You Don’t Have to be a Coder to Get into Tech

What was once just Silicon Valley now includes Silicon Alley (NYC), Silicon Mountain (CO), and Silicon Forest (Portland), to name a few. It’s no secret: tech is here to stay. While many educational institutions are implementing new curricula to meet the demand for computer programmers, we think it’s important to note that there are other ways to be a part of this new economy.

Cynnie King, President of CFW Careers feels strongly about this: “Sales is a great career path in any industry, and that’s what we’ve always believed. There is enormous satisfaction in impacting the growth of a company--in fact, one of the best ways to ascend through the ranks of any company is in sales. There is significant potential in tech, with a great range of companies both in New York City and beyond. The experience you get in sales can be very transferable to a wide range of opportunities.” So where to begin?

A Sales Career is Born

We spoke with two tech sales professionals to get a better understanding of how they started and what they’ve learned. Christiana Cacciapuoti, currently a Senior Account Manager at Tremor Video, said she fell into sales while at Penn State: “I started selling $25 ads for the Penn State newspaper and worked my way up. It gave me a really solid foundation and built my confidence. I realized I can do this!

Similarly, Forrest B, who currently works for a leading software company in NYC, did not graduate with the intent of launching a sales career. In fact, he wanted to go to law school, but was encouraged by his family to get some professional experience first. He landed his first sales role through a friend and found that he really enjoyed it—the role challenged him in unexpected ways and fast-tracked career (and compensation) growth. He loved the independence: “You’re responsible for your own book of business—how is this going to impact revenue? How do you identify new opportunities, execute on those opportunities, and grow those accounts? When you understand those three things, then you can sell.”

Both Cacciapuoti and Forrest B. quickly realized that technology was the place to be. “There is huge potential for growth [in tech],” says Forrest B. “Everyone is looking to streamline processes and become more efficient, and they’re looking to technology to do that.” 

Cacciapuoti notes that tech allows the opportunity to “work with products no one has ever worked with before. There’s a lot of creativity and autonomy in the space. Even at the very beginning of my career, I was given a lot of responsibility. I loved that I was able to make meaningful contributions at such a young age.”

Photo by Rawpixel Ltd/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Rawpixel Ltd/iStock / Getty Images

What Hiring Managers Want

As the President of an executive search firm, King has great insight into what these companies are seeking in their new hires. “For junior positions, hiring managers want people who are smart, competitive, and have the drive to excel…Because of the abundance of well-qualified candidates (particularly in New York City) the bar is set very high on how you define those qualities. We look for internships, participation in sports (which demonstrates a certain competitive nature--a constant for sales in any industry), and any exposure to digital. Internships and early-on jobs are key!”

More Than Just the Free Snacks

While the perks of working in tech are well-known, the benefits extend beyond cold-brew coffee on tap and sleep pods (yes, those exist). Cacciapuoti puts it best: “Yes, there are trendy perks that everyone talks about—beer kegs, cappuccino machines, happy hours. But for me, the most valuable thing is my colleagues. I’m surrounded by people that are so smart, and that pushes you.”

Forrest B. values his dynamic client base: “I work with many start-ups in New York, so I get exposure to a lot of innovative, forward-thinking companies.”

Both agree that it’s important to be aware of the fast-paced environment. Cacciapuoti suggests that in addition to being “aware of changes happening in the industry, you then have to be agile enough to adapt to that change.”

Advice to Newcomers

It can be challenging to penetrate a new industry, but don’t be intimidated. King suggests learning and reading as much as possible. “The more conversant you are, the more comfortable you’ll be, and the more aware of what job opportunities are out there.”

Forrest B. adds that “you shouldn’t be opposed to starting out as a Sales Representative or a Business Development Representative—even if you were an Account Executive at a former job. Tech companies often move so quickly, especially internally. Don’t rule out a slight step down in order to take ten steps forward in your career.”

Cacciapuoti notes both the gender discrepancy in tech and the false belief that tech equals coding. “Remember: You don’t have to be a coder to be in tech. Be ready to take on challenges. It’s also so important for females to realize—there’s a place for us too!”

Lastly, King urges prospective candidates to be aware. “Not all tech companies are created equal. Assess companies based on the solidity of their business model, the quality of their backing, and what you’re reading on Glassdoor and beyond about their culture.”