Choosing the right path in the software industry might be confusing, especially for people with a non-technical background. Yet, the software industry offers numerous non-dev roles that are worth exploring. In this post, Valentin is sharing his experience with some of them.
When I decided to make a career change back in 2016, I was looking for a position in the IT industry that would not require a technical or programming background. I had spent the last 10 years as a manager of an insurance brokerage firm and this experience looked irrelevant to a career in the IT industry. The first idea that popped up was to become an IT project manager. So, I launched a plan to attain this goal. I did some research and quickly subscribed to project management classes, paying from my own pocket. I got a CAPM, and later an ITIL certification, with the hope that these assets would somehow help me get recruited as a project manager by an IT company. I even started going to project management conferences, hoping that networking might be the key to my dream position. Well, after a couple of interviews, I realized that I might never get a chance to start directly as a project manager. The hiring managers were asking me for some real experience in the IT industry and I had none.
The discovery of the technical writer’s job
Eventually, I started a job thanks to my language skills – a media analyst with German. Within two years, I got promoted to a project coordinator of a team of media analysts and looked closer to attaining the project manager status, albeit not in a software company. At that point, I got acquainted with another non-dev role that aroused my interest – technical writer of software documentation. As before with project management, I did my homework and took a series of online courses to prepare for the role. In contrast to my previous job hunt, this time I had some experience that looked relevant to my aspirations. Moreover, I had prepared a tech writing portfolio on GitHub and had volunteered at my project coordinator job to write some procedures and to produce some instructional videos. So, after about a year of fruitless interviews, an offer finally came my way and I was hired as a technical writer by a UK-based software company. This is how I embarked on a career in technical writing that has brought me a lot of fulfilment and opportunities ever since. As a technical writer, I get to plunge into product details and explain things to users in the best possible way, and this is something I enjoy doing.
In the meantime, I had the chance to try another non-dev position in IT that turned out to be a hidden gem. The role of the software business analyst is similar to a tech writer in that both roles are producing documentation. However, the business analyst writes the documentation at the beginning of the software development process, whereas the technical writer steps in to explain the final product to the end-users. The business analyst is bridging the gap between the product owner and the dev team, translating business requirements into technical specifications. User stories are his craft and the dev team are his end-users. The skillset of a business analyst is very similar to a tech writer and a transition between the two roles, especially within the same company, is quite possible. An advantage of this role is that the developers will recognize your skills immediately since they are consuming your documentation, whereas the efforts of the tech writer are sometimes underestimated by the dev team.
The three non-dev positions that we discussed – project manager, technical writer, and business analyst – are all interesting and are suitable for someone who wants to thrive in the software industry but is not a programmer. I am currently working as a technical writer for a US-based product company and my preference goes clearly towards this position. A business analyst is also a great role if you are looking for more interaction with the team and the customers. At the moment, my least preference goes to the role of the project manager. However, this would be a great role for someone who already has substantial experience in the software industry or is good with the coordination and motivation of people.
Currently, the global software industry is providing some great opportunities not only for programmers but also for people with business or linguistic backgrounds. However, if you want to be successful, you need to build a strategy and have a vision of where you want to go.