Alex's Tech Thoughts

Taking the Leap: From Banking to Tech

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This is the first guest post on Alex’s Tech Thoughts. It comes from a good friend, Ellen DaSilva. I met Ellen via an introduction by our mutual friend Adam Levin, formerly BD at Meebo, and now VC at Crosslink Capital. Ellen was at Barclays at the time and was looking to make a move to the tech world. She did everything right and now works at Twitter doing awesome things. Her advice here will definitely help anyone looking to move from banking to tech. You can find her blog, The World According To Ellen, here.

 

My story is not particularly original. Having attended college at the end of the decade, I knew little else than to follow the footsteps of previous graduates toward the world of investment banking. Despite my degree in literature, I was lucky enough to land one of those seemingly coveted spots in a post-recession analyst class at one of the bulge bracket banks. I was under the impression that after a few years, I would have the skills I needed to do anything. But there is very little room for creativity at these companies: stability and re-creation of work are among the most highly prized virtues in that industry. Business acumen come much later in the game.

Eventually I became disillusioned and like many of my colleagues, toiled to find opportunities that I felt would take advantage of my energy and excitement for change. And that’s when I decided that the world of tech, with an eye toward social media, would fulfill me in a way that banking would not. It wasn’t easy. It took me about 6 months of networking, flying around the country and familiarizing myself with the industry landscape, but it paid off.

Over the past year, I have spoken to countless peers, predominantly in the financial services industry, looking for a way to break into tech. Introductions come from friends, people who reach out to me via LinkedIn and everywhere in between, who think that the luster of the tech industry holds promise that makes finance seem antiquated. Here are some pieces of advice that I give to those looking to get jobs at startups or other tech companies with a background in finance.

1) Make sure you know what you want to do and and why

I speak to people from the financial services industry who say that they want to work for a “technology company” or a “startup,” but have no idea what that means. For starters, tech is a massive industry that spans many different categories.

It’s crucial to hone in on the type of company you want to work for: are you interested in education technology? Startups with fewer than 10 people? A large social media company? Know what you want and go get it, but if you’re too general, no one will believe your story.

2) Use the product, and be passionate about it

People in tech who have contributed to building a product are extremely passionate about it and only want to hire people as passionate as they are. This is likely the reason that bankers get passed up for positions in favor of those with product experience.  The best way to avoid that trap is to make sure that you are a user and really understand how the product works.

Many bankers use the excuse that because it’s blocked at work, they can’t use it. That’s no excuse! You can find time during breaks or on the weekends, and should at the very least have signed up for some of the basic features. You are extremely likely to be asked your opinion about that product in your interviews.

3) Be humble and work hard

Just because you’re a banker, doesn’t mean you know the first thing about tech. My work was with technology companies when I was in banking and I still didn’t know anything. Go in with an open mind and be prepared to be a sponge all over again.

Use the fact that you worked all of those crazy hours to your advantage. Stick with the same work ethic and you will catapult into success very quickly, plus those hours do not go unnoticed.

4) Don’t get blindsighted by the words “business development”

BD is cool – don’t get me wrong (I am obligated to say that for you, Alex), but it’s certainly not the only job one can take with a background in banking or finance. Quite frankly, a background in sales is likely more important for business development than anything else.

Use your skills to your advantage and don’t be turned off by roles that may seem to have nothing to do with your prior skillset. They come in handy eventually, trust me.  Instead of focusing on buzzwords, think critically about roles that will help you fine-tune some of the skills you want to have and allow yourself to mold the job you take rather than vice-versa.

If you have experience in the financial services industry with no background in software (or hardware) engineering, other types of jobs to consider are in corporate finance, corporate development, investor relations, analyst relations, operations, sales, or a variety of other corporate strategy-type jobs.

5) Don’t discount the benefits of working for a larger, more established company

I recently read an article about the glaring lack of HR at tech companies contributing to a “brogramming” culture. It’s easy when working at a large corporation to take for granted some of the benefits and services that a larger company can offer. Just because a 10-person company has the luster of being fresh and new, remember some of the drawbacks that come with having 9 coders and yourself in an office.

Often, the transition from banking to tech can be smoothed over by moving from one established company to another. My advice is to aim for a company with more than 300 employees to ease in.

6) Stay up-to-date on the industry

Know what’s going on in the world from a perspective that isn’t the WSJ: read blogs like TechCrunch and Mashable. One of my favorite interview questions is to ask people who don’t work in tech what companies are attractive to them at the time.  Bonus points if they can work in their understanding of finance to tell me why the company might be attractive from an investment standpoint.

7) Tap into your network

I simply would not have a job today if I didn’t take advantage of my network. Tech is not an industry in which you can submit your resume online and hope you get picked. There are probably 1,000 other qualified people who have submitted their resume to the same system. If you aren’t an engineer, you need someone to refer or vouch for you.

The best way to do this is to stay active on LinkedIn and keep your connections current. Don’t be shy about asking friends to introduce you to other people in the industry; definitely don’t be shy about reaching out to people blindly. If someone has a job you like, send him or her a message on LinkedIn or Google (or guess) his or her email address. Most people respond, despite what you might think.

Advice is free and I’m happy to offer it. Reach out to me @ellenjdasilva.

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I’ve written a few posts about breaking into the tech space before. This post is similar but it applies to breaking into ANY industry. There are three basic steps to follow. They are Research, Reading, and Networking.

Step 1- Research
Whatever field or industry you are in, you need to do research. For example, in technology, there are tons of sub-industries ranging from education, healthcare, social, payment, photo, video, etc. Figure out what excites you. Then put together a document (Google spreadsheet) with all the industries in different tabs. In each industry there are many companies, add your favorite to the list. Then break it down even further. Put the key employees, founders, head of engineering, biz, etc who you would like to work for/with. Now you have your hit list of industries, companies, and people you want to work for/with.

Step 2- Reading
Now that you’ve done the proper research, it is time to start reading what everyone else in the industry is reading. Some thought leaders in various spaces blog/tweet/share info. Others don’t. Whatever the case is, either start reading what they are writing or read what they are reading. This way you know what is going on in the space you want to break into and when you get to Step 3 you will be ready to have an intelligent conversation.

Step 3- Networking
You’ve done the research and read up on the happenings in the space you are looking to break into. Now it is time to get in front of the right people. In every industry there are proper events to go to. Sometimes there are weekly events, others have quarterly or yearly conferences, but every industry has their events. Go to them and meet the industry players.

The above three steps are not rocket science. They are calculated measures to break into any industry. Follow them and the spoils shall be yours.

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Here is my latest Forbes piece: http://onforb.es/JsyL6V 

Let me know your thoughts!

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Here is something terrific that Erin Tao, Biz Dev at Aviary, put together with a few people. It is still a work in progress, but it houses some really awesome articles that are a must-read for anyone considering startups as a career.

READ EVERY ARTICLE HERE. It is well worth your time. You can even submit articles you think are missing.

Wiki Outline: THE LINK HAS BEEN TAKEN DOWN AS IT WASN’T READY FOR PRIMETIME. WILL UPDATE SOON.

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There are two ways of entering the startup world. One is by starting a company, the other is by joining a (startup) company.

There are some people who have the X factor and can go from zero to hundred. They start companies at young ages and can scale it up while finding the right people to work with. This is rare and few and far between. Think Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg.

Most times when young people start companies, they fail. The founders don’t know any investors, have no money to build out the product, and definitely don’t know anyone at TechCrunch or the New York Times to write up what they are working on. There are obviously exceptions to the rule, but this is the reality.

This is why I believe that when you are beginning in the the startup world you should join a well-oiled machine. Go to a startup that has raised its Round A or Round B and be the young superstar. Whether you are the product guy, BD guy or a tech master- you will learn the ropes and meet the right people. Now, when you are ready to go on your own you will be better positioned to succeed. 

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