Science Degree to Tech Grad – 7 Tips

Stan – AI Startup Graduate (LinkedIn)


I started my Chemistry degree at the University of Warwick with a fresh face, ready to dive head-first into all the wonders that Chemistry has to offer. However, after a couple of years, my aspirations had certainly changed. It happens to countless students every year – starting a degree only to realise halfway through that you don’t see a career in that field. To say that I didn’t enjoy my degree would be false – I thoroughly enjoyed my three years of study. But it was when contemplating a career in the labs that I decided that it just wasn’t for me anymore; I wanted to break into the tech industry.

Since graduating in 2018, I have certainly made steady progress, growing and developing into the DevOps professional that I am today. I know full well that taking the dive to switch paths from Science and pursue a career in tech can be quite daunting. With that in mind, here are 7 tips that I have picked up from my experience:

1) Your transferable skills are more important than you realise.

It’s a phrase that you hear and may use quite often when applying for tech roles: ‘transferable skills.’ I certainly talked about them a lot while interviewing for various jobs. But it wasn’t until I actually got stuck into the work that I realised that they are much more significant than I had previously thought.

Studying a science at university gifts you with a skill set that will serve you well in the tech industry, in particular:

  • Problem Solving. A large chunk of work that goes on in tech revolves around it. At its core, problem solving is what technology is all about. It’s the reason why anything is ever built and why all tech companies exist at all. They solve problems. Don’t underestimate how crucial this skill is.
  • The ability and drive to teach yourself. Science degrees require a lot of motivation and ability to teach yourself – and teach yourself quickly. The technology landscape is changing continuously and those that are able to keep up will thrive in the long-term. The importance of this skill cannot be stressed enough.
  • Teamwork and collaboration. Unless you were that one person in every lab group that did the bare minimum and relied on the rest of the team, chances are you’re pretty used to working and collaborating as a team. This an essential skill for most lines of work, but it is especially important in tech, where teams are usually very diverse and multifunctional, spanning large age gaps, different backgrounds and spread across various geographies. Teamwork is essential.
  • Data Analysis. I don’t think this one needs much explaining. If you can complete a degree in science, you can draw insights from large datasets and present your findings. Very important skill.

2) Your dedication to learning will define your progress.

A point so important, I had to say it twice. To excel in the tech industry, you have to learn continuously in your free time (you may have heard the phrase ‘Life-long Learning’). This is even more the case for non-CompSci students/graduates, because there is a degree of catching up to do. If you can master the habit of self-teaching, you will go far in tech.

There is no shortage of websites to learn from. It does depend on what you want to learn, but my personal recommendations are:

  • Coursera – especially for learning GCP skills.
  • Whizlabs – covers many knowledge bases, including DevOps, Agile, Project Management, Cloud, Big Data, Cyber – and much more.
  • Udemy – there’s a course for basically everything on there. 
  • YouTube and Stack Overflow – so much free information out there!

3) Certifications are excellent – but don’t mistake a piece of paper for experience.

Leading on from the point above, while tech certifications are excellent in so many ways, don’t mistake them for real-world, hands-on experience. Experience is invaluable. Only by getting your hands dirty do you learn the best practices (and also witness some awful practices). You will learn the most by trying and failing – and that’s fine.

If you are struggling to find a permanent role in tech, there are countless start-ups out there that would be glad to take you on as work experience – you just have to put in the work to find them.

If you are still at university, technology internships are worth their weight in gold. The more real-world experience you can get before graduating, the better.

4) Imposter Syndrome is completely normal.

Impostor Syndrome is an individual experience of “self-perceived intellectual phoniness”. Truth be told, I felt it when I first started, and I know professionals that still feel it despite years of experience.

When you start a new role in tech, in an area that you may not be experienced in, the likelihood is that you may also experience Imposter Syndrome. You may have thoughts of not being good enough, or anxiety about what your team may think. 

But I can’t stress this enough – these feelings are completely normal! The only way to get over these feelings is to roll your sleeves up and revel in the uncomfortableness. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as possible (there are no stupid ones, I promise). Soon enough, these feelings will fade, and your confidence will grow. 

Remember, growth only occurs outside the comfort-zone.

5) You don’t have to be technical to work in tech…

If you chance your arm at learning coding languages, you may discover that coding isn’t for you. Does that mean you can’t work in tech? Of course not! You don’t have to be a code-god to work in tech.

There are a multitude of tech roles out there that are just as important – the main areas being: Project Management, Agile/Scrum and Business Analysis. All of these require the same core skill set as anyone working in the technology industry.

6) …But if you are technical, Cloud knowledge is a must.

Regardless of whether you want to become a Cyber expert or a Java developer – if you neglect learning about the wonders of the Cloud, you are setting yourself up to fail.

Cloud is the backbone that will support all future technology. You may become a wizard at developing Deep Learning algorithms, but if you don’t know how to deploy them, then what’s the point?! Modern technology teams have moved away from Development and Operations being separate – DevOps is the norm. Cloud knowledge is imperative for any modern technologist. 

The main three cloud providers are: AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (my personal recommendation).

7) Don’t Rush to Find Your Niche.

The technology landscape is vast, there are so many niches out there. If you are breaking into tech, there is absolutely no rush to find your speciality – you don’t need to be an SME (Subject Matter Expert) straight away. In fact, a wider technological skill set will be to your benefit in the long run. For example, if you’re developing your cloud skills, a strong knowledge base in computer networking will serve you very well. Even if you decide to take the path of Scrum Master / Product Owner / Project Manager – good knowledge of the technical aspects that your teams are working on will certainly benefit you.

Final Thoughts

If you are a science student/grad aspiring to break into tech, there is no better time than the present – the technology industry is only going to continue to grow! In addition, STEM students are very sought after in graduate technology recruitment, as they possess the crucial skill sets that I mentioned earlier.

The main point to take away from this would be: start learning as much as you can, and gaining as much experience as you can, as soon as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to fail.

If you are still feeling slightly lost, feel free to get in touch via LinkedIn – I will be more than happy to provide some more guidance or mentoring.

Views expressed in guest posts are solely those of the writer and do not represent the thoughts, opinions or views of any other mentioned third parties, including employers or colleagues.

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Stan
Stan Hill

👨🏻‍💻 Google Cloud Engineer @ HSBC 🧠 Cloud Architect @ Pulse.io ☁️ 3x Google Cloud Certified 🌱 Climate Enthusiast