How to get into the tech industry with no experience—it’s one of the first concerns that might pop up when you’re considering how to change careers.
It’s a question that Sameer Syed thought about too while working as an investment banker at JP Morgan. “I was starting to really think, is this the path that I want to continue down? Do I want to succeed and become a senior leader at a bank? And I realized it wasn’t. It really wasn’t what my true passion was.”
After pursuing a new career in tech, Sameer eventually found that “passion work” as part of the team at Google offshoot company Jigsaw. “Our goal and mission is to try to tackle some of the toughest problems in the world by using technology and building tools to address those problems. One of the bigger areas that we’re focusing on is to build technology and promote tools that can help promote a free and open Internet,” he explains.
Of course, it took him a few years to arrive at that point, so it leaves the question of exactly how to change career paths. Fortunately, that’s what Sameer came on the podcast to discuss. Listen to his story and career-change advice below!
This episode was transcribed with the help of an AI transcription tool. Please forgive any typos.
Laurence Bradford 0:07
Hey listeners, and welcome to the Learn to Code With Me podcast. I'm your host, Laurence Bradford. And if you're listening to this around the time it comes out, Happy New Year. To kick the year of, today we'll be learning about one of our favorite topics transitioning into tech from a totally unrelated field.
Laurence Bradford 0:24
But first, instead of having our usual sponsored messages, I want to bring you a special message myself. It's longer than usual spots. I hope that's okay. About one week ago from when this episode is going to be aired in January 2019. I realized that the Learn to Code With Me podcast was ranking quite high in the iTunes technology category. It was actually at number 12 in fact, at one poin. For some context, podcast rankings in iTunes shift constantly based on their algorithm. So it could be quite possible that in the future when you're listening to this, it won't be at that number. It'll be higher, it'll be lower. Who knows. Nonetheless, it was such a pleasant surprise to come across this. I was actually completely blown away. Because unlike many other shows that you find at the top of the iTunes charts, this podcast doesn't have a big budget. I don't record in a fancy studio. Actually, I record in my bathroom. And I don't have an expensive microphone. This is truly an indie or a bootstrapped setup. It's the listeners like you who helped the show rank so well on iTunes and other podcast platforms. It's your downloads, your listens your subscription to the show, ratings and reviews all these things compound and compile together and give our show a shot to compete with all the other big names out there. To be honest, there are a lot of times where producing a season of 20 weekly episodes gets really tough. And I have to admit that there have been several times throughout the last few years of making this show where I considered ending it and having that Season be the last and final.
Laurence Bradford 2:02
Anyway, I really, really appreciate all of your support from reviewing the show to sharing with your friends and family to posting about it on social media. It helps me a lot more than you probably realize. And it gives me the confidence to keep on moving forward with it. Because a lot of the things I talked about with guests on the show like imposter syndrome, time management, feeling ready to do something, and so on are all things I struggle with too, just like many of you, so thank you again.
Laurence Bradford 2:27
And finally, if you haven't rated or reviewed the show yet on whichever podcast player you tune in on, I would be super grateful if you could go ahead and do that right now. Okay, let's get into this episode. I know we've found a break for a few weeks, and I'm really excited for you to hear this one.
Laurence Bradford 2:43
In today's episode, I talk with Sameer Syed. Sameer began his career as an investment banking analyst at JP Morgan, and after feeling unfulfilled and finance decided to switch careers into tech. today. Sameer works at jigsaw a team within Google slash alphabet. builds technology to fight online censorship mitigate the threats from Digital attacks, protect people from online harassment and counter violent extremism. Sameer shares the steps he took to make this career transition and what he believes the keys to his successful pivot were. I think Samir has really solid advice for those wanting to change careers. I hope you enjoy this interview. Let's get into it.
Laurence Bradford 3:28
Hey, Samir, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Sameer Syed 3:30
Thank you so much for having me, Lawrence. I'm really excited to be here to share my experiences, which is a little different than some of the others you've had on your podcast. So I'm hoping it can inspire and help some of our listeners.
Laurence Bradford 3:41
Yeah, definitely. I'm really excited to have you on. And before we get into your whole career transformation. Could you just briefly tell us about what you're up to today?
Sameer Syed 3:51
Sure. Sure. I'd be happy to. I'm pretty busy. So for those who may have seen anything online, in my online presence, So I'm currently at Google, I work on a pretty small team about 50 people, and it's called jigsaw. And our goal and mission is to try to tackle some of the toughest problems in the world by using technology and building tools to address those problems. So I know it sounds pretty broad. So I can give some examples of the areas that we're tackling. One of them is around attacks on free speech on the internet. So in many countries around the world, important news is silence and activists are repressed by governments who want to limit free expression. So we're trying to build technology and promote tools that can help promote a free and open Internet. So that's one of the the bigger areas that we're focusing on.
Sameer Syed 4:38
Another one is online harassment and trolling. Everyone has seen trolls on the internet. And we want the internet to be a place where different views can come together to discuss key societal issues. But when you have toxicity and conversations and you have these trolls, it makes it really hard for individual individuals to engage. So through machine learning and AI, we've built some tools to Hold platforms really facilitate those conversations. And then two other areas. I mean, you'll notice that the areas that we focus on are very different. So another one is violent extremism. Specifically, we're trying to figure out how to disrupt online radicalization. And I'd say the last area we're focused on is disinformation. And it's really around the idea of the spread of false information. And a lot of people are tackling this. And so we're in the early days trying to figure out what tools can can be built to help that. And that's so that's my work. That's what's keeping me busy these days. And then in my spare time, I actually also run a tech community here in New York, where I'm based, and it's called Wall Street to Silicon Alley. And that's alley, not Valley. So for those of listeners who are in New York, New that New York is Silicon Valley. This is something I started about six years ago, and the community is now close to about 2000 people. And I host these quarterly roundtables and moderated discussions, which features individuals who navigated careers from finance specifically into the tech sector so that others can learn from each other. And we can build a really big community. So, so needless to say, I have my hands full.
Laurence Bradford 6:10
Awesome. Love it. And you sort of already hinted at what you were doing before you were working in tech, with your organization, Wall Street to Silicon Alley. But I want to dive a bit more into that, like, what were you doing exactly before you decided to make this career transition? And what led you to want to get into tech and in the first place?
Sameer Syed 6:31
Sure, yeah. So when I graduated from from college, I went into finance, I went into investment banking, and I worked at JP Morgan, one of the bulge bracket investment banks, and it was a great experience. At the time, you know, I really just wanted to go somewhere where I can learn some really solid skills, and also be pushed and challenged and that was a great environment for that. When I went in, he wasn't really thinking far ahead. You get those points. In interviews like what's your five year plan? 10 year plan, I would bet most people who are coming out of college are making that up, because I totally was. And so I obviously didn't know what I wanted to do in five years or 10 years. But I knew at the time, you know, I wanted to be somewhere where I could build some good skills. And I was interested in finance. So I did that for a number of years. And I got to the point, about three, four years later, we're starting to really think is this the path that I want to continue down? Do I want to succeed and become a senior leader at a bank? And I started to really think hard about it. And I realized it wasn't it really wasn't what my true passion was.
Sameer Syed 7:33
There wasn't something that really always excited me. And I always had a interest in tech and media specifically. So I started to think about what can I do to make that transition, I really want to just to feel fulfilled, I wanted to feel excited about the work that I do, and that's very rare, not everyone gets to say they do. And, and it's very hard to find something that will be fulfilling and exciting. So that that's kind of what really kind of pushed Because I had been working, and I thought about it I've already done for years. If I continue down this path, I know I'll never take a leap or I'll never take that risk to make a career change, and really follow something that I'm really interested in. So I would say it was just a matter of getting to the point and realizing that probably not going to be something I'm going to be super excited about down the road. So this is a great opportunity to start exploring other things. And if I'm gonna do it, I got to do it now.
Laurence Bradford 8:25
Perfect, right, that makes a ton of sense. And when you have this realization, how did you like, like pick tech to get into like, what did you do any kind of research? Were you looking into other fields? Was there something else that led you to technology?
Sameer Syed 8:41
Yeah, for me, it was just tech in general, just fascinating at the time, to me, I was a technology consumer, like many people, and also media and entertainment was very fascinating to me. So I was trying to figure out how do I merge the two How do I get into a field that combines both and and what can I do in that area, so so that's really why I went there. on that path, and yes, there was a ton of research that that you have to do before you even make a leap like that. And I'm happy to get into some of the more concrete steps if that if you think that can be helpful. Yeah, definitely, I'd love if you could share some of the steps that you took in making this career change. Sure. And and, you know, I, I talk about this a lot, because we host these roundtables and a lot of folks I talked to who are still in finance, potentially considering career changes, and just generally, so I bucket it into probably about five general steps when I think about even my own process.
Sameer Syed 9:33
And I would say the first step is really identifying and addressing blockers. And I'll get into a little bit of what that is in a second. The second one is developing a solid timeline and plan. That's extremely important. A lot of people don't do that. The third I would say is understanding the tech space. People think they know a lot about tech, but you'll be surprised if you don't, if you don't really take time and effort. And then I say number four Taking the time to research and understand roles that exist in tech, that's extremely important. When you actually go down this journey, you need to know what you're looking for. And then I'd say most important, last but not least, is networking. Networking is super important to open up opportunities and really expose yourself. So I can dive in a little bit more if it helps teach.
Laurence Bradford 10:20
Yeah, I think, you know, some of these things we've definitely talked about in depth on the show before like networking and researching and understanding the different roles in tech. But I would really love if you could talk a bit about like the identifying the blockers, and we definitely talked about timelines and planning, but I would just love to hear like what your timeline and plan was when you approach this.
Sameer Syed 10:42
Yeah, sure. blockers, like I said, is the first one. And I think people don't realize that these exist. And a lot of people think about, oh, I want to make this career transition. I've been thinking about it for a year. I haven't done it yet. But the real question is why? And and the answer is because you have these blockers and these bloggers can be a lot of fun. Different things. For me personally, it was financial insecurity, career suicide and self doubt. Now financial insecurity for me was a big one because I was working in finance, the finance industry compensates pretty well, I was pretty happy financially. But I also wanted to get into the startup space. And the startup phase is a little different, especially when you go to smaller companies, the compensation structure is very different. It's a little bit more heavily skewed to equity. You don't know if equity ever going to be worth a worth anything, so you're probably going to take a pay cut. That was really scary for me. And that was one of the reasons why when I first even started considering making a transition. I didn't even know what to do because I don't know if I can do this. I'm not going to give it my salary. I got to change my lifestyle. So that was a really big one for me.
Sameer Syed 11:41
So I had to really think it through and think and plan. Okay, financially, if I am taking a pay cut, what adjustments Do I need to make and for how long can I do it? So that was a big one that I had to really think about and address. The second one like I said it was career suicide. What is this decision doesn't work out? What if I will, I'm not a fit for the company. Or what if the company fails? Like, what is it going to look like on my resume, I'm gonna have this terrible gap. I'm gonna look like I took this big bet I left finance people are gonna think I hated finance. And I was truly scared. But again, then I really took the time to understand what that opportunity can look like. And I figured out even if my my, you know, the company I joined failed. I think it can look good, you know, you can spin it in a good way. For me, it was like getting an mini MBA, go do that for six months, a company fails. Well, I just learned how a company operates. I just diversified my skill set. And then hopefully, it can continue to push me down the path that I want to go. And then the last one is self doubt. It's really intimidating and overwhelming, like, Can I do it? Did like, can I even make this jump?
Sameer Syed 12:44
You know, the whole process when you think about it is really daunting. And I think just overcoming just general fears for me, was really difficult. And I know I've had a lot of conversation with folks and these are the things that hold people back from you considering it and other things that other people have told me that have blocked them. Are you know, I'm sure people have heard of the imposter syndrome. Another one is just general social pressure, like in your social circles around like, why would you do something like that? unclear direction you don't know where to go? And then there's many others and and But the real question folks should be asking themselves when they're going down this path is what is stopping you? What do you need to do to address each one of those to make yourself feel comfortable.
Laurence Bradford 13:23
So then with your plan, like after you identify the blockers, what kind of plan did you make for yourself? And what kind of timeline Did you set to switch into attack?
Sameer Syed 13:34
Yeah, so for me specifically, I gave myself about nine months, nine months to about a year, I decided, Okay, I'm starting today, I'm going to start networking. I'm gonna start putting myself out there. I'm gonna start to see Is there a place for me out there in the tech world is are there roles? What kind of opportunities can I create for myself and for myself, and I started to think I was like, in nine months, if I do Have any solid traction, any solid leads, if I haven't gone anywhere, I should probably take a step back, continue down the path that I'm going down right now, and reconsider. And I would say nine months is probably a lot more than most people probably would give it. Some people might only want to give it three to six months, but others give it more than a year. So it really depends on everybody's situation. So I obviously look nine months ahead, and then I worked backwards. And then what I started to do was set milestones and work backwards.
Sameer Syed 14:28
So in nine months, I want to potentially have an offer maybe three months before that, I potentially want to have a short list of conversations happening. So if I am not able to have in six months put it this way, if I'm not able to have solid conversations with with really good leads, I may be doing something wrong, because the reality is people go out there looking to change a career, but they do it without a plan. And then as you go through the process, you're going to fall flat on your face. It just happened Because you're completely switching industries most of the time, and it can be really difficult because you learn throughout the process. And if you don't have a good plan, you start falling flat on your face, you think you're not cut out for it, right? There's that self doubt, it's a blocker that comes up, and you start getting this feedback that oh, you know, we don't have a place for you, oh, your skills are not gonna be valuable. That takes time to get through. So giving yourself ample time to work through the process is super important. Otherwise, you'll give up too soon, and you may lose opportunities. So So for me, what I did was I actually started to work backwards. And fortunately, it worked out.
Laurence Bradford 15:32
Yeah, I love that strategy that you took. And real quick, like, did you do anything to level up tech skills or get new skills during this time? Or was most of what you did networking with people that were working in tech?
Sameer Syed 15:48
Yeah. So since I know, that's a great question, since I wasn't looking to move into a more technical role, like a software engineer or a product manager. Fortunately, I didn't need to learn any new skills per se. So my ramp up personally was really on the industry and learning how to speak the lingo, identifying where I could be a fit, and really trying to prove to people that I was serious about making the change, and how I could make an impact potentially to the organization. Because when you're coming from a non technical background, there is a slight suspicion as to why you want to join a tech company. And because a lot of people are out there also doing it for the wrong reasons, they may be doing it because you know, they like the appeal of working for a cool small startup or a big tech company, or they think that, you know, I get to just hang out jeans and have, you know, free food and free drinks. And it's awesome. But that's not the reality always. So, at least in my experience, and I know, even here working at Google, you do this screening process, you really want to make sure people are very genuine, especially when maybe on their resume. It's not a very obvious reason as to why they're, they're making a career change.
Laurence Bradford 16:56
So can we talk a little bit about what your first tech Job was like, because I know it wasn't working at Google right away. And you also mentioned Yeah, you gave yourself this timeline, you identify these blockers. You began learning the industry began networking. Yeah. What did your first job in tech end up looking like?
Sameer Syed 17:16
Yeah. So my first role, surprisingly, I would call, I'm not gonna call it an internship. But it was essentially almost unpaid. I had very, I was getting paid very, very, very little. It's basically just getting a stipend. Because the company had joined, they just didn't have a lot of money. They were going through the fundraising process, and they couldn't afford to bring on an additional person full time and to have full time salary. So I took a calculated risk there. And again, going back to timelines, I decided, Okay, I could probably do this for maybe three months, very minimum salary, I'll be okay. Let me write it out. Let me see what happens. And that's exactly what I did. I joined them in sort of a generalist generalist role. I did immediately help the CFO with some funds. Raising efforts and and helping them with some work there, partly because that was a very immediate way I could actually make an impact. But I'm very clear on my intent that I wanted to start working on other pieces of the business and expose myself to those things like marketing and understanding, you know, the market strategy and helping contribute there.
Sameer Syed 18:17
And since I wasn't getting paid a lot, there wasn't that much risk for them. And they viewed me as someone who could contribute in different ways. So it worked out fortunately. And, again, not everyone can do that. And that was a huge risk I took so I was there for about the first three months without any salary. And then three months later, they're going through the fundraising process, and it started to take longer and they gave me the option. They said, Look, you know, you don't have to stay. We obviously can't pay you a lot of money. Are you okay with that? I said, Yes, I want to stay. I want to see this next fundraising round. And if we do raise money, I'd like to join you guys because I was excited by the mission. I was excited by the problem that they were trying to solve in the tech industry. And it worked out six months later, though, so it was a little tough, but For me, the experience was super valuable. Even if I had left after four months, I think I would have had enough on my resume, I would have enough experience to present potentially spin it into other opportunities. So for me it worked out but um, it was it was a good experience. And it was a good first sort of step into sort of the tech world because it was a early stage startup.
Laurence Bradford 19:19
Yeah. And I loved what you mentioned about taking a calculated risk, and like really strategizing and planning and knowing that you could turn I don't want to say a failure, but like a mistake or not great thing into a mini MBA, as you said before, and use that to leverage it into the next position. So I see you working at the startup was your next job after that working at Google, or did you do something else in between?
Sameer Syed 19:46
No, I actually took a one more additional hop. So I was at the initial startup, which was much smaller. I joined when they had maybe 12 people I left when they were 50. So I got to be a part of that whole evolution of growing and bringing a product to market. Which is super interesting and, and very valuable for my own in general learning. And then I moved to a company a slightly larger 300 people. It's not technically a startup. But if you compare it to any corporation that is extremely small, 300 people, we have organizations here at Google that are 300 people, but that's an entire company. So, so I moved to that company in a slightly different role. Again, I was still doing business development work. But I started to lean a little bit more to finance their around acquisitions, looking at companies to potentially acquire and complement their current tools.
Sameer Syed 20:34
I was actually there for a year, because I got there was a little bit different than what I had expected it to be. And I'd caution that happens. A lot of small companies, things change so quickly. So this can happen a lot, but you got to be nimble and be ready to adjust. So So I stayed for about a year. And that was when I started to consider Okay, where do I really, really want to be? I want to be at a big tech company that is really changing the game. And Google comes to mind when a lot of people think, think about those kinds of tech companies. So I considered Google I consider Facebook. And I really kind of bet on both. And I really tried to network tried to meet people try to understand what opportunities would fit for me, and went down that whole path. And it certainly wasn't easy. But it worked out.
Laurence Bradford 21:21
Yeah, I would love actually, if we could take a moment just to talk about business development and what that entails. Because as I mentioned, before we began recording, I think you're the only guest so far I've had on the podcast. And we're like, beyond 90 episodes now who works in business development. So I think it would just be really awesome for the listeners and even myself, just to talk a little bit about what that looks like and what kind of role and responsibilities you have doing that.
Sameer Syed 21:48
Sure. Yeah, absolutely happy to talk about that. And that's a common question, because there's lots of other rules out there to the folks in the tech space here or talk about and it can vary what those roles actually mean. So I encourage a lot of people to actually dig and really understand and talk to people in those functions. And a big part of that is actually the size of the company. The smaller the company, when you think about business development, it's a little more I would call it sales. It's not sales in traditional sense, but it's more salesy, because you are building a product that not a lot of people know about, and you're trying to get traction, and you're trying to get people to use it typically. So it's a little more being aggressive, and really, really hustling to sort of build context and, and promote the product or company in the industry and trying to get users to actually use the product, right, you want to build a following.
Sameer Syed 22:35
That's what business development is to try to think of creative ways to partner with organizations figure out ways to get more exposure. Then as you get larger, and you go to a bigger company like Google, potentially, or any other large tech company, this is development can really vary. There are early stage product products at companies like Google who have business development roles, and those are similar. Naturally, when you have the name Google, it's a little easier. You don't have to hustle as hard for People to pick up the phone and talk to you about partnering. But then there's also much more mature products. And a lot of these bigger tech companies have mature products. And when you're in business development, you're thinking about more strategic, broader, larger opportunities and ways to partner with big organizations. It may be distribution, you may be working on a hardware product. Now let's try to figure out how do we partner with someone like, I don't know, Amazon, right to distribute our products and get more exposure. So it really varies, but a lot of what business development means is working with external organizations strategizing, figuring out ways to actually get more adoption with products or finding unique ways to partner with other organizations to to expand sort of the reach.
Laurence Bradford 23:42
Perfect, thank you so much for explaining a bit about what that is and what that looks like. Because Yeah, I feel like the terms business and development. They both like are very broad can mean so many things and I think it's the same with a lot of roles in tech where like the title at one company could be one thing and The same person with that title and other company, their job could look like entirely different. So yeah, thank you again for elaborating on that. But circling back now to your own career journey, I wanted to know like now, you know, looking back over the last what it's been like five or six years, right, since you first changed, what key decisions that you made early on, do you think attributed to your success today?
Sameer Syed 24:23
I think taking risks and not being overly selective. Like I mentioned, the first opportunity I took was essentially on paid for several months. And it was difficult, but I saw the upside in the experience. And again, given my personal situation, I was able to do that. And not everyone can, but the underlying sort of, I guess, idea there is take risks, but do it in a calculated way. And navigating a career switch really involves a lot of risks. You have to be persistent, you have to be focused and you have to have a clear plan. And I feel like following those steps can really help help you do it in a proper way so that you don't potentially just give up in the middle of the process.
Laurence Bradford 25:04
Perfect. And now kind of On the flip side, if you weren't going to do this again, like, you know, back when you're working at JPMorgan, is there anything that you would have done differently? Knowing what you do now?
Sameer Syed 25:16
Yeah, um, no, that's a really good question. Uh, let me think about that. I would say, be less afraid. And, and, and, again, just be open to taking those risks. And the blockers I mentioned earlier, there are really real real and, you know, they held me back for a while, and even when I got past them, I still have it in my mind. And it really caused me to be extra extra selective when transitioning and, and I probably turned down some conversations when I probably shouldn't have because knowing what I know now, I've seen that there is no clear path. If you if you want to go from here to there, you can go in 100 different ways and I talk to people all the time who have made their own paths and then I think I I didn't realize that I didn't realize that I thought I have to do this step and I have to get this specific type role, then that's going to open up more opportunities.
Sameer Syed 26:07
That's not true. You can really create your own path. And that's the beauty of at least the tech space. And what I've learned that you can move in multiple different directions, you move to a company in one capacity, potentially, if it's small tech company, a startup for say, you can move into other roles, and you can really learn and depending on how much you're willing to commit, and so I would say, you know, the advice there is really don't be overly selective. If your goal is to just slowly make that transition. Just do it. Get your foot in the door, start learning take risks, try these new opportunities, you never know what it leads to. Because if you're too calculated, you're going to only hold yourself back and then I feel like I did that a little bit. But I got over that and that really opened up things for me.
Laurence Bradford 26:48
Yeah, I love that. And I've mentioned this several times on the show and I know if someone listening has listened to I've heard this before but my first job for for a In the tech space was so far from glamorous I like had a job from like Craigslist. It was it was paid but not very well it was like so far from working at a cool and trendy startup. But what I also love that you mentioned is like with creating your own path. And I do think working in a smaller company in a small environment or startup is an ideal environment for doing that at my last job, which was at a startup and when I started working, there was about 15 people. When I left it was about 80 people give or take, and especially it's less so now but in the early days, there was so much flexibility to move to a different team to try out different things to get involved and different projects and I mentioned one of my fellow colleagues before from from the past, but he started off as a customer support person, and within a year of him working there again company was very small. He ended up moving to the engineering team.
Laurence Bradford 28:00
And now he like leads the internal staff app like pod or what have you. So, yeah, I think I loved what you said about taking the calculated risk and going to a smaller company, and being open to maybe taking less temporarily. So you can gain a lot more and experience. And also, as you said, not everyone has that luxury of being able to do that. But I do think a person could plan for that, and maybe save over the course of like six months or something. So they could make that switch and take a pay cut, if needed. But a lot of people I'm also kind of laughing cuz there's a lot of folks that are moving into tech to earn more, but I think finance is one of those industries where salaries can be a lot higher or the same or more and there's a lot of bonuses and all that. So it's kind of yet different than a lot of the other industries that people may move from.
Sameer Syed 28:51
Exactly. It's definitely very unique in that you're right from a form of financial perspective compensation perspective. Sometimes people are taking a pay cut, not always right. Because I didn't talk about this, but depending on the size of the company, the way you're compensated can be very different. At a larger tech company, the salaries are just a little bit more just because they're much more established. And a smaller company like a startup, it's, I did say this, it's a little more heavy on the equity. So it's a little different. you're betting a little bit more in equity when you're a smaller company. So again, I don't want to put the wrong information out there. You're not always taking a pay cut, because there are tech companies that do pay really well for certain roles. So it's really doing that research and really understanding what you're getting yourself into.
Laurence Bradford 29:30
Yeah, and aside from equity, another thing that, at least in my experience, like with startups, or knowing about startups, I feel like the compensation packages, especially in a much smaller company can be less in depth. So you know, you maybe you just have salary equity, that's it and maybe health insurance, but I think the bigger a company gets especially a tech company there can then start to come in, you know, different kinds of bonuses. If you meet certain performance goals. are other kinds of benefits. Like, I know at the startup I was at throughout my time working there, we ended up getting a commuter benefit a gym benefit. Lunch on Friday. Like the benefits, we got pet benefits, like it kind of grew as company grows and I know at a place like Google. You don't isn't there, like cafeterias and free meals all the time and all these other benefits that go beyond just like, stuff that you could put, you know, tie a salary figure to?
Sameer Syed 30:32
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we're definitely spoiled here. And I think a lot of people have heard about the crazy perks and they are like, I'm not gonna complain about them, because I think they are phenomenal, especially coming from a world of finance and Wall Street where it's just very different. Yeah, there's free food, free drinks, a lot of a lot of free stuff where they take care of you. But in general, the tech sector is moving in that direction, which is a nice thing to have, because when you move into the industry, yes, like you were saying you may not get health insurance or you may not get certain types. Things that you're accustomed to, but in other ways they try to make it up. And and in general, yes, maybe it's part of the conversation, right. And and I think when you're having those conversations with people at certain companies, it's really understanding that understanding what you're willing to give up, do I really need that maybe my spouse, you know, works in another company, and he or she has health insurance that covers both of us. So that's something I'm willing to give up. So I can look at opportunities that don't even have that. But for some people, people that doesn't work, and I need to go to a larger company. So that's definitely part of the selection criteria for sure.
Laurence Bradford 31:32
Yeah. So one final question I would love to ask is for some, for someone listening, who is in the early stages of their career, transition journey, they know they want to switch into tech, and they're just starting out. What advice can you share with them being someone who has successfully done it who has moved from finance and now works at Google slash alphabet at this really awesome, like part of the company doing really Like life changing work?
Sameer Syed 32:01
I would say, you know, there's no one size fits all playbook. And I think that's the biggest misconception people have. This process is really hard. It takes time requires managing your risk, and it isn't necessarily linear. You may need to really explore a handful of new interest and opportunities really to better understand yourself and understand, you know, what's, what's fitting for you. Most transitions are going to require many months. I mean, they can even take multiple years. And and it's going to take work and dedication. Everyone I know people have spent two, three years trying to transition. So that's what's really important. Keep in mind, I think, you know, for those listening, if you're looking to make a transition, yours is likely going to be similar. It may take you a few months, it may take you a few years. But what matters is if you're really serious about building a career on your own terms that is, is that you keep trying new things, even if you decide to stay in your current role for another few years. Everything you try in your career is going to lead to somewhere new. And it may be often places you can't even predict.
Laurence Bradford 33:05
Awesome. That's such a great note to end on. So Sameer where can people find you online? Sure. So even though I work in tech, I would say I don't have a very strong presence online, which is kind of funny. I mean, the best place for me is LinkedIn, I would say that that's generally the place where I try to keep in touch with folks in the industry and just generally, professionally so um, you can find me on LinkedIn. It is LinkedIn.com/Sameer H is my middle, initial S-Y-E-D. And feel free to drop me a note and feel free to connect.
Laurence Bradford 33:35
Perfect. Thanks again for coming on the show. Thank you so much.
Laurence Bradford 33:44
Thanks for listening. If you want to recap of this episode, you can find the show notes at learntocodewith.me/podcast. From there you can browse through recent episodes or find old favorites using the search icon in the upper right corner. It If you enjoyed this episode, you can subscribe to my show on whichever podcast player you use. For more free tech related resources, tips and recommendations, visit my website and blog at learntocodewith.me. Tune in again next week for a new episode of The learn to code with me podcast. See you then.
Let’s get into some of the steps Sameer considers to be key for how to change careers successfully.
6 Steps for Your Transition Into Tech
When it comes to how to get into the tech industry with no experience, it doesn’t just happen by accident—you need a plan! “When I think about my own process, I bucket it into general steps,” Sameer says.
1. Identify and Address Your Roadblocks
People often think about a career change as some abstract future idea: something they’d like to do someday. “But the real question is, why haven’t you done it yet? And the answer is because you have these blockers. They can be a lot of different things. For me personally, it was financial insecurity, career suicide, and self-doubt.”
2. Make a Timeline
“The second one is developing a solid timelining plan. That’s extremely important. A lot of people don’t do that,” Sameer says.
“The reality is, people go out there looking to change their career. But they do it without a plan. And then as you go through the process, you’re going to fall flat on your face. It just happens. Partly because you’re completely switching industries most of the time.”
His own first target was nine months. “I decided, Okay, I’m starting today, I’m going to start putting myself out there, I’m going to start to see, Is there a place for me out there in the tech world? Are there roles? What kind of opportunities can I create for myself? And I started to think in nine months if I don’t have any solid traction, any solid leads, if I haven’t gone anywhere…I should probably take a step back and reconsider. So I started to set milestones and work backwards.”
However, he cautions not to make your deadlines too tight. “Giving yourself ample time that you work through the process and the self-doubt is super important. Otherwise, you’ll give up too soon.”
3. Learn About the Tech Space
“People think they know a lot about tech,” Sameer says. “But you’ll be surprised—you don’t if you don’t really take time and effort.”
Personally, he focused on “learning about the industry, how to speak the lingo, identifying where I could be a fit, and really trying to prove to people that I was serious about making the change, and how I could make an impact to their organization.”
4. Know What Role You’re Looking For
“Number four is taking the time to research and understand roles that exist in tech because that’s extremely important. When you actually go on this journey, you need to know what you’re looking for,” he advises.
If you feel passionate and excited about the job you want to pursue, that extra motivation will make the transition a lot easier.
“I always had an interest in tech and media specifically,” Sameer says. “So I started to think about what can I do to make that transition, I really wanted to just to feel fulfilled and excited about the work that I do. That’s what really pushed me because I thought about it and knew if I continued down the path I was on, I would never take a leap. I thought, if I’m gonna do it, I’ve got to do it now.”
Be prepared to not get that dream job right away, though. The secret of how to get into the tech industry with no experience is by working up to it and making compromises in your early roles.
“When you move into the industry, yes, you may not get health insurance, or you may not get certain types of things that you’re accustomed to,” Sameer explains. “Understand what you’re willing to give up.”
“My first job in tech was almost unpaid because the company was going through fundraising and just didn’t have a lot of money. But I was very clear on my intent that I wanted to start working on other pieces of the business and expose myself to those things like marketing and understanding the market strategy and helping contribute there. And fortunately, it worked out.”
5. Be Willing to Take Risks
You’re already taking a leap by pursuing a new career, so embrace that mentality. “Be open to taking those risks. Just do it, get your foot in the door, start learning, take risks, try these new opportunities. You never know what it leads to.”
“The roadblocks I mentioned earlier held me back for a while. When I got over that, it really opened up things for me. Like I mentioned, the first opportunity I took was essentially unpaid for several months. Not everyone can do that, and it was difficult, but I saw the upside in the experience. The underlying idea there is to take risks, but do it in a calculated way.”
To finish his list, Sameer emphasizes, “The most important thing is networking. Networking is super important to open up opportunities and really expose yourself.” In fact, Sameer believes so much in networking that he founded Wall Street to Silicon Alley, a tech community in NYC bridging the gap between finance and tech.
Learn more about networking for new opportunities here in Season 1 of the podcast!
To end, Sameer has some final advice to future career-changers:
“There’s no one-size-fits-all playbook. It isn’t necessarily linear. You may need to really explore a handful of new interests, and opportunities really, to better understand yourself and understand what’s fitting for you. And it’s going to take work and dedication. It may take you a few months, it may take you a few years. But what matters is that you keep trying new things. Even if you decide to stay in your current role for another few years. Everything you try in your career is going to lead to somewhere new, and it may often be places you can’t even predict.”
Links and mentions from the episode:
- Sameer on LinkedIn
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