You can work in tech.
I'll show you how.
Join my free newsletter. Every week I'll send you free resources & actionable advice to help you make the move to a rewarding, highly-paid tech career.
Technology companies are kind of like sports teams. They need a mix of highly talented people with a broad range of skills and experience if they are going to have a chance for success in a highly competitive industry. There is a lot of media focus placed on the technical talent within tech – the software engineers, data scientists etc – but there is a wide range of roles that are vitally important for success, including many that are available to people with non-technical backgrounds.
The specific job roles you will find in a given technology company will be based on the products or services they offer, and as a company grows in scale these differences will become even more pronounced. A newly-founded software startup could be operating very lean with a handful of software engineers, someone handling support, another taking care of marketing and so on. As they grow they will increase the headcount within these existing roles, but they will also start to encounter issues that will demand them to start hiring in new areas like operations, sales, legal and human resources.
A hardware-focused technology company, like the fitness tracking device Whoop, will require a different mix of talent from the start. To bring a hardware product to market they will likely need to hire industrial designers, engineers, supply chain experts and so on.
Technology companies that reach national and global scale will start to make their own specialized hires. For example, Uber is known to employ economists who model and optimize their rider/driver marketplaces. This role would not have made sense back in 2009 when Uber was Ubercab, a private hire car app operating within a few suburbs of San Francisco. But Uber now operates in hundreds of markets across the world, so if in-house economists can provide even relatively “minor” optimizations they can have a big impact on Uber’s key metrics, and are worth hiring.
As the job titles become more specialized in larger technology companies, so do the job descriptions. Startups are inherently resource constrained, so early hires will generally need to work on a wide range of activities that may be outside of their core role. I’s not uncommon for startup teams to share customer support responsibilities, or for early marketing hires to be responsible for defining a brand strategy, designing creative and setting up advertising campaigns on Instagram, and writing content for the company blog. As the tech company grows in size you would expect each of these activities to be taken over by a specialist (and later, team of specialists) who can focus their full attention and skillset on one area.
The scale of the company will also help to define whether certain roles are required. As an example, a corporate development team focuses on potential mergers and acquisitions and can be strategically important in mature companies with the financial resources to buy other companies, but would be unnecessary in your average early-stage startup.
With all this in mind, it’s difficult to give one example of how the job roles within a “tech company” are organized. But for the sake of example, if we could peek inside a mid-size software-focused technology company we would expect to find people working within a few general groups or departments:
Within each group you would find people working in both managerial and specialized roles. For example, a marketing department would have marketing managers responsible for setting strategy and providing direction to the marketing team, while also having specialists like an SEO Lead who is fully focused on improving the company's organic user acquisition metrics.
Now that we’ve spent some time covering how tech companies are organized we can start our tour through the various roles, technical and non-technical, that are commonly found within the companies. For the purpose of simplicity we’ll be looking at these roles from the perspective of a company that develops software products.
Let’s get started.
The Founder, or co-founders when there are more than one, are the people who started the company. In most software companies one or more founders will have the software development skills needed to build the initial product (or at least the prototype) themselves. In an ideal situation the founding team will also have experience in sales, marketing, and operations, along with some relevant domain expertise (experience in the industry they are looking to serve).
Money and resources are usually in short supply in startup tech companies, so in the early days the founders will probably have to do a lot of implementation work themselves. As their company grows they can start to hire people who can bring more specialized knowledge, skills and experience to the business, and founders will often move from being “hands-on” to a more high-level, strategic focus.
A technology company will struggle to grow without a core group of technically-skilled people who can build products. In the world of software companies, the key technical role is the software developer.
A quick note: The terms programmer, software developer and software engineer are not strictly interchangeable. We’ll go through the differences in more detail in another guide, but for now we’ll be using the term "software developer" to refer to a person who is building the software product.
A software developer writes “code” to create computer applications. You can think of “code” as a set of instructions that a computer reads to understand how to perform and respond to actions from users and other computer systems (check out Technology 101: Software to learn more).
Software developers tend to specialize on particular platforms, so someone who makes iPhone apps is unlikely to also write the code that manages the control systems in your local power plant.
A web developer creates software that is accessed via a web browser like Chrome, Safari or Edge. You’ll commonly hear web developers referred to as Front End, Back End or Full-Stack developers. A Front End developer writes code for the user-facing side of the internet, like the web app for an online banking website. Back End developers write code that runs on servers and databases, handling requests from the front-end application and providing it with data.
As an example, a front-end developer would write code for the web app you use when you use your computer to check your bank account balance – the screen that shows your account balance, the buttons and links to move between screens etc. A back-end programmer would be working on the software that manages the servers and databases that supply the front-end application with data – for our online bank example this would be your user details, the actual balances in your accounts etc. It’s certainly possible for a developer to have knowledge of front and back-end web development, and these people are known as Full Stack developers. But as the size and complexity of a software application increases you’ll often find that many people are working in specialized roles.
Mobile app developers create the apps that you download from Google and Apple’s app stores onto your smartphones and tablets. Mobile app development is a separate skill from web development, using different frameworks, tools and programming languages. A software developer that can make mobile apps will not automatically be able to make web apps, and vice versa. Some mobile apps are self contained, storing all data locally on the app. If the mobile app does need to communicate with external servers and databases then the mobile app developer will usually work with the Back End developers to get the two pieces working together, in a similar fashion to how front end developers work with back end devs on web apps.
Development work is very logical in nature and you need to be very methodical and explicit when working with computers to make sure they operate in the way you intend – a computer will do exactly what the code tells it to do, not what you want it to do. Software development roles tend to appeal to people who enjoy problem solving, building things, and in many cases, performed well in subjects like math or physics when they were at school.
Developers will spend a large part of their day working on their computer and most development jobs are not customer-facing. The roles tend to attract people who do not need a lot of social interaction within their work day, but it’s wrong to think that you can simply put your headphones on in the morning and ignore the world until you sign out again at night. Developers work in teams and will be expected to contribute during meetings and pair programming sessions (where two developers work together, with one writing code and one reviewing code for potential issues).
Software is the product in most modern tech companies, so it probably comes as no surprise that people who can build software are in very high demand. This means a good developer with experience can be fairly selective about where they choose to work. The roles can pay very well, with developers at established tech companies in the USA often making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in combined salary and stock options or grants.
While it’s obviously helpful to have a degree in software engineering, the high demand and low supply of developers has led to many companies dropping any previous formal education requirements. The lack of a degree won’t always count against you, so long as you have a way to prove you are capable of doing the work. Ideally this would come from previous industry experience, but when you are starting out examples of applications that you have built or projects you have contributed to can help you stand out amongst the crowd.
Not for everyone
It's very important to understand that software development is not the kind of job that will appeal to everyone – even if the money can potentially be very good. If your personality doesn’t tend towards more solitary, puzzle-solving style work, or if you need a lot of social interaction within your day then you may struggle to enjoy a career as a software developer and should consider some of the other important non-coding roles within tech.
A data scientist’s job is to take data, extract meaning from it, and then use the information to help make decisions. This may sound simple enough but in reality the process of acquiring clean, usable data from a massive dataset is a complex job by itself, and that’s before you start trying to analyze and use the data in a way that will improve the company’s product or processes.
Google’s core Search product is a good example of how data science can drive a company’s success. Early (pre-Google) search engines acted like large directories. When you searched for a term they responded with a standard list of links leading to websites that were associated with keywords that matched your search term. Google’s search is much more sophisticated thanks to the machine learning algorithms that have been designed by Google’s data scientists. When you make a search with Google they use an algorithm that takes in hundreds of data points to provide you with the most useful and relevant response possible – data like your previous search history, your current location, whether people who previously searched for that term prefered certain pages they viewed etc. The result is a SERP (“Search Engine Results Page”) that is essentially unique to you, and in theory at least, much more likely to provide you with the best results.
With the growth in artificial intelligence and machine learning and companies struggling to make use of the huge amounts of data they are collecting, data scientists are one of the most in-demand (and highly paid) roles in tech. There is a very strong employment market and very high salaries, often starting well over $100k and with leading data scientists working on tough problems like autonomous driving known to make more than $1M per year.
While the money can be enticing, data science comes with a similar warning as software development: the roles are very technical and are not suited to everyone so it’s very important to take some time to consider whether it’s the right career path for you.
As a large part of the job consists of applying statistical models to large data sets, it probably comes as no surprise that data science is well suited to people with highly analytical, problem solving personalities. It is also becoming increasingly common for data scientists to have some level of programming experience.
Many companies will expect their data scientists to have a high level of formal education in subjects like mathematics and statistics, so this is important to keep in mind if you’re interested in following a data science path.
Data scientists work with large sets of data so the positions are commonly found in more established companies with large customer or user bases, although they can also be found at startups that are focused on solving very data-heavy problems, like the software systems that power self-driving cars.
Most of us are annoyed if we run into a bug in our favorite app, but thankfully there are people who are paid to spend their days seeking them out. The role of software testers and Quality Assurance (QA) is to test the company’s product(s) before they are deployed into production (where an application is able to be used by customers), making sure the product is bug and issue-free and meets the high standards required by the company’s customers.
What is a “bug”?
A bug is an error or fault in the software that causes it to behave in an unexpected or incorrect way. Most bugs are the result of an error in the software’s “code”. The process of finding and fixing bugs is called “debugging”.
A software tester’s primary job involves systematically inspecting products for bugs or potential problems, and working with software developers to test new features before they go live. They generally work within the broader engineering department, either as a QA team or as direct support to the software developers. As you can probably imagine, this makes QA a hugely important role within a tech company – companies can live or die based on the quality (perceived or real) of their products.
Testing roles are well suited to people with a strong attention to detail, who enjoy solving problems, and have strong written and verbal communication skills.
Many software testing roles will not require a college degree or any formal education in testing – evidence of strong attention to detail, an interest in technology and a willingness to learn can go a long way towards getting a QA job.
Software testers will generally earn less than software developers or data scientists, but their salaries still compare well within the overall market. And while QA can be a rewarding career in itself, it can also act as a useful stepping stone for people who are looking to move into development positions. You’re likely to spend time working directly with developers, so you’ll have the opportunity to see how they work and learn about the systems and tools they use to develop software projects, while also building relationships that could potentially be helpful for a future career change.
When customers have questions they turn to support for help. While the main function of customer support is to answer these questions and provide support to customers (hence the name), as front line representatives for the company they can also be a primary source of valuable customer information for the product, sales and marketing teams.
The level of support a customer support representative (CSR) is expected to provide will depend on a number of factors, like the type of product or service being offered, the price of the product/service, the technical difficulty associated with the product, and the type of customer. As an example, the level of support required for a simple consumer-focused smartphone application will be less than what is needed for the business customers of a fully customized and integrated customer relationship management software tool like Salesforce – but then again, so will the price.
A common work day for a CSR will be based around answering customer support cases, often in the form of “tickets”. The goal is to efficiently solve the issue or answer the question that caused the customer to get in contact. Depending on the complexity of the product and the size of the support team, a CSR may be expected to handle any queries that come in or they may be split into teams who answer queries around specific areas of the product. While a large amount of support queries come in through email, support reps increasingly respond to queries that arrive from other support channels like the chat box in a web app, or a company’s social media accounts.
A high-performing customer service representative will be a great communicator, capable of writing quickly, clearly and concisely. As most of their day is spent trying to solve customer’s problems, the role is particularly well suited to people who are empathetic and enjoy helping others. A good CSR should be able to operate well under some pressure as support queries can often come in large “waves”, such as when a product unexpectedly goes offline or a bug breaks a popular feature.
Support roles can be a good entry into tech for people with lower levels of technical knowledge if they are willing to put in time to learn about the products they will be supporting. Some specialized roles, especially for products aimed at business customers in technical industries, will require a higher level of technical proficiency, for example the ability to understand technical documentation or work with APIs.
The salary of a support representative will usually be in line with the level of technical knowledge and customer involvement required for the job. A role that responds to basic customer enquiries will earn much less than a support engineer role, handling complex technical enquiries from large corporate customers.
Customer support roles can be a good match for people who have worked in similar people and support-oriented environments, like front of house hospitality staff and teachers. Many support roles can be done remotely, making them a great choice for people who are looking to break into tech but not located in one of the more “traditional” tech cities.
Customer Success Associate, Customer Success Specialist, Customer Success Manager
Customer Success is a proactive role that goes beyond simply offering support to customers when they have a problem, and instead actively works with customers to make sure they are getting value from of a product or service. These roles have become increasingly popular in recent years in business to business (B2B) software as a service (SaaS) companies, as the relatively high prices B2B SaaS companies charge for their products allows them to spend more per-customer than lower-priced consumer-focused products.
Of course, companies are not hiring customer success teams for purely altruistic reasons. While they are helping customers obtain the full value of a product, they are also expected to improve key KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for the company, like decreasing customer churn (when a customer quits a service) or increasing account expansion (where an existing customer account brings in an increased amount of revenue). Customer Success also works as an important link between the customer and the company’s product and design teams, providing them with valuable feedback from the point of view of the product’s users. This feedback can then be used to help prioritize where the product and engineering teams focus their attention in future.
The day-to-day work of a customer success team can include onboarding new customers to a product, answering customer inquiries, creating support documentation, and proactively contacting customers to see if they have any issues or could be using the product more effectively. The more technically proficient and analytical in success roles can also look into customer data to see whether customers are making use of a specific feature or are at risk of churning (leaving the product).
Customer success is very communication-heavy so it’s a good role for those who enjoy building relationships and working directly with other people. While the ultimate goal of customer success is to improve the company’s customer related KPIs, success roles do not normally come with the quotas you’d find in traditional sales roles, which may appeal to some people.
Companies that are looking to hire for entry level customer success positions may expect candidates to have a college or university degree, but they do not normally require any specific customer success training (any previous experience in support or sales would be considered helpful). It does pay to have a good understanding of technology and software, as this will help when you are working with customers who will expect someone in a success role to understand the technology they are supporting.
Success roles generally pay well, and you would usually expect the salaries to be higher than you find in customer support. The total compensation may be lower than in a similar level tech sales role, where there is the potential to earn large commissions to complement a lower base salary.
Customer Success can be a great choice for people who are enjoying helping others, but are not seeking a pure support or sales role.
Product Managers (PM) sit between the business and technology sides of the company. Their role is to manage a product (or product feature) throughout its lifecycle: they help to find which products should be made, help to make sure those products are made, and then report back on how customers are responding to the products.
In the initial “Discovery” phase of the product life cycle, the PM is focused on speaking with customers and analyzing data to try and understand and define the problem and how their product could potentially solve it. The next step is to turn the data collected in the discovery phase into a roadmap that can be used to plan how the product will be developed. With the roadmap in place, the PM can focus on execution, working with the engineering and design teams to build the product, and then with the marketing team to launch the product to customers. Once it is in the hands of real customers, the PM will be running tests performing analysis to measure its success and find any potential bugs or problems.
An early stage startup will generally focus the full resources of the company towards one product. As companies grow in size they may bring in additional product managers to help bring new products to market, or turn upcoming features into their own “products”, allowing for easier management of increasingly complex processes. We can look to Instagram for an example of this: when they started they were a relatively simple photo sharing app, but over time they have added additional “products” (or features) like the ability to upload video to the feed or post time-limited “stories”, and these products are managed by product managers within the growing Instragam team.
PMs have been called the “CEOs of the Product” but this isn’t really accurate, as they generally need to rely on using influence more than direct authority. And while they are product “managers”, many PMs will not have any direct reports, but rather work alongside members of teams like engineering, design and marketing as needed.
The priorities for a Product Manager can change based on the stage of the company. For early stage startups the goal is generally to try and get the product to Product/Market fit as quickly as possible, and along with their normal work a PM may be expected to help in areas like marketing, pricing and support. In more mature, established companies a PM will likely have a more narrow focus and could be working as part of a larger team of product managers, each overseeing a particular product or feature and relying on the various teams within the company (like marketing or support) to perform their specific roles.
Product Management roles generally pay well, with salaries in the USA at around $100k per year or more.
Product Managers spend their days working with engineers, designers, marketers, analysts and more, so the roles tend to require a broad range of knowledge rather than very specific knowledge in any one area.
Product Managers usually have college or university degrees, although not necessarily from a PM-specific field. PMs come from a relatively diverse set of backgrounds, and many companies are open to hiring junior-level PMs with little or no previous tech experience.
To be a successful PM you’ll need to be a strategic thinker. Speaking on behalf of the customer requires a lot of speaking with the customer, so the role also requires great communication skills. You’ll also need to be strong at managing relationships as a huge part of the job is based around influencing groups within the company to work together effectively.
The amount of technical skills required is usually based on the type of products being developed. As an example, a Product Manager working at a company with products that help engineers to monitor production applications would likely need to be more technically proficient than a PM working at a consumer-focused social media startup.
The Marketing department encompasses a large number of roles – it’s not uncommon for larger tech companies to have product marketers, content marketers, marketing analysts, growth marketers, social media marketers, PPC marketers… to name just a few.
The role of a tech company’s marketing department (or in a recently-founded startup, whoever is responsible for marketing) is to develop the positioning, messaging, promotion and price for the products and services on offer. Many people confuse marketing with advertising, but advertising is a component within marketing.
If you already have experience in marketing then none of this should surprise you as these are the same responsibilities you’d find in every company. The key difference is how the marketing roles can be performed within tech companies – the nature of technology products and services means marketers have access to huge amounts of product and user data, providing them with options that haven’t traditionally been available, like tracking and targeting on a per-user level. This access to data has turned tech marketing into an inherently analytical role. While traditional marketing has often spent advertising budgets on difficult to measure outcomes (it’s very hard to accurately measure the success of a campaign in a magazine or billboard), tech marketers can use data to tailor their messaging and promotional campaigns to individual customer segments, then use a range of simple tools to accurately measure the success of the campaigns.
If you have experience in marketing then moving to a similar role in a tech company can be a relatively straightforward career move, especially if you’ve taken the time to learn about technology, software and the other base components of tech marketing. Entry-level tech marketing jobs will not always require much in the way of formal education or previous marketing experience, but you’ll be competing against a large candidate base so it helps if you can make yourself stand out. You can check out our Paths section to find marketing paths that can help you improve your odds of success.
Marketing roles appeal to people who have a mix of creative, analytical and social personality traits. The work is varied, and in an average day a marketer at a tech company could work with their team to create a new campaign for an upcoming promotion, spend time in Excel analyzing the performance of an advertising campaign running on Instagram, or run a cohort analysis to measure whether users of their app are continuing to come back and use it in the weeks following their initial sign up.
The salaries offered to marketing roles will usually be based on the level of experience and technical difficulty of the job, with wide variations between entry level digital marketing roles and the senior specialist and management roles.
There is much more to design than pretty colors or a fancy logo. In the design department of larger tech companies you’ll find people working as UX Designers, UI designers, user researchers, visual designers and more. We’ll take a brief look through some of these now.
User Experience (UX) designers are focused on how users interact with a product. The process is commonly split into two stages: research and design.
In the research stage, UX designers conduct user research with the aim of building an understanding of the target users, the problems the users have, and any potential solutions. The UX designers can then use this information to start designing the “software solution” to the user’s problems. These initial designs are usually made as wireframes, very basic sketch-type layouts of screens and components, and then as prototypes, where the wireframes are connected together into a simple clickable version that allows for basic testing of the design.
A great user experience can transform a product. As an example, in the recent past users of dating apps needed to manually click or tap on buttons to let the apps know whether the user was interested in a specific profile. Tinder introduced the “swipe right” motion that allows their users to quickly indicate they are interested in matching with a prospective date. Swiping left or right speeds up the interaction which in turn increases the use of one of the core functions of a dating app (matching dates). But the physicality involved with the smooth swiping motion also “feels” better than clicking or tapping on a button, encouraging users to perform the action more frequently. It seems simple in hindsight, but swiping played a huge role in the growth of Tinder in an incredibly competitive market – a great indication of the power of UX design.
User Interface designers create the visual look and feel of the product. They tend to have strong skills in related areas like branding, visual design, graphic design, typography and color theory. While a UX designer will usually create the wireframe or prototype of a product to help with initial testing, it’s the UI designers who turn these wireframes into beautiful finished products, right down to the colors, fonts and images used on the website and app, or the icons used for the app.
Visual designers are similar to UI designers as their role has an aesthetic focus, but while UI designers focus on the apps, websites and other digital products, visual designers tend to be focused more on brand and marketing material, like logos, photos, or the images used in online advertising or social media campaigns.
You’ve probably already realized that design roles favor people with creative tendencies. All design roles also require great communication and interpersonal skills. You’ll likely be working within a design team, but also with members of product, engineering and marketing teams. A background or interest in topics like human psychology can also be very helpful for designers, especially if they are designing for interaction, like in UX design.
Many designers will have a college or university degree but they will not always be in design-related fields, and it is certainly possible to get a job in design without a degree. Self-directed learning is an option, and there are many well-reviewed online courses available teaching UX, UI, visual or web design for people who want to follow a more structured path.
Design salaries are in line with roles like marketing, and tend to be below technical roles like software developer or data scientist. Current Payscale data shows UX designers making an average of $75,000 and web designers at $52,000, although these salaries can be much higher for experienced practitioners.
“Build it and they will come”. If only it was so easy! While some consumer products are lucky enough to be able to grow through virility and word of mouth, most tech companies will need the help of talented tech sales teams if they are going to hit their lofty revenue targets.
Tech sales is primarily responsible for bringing the company revenue by connecting customers with technology products that can help solve their problems. The process often involves generating “leads” (lists of people who could potentially benefit from the product), “prospecting” (making initial contact with the leads), “qualifying” those leads (trying to find out whether a lead has the qualities needed to become a customer – do they have the budget, is the product needed or just “nice to have” etc – if not then you don’t want to waste time trying to sell to them), all the way through to closing the sale. The process is often visualized as a “sales pipeline” that starts with a large number of initial leads and gradually decreases through to closed sales.
A couple of common tech sales roles you’ll find include:
These roles are often focused on the Leads, Prospecting and Qualifying stages of the sales pipeline.
After the SDR has qualified a lead, it’s time for the Account Executive to take over. They’ll usually arrange with the potential customer to have discovery and product demo calls, and then (hopefully) work through to closing the sale. Account Executives may also work with existing customers if they are looking to upgrade or purchase new products from the company.
The sales industry doesn’t always have the best reputation, with pushy insurance sales people and Jordan “The Wolf of Wall Street / sell me this pen” Belfort springing to mind. Thankfully the relationships in tech sales tend to be more positive, as sales people are able to genuinely help their customers solve problems with the tech products they are selling.
Sales roles can be a great entry into tech as they can be quite forgiving when it comes to formal education requirements or experience. The most important things are that you work hard and bring in revenue – so your first job is going to be selling the hiring manager the idea that you are capable of doing this.
Salespeople need to be optimistic with a strong “can do” attitude. The role inherently involves rejection – no matter how great your product or app is, the majority of people aren’t going to be interested in it – so to be effective in sales you can’t let this get to you. A salesperson needs to have excellent communication skills as they will be spending their days on the front line dealing with customers. It also helps to have strong problem solving skills, as this helps you find creative solutions to customer problems using your company’s products, leading to more sales.
Sales roles tend to be paid as a mix of base pay and commission, with the base pay often set lower than other roles within the company as the salesperson is expected to make up the difference (and more) in the commission. The “eat what you kill” nature means the “average” salary for salespeople can be quite misleading as it is so dependent on the skill of the salesperson, the product they are selling, and the market. Top salespeople at fast-growing tech companies can expect to earn incomes that are among the highest in the company (including the executives) and it’s not unheard of for people in technical sales roles at leading enterprise SaaS companies to make many hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
“Biz Dev” is all about building partnerships. While the tech sales team are busy selling the product to customers, business development can often be found working with other companies to explore new ways they can potentially partner together. Once a partnership is proposed, the biz dev team will move on to negotiate and finalize any deals or contracts required, and then work through the implementation of the partnership.
So what does this look like in practice?
I’m sure you’ve heard of the music streaming service Spotify, and many of you may also have heard of Shopify, an ecommerce platform with a name that is close enough to Spotify that the two are easily confused. Recently the two companies announced a partnership that allows musicians to connect their Shopify stores to their Spotify profiles so they can sell merchandise to customers directly on Spotify.
This kind of partnership is exactly what business development teams are looking for: an arrangement with clear benefits to all parties involved. Musicians can sell more merchandise, Shopify can increase the sales that come through their ecommerce platform (along with the cut of revenue they take for the sales), and Spotify can provide musicians with a new way to make money via their platform.
Another example of the kind of partnership organized by a business development team would be two companies hosting an event or webinar together. While no money may exchange hands, if each company brings their respective audience to the joint-event then they will gain access to a new pool of potential customers, resulting in a mutually beneficial partnership.
Business development roles are very relationship focused, so it goes without saying that you’ll need to have excellent communication and networking skills to thrive in this role. In terms of education, employers tend to look for people with a bachelor's degree, preferably in a subject like business and management.
Due to the nature of the work, you are likely to find business development roles in more established tech companies. They are often a great entry point into tech for people who come from more traditional professional business backgrounds, or have experience in roles that are heavy on relationships building and negotiation, like consulting or law.
One thing to note is that while business development is a seperate role from sales, some sales positions will be advertised with business development titles. This can also make it difficult to find accurate salary statistics as the roles are often merged together, but the “partnership building” forms of BizDev that we have been discussing usually pay well, with salaries over $100k per year not uncommon to find within established tech companies.
Facebook buying Instagram for $1B, Microsoft buying LinkedIn for $26B, Salesforce buying Slack for $27B. There is a well-established strategy where tech companies with a large amount of cash buy smaller companies to integrate their technology, gain access to their talent, or simply remove a potential rival.
The Corporate Development team, or CorpDev, are responsible for handling mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activities within a technology company. Their primary responsibilities are to find and analyze new potential deals, build financial models and business cases to present to upper management, work with departments like legal, HR and engineering to perform due diligence, and undertake acquisition negotiations with the target company.
Given the nature of their work, corporate development roles are usually found in more established technology companies that have the financial resources needed to acquire other companies. The teams tend to be quite small, working closely with other departments in their company to analyze potential deals, for example the engineering team will help them see whether a product they are looking to acquire can be integrated into their systems. CorpDev will present their research and analysis to the executive team for final approval of the deal, and if it goes ahead they may also help with the post-acquisition integration process.
People who work in corporate development are expected to have strong financial modeling, strategy, communication, and presentation skills. The roles usually require a degree in a subject related to finance, and people are generally expected to have practical work experience with large financial transactions.
The roles are a natural fit for people who are moving over from fields like investment banking, private equity or strategy consulting. Starting salaries for analyst roles in the larger tech companies are in the lower $100k range, moving to $150k–$250k plus bonuses per year for management roles. This may be less than similar roles in the traditional banking and finance worlds but many people find corporate development appealing as the work/life balance at established technology companies can be much better, with standard 40-50 hour work weeks, weekends off etc.
The goal of Business Operations, or “BizOps”, is to help drive growth in the company by launching new initiatives or optimizing existing processes and operations within the company. You can think of BizOps as kind of like an in-house strategy consulting team – they perform project-based work with all of the key departments across the company, including HR, engineering, marketing and support.
The nature of the projects will depend on the maturity of the company. In earlier stage startups, BizOps will generally be focused on building new teams and processes. An example could be working with the People Operations team to create a streamlined onboarding process for new employees that helps the company grow its headcount quickly and effectively.
In more established tech companies, the role places more emphasis on optimizing existing processes and searching for new growth opportunities. An example could be meeting with the support team and exploring company data to see if there are any ways to improve the response times for customer enquiries. The research could lead to the support staff moving to a new support tool that automates some of their repetitive tasks, giving them more time to focus on answering customer questions.
Business Operations favors people with strong strategic, analytical, communication and presentation skills. Some level of technical proficiency is helpful, for example being able to write SQL or use a tool like Snowflake or Tableau to perform analysis on company data.
BizOps roles pay well, with salaries in larger tech companies generally starting at $100k or higher per year.
BizOps candidates are usually expected to have a degree in a relevant subject like business or finance, and you will generally have a strong advantage if you have previous work experience from a field like strategy consulting, finance, or investment banking.
The goal of people operations is to develop a company structure that helps employees be productive and happy while they work.
PeopleOps is a relatively new field that has grown out of the more traditional human resources (HR) departments. It performs many of the same functions, but people operations is supposed to be more employee-focused. While HR traditionally works for the benefit of the company, PeopleOps is supposed to focus on how they can help the employee, which should in turn help the company as well. You can think of it as similar to treating employees like customers, and PeopleOps have the goal of trying to increase “customer satisfaction”.
The PeopleOps team will be responsible for areas like finding and recruiting talent, managing employee training programs and benefits, retaining employees, and creating an organizational structure that helps maximize employee productivity. Startup technology companies can grow incredibly quickly – it’s not unheard of for headcount to jump from 5 to 500 employees within a year, and more established tech companies like Snap or Instacart have thousands of employees across the world. With this level of hypergrowth and scale it’s easy to see why it is so important for PeopleOps to develop strong processes around employee recruitment, retention and performance.
With such huge competition for talent within the technology industry, another vital part of PeopleOps work is developing a strong company culture and building a positive public perception of the company for future potential employees. There are many examples of startups that failed to set a positive culture, resulting in toxic working environments for their employees. News spreads quickly within the tech world and these companies can quickly find themselves struggling to recruit, as the top talent doesn’t want to be associated with such toxicity.
There are a range of specialist roles within PeopleOps. Sourcers and recruiters will be responsible for finding, recruiting, interviewing and negotiating with prospective employees. Other members of the team will be responsible for employee development, training, and other areas that help with retention. There will also be team-members looking after the more standard human resources and operations work.
Salaries within PeopleOps will vary depending on the role. PeopleOps managers can expect salaries of $100k+ per year, technical recruiting roles tend to be in the $75-100k range and the more administrative roles will generally pay a little less.
Most PeopleOps roles will require a degree, preferably in a related subject like human resources, business or psychology. You’ll need to be highly organized, have strong verbal and written communication, and feel confident speaking with people at all levels of the company.
PeopleOps roles do not generally require a high level of technical competency, but it can certainly help, especially for technical recruiting roles (our Foundation guides on hardware, software and the internet are a great way to build up your technical knowledge).
PeopleOps roles are well suited to people with previous HR experience, and for recruiters looking to move into a technical recruitment role. They are also a good fit for people with previous administrative or operational experience.
That’s the end of our tour of popular tech jobs. Hopefully you now have a good understanding of the roles that are available. If you have any questions or comments then feel free to get in touch and I'll do my best to answer them for you.
Join my free newsletter. Every week I'll send you free resources & actionable advice to help you make the move to a rewarding, highly-paid tech career.