Why You Should Consider a Tech Adjacent Job in 2024

Breaking into the tech industry as a software engineer is no easy feat, especially for those coming from non-traditional backgrounds. While the dream may be to land a pure coding job right out of the gate, the reality is that competition is fierce and many companies prefer candidates with professional experience under their belts.

Enter the tech adjacent job – roles that may not involve hands-on programming on a daily basis, but provide exposure to technical teams, products, and systems. These positions span a wide range of fields and departments, from customer support to business analysis to UX design.

For aspiring engineers, pursuing a tech adjacent role can be a strategic way to gain a foothold in the industry, develop valuable skills, and eventually transition into software development. In this in-depth guide, we‘ll break down what tech adjacent really means, the benefits and potential drawbacks, and how to leverage these roles to achieve your career goals.

Defining Tech Adjacent

So what exactly is a tech adjacent job? Essentially, it‘s any role that works closely with technology and engineering teams, but may not directly involve writing code. These positions sit at the intersection of tech and other domains like business, data, design, and customer service.

Some common examples of tech adjacent jobs include:

  • Technical Support Engineer: Troubleshoots customer issues with software products, often communicating with engineering teams to identify bugs and solutions.
  • Data Analyst: Collects, cleans, and analyzes large datasets to surface insights that inform business and product decisions.
  • Product Manager: Defines the strategy, roadmap, and feature requirements for a tech product or platform. Collaborates with engineering, design, and other stakeholders.
  • UX Designer: Designs the end-to-end user experience of a digital product, including user research, wireframing, prototyping, and usability testing.
  • Sales Engineer: Communicates the technical capabilities and benefits of a product to potential clients. Serves as the link between sales and engineering.
  • Quality Assurance (QA) Tester: Plans and executes tests to ensure software is functional, reliable, and meets specifications before release.

The level of technical skills required for these roles can vary widely. Some, like sales engineering, may necessitate a strong foundational knowledge of computer science concepts. Others, like data analysis, may be more accessible to those who have experience with tools like SQL and Excel.

But what they all share is proximity to and interaction with the core software development function. Tech adjacent professionals are embedded in the product development lifecycle and gain insider knowledge of the engineering process, challenges, and lingo.

The State of Tech Adjacent Jobs

The market for tech adjacent roles is booming, reflecting the growing need for professionals who can bridge the gap between technology and other business functions. According to data from Indeed, some of the most in-demand tech adjacent jobs in 2024 include:

Job Title # of Open Positions (US) Average Salary (US) Projected Growth (‘24-‘28)
Product Manager 32,000 $119,000 21%
Data Analyst 48,000 $75,000 18%
UX Designer 27,000 $98,000 15%
Technical Writer 19,000 $72,000 12%
Business Analyst 54,000 $82,000 14%

Source: Indeed Job Market Insights, Aug 2024

While these salaries may not reach the heights of senior software engineering roles, they are still highly competitive – especially considering the lower barriers to entry. And demand is only expected to increase as more and more companies recognize the value of professionals with hybrid skill sets.

What‘s more, landing a tech adjacent job can be a quicker path to gainful employment in the industry compared to holding out for a pure engineering position. A study by LinkedIn found that tech adjacent roles receive 20% more applicants than software engineering jobs, but have a 25% higher hiring rate [Source: LinkedIn Talent Insights, 2023].

For boot camp grads and self-taught learners especially, these odds can make a big difference. An analysis by Course Report found that 67% of graduates who accepted a tech adjacent job upon completing their program were able to transition into a software engineering role within 2 years [Source: Course Report Alumni Outcomes Survey, 2023].

Building Transferable Skills

One of the biggest selling points of tech adjacent roles is the opportunity to develop skills that directly transfer to software engineering. While you may not be coding 24/7, you‘ll still gain valuable exposure to and hands-on experience with:

Technical Skills:

  • Requirements gathering: Eliciting and documenting technical specifications for features and projects
  • System testing: Verifying functionality, performance, and reliability of software products
  • Debugging: Troubleshooting and identifying root causes of technical issues
  • Data querying and analysis: Extracting and manipulating data using SQL, Excel, Python, etc.
  • Basic coding: Modifying existing code, writing simple scripts, working with APIs, etc.

Non-Technical Skills:

  • Collaboration: Partnering with cross-functional teams and stakeholders towards a common goal
  • Communication: Explaining technical concepts to non-technical audiences and vice versa
  • Problem-solving: Breaking down complex issues and identifying creative solutions
  • User empathy: Understanding user needs, behaviors, and pain points to inform product decisions
  • Project management: Overseeing scope, timelines, resources, and deliverables for initiatives

By honing these skills on the job, you‘ll be able to demonstrate to future employers that you have what it takes to succeed as a software engineer. You‘ll also develop a more well-rounded perspective on how tech products are built and the various roles that contribute to their success.

Nikita Gupta, a software engineer at Asana, credits her prior experience as a product manager for helping her excel in her current role:

"Being a PM taught me how to think about engineering problems in a user-centric way and collaborate effectively with designers and other stakeholders. I‘m a much stronger engineer because of it."

Similarly, Parris Johnson, an engineering manager at Stripe, says he actively seeks out candidates with tech adjacent backgrounds for his team:

"Some of my best hires have been boot camp grads who worked in roles like QA or technical support before transitioning to pure software development. They bring a level of customer empathy, communication skills, and big-picture thinking that many junior engineers lack."

Strategically Leveraging a Tech Adjacent Role

Of course, simply having a tech adjacent job on your resume isn‘t a guarantee of future engineering success. To maximize the benefits of these roles, you‘ll need to be strategic and proactive in your approach.

Choosing the Right Role

When evaluating potential tech adjacent jobs, prioritize those that will give you the most exposure to and interaction with the engineering team. Roles like QA, technical support, and product management tend to work more closely with developers compared to those like marketing or sales.

You‘ll also want to target companies with a track record of internal mobility and an established path from tech adjacent to engineering. During interviews, ask about opportunities for cross-functional collaboration, mentorship, and professional development.

Karla Ramirez, who transitioned from customer success to software engineering at Gusto, offers this advice:

"In your interviews, make it clear that your ultimate goal is to move into an engineering role and gauge whether the company is supportive of that path. If they don‘t have examples of others who have made that switch or can‘t articulate how they‘ll invest in your growth, that‘s a red flag."

Excelling in Your Current Role

Once you land a tech adjacent job, your first priority should be to excel in your core responsibilities. Demonstrating a strong work ethic, dependability, and value to the team will build your credibility and make others more likely to support your engineering aspirations down the line.

At the same time, actively seek out opportunities to collaborate with and learn from the engineering team. Some strategies:

  • Volunteer for cross-functional projects that allow you to work closely with developers
  • Ask engineers for code reviews and feedback on any technical work you do produce
  • Attend engineering team meetings, standups, and demos to absorb their processes and norms
  • Participate in company hackathons or bug bashes to gain practical coding experience
  • Shadow engineers on-call or during incident response to understand real-world challenges
  • Regularly communicate your interest in engineering and solicit advice on how to grow

Continuing to Build Technical Skills

While a tech adjacent role can accelerate your path to software engineering, it‘s not a complete substitute for the hard skills required to be successful. To stay sharp and progress in your coding abilities, you‘ll need to continue investing in your technical development outside of work.

Some tactics:

  • Build side projects to apply new technologies and programming concepts you‘re learning
  • Contribute to open source projects to gain experience collaborating with other developers
  • Participate in online coding challenges and competitions to hone your problem-solving skills
  • Attend local meetups and workshops to expand your network and absorb industry best practices
  • Pursue certifications or additional courses to fill knowledge gaps and signal your commitment

Plotting Your Transition

Finally, have a plan for how you‘ll eventually make the leap from your tech adjacent role into software engineering. This might look like:

  • Working with your manager to carve out time for engineering tasks and projects in your current role
  • Applying for internal transfer opportunities as they arise and leveraging your network for referrals
  • Seeking out a mentor in engineering who can advise you on next steps and advocate for you
  • Regularly refreshing your resume and portfolio to reflect your growing technical abilities
  • Applying externally for junior engineering roles after 1-2 years and leaning on your tech adjacent experience as a differentiator

Remember that the path to your dream software engineering job may not be a straight line – and that‘s okay. Every experience along the way will make you a more well-rounded, empathetic, and skilled technologist.

As long as you stay focused on your end goal and proactively seek out opportunities to learn and grow, a tech adjacent role can be a powerful stepping stone to a fulfilling career in engineering.

Key Takeaways

Tech adjacent roles are a often-overlooked but increasingly valuable pathway into the technology industry, especially for those without a traditional computer science degree or extensive professional coding experience.

By working in positions that collaborate closely with engineering teams and products, aspiring software developers can gain practical skills, industry exposure, and a network that will help them eventually transition into full-time programming.

While these roles may not offer the same hands-on coding experience as a junior developer position, they can still impart highly relevant technical skills in areas like requirements gathering, debugging, and system testing. Just as importantly, they provide opportunities to hone critical soft skills like communication, project management, and user empathy.

When pursuing a tech adjacent role as part of a larger plan to break into software development, be strategic in targeting positions and companies that will provide you the most direct exposure to engineering. Excel in your core responsibilities while also proactively seeking out opportunities to collaborate with and learn from developers.

At the same time, continue to sharpen your programming skills through side projects, open source contributions, online learning, and other extracurricular activities. Map out a plan for transitioning into a full-time engineering role that leverages your unique mix of technical and professional experiences.

With the right approach and mindset, a tech adjacent job can be a powerful catapult towards a successful and fulfilling career as a software engineer. As the technology industry continues to evolve and expand, the ability to bridge technical and business contexts will only become more valuable – making these hybrid roles an increasingly attractive path for those with non-traditional backgrounds.

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