A non-techie guide to breaking into the magical realms of technology

A couple of years ago, I was introduced to the whole “Silicon Valley” hype where amazing technology companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon (& the list goes on…) are changing the world with their groundbreaking technologies.

To me, the introduction of these technologies was essentially like “magic”. Real-life Tech Wizards inputting strings of words (code) into a computer and transforming them into websites/apps (Google Search Engine, Facebook, Slack, etc) that has been so indispensable in our everyday lives. I was convinced that innovation is the way to make people’s lives better & I wanted to be part of it.

But hey, I’ve never coded before nor did I graduate with a Computer Science/Engineering/Mathematics degree. I was purely a generalist with a business background.

I’ve spent the last few years trying to figure out how a business person can value-add & I am going share some tips on how a newbie like me did it!

Kudos to you if you are in a similar position and congratulations on taking that first step to breaking into the tech industry!

#1: Get Outta Your Comfort Zone & Participate In A Hackathon

Hackathons are a great way to immerse yourself with the tech-community and meet likeminded people who are passionate about building cool SH*T!

MYTH #1: Hackathons are only for people who can code

When I joined my first Hackathon back in 2017, I had the exact same thought. Well, a 24 hours hackathon requires you to build a prototype from scratch… Without any programming skills, what value could you possibly bring to the team?

Plenty! Coders will appreciate if they can focus mainly on building stuff. Take the initiative to appoint yourself as the “project manager” and be willing to wear multiple hats. I volunteered to do “absolutely anything” that isn’t a good use of developers’ time. I.e: Being the Time keeper, performing market analysis, generating pitch deck and pitching.

In 24 hours, we built a kick-ass smart pillow that used neural networks deep learning to predict neural degeneration! While I was not involved in the actual development, through “brute force” observations and asking a ton of questions, I learned what an “Arduino” was and how does “Machine Learning” works. I was also invited to join Hackathon’s group chats and I’ve never felt more welcomed into the tech community.

A typical hackathon pose (Essentials include: Red bull, computer, hoodie, exhausted from coding)

Takeaways: Don’t be ashamed/afraid to admit you’re non-technical, be proactive in reaching out, observe, learn as much as you can and have fun!

P.S: If you are interested to be part of the Hackathon groups in Singapore, do PM me! Everyone is welcome regardless of your background (:

#2: Join A Tech Firm & Develop Superpowers!

Source: Netflix

Do you remember “Jared Dunn” from the Silicon Valley series? In almost every tech teams that I’ve encountered, there is always an opportunity to play the role of “Jared Dunn”- the reliable non-technical member that the team can count on!

Here are some skills that have helped me to succeed as a non-technical team member:

  1. Market Research & User Validation Superpowers
  2. UI/UX Superpowers
  3. Sales & Marketing Superpowers
  4. Project Manager Superpowers
  5. Master in conducting User Testing
  6. A solid understanding of business tools (Trello, Slack, Zoom) that can help improve team’s efficiency
  7. Being a Cheerleader! I can’t stress the importance of bringing positive energy to the team, especially when the odds of launching a successful product are against you.

Takeaways: Don’t fret if you have no technical skills, gaining proficiency in all of these other categories would be enough to get a job at a tech startup!

#3. Acquire Tech Skills & Knowlege!

MYTH #4: Non-programmers would never be able to understand what programmers are talking about

Have you ever been to tech meetups where you feel like you’ve stumbled into a conversation where everyone knows what they’re talking about — except, of course, you?

I am a strong believer that picking up technical skills and knowledge can be mastered in a fun and easily understandable manner!

Over the years, I’ve stumbled upon technical terms such as “HTML, DDOD, SCRUM, Servers, etc.” Even up till today, I’m still on a continuous mission to demystify techie jargons/buzzwords that are mentioned in conversations/tech blogs/news.

The good news is, there are plenty of resources out there that have successfully explained these tech terms in layman terms. (Trust me, I’ve been in your position before and it’s definitely possible to tackle these tech jargons!)

Here are some of my favorite resources:

(1) 40 Key Computer Science Concepts Explained in Layman Terms, Carl Cheo (http://carlcheo.com/compsci)

(2) Medium Technology (https://medium.com/topic/technology) is a great platform to understand large buzzwords like “Blockchain”, “Cryptocurrency”, “Artificial Intelligence”

(3) Understanding IoT Concept (https://www.iotforall.com)

(4) Will AI take over the world? (https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/01/artificial-intelligence-revolution-1.html)

These articles use analogies to unpacked these heavy jargons into easily digestible layman terms, which have been very helpful in my learning journey. If you have more recommendations, do feel free to comment and share with the rest of the community!

MYTH #5: I have to be a math whiz/genius or have a Computer Science degree to learn to code

Bullshit. There are plenty of coding resources that are tailored for people without any technical background. For starters, I would highly recommend downloading “Grasshopper”, a coding app for beginners to start coding. I’ve tried enrolling in a couple of introductory coding courses before and found the content overwhelmingly challenging to digest. While this app doesn't equip you with the skills to build a website, it is a good stepping stone for you to figure out whether coding is your cup of tea. This app is intuitive for a non-technical person to be introduced to the world of coding.

Takeaways: Gaining a basic understanding of technical knowledge is the key to earning respect from your team! You will learn how to empathize with developers and demonstrate that you are technically curious!

It’s been 5 years since I’ve started my journey and I’m still learning how to add value every single day. I hope this article will give you the courage to break into the tech industry and succeed in working with technical people!

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Product-geek @Rakuten Viki- Passionate about simplifying deep technical concepts to both general and technical audiences! Challenge me with any tech topics!

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Valerie Alexis Chang

Valerie Alexis Chang

Product-geek @Rakuten Viki- Passionate about simplifying deep technical concepts to both general and technical audiences! Challenge me with any tech topics!

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