Tech & Work

5 ways women can build a career in tech without learning how to code

Coding is a big part of the tech industry, but it isn't the only way to build a career in the field, executives say. Here are some other inroads.

It's hard to think about women in the tech industry without thinking about the mass of coding camps, classes, and workshops focused on one thing: Girls who can code.

This isn't surprising, according to Adrienne Weissman, chief customer and growth officer at G2 Crowd, a B2B business software review platform. Tech is hot, she says, but coding isn't the only way there.

"Knowing how to code is a great skill, but it is not required to be successful and part of a tech team," Weissman said. "I think people kind of default to [the idea that] it's tech so you have to be very technical."

With 18 years of sales and marketing experience at top tech firms like Google and Linkedin, Weissman said she believes the pressure on girls to code as a gateway into the tech industry can dissuade them from joining the field, even though the majority of jobs don't need coding skills.

"I would not deter anyone away from pursuing jobs at tech companies just because they don't know how to code," Weissman said. "There are truly plenty of other jobs available."

A recent TechRepublic investigation looked into gender parity in collegiate computer science programs, finding that colleges are making introductory courses more approachable for those without programming experience—largely, women. However, men still make up the majority of students in those programs, especially in more advanced courses. Ultimately, women account for 18% of computer science bachelor's degrees. That's where outside organizations, like Girls Who Code, often step in to help women pick up coding skills.

However, careers in sales, marketing, and business operations for tech firms typically don't require coding experience.

"It's important not to put all of the emphasis or even a majority of the emphasis on coding because technology jobs entail a much wider range of skills but in many cases, programs, especially informal ones, are emphasizing coding almost as the end all be all," Catherine Ashcraft, National Center for Women and IT research director, said.

"Just because the platform was built based on coding that might get it off the ground, but you need all these other skills beyond that," Weissman said. "Some people that might be really good at coding might not be good at selling."

Obviously, coding skills are key for some tech jobs, Weissman said. "[If] you're starting from scratch and you want to be a build-my-own-website, build-my-own-tools, build-my-own-software—then obviously, it's mission critical. You probably need to learn how to code," she added.

But Ashcraft worries focusing solely on coding can lead to a class of entry-level pure coders without the skills to advance in their careers.

"It's perhaps too early to tell but there is good reason to suspect that churning out a bunch of women and men who primarily or only know how to code without understanding broader principles of computer science, etc. can create an 'underclass' or potential employees — that is, people who are hired into relatively low-paying, lower status jobs and end up not being able to advance very far," Ashcraft said.

These fears multiply for women and other underrepresented groups, who tend to face existing biases and inequalities.

"Implicit biases typically show up no matter what positions women take, whether they involve coding or not, since these biases are rooted in larger societal patterns we all learn as we grow up," Ashcraft said. "We know from extensive research that women are subject to negative assessments (viewed as less competent, less likable, less technical) even when engaging in the same or similar behavior to men."

SEE: How CXOs can develop a diverse workforce (Tech Pro Research)

Here are five skills women trying to break into the tech industry can pick up instead of coding.

1. Excel

Solid Excel skills topped Weissman's list of must-have skills. A strong understanding of pivot tables is included in this.

"I feel like that is central to understanding coding," Weissman said. Outside of overlap with coding, familiarity with Excel is critical in several fields hiring in the tech industry, such as sales and marketing, she added.

2. SQL

Weissman also recommended having a basic knowledge of structured query language (SQL). SQL can be used for data analysis, and can sometimes be used in other cases instead of coding. Skills like this can allow someone to get ahead in their field by working around a situation that might need coding, Weissman said. For example, instead of waiting for someone to pull numbers for a marketing report, you can use SQL to do it yourself.

3. Ability to make a basic landing page

This tags along with the do-it-yourself mentality, Weissman said. If you know how to make a simple landing page, you don't have to wait on someone. Resources like WordPress can make building websites or landing pages even easier.

"There are workarounds to some of these challenges people face, I think it's just a matter of exposing them and making them really for people to digest and then find," Weissman said.

SEE: The state of women in computer science: An investigative report (PDF) (TechRepublic)

4. Adaptability

While Weissman recommends focusing on the things you're good at, you also need to be aware of your weaknesses, and work to fix them. Learn, pivot, and move to improve yourself and your skillset, she recommends.

"The people that are really successful and continue to add things to their skillset are those that are super curious and those that are going to ask," Weissman said.

"Employees who are willing to learn and able to communicate clearly and effectively have opportunities that span not only the jobs listed above, but jobs across technology organizations in general," Terry Morreale, National Center for Women and IT president and CTO, said.

In addition to tapping into in-house sources, women should look into online courses in their free time. Courses, like those offered on Coursera, are a "goldmine" of resources, according to Weissman.

"Being able to tap into that and do some self-led learning, I feel like those are the keys to the castle," Weissman said. "Even if coding is not your dream job or even if that's not the path you want to go down, it's an easy way to pick up some skills that could make you an insane marketer."

5. Curiosity

Simply being in the tech realm helps expose women to new opportunities to learn and push their careers forward. Ask people in other parts of the company to give you a crash course on what they do, or point you to a resource, in order to continue learning.

"Once employees have entered the technical workforce, there are resources available that can help them expand their skills and experiences to help them make the leap from the entry level position to the path of advancement," Morreale said.

"It really boils down to doing your current job exceptionally well, standing out above and beyond everybody else and then being present and raising your hand for new learning opportunities and new experiences and asking for the help and asking for the resource," Weissman said. "The worst answer you're going to get is 'No.'"

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Image: iStockphoto/Zinkevych

About Olivia Krauth

Olivia Krauth is a Multiplatform Reporter at TechRepublic.

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