As technology has grown exponentially over the course of the last 20 years, a natural question has arisen, “what career paths should I expect by working in tech?”. Since the technology industry is so new, there aren’t established career paths as there might be in other industries such as finance or advertising.
Technology career paths can be thought about on the scale of “how much technical knowledge is needed to be successful.” This list will move from the least technical careers to the most.
- The Least Technical
Not everyone working in tech needs to have the skills of a software engineer. The head of sales, CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), and CFO don’t need to be able to write code for the company’s application, nor make any decisions about other technical fields like machine learning and AI. However, the CFO, CMO, and head of sales all need to have broad-based understandings of the technology industry and their organization’s product.
CFO’s must understand technology costs such as cloud hosting fees, API fees, and labor costs (aka how engineers time is spent).
CMO’s must understand the user base of the product and must know how to communicate technical concepts to those users.
While programming might not be a prerequisite to these C-Suite positions, tech knowledge definitely is. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for future CFOs and CMOs to pick up programming on the side, just to help them understand the driver of their own business.
The middle ground represents roles that are a 5/10 on the technical scale. Success requires the ability to program, design, and architect products. While these roles may not be the most technical at an organization, you can be sure that you’ll find CS degrees and ex engineers here as well.
The middle ground can be perfectly explained through one role, the Chief Product Officer.
The Chief Product Officer leads the team responsible for designing the product. This means deciding what features the product should have, how it should look, and the philosophy behind its use. While the CPO doesn’t have to come from a programming background, they frequently communicate with the CTO and engineers, so they must understand software engineering well and be able to meet the technology teams where they are.
The CPO also must be able to hang with the business teams as product features can often be driven by client feedback. This means communicating well with sales, account management, and customer success teams in addition to the software engineering teams.
This balancing act of needing to know both business and tech reasonably well is what makes the CPO such a tough role. Not many possess the personality to learn both sides of the business.
- The Super Technical
The backbone of the organization, the hyper-technical teams, are those who build the product. Software engineers, data scientists, and data analysts all work together to build the product. Software engineers build the bones of the product, making sure data is hosted and structured correctly, building the pipes that connect data to back-end to front-end and finding awesome ways to make the overall system more efficient, thus saving the company millions of dollars and introducing speed and scale into the product.
Data scientists tend to add math into the game. Using a combination of math, statistics, and programming, those in data science have the skillset to build specialized features into a product, such as those that rely on predictive modeling.
Analytics tends to be the least technical of the group, but the most business-oriented. Analysts need to meet with internal and external stakeholders, understand their problems, and then answer their questions or influence their decisions with data. While the programming might not be as complicated as the SWEs or Data Scientists, the requirement of understanding the business and being able to present well to clients and internal stakeholders makes the role a challenging one.
Tech is new, and career paths are quickly changing, but there’s room for everyone, from those who can only write a couple of lines of SQL to those who call themselves “full-stack” engineers.