Team

Tech is for everyone

June 20, 2024
Tech is for everyone

Have you ever felt like the tech world was an Ivy league school, where only the most elite students gain acceptance?

You’re not alone.

The tech world is constantly changing, which can make it feel very daunting. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been around since 1956, but the boom of AI over the past decade has created many unknowns—as well as room for growth.

In such a complex field of work, it’s easy to think that technology is reserved for the tech-savvy elite, but the truth is: tech is for everyone.

Mary Jo’s journey into custom software

One of my first experiences with technology was in high school. I took an Advanced Placement (AP) computer science class that quickly became one of my least favorite parts of my day.

The class was a beginner-level coding class. While it seemed that all my classmates picked it up quickly, I, on the other hand, don’t remember anything past the first week of class.

During that class, I didn’t realize there were other sides to the tech industry. I didn’t know you could enter the field through UX design, product management, quality assurance testing, or sales and marketing.

It was as I entered my senior year of college that I discovered the additional career paths in the industry. At Grand Valley State University in Michigan, I was involved in a new program called the Laker Accelerated Talent Link. Its mission is to bridge the gap between college students and the talent pipeline in West Michigan.

I quickly realized that pursuing a certificate in project management could be my entrypoint into the world of tech.

But I believe too many others—students and those looking to switch careers—don’t realize these opportunities exist. And those of us in the industry can do a better job making tech accessible to all.

Resources for individuals entering tech

In the U.S., women hold only 26.7% of tech positions. Asian Americans account for 20% of jobs, Latinx Americans 8%, and Black Americans 7%.

In addition, Gen Z reports that securing their first role in tech was far more challenging than anticipated.

So, what resources exist for individuals hoping to enter the custom software and digital product industry?

Formal education

First, of course, is formal education. Most colleges and universities offer courses or degrees in computer science and UX design, with a more select list adding product management courses. Our team would love to see these skills being introduced to younger students to increase the visibility and accessibility of job opportunities in tech.

But most cities provide a handful of bootcamps for children.

For example, several MichiganLabs developers volunteer with Hour of Code in Grand Rapids—where we joined elementary school classrooms to help students learn about coding.

And we host job shadows for groups of students interested in development, design, or delivery. This is a great chance to see the opportunities available and learn what a day of work looks like.

Certifications and professional development

If you’re looking to make a career switch, though, there are endless resources available to sharpen your skills. From online certifications to coding weekends to conferences, a quick Google search results in dozens of opportunities. We prioritize professional development, offering stipends to each MichiganLabs team member every year, which has helped a number of our teammates stretch into new areas.

For example, I earned my Scrum Certification to enhance my knowledge of how to deliver quality software to customers.

Ryan Brink, a UX Designer, took a few courses at the Rhode Island School of Design to expand his design abilities beyond just the screen. “Design principles are for the most part pretty transferrable, but understanding how to apply them with different mediums and outcomes can be different. It's made me a more holistic designer,” he said.

Tammy Cole, a Delivery Lead, participated in Dale Carnegie's presentation and sales courses, where she learned crucial skills in presenting online and creating engaging meetings. “The sales course equipped me with invaluable techniques like active listening, crafting powerful questions, and mastering effective storytelling to enhance client interactions and outcomes,” she said.

Jack Pfeiffer, a Software Developer, has spent professional development time working on an augmented reality app to highlight some of the projects MichiganLabs has worked on. “It involves creating canvases with the logo of our projects for the office. The app then recognizes the project and adds augmenting information about the project around the canvas.The goal is to adapt it to the Vision Pro,” he said

Brooke Westdorp, a Delivery Lead, took an online professional scrum facilitation course (PSF). “In this course I learned new facilitation skills, tools, and techniques that will enable me to lead more engaging and collaborative meetings within the scrum teams. I’m so grateful for a company that invests in their employees' personal development,” she said.

Mentorship

Finally, we’re strong believers in the power of mentorship. Connecting with someone who’s been where you want to be offers a wealth of information. Mentors can provide guidance and advice, teach you technical skills that are high in demand, and help you avoid failures they’ve already experienced.

At MichiganLabs, we connect new team members with “buddies.” These individuals show new team members around the office and local community, while providing all the necessary information on how to succeed here.

But our best advice for finding mentors is to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I look up to this person?

  • Do I trust this person?

  • Do I believe that this person will guide me to my professional goals?

If all answers point to yes, then it might be a good match.

It’s also okay to realize that mentorships may not always work out. Just like any relationship, compatibility is crucial. If personalities, working styles, or communication methods do not align, the mentorship may not be effective or comfortable for both parties.

Consider exploring professional networks, alumni associations, industry events, and online platforms like LinkedIn. Through networking, you can learn about others’ career journeys, successes, and challenges.

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I hope you see that technology is not reserved for a select few. From formal education to professional development to mentorship, you can find a path that suits you. Embrace the journey, and remember: tech is for everyone!

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