Don’t believe a career in IT is for you? Read this first

Editor's Note

This article is sponsored by Fortinet.

As a recent university graduate who just landed their first full-time position, I know job searches aren’t easy at the best of times. And these are far from the best of times. But Ottawa is one of the regions fortunate enough to have a strong technology sector, and as the demand for e-commerce, cybersecurity and app development surges, so too does the need for skilled workers to support this growth. 

For anyone who has dabbled in IT previously, or has thought seriously about doing so, now might be the time to consider a new career path. 

Those already working in IT, or who have recently graduated, should start by stepping back and looking objectively at their skillset. It’s easy in a field as vast as technology to segment ourselves and assume that a software developer can only work in software development, or that someone who works at an artificial intelligence startup is limited to AI. I can already see that’s not the case.

I went to school for electrical and computer engineering, with no training in cybersecurity, which I saw as a very unique discipline. What I’ve learned is that the core skill for a successful career in cybersecurity is the ability to deliver high-quality and maintainable code, and that’s transferable from a number of tech backgrounds. The lesson is clear: don’t be intimidated by the unfamiliar. 

Don’t get overly focused on hard skills, however. The in-demand candidates are not those who are experts in one or two things, but those who are willing to adapt and excel at teamwork and communication, and who are able to constantly learn new things to solve challenges as part of a team with varied backgrounds.

In fact, any attempt to narrowly define yourself as “one thing” will limit your job opportunities. True, applying for a role means demonstrating skills in particular areas. But make sure that you also show that you’re well-rounded and interested in technologies outside of what the job title is asking for. Look closely at job descriptions and use those insights to create a picture of what you want to be doing every day, rather than what your title suggests you would be doing. 

Everyone I’ve worked with has a natural curiosity for new technologies and will explore them both at work and in their own time, and it’s something managers actively encourage. Always stay modest, ask and learn from others and improve across backgrounds and fields. It’ll pay off in the end.

For those who have never worked in IT, the same advice applies. If you’re the kind of person who loves to constantly learn new things, and you’re fascinated by technology and love getting your hands dirty on your own time, then you’re very well suited for a career in the field. Once you know that, you have many education and training options to choose from. Many technology companies, mine included, have made beginner courses easily and freely available. This means the cost of entry is not a barrier. Ottawa is full of small groups and communities who can also provide advice on career options, or to begin to try a few hands-on projects.

The biggest barrier is likely to be the mindset that technology is too difficult to master, or will somehow involve only working with technology directly. Ultimately, technology is a tool used to support business growth or solve business challenges – it’s about being on the front line of innovation, and that means constantly thinking and using creativity. That’s a good description of what I do each day, and is something you could be doing as well.

These are uncertain times, and career shift or job search is never simple, or without stress. But amid uncertainty, technology remains a constant. For those who are considering, or re-considering a career in IT, now is the time to start exploring. 

Siqu Shao is a software engineer at Fortinet Inc. in Ottawa.