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OCDA panel article: “Breaking into the tech sector – with or without a technical background”

By Caitlin Sweeney 

On Thursday, May 10, we had the pleasure of hosting five panelists with ranging roles in the tech sector at Cambia Health Solutions. Our panelists offered valuable advice to professionals seeking to support clients who are transitioning into technical occupations. Their insights were as diverse as the professions they inhabit, but several themes emerged in the lively discussion. The future of the tech industry looks bright and offers people with ranging interests and skills a milieu of opportunities to innovate, collaborate, and grow professionally. The panelists were invited to respond to five prompts, and their insights have been summarized below into overarching themes.

1. Never underestimate the power of networking. All five of the panelists highlighted the importance of networking for breaking into the tech sector. In attending tech-centered networking events, clients can explore their interests, mingle with like minded professionals, and learn about exciting job opportunities. Portland has a vibrant Meetup culture with countless opportunities to connect with techies. The following networking groups were praised by our panelists and span the realms of professional associations, Meetups, and job listings: The Technology Association of Oregon, PDX Women in Tech, Calagator, NewTech PDX Meetup, Portland Accessibility and User Experience Meetup, Portland Programmer Network Meetup, PDX Tech + Pong Meetup, and Portland Tech Jobs. Professionals outside of Portland were encouraged to research Meetups in their area and invite clients to do the same.


2. “We will all morph into technologists,” observed Cathi Row, Manager of Technical Talent Development & Change Enablement with Cambia Health Solutions. There are a number of entry points into the tech sector, and having a bachelor’s degree along with work experience (even in a non-technical field) can increase one’s employability. Particularly in-demand areas include online learning, tech support engineering, software development, front end development, and user experience design.

3. Many tech jobs do not require a technical degree. David Duncan, Tech Sector Employment Specialist with the Oregon Employment Department (WorkSource Portland Central location), reminded us that there are, indeed, tech jobs that accept non-technical degrees. Front/back end development, web development, and networking systems positions often accept a variety of degree credentials. Building a professional portfolio that attests to one’s skills may be more important than having a technical degree in the case of web development. The credentials of our panelists serve as further endorsement of such flexibility, with CollegeNET, Inc. Account Manager Annie Thompson earning her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in adult education and exercise science, and Cathi Row having degrees in education and elementary education.

4. Cultivate a growth mindset. Philanthropic entrepreneur Sheri Dover highlighted the importance of nurturing a growth mindset in the tech industry. The forward-thinking ethos of growth-minded people propels them to thrive on challenges and see limitless opportunities for skill development. The beauty of these attributes is their accessibility to all of our clients. Those with a genuine interest in technology and longing for continued professional growth can surely find a home in the tech sector.

Resource spotlights

Technology Association of Oregon (TAO): This regional association supports professionals in the tech sector through industry promotion, professional networking opportunities, and talent development. Cathi Row encourages those interested in technology to volunteer with the group as a way of building connections.

PDX Women in Tech (PDXWIT): This community-based organization comes highly recommended by Verne Lindner, Former Senior UX Designer at Puppet Inc., for female-identified tech professionals. Among its many unique offerings is its Mentorship Program, which identifies members’ professional strengths and areas of need and pairs them with a mentor or mentee. 

Calagator: Calagator provides a unified calendar of events for those in the tech community.

Portland Programmer Network Meetup: Organized by panelist Sheri Dover, the Portland Programmer Network Meetup hosts bimonthly meetings and offers mentorship opportunities to anyone interested in programming. The group welcomes members of all skills levels, from beginner to advanced.

Portland Tech Jobs: Panelist David Duncan developed Portland Tech Jobs to support job seekers in the tech industry. Those visiting the website will find an array of resources to complement their job search including job and internship postings, tech-specific job search websites, training opportunities, interview strategies, and an elaborate event calendar.

Published June 2018

The Oregon Career Development Association is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable and educational entity.

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