Advice & insights: masterclasses from industry leaders

Navigating Career Transitions in Tech: Insights from Meg Duffy

Meg Duffy

Meg Duffy

Career Coach in Tech

Key Takeaways

  • Career Reflection for Direction: Assess past roles and passions to define your future career vision and identify what excites you.
  • Skills Matrix for Role Fit: Use a skills matrix to map your competencies against desired roles, highlighting strengths and interests.
  • Learning for Non-Tech Transitions: For non-tech backgrounds, explore on-the-job learning or self-study to develop tech skills and build a portfolio.
  • Broaden Tech Experience: Seek varied roles within tech to expand your skill set, leveraging diverse experiences for career enhancement.
  • Combat Imposter Syndrome: Address imposter syndrome by valuing your accomplishments and practicing positive self-talk.
  • Value of Mentorship: Pursue mentorship for guidance and networking in tech, seeking mentors through company programs or professional communities.

Identifying Your Career Path

In the ever-evolving tech industry, it’s common to encounter crossroads that leave many wondering about their next career move. Whether you’re feeling stuck in your current role or contemplating a leap into the unknown, navigating these transitions can be daunting. Meg Duffy, a seasoned career coach with a rich background spanning from ESL tutoring to becoming the Chief of Staff at a tech startup, shares invaluable insights in our upcoming Q&A session. She tackles the crucial first steps for defining your career path, strategies for skill assessment, and overcoming common obstacles like imposter syndrome. Join us as Meg offers practical advice and empowering strategies to help tech professionals embrace change, identify new opportunities, and pave the way for a fulfilling career journey in tech.

“Start by reflecting on your past and current roles. What were you passionate about 10 years ago? How has it changed? Can you identify any patterns in your work history? What do you like the most about your current role? What’s missing that you’d like to add? What’s not working that you’d like to subtract?

Once you know what’s working and what isn’t, use that information to sketch out your future vision. What excites you most? What are you most proud of? What problems do you think are most engaging? What’s your vision of a great workday? How do you want to spend most of your time?

Talk to other people whose jobs interest you to see if the details of their day match your ideal vision. Jot down your reflections on these conversations until some possibilities fall into focus. You may realize that you don’t need to leave your current firm; sometimes, it’s possible to identify another role at the company that’s a better fit.”

“Creating a skills matrix is a great way to visualize your existing skills, identify where you want to grow, and pinpoint responsibilities you want to take off your plate.
Place your personal and professional skills in each quadrant according to your level of skill and interest. Activities that you enjoy and are good at go in the top-right box. Activities that you enjoy and are sill learning will go in the bottom-right box. Place activities that you’re good at but don’t enjoy in the top-left box. (These may be skills that managers or coworkers put on your plate.) Finally, activities that you aren’t good at and aren’t interested in will appear in the bottom left box.

Take a look at the strengths and growth areas to note any patterns or themes. These are the skills you’re looking for in job postings.”

“If you’re lucky, you might be able to talk to your boss about your plans and find a way to learn on the job. Your boss may be willing to place you on a new team where you can learn from coworkers who possess your target skills. Make sure you’re aware of professional development opportunities at your company and take full advantage of them. This approach can be a way to test-drive a new position without diving in head first. Often, this is easier in a startup environment where roles are less defined.

But not every work environment supports this type of transition. Often, you have to go it alone. Many developers these days are self-taught. By committing nights and weekends to self-paced exercises and personal projects, they were able to build a solid web development foundation. By building a portfolio, they can showcase their robust skill set that will empower them to successfully enter the job market.”

Overcoming Challenges and Setbacks

“This issue is not unique to women, but when I transitioned into tech, I really struggled to figure out where my skills fit. None of the titles matched mine, and there were a lot of titles that I wasn’t familiar with. What’s the difference between a product and project manager? How is a content manager different than a content creator? What can I actually do?

I found that talking to people with jobs I didn’t understand was a great way to demystify the titles. I joined a few tech-focused organizations, met some folks, and got coffee with them. It turns out that a roles responsibilities can vary widely depending on the company. And through these conversations, I was able to determine where my skills fit. 

I recommend Skillcrush’s Tech Jobs Database as a starting point. Read through those roles and identify a few that you’d like to learn more about. Then join an online group like Tech Ladies or Ladies Get Paid to meet people who do those jobs.”

“Curb negative self-talk. Comparing yourself to others will always be a losing game. It’s important to catch yourself when you fall into that trap and short-circuit that negative self-talk. A helpful strategy is to talk to yourself the way you’d talk to a friend. 

A common symptom of imposter syndrome is an inability to internalize your accomplishments. Taking time to list your personal and professional achievements can be a valuable confidence-boosting exercise. Before diving into something new, review your list of past successes. Looking back at what you’ve accomplished will remind you just how much you’ve learned over time.”

“Anticipate imposter syndrome and curate your emotional toolkit. What strategies and tools support your body, mind, support system, and environment? Having a game plan of what helps you bounce back from setbacks helps reduce the recovery time. 

Also stay ready so you don’t have to get ready. Keep your network warm, update your resume regularly, keep a hype reel of your accomplishments, and make sure your portfolio contains examples of your latest work.”

“Be strategic and persistent. The truth is that people very rarely land their dream job on the first try. So much work goes into a job search. The most successful folks are the ones who are willing to wrestle with challenging problems, take a break, find a different approach, and power through until they find a solution. That doesn’t mean applying to every job. Rather, it means getting clear on what you want and doing your best to emotionally detach from the notion that you are your job.”

Achieving Career Growth and Satisfaction

“Mentorship allows people to see possibilities that might otherwise be hidden to them. A mentor can help you navigate tricky situations at work, map your career progression, introduce you to other interesting connections, and serve as support when you’re struggling. Everyone can benefit from a mentor, especially folks who are just beginning their careers in tech.

You might find a mentor at work. I volunteer through my company’s early career mentor program, and I love working with folks who are in the early stages of their careers. 

You might informally ask someone at your company who’s a few years ahead of you to be your mentor. Or you might find someone else online or in a local tech community. When you make that ask, get clear on the time commitment, the types of questions you want to ask them, and set a clear agenda for your meetings. By clarifying your ask, it makes it easier for the other person to say yes.”

“You need to be clear on what’s important to you, and it’s okay if that changes over time. I love the site Key Values for this reason. You can search for postings based on your own values and also receive a list of interview questions you can ask the company.”

“Define what success means to you. Is it money? Accolades? Solving a challenging problem? Connecting your goals to the company org chart doesn’t necessarily make them meaningful to you. 

Break your goal down into smaller steps. One way to do this is using the SMART method. This method encourages you to set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. As you set the goal, outline the steps you need to take to get there and estimate how long it will take you to finish them. Over time, you’ll tick these boxes and start to see progress.”

“There will always be more work to do, but you need to figure out what space work fills in your life. Who are you outside of work? What other responsibilities do you have? 

I don’t think there is such a thing as perpetual work-life balance; there will be seasons where you work more and seasons that are quieter. Regardless of where you are in the cycle, you need to make time to reflect. By paying attention to your engagement and energy levels, 

I also want to point out that while setting boundaries is way to take responsibility for your work and life, it’s only effective when your company culture honors them. If you can’t safely set a boundary at work, all the advocating yourself isn’t going to have an impact. Conducting a culture-first job search is a key part of the process. Everyone deserves to feel safe at work.”

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