New to tech? Tips for navigating your new career

You got your first tech job at a hot start up, or scored that internship at a big tech company. Congrats!! You’re probably feeling excited, proud, and maybe a little bit nervous, anxious, or scared. That’s totally normal.

My first day at my first big tech company internship, they gave me my company laptop (expected); it wouldn’t turn on (unexpected). I panicked, holding down the power button again and again. I was working at Apple, this was a Macbook. I had to ask for help, and felt so incompetent. But I made it through that internship, and it helped me score a full-time job at Google. I’m betting that most people have a story like this from the beginning of their careers. It’s ok, in a few years, you’ll be able to look back and laugh (I always cringe a little bit, and that’s ok too).

Whoever you are, wherever you fall, you deserve to be where you are. You were hired at your job for a reason.

Starting a career in a new industry can be hard, especially the tech industry where the rules seem to be different from other conventional companies and careers. These experiences can be even more isolating if you feel like you don’t look, feel, or think like everyone else.

We come from different places

Being “new to tech” can mean a vast range of things—some people will be fresh graduates from a college or university; others will be fresh graduates from an intensive multi-week course. Some will have family members who have worked in the field before; and others may be the first in their family to go to school. Some people will be hackathon champions; others might not even know what a hackathon is. Whoever you are, wherever you fall, you deserve to be where you are. You were hired at your job for a reason.

We all bring our own experiences and perspective to the workplace, and tech is no different. These experiences can impact how we show up at work. Feeling like you’re the “only” on your team—the only woman, only person of color, and so on—can further compound existing anxieties about being new to the field. That’s why Empower Work partners with inclusive coding programs like Code Fellows to ensure that alumni have the support they need to navigate their new careers in tech.

Is it me or is tech just different?

Jaime-Alexis from Empower Work recently spoke to Saron, the founder of CodeNewbie, about what it’s like to be new to the tech world. Both agreed that tech can be very different from other industries—from the culture and expectations to the way people communicate, their humor, and even the swag. As Saron asks, “How many other jobs give you stickers?” When someone is working on a technical problem, they are physically staring at a screen, and might look a little (or a lot) angry. This can make it hard to approach coworkers, especially if you’re new to this environment and this person.

Team communication might also be more short and direct than you’re used to. Sometimes, these will just be differences you have to get used to, and reinterpret as behaviors that don’t mean any harm. However, if something comes up and strikes you as off, it might not be something to “get used to;” it might be a real issue.

As Jaime-Alexis stated in the CodeNewbie interview, “You are the expert in your own experience.” If your gut is telling you something is off, it might be a real issue to be talked about. Check out our post on ethical issues for more info on what to do with this feeling. The fact that you have less experience in the tech industry or at this company does not mean you have less of a right to say something.

If you’re feeling isolated

A prevailing theme in conversations with Empower Work texters is that they feel isolated, and don’t have anyone to talk to. Some strategies for dealing with this include asking yourself the following questions.

  • “Have I exhausted all internal support mechanisms?” Your company may have a number of resources, like HR, Employee Assistance Programs, or an employee handbook. Maybe you were on-boarded at the same time as someone else, but then their desk was in another building and you haven’t seen them since. They could be going through the same thing. Reach out and grab a coffee.

  • “What communities am I a part of?” Are you in any slack channels or group chats that could be helpful? Your company may have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to support its employee base. Or maybe there was a mentor from a workshop years ago that you never responded to. Think about attending a meeting or sending a message.

  • “What’s the worst that could happen?” Jaime-Alexis and Saron both spoke to the power of asking this question to dispel fears and motivate action. In these instances, the worst thing that can happen is that you have an awkward 30-minute coffee with your coworker, your old mentor never responds to your email, or you realize an ERG isn’t right for you. In the grand scheme of things, not that bad. In my personal experience, feeling alone is worse.

We’re human

This means we all make mistakes, and we also have more in common than we think. Coming in as the newest person on the team can be extremely intimidating. You objectively might have less work experience than anyone else. This means you’re likely to have more questions, and asking questions can make us feel incompetent, and worry that others are seeing us this way.

Try to remind yourself that this company hired you for a reason: they want you there, questions and all. (In fact, new people can provide a fresh perspective on things longtime employees have simply gotten used to or overlooked. This can be incredibly beneficial for a company—they might want you in part for your questions.) At my first full-time engineering job, I was so nervous to ask questions I would often first type out exactly what I wanted to ask to help me feel more prepared.

Remember my story about the laptop at my Apple internship? I handed it to my mentor, and it immediately turned on, just like you would expect it to. I worried I’d utterly failed my first impression, but he became my mentor, in title but also in real relationship. We shared a sarcastic sense of humor, an affinity for unique and (in our opinion) fashionable button downs, and taste in music. If you’re having a hard time “fitting in” or feeling like you’ve gotten to know new coworkers, asking a simple question like, “How was your weekend?” can open the door to surprising and new connections. Take a moment to step outside the workplace and acknowledge that you’re people above anything else.

So take a deep breath, put on your favorite quirky button down (or whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident), and go get em, tiger. We’ll be here if anything comes up.

Text 510-674-1414 to get in touch with a trained peer counselor immediately and anonymously. Talk through the situation and explore ways forward. Support is just a text away.