How To Break into Tech from a Non-Traditional Background!

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Techies are not only into tech

When Steph Yeo started at Obsidian Security as a Marketing Associate, the first things she noticed was her colleague’s wide range of interests. “There’s a guy who knows how to pick locks, someone else who’s good at Rubik’s Cube.”

We have opera singers, concert pianists, people who can unicycle.” Steph continues, “there’s something about the people who are in tech. When they’re good at something, they’re obsessively good at something.” 

As a recent transplant from the arts, it was in this variety that Steph found her place in tech. Her journey debunks the myth that you need a tech-background to fit into tech.

Born in Singapore, Steph initially studied “Economics and Art History” at the New York University campus in Paris, France. “I thought that I would end up working to grow the Singapore economy,” she said. Her story took its first turn with a move to the New York campus. She changed her major and crossed paths with Laura Norén, a professor and [crucially] the Vice President of Privacy and Trust at Obsidian Security. It would be Laura who would encourage her to join Obsidian.

From the arts to cybersecurity

Steph started her career in the arts. As an intern at Christie’s, she describes the hustle-and-bustle of private art auctions as a performance. Steph says, “During auctions at Christie’s, there were callers on the phone, too, and they’re usually anonymous, which is always how the big bids end up going, it was always on the phone. It’s never a person in the room.”

Following a stint in PR [where she developed serious marketing chops] Steph was looking for a new challenge. She reached out to Laura Norén. Steph had taken Laura’s course New Media Research Studio [which was about research methods and ethical practices] back in 2014 – the two had remained friends.

“Laura knew that I was looking around,” Steph says, “and she invited me to interview with the whole team at Obsidian.”

Creating a transparent remote culture at Obsidian Security

“They’re all over the map,” Steph is referring to her colleagues at Obsidian Security. “There are people from, Texas, from India, from South Africa, from Barcelona, Chicago, Philadelphia.” Obsidian Security has effectively implemented a remote-working structure to tap into the global pool of talent. “You just want the best of the best,” Steph elaborates, “and sometimes the best people don’t live in Newport Beach.”

“We have multiple Slack channels,” Steph says. There’s one on design, another on pop culture, breaking news, and so on. Where colleagues had shared interests, there was a Slack channel for it. By successfully transplanting their culture within Slack, Obsidian Security has allowed everyone to interact, even when they aren’t in the same office. When they have quarterly meetings, they would also happen online. Steph herself works remotely a few times per month. 

At Obsidian Security, Steph talks about the good camaraderie everyone has for each other. Office politics, Steph notes, isn’t really a thing, and the environment is caring. “I definitely want to stay in tech. I think it’s the right culture”.

Tips for young people, who want to get into tech

Focus on skillset, not industry

“Identify industries that you’re interested in. And don’t automatically discount those that you don’t know anything about”.

Overcoming her initial intimidation at the way cybersecurity ran on abbreviations, she quickly learned how exciting the industry was.

“Just find jobs that require your skillset…”

Use your connections and don’t be afraid to do cold emails.

“A lot of people get jobs through connections. Connections don’t guarantee a job, but they can at least get you an interview. So don’t be afraid to reach out to people in your alumni network. Find people in companies that you admire [and you think you have a connection with]. Maybe you have the same career trajectory, or you both volunteered for the same cause, or you both grew up in the same town.”

Steph is a big believer in cold emailing as a powerful tool that could potentially catapult your career in tech, “especially if you are coming from a non-tech background”. It gives you the opportunity to perfect your “pitch” to employers and could ultimately help you stand out in a crowd of job seekers.

Bounce around

“When you’re in your 20’s, bounce around. A lot of people don’t know what they want to do, including in tech. If you’re a software engineer or a machine learning engineer, your skills are very transferable. Don’t be afraid to find out what your “cause” is. The same goes for nontechnical people, too.”

Obsidian Security is hiring on 
Julian Canlas

Julian is a tech writer, specialising in community-first SaaS content strategy and narrative journalism

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