Morphing your marketing career into a technical marketing career (step one)

Many people have asked me for advice on morphing a marketing career into a technical marketing career. It can be tough to make a career shift when there are so many people out there looking for a new opportunity; and many of them already have a technical marketing background. Instead of giving you a long list of things to do right now to make the shift, I thought I would throw out some recommendations now and then. You can’t do it overnight anyway, right?

Because I had to go through the process of changing from a finance and accounting recruiter to a tech recruiter, I know a little bit about the subject. 

Even if you are just toying with the idea of making the change, one thing I would do is get some high level training on the industry. This will help you make an educated decision about whether a career in technical marketing is right for you. An organization called Semco Enterprises puts on a class (and published a book) called “Systems, Terms and Acronyms“. I’ve actually taken the class twice (they update the content to keep up with changes in technology). The first time I took the class, it was taught by Susan Hodges, the founder of the company. Now she has other instructors teach as well. I can’t say enough great things about this class as a resource for getting a grasp on the tech industry. So you don’t know what a platform is? They’ll explain it. Middle ware sounds like something you wear in winter? They’ll explain it. They don’t get into anything that is so specific, it’s irrelevant. You just get a good understanding of how computers work and the terminology you need to have a conversation with someone in the industry and sound pretty darn intelligent.

I am a very tough customer when it comes to training. I’ve been known to walk out when it’s bad (why waste money AND time?). This class is worth it if you need to get a basic understanding of the computer industry.


Comments (6)

  1. Have you had any first hand (or second) of highly technical people making a career change and succeding in technical marketing? I have been pondering if I could make the switch. what would you recommend someone coming from a software development/architecture consulting career thinking of becoming a recruiter? Thanks

  2. Heather says:

    Chris-Most of the people I have seen make the transition from tech to marketing have done so by getting an MBA. Lots of people like that here and we really value the previous tech experience.

    Besides that, I would say you could pursue some hybrid types of roles at your current company. The reason why I say do it at your current company is because they are more likely to take a chance on you because they know you are a good performer. I always think it’s easier to make a career change "in-house". The types of roles that I would see as a hybrid are technical product planning and technical evangelist roles.

    For Tech Product Planning, you would utilize your tech skills, of course. But also customer understanding, which I think people can gain by working in pre-sales roles or, as a dev or program manager, working closely with product management to understand customers needs.

    For Tech Evangelism, you need the tech skills, the customer understanding and really good presentation skills; which I think you can only get from practice. Volunteer for speaking opportunities, even if it’s with professional organizations. We actually had (and have) a lot of the TE folks here present during their interviews.

    The transition into a recruiting career, I think is a little different. There are firms out there that will take people out of industry and teach them to recruit. But by and large, these are entry level opportunities (this was the case when I transitione into recruiting). I suspect that when the economy gets humming again and firms reach out to third party recruiters, some of these types of organizations will be hiring for recruiters.

    I made the shift ten years ago—if you are trying to guess how old I am, I can just tell you I feel 100 ; )—so there may be some recruiters out there that have gone through this move more recently and provide a different perspective.

  3. I would also like to add that as mentioned to me by Heather in an e-mail a few weeks back, there are some positions at some tech companies that hire expert marketers with non technical background.

    For those non technical marketers these positions are:

    -outbound marketing types of roles.

    -roles where they are looking for experience with a specific

    audience segment or geographic market.

    I do have a question: College grads are recruited and obviously don’t have any tech working marketing experience. Would you prefer to hire a college grad for that entry level position or an expert marketer with no tech background that is willing and very motivated to start at an entry level position to learn, get experience and work his way up?

    Heather many thanks for your suggestions. I will be looking into the Semco Enterprises class since I’m one of those expert marketers with an MBA and extensive experience but with no tech background.

  4. Heather says:

    Juan Carlos- Interesting question. We do have a program that identifies marketing new grads (that’s undergrads) and hires them into s program where they do some learning on the job. We are going into year 2 of the program at this point and it will be interesting to see how the careers of some of these hires play out over time and whether they are more or less successful than folks who come from non-tech marketing backgrounds into roles.

    The interesting part of this is that since we recruit them from college, and all of these candidates are pretty much starting out from the same place career-wise, we have been able to program-ize (if that’s a word) their entry into our marketing population by creating learning opportunities for them as a group.

    So the complicating factors for people with non-tech marketing backgrounds are

    1) that it’s difficult to identify the ones that are willing to take the step back compensation-wise to make the change and

    2) if we could somehow do that and apply those folks toward entry level openings here, it would be hard to create an on-boarding curriculum for those people because they would all have such different work experience.

    Something else that I think is difficult in general, when there is so much work to be done, is convince the hiring manager to take on someone without the technical knowledge (for a tech marketing role) when we are still able to find people in the market that have the tech knowledge. Part of the issue is supply and demand (of candidates with technical backgrounds) and part of it is managers being averse to the risk of that person not ramping up on the technology quickly.

    I guess that’s why I think that a non-tech marketer is probably better served by finding one of those positions with an audience or geographic specialty. That way you can kind of differentiate yourself.

    Thanks for jumping in this discussion!

  5. Thanks for answering my question. I think now is even more clear for all the non tech expert marketers the recruiters position and in what areas they could be a good fit. I have identified a couple of outbound marketing positions and one regarding an specific audience that could be a good fit for me and the company. Maybe I have identified myself as one of those experts willing to take the step back in compensation since I’ll be rellocating to the Seattle area and most of the jobs available are tech jobs.

    Again, many thanks

    Juan Carlos Almodovar