Women in Technology: Technical Skills Not Always a Prerequisite

Here are two facts: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be 1.2 million computing job openings in the United States between 2012 and 2022. And according to a study by the American Association of University Women, the percentage of computing jobs held by women has declined.

A third fact: That last trend can be reversed. It needs to: There’s already a shortage of skilled IT talent, which means there's demand for women in technology (and men). Research by Robert Half Technology shows that 67 percent of U.S. CIOs face recruiting challenges, particularly for in-demand roles in areas such as software development, security and networking.

Women who want to work in IT, but lack technical skills and experience, shouldn’t let that derail their plans to make the transition from their current field, says Kelly Napoli-Floto, senior director, enterprise customer support, for Robert Half. “The IT profession is so diversified today,” she says. “There are many different avenues for women in technology to explore – many more than when I entered the field in the 1990s.”

A former accountant, Napoli-Floto hadn’t even considered a technology career until fate threw her a few curveballs. For women considering an IT career, but are having difficulty visualizing how it might unfold, her story may serve as inspiration.

An unexpected path

In the early 1990s, a Robert Half staffing specialist suggested that Napoli-Floto use her strong soft skills as a recruiter. Napoli-Floto took that advice, and within a few years had become a division director for Accountemps. Then one day, she heard about an opportunity that sent her in yet another new direction.

“Robert Half was rolling out a new software solution companywide and needed people to learn the technology and serve as trainers,” says Napoli-Floto. “I thought that sounded exciting. So, I volunteered and spent the next two years traveling all over the country.”

As part of the rollout, Robert Half established an IT desk — which needed a manager. Once again, Napoli-Floto found herself pursuing new possibilities: “I was hired for the role, even though I didn’t have a lot of technical knowledge at the time. But I understood the challenges people in the field would face using the new technology.”

That was 1999, and Napoli-Floto has stayed the course in IT ever since, advancing her career at Robert Half. “I fell into IT, but once I was there, I knew it was for me,” she says.

Making the transition

Over the past 16 years, Napoli-Floto has seen a lot of changes in technology, and in the workforce that supports it. “When I started the help desk at Robert Half, only men were applying for the positions I needed to staff,” she recalls. “Today, we have several women on our team, and in other IT roles in the company. I also see many more opportunities opening up for women in technology, generally.”

Napoli-Floto suggests that women who need to build technical skills consider starting out in a “nontechnical IT” role. “Look for opportunities on teams focused on business transformation,” she says. “These groups help businesses figure out how to use technology to improve operations and innovate. This can provide a great training ground for anyone who wants to break into IT.”

And don’t let education be a barrier to entering the field, says Napoli-Floto: “For many tech roles, you don’t need a four-year degree. Earn a certification, and build out your skills through on-the-job training.”

Additional tips for making the move to IT

  • Learn simple coding. Even if you don’t want to be a programmer or developer, understanding the basics like HTML and JavaScript can prove to be invaluable knowledge in your future IT career (and may help to catch a hiring manager’s attention). Look to beginner-friendly resources like w3schools, Codeacademy, Khan Academy and Google University Consortium.
  • Study the hiring market. Look to resources such as Robert Half Technology’s Salary Guide to learn about in-demand positions, what employers are looking for in top candidates, and what abilities could help you earn a higher starting salary. Robert Half’s Salary Center can also provide insight into what types of industries are adding tech positions in your local area.
  • Target tech companies and startups. Remember, tech companies are businesses, too, and need many functions to support their operations. Look to break into these firms by applying for roles similar to what you do now. Startups can also provide a more direct path to a tech role. These innovative businesses tend to encourage employees to expand their skill sets on the job so they can help support the business as it grows.
  • Leverage your network. Let your professional contacts know you’re considering making a transition to an IT career, and ask for guidance. Use sites like LinkedIn to find and join groups related to your interests in technology, or geared for women in IT. Also, consider attending industry networking events to introduce yourself to the tech community.

Your assignment

In our previous post, we explained that in the coming months we will be providing readers with optional “assignments” intended to motivate people to think about how they, as individuals, can help to grow women’s influence in the tech sector.

The first assignment was to join a professional network or membership association that actively promotes the advancement of women in the technology profession. If you did this, please share your experiences in the comments. Which organization did you join? Why? We want to hear your story.

This month’s assignment: Add at least two people to your professional network who you believe can provide valuable insights as you launch or work to advance your career in technology.

Are you currently transitioning to an IT career from a different field — or have you already made the move? Share your experiences in the comments.