You don’t need a degree to score a great tech job

April 28, 2022

Joyous co-chief executive Ruby Kolesky says she’s not seeing the increase in diversity in the industry that many were hoping for. She wants to encourage tech organisations to open their doors to non-university graduates.

Ruby Kolesky is co-chief executive at New Zealand tech company Joyous.

OPINION: Coming from a single-parent family with a low income, I tried many entry level jobs in various industries such as retail and hospitality.

However, it wasn’t until my 20s that I decided it was time to find a good career path and stick with it. So I did a one-year course in IT and the rest is history.

After many rewarding years and becoming a leader in tech, I am concerned that tech is still a black box to many. I’m also not seeing anywhere near the increase in diversity that many of us were hoping for.

There’s just no easy way for people like the younger version of me to understand what working in tech is actually about, and then connect the various dots to landing a job.

So I enlisted the help of my colleague Laura-Jane Booker to co-author a book, which we recently released. Our intention is to help women, Māori, Pasifika, and other underrepresented people into a paid software technology role in six months to a year - without needing a degree first.

I see this as a tale of two sides.

Joyous co-chief executive Ruby Kolesky says she’s not seeing the increase in diversity in the industry that many were hoping for.
SUPPLIED: Joyous co-chief executive Ruby Kolesky says she’s not seeing the increase in diversity in the industry that many were hoping for.

On the one hand, we have women, Māori, and Pasifika people who want a better life, a good career and financial security.

Perhaps some of them are working in a job they don’t love. They don’t believe a six-figure salary is within their reach. They assume you need to look like Mark Zuckerberg, be some kind of maths genius, and have the time and money to get a computer science degree before you can join the tech workforce. They are smart, hard-working and curious about tech - but don’t understand much about it

Could this be you? Newsflash: You don’t need to be a rich, white male to get a job in tech! You definitely don’t need to be a maths genius, and you don’t even need a degree.

All you need is to be smart, a quick learner, and willing to make the change.

And, if you do make the change? Well then the career opportunities available to you are both super interesting and varied. There are technical roles for sure, but there are also analytical roles, creative roles, strategic roles, customer focused roles and more.

On the other hand, there are the people already working in tech. An industry exploding with opportunity and one with a major talent shortage. Many of us also have a strong desire to improve our diversity, but things are not changing fast enough. It’s time for us to think differently about what we need to do.

Many of us still believe doing our part means to help convince women, mostly those leaving school, to go off and study a degree. And only then do we offer internships to those who graduate.

This approach is not going to make a meaningful impact on diversity in tech, nor the talent shortage any time soon. Even worse it’s going to saddle people with unnecessary debt in the process!

The good news is there is an increasing number of well respected non-tertiary organisations offering practical short courses to prepare people for a job in tech. And, there is also funding available for those who can’t afford fees.

So, what’s missing here? From what I can tell it’s two simple things.

Firstly, our industry needs to tap into the existing labour market. We need to open up more opportunities to non-university graduates and be excellent at on the job training. Many of us are working on this.

Secondly, people need a simple guide to explain what the job options are, what the industry is like, and exactly what steps to take to get a job in tech.

This is a huge opportunity for us to change and improve the lives of underrepresented people in New Zealand. According to this article published in Stuff less than a year ago, women make up just over 26 per cent, Māori make up just 4 per cent and Pasifika just 2.8 per cent of the New Zealand tech workforce. And, based on data mentioned by the Government there are around 115,000 of us in tech roles, and about 5000 new roles being created per year.

If one out of every four of us in tech could help someone else shift into a role in tech each year, our talent woes will go away. And if all of those were women, we could improve our gender diversity by 3 per cent year-on-year. On this basis it would take six to seven years to see us achieve a 50/50 gender split.

So, if you are already working in tech, please encourage your organisation to open its doors to non-university graduates. And equally important: please encourage people who could be great for a role in tech to read Pathways. You could change their life!

Ruby Kolesky is a mother of two young kids, and co-chief executive of Joyous, a Kiwi tech company striving to make people’s lives better at work.

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