Break Into Tech With These Words Of Advice From Tobi Afolabi
Right at the beginning of the lockdown period last year, she had just lost her previous job where her boss told her mean words that not only made her feel bad, but also motivated her to upskill, get better, and use the new skills to break into tech.
Tobi Afolabi who has a background in writing and content creation is now a UI/UX Designer. Currently working at Da Design Studio as a Design Writer, she spoke with me about her journey into the field, what motivated her choice of speciality, and all she’s learnt in the past year as a tech babe.
If you’re looking for how to get into tech and how to get started in IT, you definitely need to read these 5 pieces of advice she had to share.
Start with your current skills.
When Tobi decided to go for UX/UI design, it was majorly influenced by her existing interest and skills in graphics design and use of Canva. She wanted something that would help her improve on those skills and that was more visually focused. In her words,
“UI just seemed to be like the next step.’’
Starting out or switching to tech could be very overwhelming. Having to decide what area to specialise in or learn, what in-demand jobs best fit you, etc can all be tasking. Start by listing out the current skills you have and check for what tech jobs you can switch to with those.
Tech, just like other industries, requires pretty much the same skills, especially the non coding ones. Sift through job descriptions to see what jobs match your current background, then make the move to upskill by learning all about it.
Which brings us to lesson number two.
Read and acquire background knowledge, even before you get invested and start practising.
After Tobi had decided on what she wanted to upskill her graphic design skills to – UI Design – she then started reading articles, watching videos and also talking to people already in the industry. It was during this time she was told to learn both UX and UI because in some places, people will prefer to hire someone skilled in both, rather than hire individually.
So while she was initially drawn to UI design because of her visual interests, she added UX to it so she could stand a better chance in the employment market.
When breaking into tech, it’s not enough to take courses and certifications, you’ll also need to talk with people currently working in your field of interest. This will help you get answers to some questions people struggle with when starting in tech. It’ll also provide the right mindset for when you’re fully invested.
There are things courses won’t tell you or prepare you for that only experienced people can, which is why number 3 is key.
The most important learning resource of all, are other people.
That’s a direct quote from Tobi FYI.
Having people in your corner who have gone through the same journey getting started in tech or switching from another industry into tech, and can always help with advice, opportunities, resources and feedback on your work can never be overestimated.
You need mentors, friends, a community of people like you who can always provide you with help when you need it.
So, how do you build/find tech communities as a beginner?
- Share your work with the public, you’ll attract them. Whether it’s on your Twitter, LinkedIn, starting a Medium blog or building a portfolio, just share your journey and build in public. You’ll be opening yourself to so much goodwill just by doing so.
- Reach out to people you admire or who are popular in your chosen tech speciality. Follow them on whatever public platforms they own, share their works, interact with them and never be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Something Tobi mentioned in her interview was to ‘always ask for help, you may feel like you’re disturbing them but you’re not and even if you are, they’ll let you know’. Provided you’re being respectful and non entitled to anyone’s time, you’re good to go.
- We have compiled this resource guide for tech newbies which includes Twitter lists you can follow, YouTube channels, podcasts, blogs, etc. There’s also this one which has examples of some women like you in non-coding tech jobs at different startups.
Collaborate with others and build a portfolio.
As beginners in any field, asides the stuff you’re learning from books and courses, you also need to build experience and proof of what you know. This is what will help you stand out in a world where everyone is currently taking one online course or certification.
Tobi suggests collaborating with other tech newbies like yourself to build something. For example, if you know someone learning to code and you are learning ux/ui design, the both of you can work together to build say a website you can always show as physical proof of your knowledge.
This is a great way to get hands-on personal experience and also a way of reaching wider audiences. To build a personal portfolio there are several tools you can use. Tobi suggests Google Sites, a free website builder by Google which requires no coding skills at all.
Never stop practising.
During our chat, Tobi shared a personal experience where she got a gig in December 2020 but because she had stopped practicing how to use the tools and software (because of a part-time job she got), she struggled for a bit initially.
I know saying stuff like ‘practice makes perfect’ and all the variations of this advice may seem obvious, but truly it’s important that you make a conscious effort to stay learning and applying whatever it is you’re learning. This is the only way you get better and stay useful.
To help with this, especially if you’re interested in UI design, she suggested Daily UI, a website that provides you with daily challenges to become a better designer in 100 days. Stuff like this exists for other tech areas, just check our resources guide.
Asides the advice she shared, she also let us know her best and worst moments so far since she started working in tech.
Her best moment was after the very first gig she got, the client sent a message, praising her for the work she did which made them seem like ‘a shining star’ at their workplace. While her worst moment so far was the realisation of how misogynistic the tech industry is. The thought of having to work alongside men who saw women’s issues as frivolous and unserious, made her really sad.
Overall, working in IT/tech for the past 1 year has been a really good experience for Tobi Afolabi. A journey that started with words that made her feel bad, and as a way to prove to herself that she can do better, has now turned into a career path that has seen her develop better skills that she uses at a larger platform now, doing big things and making clients extremely happy.
Tobi has proved to herself that she can do whatever she sets her mind to, we hope she has also inspired you to know you can, and that there’s room for you in tech too.