ahead, it provides a lift to the whole group.