Getting a career in tech without having a tech background

  • Photo: Danielle Hashemipour, Customer Success Manager for Pitchbooking

    Under-represenation of women in the UK tech sector is slowly progressing, but do we need to be promoting the wider jobs within the industry more?

    The latest figures from BCS (the Chartered Institute for IT) show that women now account for 20% of the industry, seeing a 3% increase from 2019. 

    Improvement is low and fairly minimal, but with such an intense focus on the digital skills agenda in Northern Ireland and encouraging young females into STEM pathways, what about the other routes into tech? 

    Danielle Hashemipour is the Customer Success Manager for homegrown NI sports tech start-up, Pitchbooking (pretty cool job title, right?)

    She described her current role as “a mixture between account management, marketing and training” but mentioned that “a Customer Success Manager in Pithbooking can be completely different to that job title in a different company" and added that five years down the line, her role "could be completely different.”

    With an undergraduate degree in Law and a Masters in Business Studies, Danielle wants to show she is proof that just because you can’t code or don't have a degree in software development, you can still progress in the booming tech industry.  

    Her first ‘grown-up job’ (as she puts it), was in home textiles - very different to where she is now. 

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    “The future is in tech and that’s where I wanted to be,” she explained to Sync NI.

    “That’s where I always wanted to get into but of course the main barrier is that you need to have experience to get your foot through the door. 

    “More importantly, it's the transfer of skills, so while I didn't have a techie background, I have traditional skills in business development and account management.

    “I would say ‘Yeah I don't know how to code but I have soft skills and people skills, that perhaps people who do know how to code don't have, and it's trying to marry the two together.''”

    Danielle upped and left for New York City in August 2015, with no set job and just enough money to get her through to Christmas. 

    She said, “I didn’t have a plan. It was the first time I ever live away from home and I had to make it happen. Without doing that I don’t think I’d be at where I am today. 

    “I didn’t have tech experience but I had a lot to offer. It’s about confidence in your own ability. In my role - customer success  - it’s not coding and I’ll never have to code, but I need to talk to people who do.” 

    Starting out in a start-up

    Danielle has been in her role at Pitchbooking for almost two years now. 

    Launched in 2018 by three school friends - Chris McCann, Shea O’Hagan and Fearghal Campbell - the online platform aims to help local organisations manage sports facility rentals, bookings and payment processes.

    The three co-founders of Pitchbooking

    “I ended up hounding poor Fearghal over LinkedIn and they hired me,” Danielle laughed. 

    “To their credit - you can teach people things but fit is probably most important. I know 'women in tech' is a big issue and I’m the only woman in our company.”

    She noted that part of the reason she got the job with the software start-up is because of her persistence and determination, saying that even if they had 10 requirements and she could only give half of them, she insisted she would learn the other five.

    “Our offices were in the Ormeau Baths (in Belfast) and it never occurred to me before I walked in there, that nearly everyone was a man. There is a stereotype of the ‘tech bro’ and that is a problem in and of itself. Even though that person does exist, it’s not everyone in tech.” 

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    Danielle added that despite often being the only woman in the room, she “doesn’t let that intimidate” her. 

    “Representation matters. Because I’ve always seen other women just doing stuff, I’ve always taken for granted that if I want to do something I’m going to do it. 

    “It was never intimidating, just a moment of realisation. As I’d never been in the sector before, I just came in on my first day and noticed it. 

    “There are founders and a great community of women in the Ormeau Baths for example, that are trying to change that. 

    “I know all the focus is on STEM careers, and doing tech degrees, studying computer science or whatever it is. If that is what you want to do, great! Do that and go and follow that career path, but even if you don't want to do that, you still have a lot to offer. 

    “You can’t have a qualification in being a people person, it’s not like being tested on JavaScript. You can’t prove that you have people skills until you’re in there. 

    “You can have the best piece of software in the world, but unless you have the right people who can sell it, teach and tell people about it, it’s not going to be worth anything.” 

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    As a Customer Success Manager, Danielle solves problems for clients, but more importantly, teaches them how to solve issues on their own.

    “Pitchbooking is a piece of software, it’s a living, breathing thing that our customers use every day,” she said. 

    “Their customers are going to run into problems that they’ll go to them with, so we teach them how to solve that. They’re getting true value out of the product. When it then comes time to renew, they understand our product better.”

    What advice would Danielle give to other women looking to break into tech?

    Well, the most straightforward path is to learn how to code and then apply for a job in that, of course!

    “Don’t let anyone or anything put you off!” she insisted. 

    “Even if you can’t check off every single thing on the qualification list - men are a lot more likely to apply for a job even if they haven’t ticked all the boxes, whereas women are a lot less confident. So don’t let that put you off!

    “The most important thing is getting yourself in front of the person doing the hiring.” 

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    And if you are someone looking to make a jump to one industry from another?

    “My main advice is to focus on what you can offer,” Danielle continued. 

    “Don’t get too bogged down on technical requirements. You will have a lot of transferable skills, particularly if you have worked in something like account management or business development. 

    “There will be learning curves, but you have a lot more experience than you maybe think.”

    Find out more about Pitchbooking here and find the latest job offerings across Northern Ireland to kick off your career in tech on Sync NI's Jobs page here.

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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