Taking the Leap: From Banking to Tech

As seen on the one and only Alex Taub’s Alex’s Tech Thoughts

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 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 an 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 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.

Taking the Leap: From Banking to Tech