C++. Java. HTML. WAN. LAN. If you saw a test grade, a cup of coffee, and a bunch of nonsense words when reading the preceding rather than descriptions of the skills required for computer programming and networking, it’s probably safe to say that you don’t make a living in the high-tech field. But that doesn’t mean you can’t secure an applied technology position. Just ask Laura A. Clayton.
She had been working in corporate America as a lawyer for nearly 15 years when she decided that it was time for a change. “I wanted to use more of my business skills,” says Clayton, 39, who holds a J.D. and an M.B.A. from the University of Southern California at Berkeley. An admitted tech-novice at the time, she still was able to find a career opportunity at Apple Computer Inc.
When probed about her knowledge of computers during her job interview, she readily ‘fessed up. “I explained that while I didn’t have a lot of experience using computers, I could learn fast. He liked the fact that I was a quick read and adaptable to change.” She was happy to accept the offer.
Since then, Clayton has worked in the legal departments of other high-tech companies, such as Cisco Systems. She now converts key initiatives and strategies into business deals, as senior director of business affairs for iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions, a joint venture between Sun Microsystems and America Online (AOL).
She believes that communication skills are very important-even in a highly technical environment. “The ability to translate the benefits of technology in a way that a business can see a positive impact on their bottom line is a skill that a liberal arts major can easily apply to a career in the high-tech industry.”
Clayton’s situation is far from unique. There are approximately 4.5 million high-tech jobs available-4 million of which are unfilled due to lack of talent-says Robert J. Doleman, founder of Doleman Enterprises, a Reston, Virginia-based executive search and management firm. And while the technology sector functions primarily on the strength of programmers, network engineers, and developers, there are also many applied technology opportunities-jobs that require a working knowledge of, rather than a proficiency in, highly technical applications.
“The software industry is exploding, so there’s a need for all types of jobs in this field,” says William A. Schaffer, author of High-Tech Careers for Low-Tech People. “The key to career success [for non-techies] lies in networking with people in the field. About 85% of all jobs people get in the high-tech industry are through people they know.”
It’s easy to understand the appeal of working for a high-tech company: an exciting, stimulating work environment, continuous access to training, great stock options, and, of course, a fat paycheck. According to the Finance Accounting Salary Guide, salaries in the sector are 10% to 15% higher than those in other industries.
If you think the only way you can break into the tech business is by investing in stocks, read on. From marketing and sales, to business development, to strategic