Main image of article Should You Pursue a Tech Job Outside of Tech?

Ask most tech professionals, and they’ll tell you that working for a big tech company is preferable to taking a tech-related job within some other industry. The perception is that tech companies are especially innovative, and pay very well. While that might be true (at least with some tech companies), a tech pro looking for a job should expand his or her search to industries far beyond tech; software engineers, application programmers, data analysts, and project managers have a vital role to play at any company.

Making a Decision

Jeff Remis, branch manager of an IT practice at staffing-services firm Addison Group, suggested that the decision to work at a technology company, as opposed to a technology department in a different industry, ultimately comes down to preference. “Programmers and database analysts can be found in both [tech- and non-tech companies],” he said, “so the decision of which one to work for comes down to work-life balance and management-style preferences.” Tech companies have a reputation for long hours and an ultracompetitive atmosphere, which can dissuade some potential employees who want to maintain that good work-life balance. But no two organizations are the same: You can find lucrative paychecks and punishing hours in the financial-services industry, for example, and challenging technology issues in pretty much any sector that deals in large amounts of data. In recent years, some tech companies have also embraced reasonable hours and flexible benefits as competitive differentiators, opening themselves to candidates who seek more balance.

Selecting the Best

When you work for a technology company, you’re developing software or hardware that helps people do their jobs in other industries; technology is the focal point of all employee efforts. When you work in the technology department of another industry, you’re usually modifying or maintaining the hardware and software that helps your colleagues do their jobs; technology is seen as a means to an end. Those differing missions and viewpoints can significantly impact your working environment. Whether applying for a job in a tech or non-tech industry, advised Sean McLoughlin, tech practice director for executive search firm HireMinds, it’s smart to ask which technologies are in use, and how often they’re updated: “Ask about the team in place and what they do day-to-day, and try to meet them if you can.” Outside of the tech world, he added, focus your job-hunting efforts on companies that see their technology department as a resource, rather than a cost center: “They’ll take the time and invest in their people.” At companies outside the tech sector, tech pros are expected to act as a bridge between the technology department and the operational side of things. Consequently, you must be good at translating and breaking down difficult ideas to laypersons, as well as justifying any outlay on key technology. For job candidates, it’s smart to see which employers prioritize tech investment. Some of the world’s largest companies outside of the tech industry are also the largest IT spenders. According to research firm IDC, Wal-Mart was the largest IT spender worldwide in 2014. Bank of America placed second, followed by Citigroup, AT&T, and JPMorgan Chase.

Follow the Money

With the economy on more solid footing than it’s been in years, the competition for talent is heating up. Many of the larger companies outside of the tech world are vying for the same professionals as tech companies, and they’re paying more in order to compete. But with some groups of tech pros, that might not be enough. According to Meredith Whalen, a senior vice president at IDC, “attracting Millennials” has become a harder task for non-tech firms. Millennials want to work for innovative employers, and sometimes perceive large companies outside the tech world as terminally behind the times. That could open up opportunities for older workers who have the necessary tech skills, and are willing to cast a wider net when it comes to prospective employers.

What Hiring Managers Think

Lest you think that hiring managers at tech companies will look askance at your experience outside of a tech company, think again: The types of firms on your resume matter less than the actual skills and experience you earned in those previous positions. Whatever employer they target, Remis noted, job candidates should focus on highlighting relevant experience, especially if they lack in industry-specific work: “It’s less about who you’ve worked for, as much as who can produce results. For example, there are many transferable skills, like HTML5 and C#, that can ensure an IT candidate is best positioned to shift between roles, companies, or industries.”