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Perception vs Reality: What's it Really Like Working in Tech?


Are tech careers as exciting, inspiring and fulfilling as projected in the media? Or boring, stressful - soul-destroying - as anonymous keyboard warriors in online forums vent? Such conflicting messages are confusing. So for the aspiring tech professionals who are wondering what it's really like to work in tech, this article is dedicated to you!

Cut to the chase - my personal take is that tech probably offers one of the most interesting, exhilarating, satisfying (and potentially well-paying!) careers. There are few other jobs in the world where creativity and teamwork are used as much to build solutions that change the way we work, live and play - and potentially the world.

The Tech Industry, The Tech Professional

One of the biggest misconceptions about working in tech is that when one works in a tech role, one is automatically working in the "tech industry". This is actually incorrect because "industry" is used to refer to companies and organisations. Some examples, banks and insurance companies are part of the financial services industry, airlines and taxi companies are part of the transportation industry. Hence, by that definition, the ones that make up the tech industry are actually hardware, software and IT services companies.

That means - you can be a tech person but not work in the tech industry. Truth is, there are many more tech jobs in non-tech industries - like a Data Scientist in a bank, or a Supply Chain Analyst in an oil and gas company. Suddenly, possibilities of building a tech career become endless - you can practically work in any industry.

So if your goal is to become a tech professional, start with focusing on the role and function you wish to specialise in. Choices are aplenty: developer, architect, business analyst, project manager, test professional, system administrator, and - not forgetting - cybersecurity expert, an increasingly popular option. Then pick an industry that provides you a runway to grow and where you can envision you can work in for a long time to develop your expertise. That's how you build deep skills and experience to grow your career over time.

Note of caution though, do continue to keep an open mind, stay connected and be ready to embrace change. After all, we are living in exciting times - everything is becoming "digitalised", and the lines between industries are blurring. So be prepared for the traditional definition of industries to be changed continuously - is Grab a taxi company, RedMart a supermarket, PropertyGuru a real estate company or are they all software companies that turn traditional industries upside down?

Flying Solo, Flying in Formation

It is not uncommon for the media to portray programmers as lone wolves (usually male) who hide in their favourite corner of the house, code non-stop for x hours, and then emerge with a program that changes the world.

This cannot be further from the real world. Tech work is really more like playing team sports. Everyone plays to their best in the respective functions, but the game can only be won when everyone works seamlessly as a team. Today's business and IT operating environments are pretty much like the fields and the courts (with aircon of course!). Not only are ideas and plans brainstormed and discussed, bugs are also tackled - as a team.

That's why before you attempt any bitwise operation in your code to achieve that most efficient mathematical operation - learn to be a good team player first.

Working with People, Working with Machines

If you think working in tech is to work (almost) exclusively with machines, then you are sorely mistaken. Yes, there'll still be a lot of "face time" with machines, translating requirements into code, analysing data produced, optimising response time, replicating errors reported by users to fix that elusive bug. Or in the case of administrators, to monitor the machine making sure it's operating optimally, and with no unwanted guests in the system.

But solutions and systems these days are usually complex and revolve around solving problems for people. Therefore, whether it's to find a new way of doing something or streamlining an existing process - it takes working with people and users to understand the problem before putting code together to fix it. There's no shortcut - expect to be working with people and machines, all in a day's work.

Take heart. No matter you're more of a people or a machine person - there's always a place for you in tech. With an increasing adoption by organisations to leapfrog competition strategically (or to provide that new innovative service), the scope is wide as long as you are methodical and logical. Because with machines, "1" is always "one" and "0", always "zero" - so bugs in the system are almost certainly caused by a human, and not the machine.

Welcome to the Brave New World of Computing!

This article was first published on SCS Magazine - The IT Society, 2019 Issue 1 here, on 31 March 2019. Information is correct at the time of publication.

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