How did you get your first job in tech?

Ryan Hoover
18 replies
Over the years several students and young, ambitious people have asked me how to break into tech. Everyone has a different path so I'm curious to learn how others landed their first job in this field. Excluding many tech-related side projects in my youth (selling electronics on eBay, modding Xbox's, building websites, etc.), my first real career in tech was an unpaid social media intern at a gaming startup called InstantAction during my senior year at the University of Oregon. I discovered the opportunity through a marketing club I was a part of and was fortunate to land the role. I was such a noob 😅 but learned so much. That led to a full-time job after I graduated where I eventually was promoted into product management. The key learning for me was the importance of getting real-world experience asap (ideally before or during college) and building good relationships (by doing great work) with your teammates. At InstantAction I met Andy Yang who eventually recruited me to join another startup in San Francisco. My life changed after that.


Nikolay Siabrenko
@rrhoover Hello :) I found my first job from a summer internship at 1+1 media in Ukraine, after six months of internship, I got a job offer for a junior position. And now I have been working here for over 2 years :)
I worked my network to get a referral to Groupon’s London office in 2011. I had recently watched The Social Network and desperately wanted to pivot careers out of finance into startups (and become a billionaire like Zuck 😎) I have an Economics degree and so had no clue what role I’d be suitable for and a recruiter I spoke to made some suggestions to try business development or operations. I ended up at the in person interview on crutches (!) and feeling pretty nervous since I wasn’t super clued up on the tech world at that stage. Thankfully Richard Jones - the then Director of Partner Management - was impressed with skills I’d gained in other jobs like journalism, retail sales and conference production and gave me the job!
Ryan Hoover
@abadesi I wonder how many people work in tech because of The Social Network. I believe it's had a non-trivial role in driving awareness and motivation to pursue a career in tech.
@rrhoover yes definitely! I’ve met quite a few folks who had not considered tech as a career path until they saw the movie! Pretty cool.
Thomas Groutars
My story of getting hired by mistake will probably not help anyone, but I'll share it because it's funny I graduated in 2014 of a Master's in Aerospace Engineering. I had been reading and dreaming about startups for several years though, and I hated the idea of working at a big slow company, which are the kinds of jobs I found in aerospace in Belgium at least. I applied at a tech startup for a software developer position, with pretty much no prior experience coding anything useful, but was motivated as hell! Anyway, the interviews were not that bad, and I pretty much nailed the logic tests, but the coding tests were a disaster. Later, they discussed my case and while most were hesitating, the CEO told everyone they should absolutely hire me, that he had met me and I was absolutely brilliant. Two weeks later I start my new job, and the CEO sees me and asks "who's this guy?". I had actually never met him and he was thinking of someone else 😅 Anyway, went on working for more than 2 years at that company. I was learning so much. For the first year I was basically paid to learn. That was the biggest career boost I could hope for, and I'm still super grateful for my former boss to believe in me so much even with my close to zero skills. Now I sometimes think of the guy that really was brilliant. Never knew who he was, so I'm not even sure they hired him 😄
Vladislav Dekhanov
As for me it wasn't easy cause I got a tech job from the second attempt) First job was a really small company with 5 colleagues and I needed to do test project on Ruby on Rails. My university took a lot time for me and I wasn't successful on that job) But since a few years after finishing of my university I tried again and that attempt was much better) I got position of junior web developer and started to do new POS system there. I got a really invaluable experience at that company!
destination sound
@rrhoover I technically didn't. I worked for a recording studio and over time we needed more avenues of revenue. So we started selling music online. I had to learn CSS, HTML and some very basic JS and PHP. I utilized google, youtube and CMS to build projects. Over that time I setup over 50+ websites using Drupal and when I couldn't do the work, I researched the best solutions, got as close to the answer as possible, then paid to tie loose ends. I'm still not a programmer at all because I never had to be. Since then, i have ventured off into other work and am currently working on my newest idea, to be released soon! (the gist is a platform to enhance the nonprofit space)
Broda Noel
University. In Argentina, all (or most of them) the IT-Universities have kind of internal-company that develop software on behalf of the university. Most of time it is software created for the government. You can start working there from your first day in the U.
Jernej Pavlič
@rrhoover i started working on this online food delivery app with a friend about 10 years ago. A month into brainstorming, prototyping and countless screenshots we had some tough development decisions to make. It was at that point that we decided to checkout if anyone else has already solved this problem and it turns out there was already a lot of competitors out there - even in a small country like Slovenia at that time. Still, no time was wasted - as we learned a lot during that month and it initially boosted out my initial freelancing career as a digital marketeer. The key learning for me was just the importance of market research before writing the first line of code.
Dean Levitt
@rrhoover I'd just walked out of a restaurant job, waiting tables. I was invited to help with the copywriting of a startup and ended up doing pretty much everything from marketing/copywriting/customer support etc. Worked for peanuts in exchange for equity and voila, I was a co-founder of a startup that ended up being acquired.
Peder Johnsen
I've always loved working with tech in my free time especially after having had awesome teachers who taught us coding and linux over MS Word in school. But without any real education in the field, I never put my foot out there to try and get a job in tech and stuck to retail work. Until one day I'd had enough and with some encouragement from some people I had recently just met started looking into ways to get into tech professionally. I ended up one day tweeting a local tech startup asking if they were looking for any interns, ended up with an interview and a junior dev position! 4 years later I'm still working for the same company, and really happy I took the leap and changed my professional career :).
Cindy Au
My first FT tech job was at Kickstarter. I'd just moved to NYC from Madison, WI after finishing my PhD in English Lit, and I'd had a real hodge-podge of previous jobs (teaching literature, writing/editing, waitressing) that definitely didn't scream "highly qualified startup person." That said, the job I was applying for ("Community/Marketing Hero") was also vaguely defined and seemed to require a random grab bag of skills, so I applied and did my best to paint a narrative that made sense (background in writing was actually hugely helpful in this case). I'd attribute my landing this role to: 1) Being in the right place at the right time. Community as a role/job was still so new that there weren't a lot of people who would have had previous experience in it, thus having a random background was par for the course when hiring for a community role. Lesson: Even if you're not sure that you're qualified, don't let that stop you from going after a job you know you can do or learn. 2) I wrote a job letter/email that did not obey any rules of job letters. I figured if Kickstarter was a company whose audience was creatives and artists, they'd hopefully get it (they did, phew). Lesson: Take the time to really understand the company/culture you're applying to be part of. 3) Despite having no real work history in NYC (aside from some basically unpaid writing gigs), I'd built up a decent amount of social proof of my abilities as a communicator/story-teller/community builder on the internet (via tumblr and twitter). It turns out they were looking for someone skilled at communicating online, so my social accounts ended up working well as an online portfolio. Lesson: Make it really easy to discover what you're good at, and let your work speak for itself! Once I met the founders in person, we hit it off and I've worked in community and tech ever since.
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Amanda Trincher
I just wrote a resume and a cover letter to get my chance. Before this, of course, I re-read a dozen articles like on how to do this best