From academia to tech: the top jobs for people looking to change careers

April 26, 2022
Working in Tech
David Turnbull

Let’s be honest for a second. Has your academic career turned out exactly as you’d planned? Do you have the job you were aiming for? Is it as fulfilling as you’d hoped? 

If you’re reading this post then there’s a good chance you’re answering no to some of these questions, or at least wondering whether things could be even better. 

Well, maybe they can.

We’re going to take a look at the best jobs for academics in tech. We’ll start by going over the reasons why you might want to move to tech. I’ll explain how the skills and experience you already have can transfer to a tech career. We’ll go through many of the technical and non-technical jobs that are attractive to academics, before finishing off with a quick chat about how you can take your first steps towards a career transition. 

Let’s get started.

Why change careers from academia to tech?

Why would you want to leave your current academic role and make the move to a career in tech? Here are a few reasons why you could make the jump:


There’s no denying it, money, and the potential to make more of it, will likely be a big factor on your mind when it comes to changing careers. Unless you are one of a lucky few, the amount you can earn in academia will always be limited compared to what you could make in the private market – especially compared to the salaries in tech. 

Career Progression

Most tech jobs have well defined paths for career progression and while office politics can always be a factor, in general it’s your job performance that determines how far you can rise.  Tech rewards performance. Companies tend to be more concerned with hitting growth targets than playing an office version of Game of Thrones.

If you’re feeling limited in a tech job then you can always move to another with better opportunities. This change won’t be counted as a mark against you, quite the opposite – companies will relish the extra experience you can bring to the table. 

Team & Impact

There is a real sense of camaraderie that can be found in teams that are working together successfully towards shared goals. And if you happen to be working with products that benefit the world in some positive way, or have huge reach, then you may find additional satisfaction from knowing the work you are doing is having a real impact. 

Job satisfaction

If you’re tired or bored of the work you’re currently doing then this could be the most important reason of all. If you take the time to find a role that you are interested in, that suits your skills and experience, and pays well, there’s a good chance you’ll be happy when Monday rolls around and you start another work week. And that feeling alone can make the career change process worthwhile.

Your skills and experience: why tech companies want to hire academics

You may be worried that your lack of industry experience means tech companies won’t be interested in hiring you. I want to dispel you of this myth now. Many of the skills you’ve earned during your time in academia will translate strongly into a new tech career. Here are a few:


It’s likely you’ve spent a significant amount of time conducting original research during your studies or academic career. This skill is a requirement for many of the interesting roles that we’ll be speaking about shortly. 

Written and Verbal Communication

Strong written and verbal communication skills are highly valued in tech. The years you have spent writing research papers, working on your thesis, and presenting findings to groups will start to pay off when you work in tech.

Data Analysis

Tech companies love to talk about being data-driven, but there’s a huge difference between someone who can read a chart and someone who can perform in-depth data analysis on a subject. A solid background in math and statistics and experience analyzing data sets will open you up to a number of interesting (and highly paid) tech roles.


This won’t apply to everyone in academia, but if you do have experience writing code then you can open up even more opportunities in tech. Programming-focused positions are in very high demand, and if you choose to go down a non-programming route any coding knowledge you do have can still be very helpful – a growth marketer who can write code can spin up experiments much faster than their counterpart who needs to wait to get projects through engineering.

The best jobs in tech for academics

It’s time to look at the best jobs for academics in tech, starting with the more technical and data-oriented roles.

Data Scientist

If you have a solid background in mathematics and statistics and experience analyzing data sets then data science could be the tech career for you. A data scientist’s job is to take data, extract meaning from it, and then use the information to help make decisions. If you’re coming from a research-heavy academic background this will probably sound right up your alley. A large amount of data science work is focused around machine learning and artificial intelligence so if you don’t have experience in these areas you’ll most likely need some further study. Thankfully there are many high quality courses available to teach you these skills, and it shouldn’t be too hard to find one that fits within your financial and lifestyle requirements.

Because the analysis of large data sets is so important for many modern tech companies, data science roles are in very high demand and pay towards the high end of the tech pay scale. 

Business/Product/Marketing Analyst

If you’re not quite ready for a data science role then analyst positions could be an interesting option. Analysts collect and analyze data that can be used to define strategy and inform business decisions. You can find analyst roles across many departments, including business, product, marketing and operations. You’ll obviously need to have strong data analysis skills and generally be expected to know your way around SQL, Python or R, and data visualization tools like Tableau. Analyst roles are great in their own right, but they can also be a good entry point to tech as you work towards a career in data science.

Software Developer

If you know how to code or are keen to learn then an obvious career path is software development. Developers and engineers are responsible for building the websites and apps that bring in the bulk of revenue at most tech companies, so they are always in very high demand and can command hefty salaries.

But – there always seems to be a “but” – while you may have experience writing code, it probably won’t be enough to jump in and immediately start working full-time as a developer. The languages, libraries and frameworks you use in research will be different than you’ll need in web and mobile development. On the positive side, your existing knowledge should give you a good foundation and help you pick up new languages and frameworks faster than if you were starting from scratch. And if you decide to go down the course or bootcamp route to upskill quickly, you’ll find options that cater for all kinds of budgets and lifestyle requirements.

Researcher (Market, UX)

If you’ve spent time in the academic trenches conducting research studies then Market or UX Researcher positions may be appealing. The goal is to conduct research that helps you understand users – a UX researcher will be looking at how users use a product, while market research will be more focused on a user’s buying decisions. You’ll be expected to design and conduct original research, then analyze the results to try and find any actionable insights. If you’re interested in a research position then your previous academic experience will be very helpful, but you’ll still want to study up on the specifics of the job – if you plan on working in UX then you’ll need to make sure you understand user experiences.

Non-technical roles

If you’re looking to move away from the coding or data analysis side of work there are non-technical roles available.

Content Marketing

If you’re keen to put your research and writing skills to use then content marketing could be interesting. The job of a Content marketer is to research and create compelling content that can be used to market the company. This content is usually distributed as blog posts, ebooks, podcasts, white papers, and similar types of media. Now, I will admit that content marketing doesn’t always have the best reputation, but that’s because some companies do a bad job of it, not because of any inherent issues with the role. The likes of Hubspot and Intercom have been extremely successful growing their companies by putting out well-researched content that resonates with their target audience. 

If you have a way to display your writing skills, either through your previous work, projects or a blog, then you may be able to get your first content marketing role with no previous industry experience. 

People Operations

This may seem a little left field, but hear me out. The role of People Operations is to hire employees and develop a company structure that helps employees be productive and happy while they work. It evolved out of HR and performs some similar functions but with a stronger focus on the employee’s needs, rather than the company. People often think of PeopleOps as recruiting, and that is certainly a big part of it. But there are also roles that are responsible for employee development, training, and other areas that help with employee retention and productivity. These are the roles that could work for you.

To succeed in people operations you need to be highly organized and have strong communication skills – and if you’re playing along at home you’ll realize that these two skills are also shared by most academics. Now PeopleOps is not going to pay as highly as data science or development roles but they will still be very competitive, especially compared to what most people make in academia. 

Next steps

So, the million dollar question – which job is best for you? Well I’m afraid that’s up to you. This was just a small selection of the many roles available in tech. If you like helping people then you could consider customer support or success, if you enjoy being creative then you have design and marketing roles. Take some time to consider your personal goals, values, skills and experience and then apply them to the different roles that you find interesting. 

If you’d like some guidance through the process I have a learning path that is designed to help you choose the perfect tech career. You can also check out our detailed guide that covers all of the popular jobs in tech in more detail.

David Turnbull
Founder of Metamorphous
Since changing careers to tech in my late 20s I've worked in B2B SaaS growth and was a partner at an ecommerce company that was ultimately acquired.

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