Michael Drew, technical support engineer at MarginEdge, spent two decades as a chef before entering the IT industry. The catalysts for the change? A son born in February 2020 that Drew wanted to spend more time with and — soon after — a global pandemic that led to a layoff.
Drew said he left the culinary industry because he didn't want to miss putting his son to bed at night. "I don't want to be in an industry [in which] I can't be his coach or pick him up from school," he said.
The former chef originally started out studying computer science and engineering in college, and returning to technology was a full circle moment. Going through the Tech Elevator coding bootcamp, his pivot provided room for flexibility and growth to accommodate a new lifestyle.
"I finally just decided that what was best for my family is to have a better quality of life, and I thought that the tech industry would give me that," Drew said. "It turns out that it has."
The Great Resignation — a term coined by Anthony Klotz, professor at Texas A&M, to define a mass voluntary departure from current roles — is hitting the enterprise, and 13% of job seekers in Q2 2021 considered transitioning into the IT space, according to CompTIA data. IT appeals to workers seeking flexibility and pay bumps, and leadership can prepare to accommodate newcomers with training and reassurance in place to welcome them.
While for Drew and many others the transition paid off, it costs time and money up front to change career paths. Bootcamps, certifications and other training frequently come with a price tag, though many have scholarships to help with funding. But newcomers to IT may have to upgrade their computer and work setup to accommodate new levels of compute.
"On your own development machine, you're probably going to want to make sure that you can get stuff done quickly, and that you have all the proper requirements to actually develop at home," Drew said.
Making the time to learn, study and practice can also be a challenge, but some options are available. Classes can be flexible to accommodate other jobs or dependent care, but learners have to be dedicated to the cause to make it worthwhile.
"From a cost standpoint, based on our surveys, it's actually in line with what people expect," said Charles Eaton, CEO of CompTIA’s Creating IT Futures. "What they probably don't think about is all the time to study, all the time to do the practice test."
Eaton told a story about a past bootcamp participant who would attend class from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., go home to take a nap and eat dinner, then work the midnight until 7 a.m. shift at work before class again the next morning.
"That's an outlier," Eaton said. "The average person just needs to know they have to dedicate time."
How to help newcomers settle in to IT
Workers entering the IT industry may come with misconceptions, Eaton said. Workers think they have to be good at math or science and get a four-year degree to enter the field, but that's not the case at many workplaces today.
Employees may also come in anticipating an immediate six-figure salary. When starting in IT, the salary may be a little lower than what workers expect, but "speed of movement and salary is probably greater in this field than almost any other," Eaton said.
Settling into a new industry can be challenging, facing self doubt or imposter syndrome after coming from a non-traditional background. IT leadership can help by creating space to communicate and opportunities to learn new skills.
One-on-one meetings with managers and space to ask questions can help new employees settle in, according to Drew.
Setting expectations from the get-go in job description and throughout the interview process also helps candidates more accurately gauge if the role is a good fit for them.
As workers consider switching fields, they're looking for long-term careers, not just a job, according to Eaton. They want a position that fits their lifestyle at an organization they can love with a mission that helps people. Employers can keep those traits in mind as they're looking to sell IT jobs to incoming candidates.
For employers looking to hire for IT jobs, Eaton recommends rethinking what's considered a requirement in job descriptions to make them more accessible to workers from non-traditional backgrounds. Mention the specific certifications so that candidates know they're working toward the right goals, but be realistic about expectations for candidates to avoid deterring high-potential employees.
Editor's note: This article was updated to include what coding bootcamp Michael Drew attended.