The days of mandatory STEM degrees are done – these are the qualities to look for in a good technologist
We’re immensely proud of our Ten10 Academy and how it’s helping both promising young talent that wants to break into tech and companies that are struggling to grow their teams. With close to ten years of cohorts to reflect on, I’ve been thinking about the qualities we look for in a promising new technologist.
It used to be that many IT roles, whether they were software testers, developers, or Cloud engineers, required a STEM degree. Some roles use concepts or tools that have an extremely high barrier to entry, meaning non-graduates had a mountain to climb if they wanted to enter the industry. But time and time again, I’ve seen people from a variety of backgrounds perform just as well as – if not better than – those who studied for a STEM degree at university.
So here’s a little peek behind the curtain into what we know really makes a good technologist:
Has a passion for technology
The first thing we look for is a spark. That could be a moment from their childhood that has stuck with them or hours spent discussing tech in forums – anything that shows a genuine passion for technology.
It can’t be avoided that the post-pandemic approach to work makes IT an appealing industry. Skills shortages have inflated salaries and the flexibility of working remotely makes it a more secure role than most during ‘unprecedented times’. I like to say: the closest thing to a job for life is a job in tech. But you can quickly tell when people (even intelligent, capable people) don’t have that spark pushing them to learn more.
That spark is in abundance when you look at people outside of the STEM degree path. We’ve found people returning to work, career changes, and graduates from a wide spectrum of degrees take the skills they’ve learned and crave the chance to apply them to technology.
Can find and explain creative solutions
Someone can have all the passion in the world, but for them to be great they also need an aptitude for technology. This has nothing to do with their educational background, but everything to do with their ability to make connections between differing pieces of information and come up with new ideas and solutions.
Every now and then you meet someone who can find solutions that, when they explain them, you can’t believe you couldn’t see. That innate ability to find a solution through the fog when others can’t see it is what we test for through our own tech aptitude tests – if people pass our tests then they’re in.
Has worked in a retail or hospitality environment
I’m a firm believer that nothing prepares people for the workplace – any workplace – better than working a customer-facing job. Dealing with large numbers of customers every day teaches you how to deal with pressure, juggle multiple responsibilities, and work in a team. If you progress to a team or shift leader role, then you’re also learning management skills, how to prioritise tasks, and think strategically.
STEM graduates have faced their own form of pressure through their courses but they don’t always translate to workplace-relevant success. When a student is set an assignment, they have until their deadline to research and contemplate a task before attempting it. But this time isn’t always afforded in the workplace.
When talent comes from retail or hospitality, for example, we’ve found they often know how to ‘fail fast’. Because they’re used to working in a fast-moving environment, they’re keen to finish a task and, if it doesn’t work, quickly learn how they can fix it before moving on. This means they can ‘ramp up’ to a workplace’s level of speed quicker than a STEM graduate.
Has a competitive background
An even better environment for talent to learn team working in an ambitious environment is competitive sports. We aren’t looking to turn Premier League footballers into software developers (although if any are reading, we do encourage you to apply) but I love meeting people in our Academy who have played for their counties and towns. It shows a commitment to long-term development and proves they can band together with others to achieve a common goal.
This isn’t reserved just for traditional sports, either. They could take part in Esports, play dominos, or sing in a choir as part of a local competition. The important point is that they have experienced an adversarial environment where they want to win – and the opposing team wants to stop them from winning. It’s equally important that at the end, win or lose, everyone shakes hands and accepts victory or defeat graciously.
In the world of testing, it’s common to ‘gamify’ elements of a team’s workload. How many tickets can you clear in a week? How many bugs can you resolve? When teams have run sprints to hit tight deadlines, we’ve seen young talent thrive when sport is a prominent part of their lives. They’re able to tap into that competitive spirit that brings not only a strong work ethic but also creative problem solving.
How we nurture talent through our Academy
I’ve spoken already about the qualities we look for in the exciting, new talent who join our Ten10 Academy but it’s worth emphasising that our training is set up to play to their strengths and find a career path naturally suited to their skills and interests.
Some digital bootcamps work like a production line: in go 20 people, out come 20 software developers. Those people now have the core knowledge they need to code, but not all of them will have absorbed the training at the same level. When you’re dipping your toe into a new industry, you aren’t always going to know what tools, methodologies, and career paths are suited to you. You haven’t worked in that professional environment before and put simply: you don’t know what you don’t know.
Notice that this approach is not used in university courses. In the vast majority of courses, the first year contains mandatory modules to give students a foundational level of knowledge, then they’re able to select from a range of modules in their remaining years. Many also choose a project or dissertation that they’re able to steer themselves towards their interests and strengths. This is what we used in our Tech Academy (minus the daunting dissertations).
We deliver eight weeks of foundational training – our Core Technology Primer – so every person who comes to us starts at square one. They learn the basics of technology, data, software development, and project management. From there, we work with each individual to identify their strengths and coach them on a path that works best for them. Some people thrive in a technical environment and become top Software Testers or Automation Consultants. Others are interested in the broader view of an organisation and become Business Analysts.
That’s why I think our training stands out. People don’t join us with a single mind to become a ‘coder’ or ‘developer’ or ‘tester’. They join to increase their knowledge and see where it takes them. And with a passion for technology, the drive to ‘fail fast’, and a little competitiveness in them, we’ve seen people completely transform their careers.
Author: Ash Gawthorp
Ash Gawthorp is our Academy Services Director and is a co-founder of Ten10