If your career goal is to enter the IT industry, but you don’t have a degree, it could be a lot easier than you think.
We spoke with Cherie Hunt, about her non-traditional route into the industry, moving from hospitality, into her current role as Senior Project Manager at Okta.
After finishing high school, Cherie launched her career in hospitality, working in hostels, hotels, and retail. This early career pathway took her all around Australia to Uluru, Port Douglas, the Sunshine Coast, and Brisbane, before she finally settled in Sydney.
“I love hospitality, it’s such a social, engaging industry – particularly, interacting with customers. Before opening The Observatory Hotel in Sydney (now the Langham), I underwent training on our new point-of-sale computer systems.
“When I observed the trainer, I thought to myself, ‘I could do this job and it looks cool!’ I reached out to the company and had the opportunity to speak with its CEO. He encouraged me to increase my computer knowledge by obtaining a certification or industry experience.”
Here are her best tips to get into the IT industry, without a degree.
1. Obtain a certification
Cherie’s fortuitous conversation with this CEO inspired her to quit her job and complete a six-month IT course.
“Money was tight, but it was the career I wanted, so I knew it’d all be worth it. After completing the course, I returned to the company I first worked as an implementation consultant. They gave me the opportunity to be an implementation consultant and project manager. I got to travel to China, Jakarta, New Zealand, and all over Australia to implement their point-of-sale and front office systems in five-star hotels.”
That was 28 years ago. And since getting her start in IT, she hasn’t looked back since. Not to mention, during this time, she’s also gotten married and had a baby!
Now, as a Senior Project Manager at Okta, she manages the projects their services team delivers.
“This involves collaborating internally with our team members and externally with customers, while achieving our project goals. To do this well, you need strong leadership, communication, and project delivery skills. You also need to be capable of multitasking, to manage multiple projects each week, resourcing, and reporting.”
2. Grow your skills with the right company
For Cherie, growing her IT skills with great companies has made all the difference. She knew she’d made the right decision to move to Okta as she experienced the best guidance and support.
“Okta is such an exciting, extremely professional company at the forefront of the industry. I always knew I wanted to be part of it. Right from the start, my boss was so supportive; he gave me confidence by allowing me to explore my project management skills.”
This culture of support exists throughout every level of the business.
“Our entire Professional Services team is amazing. They’re customer and colleague-focused. My peers inspire me with their enthusiasm, drive, and thirst for learning. And our managers demonstrate such positive, enthusiastic leadership styles. They always make time to assist and support everyone in the team. They have such extensive industry knowledge and experience; I love learning from them.”
Overall, Okta has inspired her in discovering how wonderful people and workplaces can be.
“The past two years, during the pandemic, presented me with a number of personal and professional challenges. Since joining Okta eight months ago, I’ve found it to be such an amazing company that has a true support and appreciation for its employees. My colleagues and I really care for one another.”
There have been plenty of career development opportunities too! Both formal, and informal.
“I love having 1:1 meetings with managers, receiving the opportunity to undertake training and courses.”
3. Choose a role that has an impact
If you’re pivoting from a different industry into IT, training and support might be your top priorities as you grow your skills. But as you develop, finding a way to have an impact in your work could be your next priority.
What could that mean for you?
For Cherie, she loves that her role has an impact by providing an exceptional customer experience and service, while demonstrating value.
“Working in this capacity gives us more opportunities to provide additional services and increase revenue.”
And there are several career achievements she’s proud of!
“What stands out to me the most are our successful implementations. Just knowing the services my team delivers are game-changing for those companies, and the value those companies will gain is incredibly rewarding.”
4. Be prepared for challenges
Every career pivot presents its own set of challenges. For example, some of the top challenges IT professionals face include overcoming skills gaps, adapting to disruptive technologies, reaching deadlines through project management, and more.
As a Senior Project Manager, Cherie shares her biggest challenge has been multitasking.
“It’s not easy! In my role, I have to ‘context switch’ and manage up to twenty projects at any one time, while still providing high-quality customer service. That’s something that often surprises people.”
But if you’re looking to succeed in an IT career, it’s possible to overcome these challenges. As Cherie explains, grit and determination will be your keys to success.
“Just because you start in an industry, doesn’t mean you have to stay in it. It’s possible for anyone to make a change! I encourage more women to consider a career change in IT; there are so many benefits and opportunities.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way – don’t give up on your career dreams! There are never failures, only lessons.”