If you live in Boston, chances are you know someone who works at a software, telecommunications, or technology manufacturing company. Nearly one out of every ten employees in the state work in tech – that’s the highest percentage of any state in the country. If you’re wondering why, it may have something to do with the fact that, according to the United States Department of Labor, the average salary in Massachusetts Tech is $127K, and the state paid over $37.6 billion in wages to tech employees in 2016. Do I have your attention yet? I used bold letters and big numbers…
Anyway, if you’re reading this, it is likely because you’ve seen some of the stats I’ve just referenced. Or maybe you’ve had dreams of riding a rocket ship early stage company, cashing out on some equity, and retiring at 30. That’s all great, but the reality, of course, is that we’re not all riding unicorns on a cloud highway to the Great Valley of IPOs; like all industries, there are doors closing and people feeling like they are stuck doing something they don’t love. There is no shortage of opportunity in Boston tech, but finding the right opportunity is a task that takes time and a clear strategy. The purpose of this blog is help young people (or first timers to tech) create a process for finding the right tech job in Boston, regardless of your background or work history.
Persona 1: I work in a different industry – how do I break into the tech sector?
1.Use your network.
Probably not the first time you’ve heard this tip – nothing groundbreaking here – but there’s no arguing that this is the best place to start, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the tech industry. Start by reaching out to people you feel you are closest or most comfortable with; it’s important that you don’t shy away from asking the “stupid” questions in these early meetings.
Additionally, conversations with close friends or family generally require significantly less prep-time – they’ll be happy to meet regardless of your knowledge level and can point you in the direction of the resources they love when familiarizing yourself with their industry. Job searching will take time, making it challenging if you’re currently working – it is important you don’t spin your wheels.
2. Follow the money! (Get familiar with the VC firms in Boston)
Attempting to get a feel for the entire Boston tech community can be very overwhelming – our own VentureMap lists over 800 companies in the city, but VC firms and their investment patterns are great indicators of hot fields in the city of Boston. Even better, most VC firms tend to have a type of investment or industry they like to work within, so you can identify firms that tend to invest in the type of company you’re interested in joining (or perhaps have ties to your current industry). For example, Accomplice Ventures generally make early stage investments, so they’re a great place to start if you want to get in pretty close to the ground floor. Other firms, like Polaris Partners tend to focus on healthcare technology companies at numerous stages, so if you’re interested in healthcare startups, get familiar with their portfolio and if they’re hiring.
3. Get to know the big players in Boston – find out what they’re hiring for on their website.
While many smaller/early-stage companies may not be the best at listing what positions they need or are looking for, the bigger players in Boston tech are typically well-oiled hiring machines (HubSpot’s training class last month had 72 people in it!). Check out the career pages companies like HubSpot, DellEMC, Wayfair, and Akamai – these pages will list open positions and a description of the ideal applicant for each position. Additionally, career pages give you an indication of the areas of growth within the company and what they may be focusing on in the coming years.
Persona 2: I work in tech and like the industry, but I feel like I’m on the wrong track. How do I pivot?
1. Start your job search internally.
It costs a lot of money to hire someone – that is not only why it is hard to get a job doing something you don’t have much experience doing, but also why your current company should be inclined to keep you and help you make your pivot internally. That being said, this is a delicate process. If you have a manager, be sure to get their approval before doing any of this, but here’s how I suggest navigating the situation:
Start by identifying areas of the business you want to learn more about or teams you would like to join. Email the managers of those teams and ask if you can treat them to a coffee or lunch, if they agree, learn as much as you can about their side of the business and maintain a relationship with those managers over time. If the time comes when you feel like you have to make a move or an opportunity opens up, you want to be top of mind for those internal stakeholders.
2. Attend relevant tech events.
I could just as easily change this tip to “do better at tech events”, because chances are, you’re already attending events in Boston (your company has probably even hosted a few). Between all the tech-focused non-profits, incubators, and publications in Boston, you’ve likely been to or heard about many of the recurring Boston tech events, so I won’t waste your time listing them. Rather, perfecting your approach to these events is what’s most important. More specifically, think long-term. Many people in my world (sales, mostly) get caught up in focusing on their current prospects or targets while at events, but it’s rare that all your prospects are under one roof, and people prefer to be treated like people, not prospects.
Usually, talking to people you don’t know can be uncomfortable, but networking/professional events are like an alternate universe where you’re actually more comfortable when you are talking to strangers. Accordingly, break out of your comfort zone, find people that may not be in a group or in a conversation, and save them from their awkward loneliness. It could be the start of a great relationship, and you’re always only one great connection away from your dream job.
3. Get familiar with professional development programs in Boston.
Sometimes that job you really want takes more than networking and persistence to land, sometimes you actually don’t possess the skills necessary to do it. This can be discouraging and means it will be a longer path to where you want to be, but it shouldn’t stop you. Boston is loaded with professional development organizations, two of my favorites are The Startup Institute and General Assembly. Both offer a variety of courses for professionals in tech, including coding, marketing, and product development courses. Even better, both offer online or part-time courses, meaning you can keep you current job while you continue to develop – this can be a lot of work (and, of course, some of your hard-earned cash), but it’s a common model for professional growth.
Most of these programs host events that are open to the public, so I’d suggest doing some research and then attending a few of these events. Ask to be introduced to an alumni or two from a course you’re interested in, they will give you honest feedback on their experience and could be a great contact for future reference.
Persona 3: I’m still in college (or just graduated) – how do I get started?
1.Use your network (especially alumni).
Do I sound like a broken record yet? Sorry, but networking is so important. For you, persona 3, it’s probably the easiest. Most people love to help out student or alumni who are looking for some help, so don’t be afraid to send an email to someone you discover went to your school at a company you’re interested in and ask to meet for a coffee or come by their office. Don’t underdress.
2. Identify the type of company & role that matches your skillset & personality.
Right out of college, if you are looking for sales, marketing, or developer roles, any of the big players (see above) are going to be hiring. They also are most likely to have formal training programs for each of those roles, and that is an awesome way to start a career right out of college. The only possible draw back here is that these larger companies have invested a lot of time developing processes and putting systems in place for new hires, so you’re going to have to do things their way, and you might not always agree with it.
If you want to be a bit more creative/autonomous and generally be able to climb faster in an organization – Series C & D companies are usually hiring like crazy and still forming some of their processes as well as rolling out new products/teams. They’re looking for people that don’t need as much structure to work hard and get results. The drawbacks are that you’re likely to get less training and you may outgrow your roles faster than they anticipate.
3. Again – go to events!
See above to see how I feel it’s best to approach events – particularly early in your career. Also, keep an eye out for events hosted by your own school. BU has a startup event every Tuesday, Harvard had Mike Troiano host an event last fall, and MIT hosts entrepreneur speaker series (that are open to everyone) in the fall.
There are many more personas and many more steps that I could cover here, but if you fall into one of these personas, I hope you found this helpful. If you have any other questions or feel I missed some critical tips, join the Boston Tech Network on VentureApp and message me! I’m always happy to update this or talk with someone who may be searching for a new career!