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Non-Techies in a Tech World


by Aashay Sanghvi

Will having a technical degree or background help you get a job at a startup? Absolutely. Yet, will having that very same technical background help you add the most value at an early-stage company? Not necessarily.

Recently, there has been an obsession in the mainstream media, education community, and technology thought leadership with the idea of learning to code. The concept of the programming guru has been romanticized and fetishized, demarcated as the only way of getting into the lucrative world of startups and tech. This is not without cause. When building technology, it is important that one have a mastery of engineering and design. During the evolution of computing, one has witnessed the job market expand for C programmers to modern web developers working with Ruby and Python to mobile engineers working with iOS and Android. These roles will only increase as technology products become more ubiquitous, and even more jobs will open up for technical people who can work with hardware, virtual reality, and big data.

Yet, I would argue that there are opportunities for all types of roles and personalities within the world of startups. In order to successfully scale and commercialize technology products, there needs to a whole ensemble of characters who have a sense of customer empathy and psychological understanding. Subjects traditionally taught in humanities curricula have applications for those who want to work in startups.

A successful startup has people who understand how people think, feel, and behave.

They have designers and marketers who understand why people make the decisions they do and why they’ve done so in the past as well. History, literature, philosophy, and other subjects in that realm have their place. While one person may be suited to more technical challenges, there are parts of company building that require more social and qualitative cognition.

Although non-technical positions are more difficult to come by, one can often hustle his or her way into one through resourcefulness and tenacity. Early companies are so lightweight and nimble that they are often looking for people in any sort of role. These positions are rarely posted online, but getting the jobs is normally a combination of cold outreach and building relationships. Great companies are built at the intersection of excellence in business, design, and engineering principles. Having a group of diverse thinkers and makers on a startup team is advantageous; therefore, one should not think this whole sector is limited to one specific group of people.