Reading time: [est_time]
A short while ago a student asked me “What if I love being in tech but don’t love to write code? Is there a place for me?” It reminded me that there’s this perception that developers are the most valuable people on a tech team, but building a successful product definitely takes a village. There are a ton of different things that people do in tech to help make the digital products and services that we use everyday possible. Some of the non-programming jobs focus around design and content, others are more directly linked to development like quality assurance and technical management. Having at least a high-level understanding of each is super helpful no matter where on the team you sit, so I thought it might be helpful to look at a few of the more common non-development roles.
There are two main facets of design in the tech world: visual and user experience. They are both related, and many people practice both, but there are some key differences.
Visual design is what most people think of when they meet a “designer.” It’s also called user interface designer, interaction designer, or simply web design. These designers focus on look and feel, meaning the parts of a website or product that you can see. They understand basic design principles like gestalt, typography, and color theory. Many visual designers do have degrees in design but it’s also possible to bypass school and get your experience on the job. There’s also opportunity for visual designers to work on frontend code, especially when working on smaller teams.
User experience design focuses on how and why people use websites and products. While visual designers think about color, type, and balance, experience designers think how to optimize paths a visitor may take through a website, or how to make a product easier to use. In my own experience design work, I do things like create diagrams showing how a user flows through a site and wireframes that describe the possible actions on each page. Some people in the user experience world are researchers who spend time talking to the people who use a product or site. That research helps to inform the hows and whys and makes it easier to design better things. UX is a relatively new field that is constantly growing and shifting, which is great fun for people who love to learn new things every day.
If you already enjoy writing and editing then definitely look into content strategist roles. A content strategist is more than just a person who writes content for the web, though they do that too. Content strategy encompasses everything from designing the system of governance around content creation to defining the metadata and taxonomy that describes content. Content strategy is often viewed as a part of user experience design but it can really go deeper than traditional information architecture. While a UX designer might figure out how to arrange a page to deliver information most effectively, it’s a content strategist’s job to insure the information being displayed is easy to understand, has the correct tone, and meets any business or editorial goals.
Quality Assurance Engineer
QA engineers are some of the most valuable members of a development team. They test software and make sure that it’s not only functional but also that it meets all specifications. QA isn’t just about clicking through a product over and over looking for errors. QA engineers also write code that automatically tests software for bugs. While some QA engineers make whole careers out of creating systems for ensuring that software ships bug free, many choose to go on to full-time development or other related fields. It’s a great place to gain exposure to the development process without the pressure of delivering code every day.
If I had a dollar for every time someone complained to me about a poor experience with a manager I would have… well, I’d have a lot of dollars. A lot of tech companies like to promote from within the organization for management positions, which is great for people who already enjoy management-type things. But not everyone is ready to switch from making things to overseeing things which seems like a pretty common source of strife inside of design and development teams.
On the other hand, it’s tricky to find managers who already have experience in design or development. Managers without first-hand knowledge of what their employees are working on can also cause strife because they may have a harder time empathizing with or even just plain understanding the very people they are managing.
For people who have experience in management and want to learn practical skills in design or development this creates a huge opportunity! Having an understanding of the care and craft that goes into things being made by technical teams makes managing them so much easier and more effective.
There are, of course, dozens of other roles that fit inside tech that don’t require development experience. IT professionals, product managers, project managers, copywriters, investors, journalists, marketers, customer support representatives, and salespeople are all integral parts of any successful tech team. If you’re looking interested in the tech industry but find that writing code isn’t for you, don’t worry! There are so many other (super awesome) options. Check ‘em out!
Coincidentally there is an event later this week hosted by eBay here in Portland about this very topic! You can learn more and RSVP the Eventbrite page or through ChickTech Portland. Find me and say hi if you go!