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5 things to think about before switching IT career paths

Dear IT Girl,

I'd like to change IT careers. I've been working in customer experience management for the past five years and am totally done with it. Because I've gained so much experience with data mining, however, I'm thinking of applying for a job in business analytics. Is there anything I should watch out for?

Signed,

Business Analytics Wannabe

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Dear Analytics Candidate,

A career in IT is no longer the same as it was 20 years ago. Today, millennials make up more than a third of the U.S. labor force. A degree in computer science is no longer a prerequisite -- and switching tech jobs every three years has become the norm.

If you're thinking of changing career paths in IT, now could be the right time to do it. While switching areas of expertise in IT can be interesting and financially beneficial down the road, it's important to have the right mindset and a realistic plan to fill in your skills gap.

Here are five things you must think about before you jump career paths in the IT industry:

  1. Research the appropriate certifications for your desired position

Here's an important question to ask yourself before you decide to pursue a different career in IT: Do you have the certifications you need to prove to a prospective employer that you are skilled enough to apply and implement a certain tool and/or methodology?

For instance, if you are a QA engineer who wants to be a Scrum Master, did you make the effort to obtain a Scrum Master certification from a valid organization? And did you make sure to emphasize that certification early on in your resume?

Certifications are like tiny medals, and it is quite common for people to post pictures of their certifications and achievements on LinkedIn. There are many online courses -- both free and paid -- that provide certifications based on assessments and training hours. Make sure you have the certificates you need for your new job before deciding to make the move. 

  1. Be ready to demonstrate you have the right skills and experience to do the job well

It is a no-brainer that the more experienced you are in a certain field, the harder it becomes to switch areas of expertise. There's a lot of competition out there, so having the right skill set is highly important. 

  • Make sure you know the requirements for the new position you are seeking.
  • Make time to visit job sites to extract job descriptions and note necessary skills and toolsets. 
  • Plan on spending time (and perhaps money) on boot camps and crash courses.  
  • Get some hands-on experience through a personal or professional proof-of-concept (PoC) project. 
  • Use what you learn to gain experience with trending applications in the industry pertaining to your new field. 
  1. Understand that switching domains adds another layer of complexity

Figuring out which vertical industry to apply for a job in is just as crucial as having the right skillset. Even if a candidate has eight years of QA experience in the finance domain, there is no guarantee they'll be able to hit the ground running in an aerospace or a telecom domain. Keep in mind that many HR applications look for keywords specific to a vertical industry. If a candidate does not have prior experience in a certain domain, it is likely their application will be rejected in spite of the candidate's skills.

  • Gain market knowledge for the domain that you are interested in.
  • Spend time networking in your desired domain either via local meetups or virtual conferences. 
  • Seek out contacts who can help you get up to speed about a particular industry and land a job in a different domain.  
  1. Be willing to start at the bottom, even if your career move is lateral

Studies show that after being comfortable with a job for five years or more, candidates can find changing jobs very challenging. Adaptability is an important factor in tech. The faster you can adapt to change, the more successful you will be. Major release cycles in the software industry used to occur once every month, but today, companies like Netflix claim that their engineers deploy code thousands of times per day.

  • Take time to examine your reasons for wanting to make a career change.
  • Be realistic in your expectations.
  • Make sure you are mentally ready to face the consequences of starting from scratch in a new position in a different work environment. 
  1. Keep your salary expectations realistic

It is not necessarily true that a new career will fetch more dollars -- and climbing up the ladder monetarily can be difficult. Chances are, you'll be offered less than you make in your current role. Your new career arena will have its own pay scale. 

For example, if you want to make the switch from software development to business analytics, you may have to take a temporary dip in your income.

Sincerely,
Sheekha Singh

Sheekha Singh is a senior QA engineer and author of The IT Girl: 3 Steps to Find Career Options for Young Women in Tech. Ms. Singh graduated with a master's degree from the University of Nebraska Omaha and has worked in the IT industry since 2013. The author is passionate about generating awareness about the many flavors of IT as a career option.

Do you have an IT career question for Sheekha Singh?  Let us know!

This was last updated in March 2021

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