Whether you began coding in kindergarten or barely touched a computer until your first job, it’s never too late to learn valuable coding skills. That’s just one piece of advice shared during Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp’s first ever virtual tech talk, where three trailblazers in the industry offered their insights to help students succeed.
Leading the discussion were John Klose, Senior Director of Technology at PayPal; Kimberly Blessing, Senior VP of Technology at Think Company; and Sylvester Mobley, CEO of Coded by Kids, a youth tech educational nonprofit. All based in Philadelphia, but coming from wildly different backgrounds, they each discussed their own path to tech—and what they look for in potential tech hires.
Here are their insights into the industry—and their tips for newcomers aiming to break into tech.
You don’t need a traditional background to break into tech
Looking at his background, it seems John Klose was destined to go into tech. With a degree in computer science and a resume brimming with software engineering experience, he snagged jobs first at Amazon and later Paypal.
But as the stories of the other speakers made clear, this more “traditional” background is far from the only path to a tech career.
Take Kimberly Blessing. Despite starting her coding education when she was just five, Blessing was actively discouraged from chasing a technology career.
“A lot of teachers were like, just do the arts, it’s easier for you—instead of saying, you’re interested in this and you want to pursue it, so go after it,” she reflected. “Computers were definitely something that I did completely in my own time.”
Pursuing a liberal arts degree, Blessing was in awe by all the possibilities for studies. When a professor suggested she major in computer science, she rediscovered her original passion. And it paid off—today, she runs the software development and IT teams at Think Company, a design consulting firm that works with clients across a variety of industries to improve their tech products.
As more and more people with unconventional backgrounds enter the field, tech is becoming more inclusive and diverse. And whether you learn to code in high school, college, or around your current job, there’s no time limit on starting your tech career.
Sylvester Mobley discovered this through a happy accident. Enlisting right out of high school, he picked a job at random with the Air Force Reserves—as a computer, network, cyptographic, and switching systems specialist.
“It ended up being one of the best decisions I ever made,” he recalled.
Despite having no prior exposure to tech, Mobley discovered his passion for the field. He later founded his own nonprofit to provide valuable tech opportunities to underserved children.
There’s more to the tech industry than Silicon Valley
Not so long ago, finding a desirable tech job meant moving to Silicon Valley. But as tech becomes increasingly integral to the daily workings of every industry, tech jobs are no longer confined to the west coast. From Dallas’s burgeoning tech scene to auto manufacturing giants luring software engineers to the Midwest, tech skills are in demand across the U.S.
John Klose is living proof of this. A Philadelphia native, he moved to Seattle in 2007 to manage Amazon’s global software development team. He loved his work and quickly rose through the ranks. There was just one problem: his family didn’t like living on the west coast.
Moving back to Philly, Klose didn’t struggle to find work—he was immediately approached by fintech startup Swift Capital. Today, he says he has no trouble attracting candidates to Paypal’s Conshohocken offices, with many commuting from Philadelphia and beyond.
“I haven’t come across too many people that have a problem with the Conshohocken location,” he joked. “Although many have trouble spelling the name of the town!”
Be passionate, productive, and show your personality
Passion will get you far. This was the prevailing message of the talk—exemplified both in the tech leader’s stories, and in the advice they offered for potential hires.
“I do look for people who are excited about something and pursuing it,” advised Klose. “I also like to see that you’re doing something else to learn besides just going to school, like creating your own website or being involved in a conference. [It shows you] have a broader perspective.”
Blessing agreed that pursuing projects outside of your school or boot camp’s curriculum is an excellent way to show your passion to employers.
“If what you’re doing as part of the boot camp is only getting you part of the way there, then you might need to spend the extra time to try the other things that you want to try,” she said. “You need to answer the questions that are in your own mind so that you can tell compelling stories about what you’ve learned, why you wanted to learn it, and what you want to do next.”
Blessing also advises applicants coming out of schools or boot camps to personalize their resume. A template is a useful start—but when dozens of candidates use the same one, it can be hard to set yourself apart.
“Be yourself,” Blessing encouraged. “You know what’s unique about you, and you’ve got to figure out the best way to put that out there. It doesn’t hurt to make some connections in the field and ask them, what’s the best way to present my information? Do your own user testing!”
If you’re interested in kickstarting your coding career, we can help. Get in touch today to find a boot camp near you.