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PA OPINION

Do I need to be able to code to build a career in technology? No, and here’s why

Coding is a huge part of the technology industry: it’s hard to think of any successful technology women (or men) who can’t code. Most learning opportunities aimed at supporting women breaking into the tech industry are all about coding camps, classes and workshops.

As a proud woman in tech, I strongly believe that these are all amazing opportunities and I cherish every day the fact that I can support organising similar events. But the truth is, you don’t need to be able to code to break into technology. Don’t get me wrong, it can’t hurt to upskill yourself, but there are many areas in technology that don’t directly involve software development.

I’ve now been working in technology for three years and I still can’t code (well). I started developing a passion for technology at university, mostly because I lived with many computer science students. The more I learned about their subject and interests, the more excited I became about tech. It was at this point that we decided to launch our own tech-start up. We launched a new platform-type app aimed at connecting people with similar taste in music. It became clear that there were many other skills I possessed that were more helpful to the team than writing code, such as excellent communication, in-depth understanding of the product, market and customers, and well-developed analytical skills.

I’ve found it to be the same as I’ve developed in my career. And if you don’t believe me, here’s my list of the top skills that don’t require knowing what git and Python (not the snake) are:

1.      Market analysis with Excel

A good understanding of Excel is a must in any technical company and beyond. Not only is it central to analyse and understand most type of data sets, it’s also critical in several fields hiring in the tech industry. For example, many tech and business intelligence positions call for applicants to know pivot tables as they let you extract significant data from a very large data set.

When applied to market analysis, this lets you gather insights on a very wide topic, such as your market and customer needs, very quickly. Once you can conduct effective analysis of competitors, consumer insights, brands and campaigns through data analysis, you’ll be in the position to inform stakeholders at all levels, from strategy to product development.

2.      User research and UX design

Being able to anticipate client needs is valuable in any industry, including technology.

To excel in user research, you need to be a good observer and listener with loads of creativity to match. You’ll be expected to master the art of interviews so you can gain in-depth knowledge of a user’s thoughts and feelings. Surveys and personas will also be invaluable tools to be able to truly question, discover and represent the user.

User design is what comes next: it’s about making the user’s experience the best it can be. To master this skill, you need to know how to apply the research to design the best possible experience for the user. UX design includes thinking about and designing both the product functionality and usability. Being skilled in UX design means mastering concepts such as Information Architecture (the hierarchy of the content on the page), Wireframing (how the user navigates through each page) and Prototyping (to allow quick testing with users before a product is developed).

UX research and design are some of the most sought-after skills at technology companies. If you want to find out more, there are many courses available on Coursera and other websites to support you.

3.      Search Engine Optimisation

SEO is a complex area, but it’s essentially the practice of getting more visitors to a website through Google or other search engines. SEO fields you can learn include on-page and off-page SEO, which respectively focus on the content on the page and its optimisation and the links that direct to the website from elsewhere. If you want to go more technical, you can focus on a website’s architecture, examining the backend to ensure each page has the optimal set-up for search engines to crawl.

Understanding how SEO works will make you an invaluable asset to any business. Any company wants to get more visitors to their website, and the main way they do that is through search.

4.      Communication skills and a product mindset

Finally, no technology company will ever be successful if its consumers don’t understand what it makes. Being able to explain simply and succinctly what a complex technology product is about is a skill that only few can master, but which can make or break the success of a product. Being familiar with product and business model canvas and vision templates is the first step to building this skill.

The choice is yours

There are plenty of exciting career paths in technology, ranging from product manager to technical analyst and user designer. I personally decided to specialise in technology project management and business analysis.

The more I grow passionate about technology, the more I feel that everyone, from companies to individuals, should highlight that ‘being technical’ is much wider than knowing how to code. If we want to actively encourage diversity in technology, we need to make sure women don’t feel like learning how to code is mandatory. There should be the same opportunities to learn the other crucial skills that make technical teams.

At PA, we’re addressing this by running invaluable ‘in a nutshell’ sessions covering topics like architecture, user research and business analysis. This helps our network of women in our firm to learn more about a variety of technical subjects, so they can shape their career in technology in a way that suits them without needing to know what Java is.

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