1337 words | 8 minutes
By: Jessica Murphy
The internet’s overflowing with advice on how to land a job — some of it good, some of it not so good, almost all of it generic.
But what if you’re looking for tips on breaking into tech specifically? Wouldn’t it be great to have some real guidance from people who’ve been where you are, climbed the ladder and now often sit at the other, comfier side of the interview table?
It would be great, and that’s why we rounded up some of our friends in high places — engineering and innovation leaders from some of Ottawa’s top tech firms — to answer your questions, share their career journeys and offer up some of their best advice on finding work and building a great career in the industry.
We couldn’t have asked for a better group to share their wisdom. They included:
- Samir Ayachi, Head of 5G SW Development Group Ottawa, Ericsson
- Catherine Cormier, VP of Engineering, Assent
- Noel Murphy, Direct of Simulation Technologies, Field Effect
- Taimoor Nawab, Senior Vice President of Strategic Engineering and Business Development, Syntronic
- Ronnie Ross, Country Manager, NPO, Canada, Amazon Web Services
- Hubert Sugeng, Director of Engineering, Bluwave ai
- Lynn Stevens (moderator), Head Facilitator, Impact Ignite HR
Below, we’ve summarized answers to some of your top burning questions on how to land your first job and gain a foothold in the industry as a new grad or career changer.
How can I gain work experience in tech if even the most junior jobs call for several years of experience?
Anyone who’s tried to break into a new industry has experienced the catch-22 of entry-level experience: entry-level jobs are supposed to be a chance to gain a foothold in a field, but many want you to have a pretty significant track record of work already.
So how can you gain experience in a new industry if even the most junior jobs require several years of experience?
The panel’s response? Get creative. “Hobby projects, home labs, self-driven projects count as experience — it doesn’t have to all be paid or company-sponsored experience,” said Hubert. Start a data project using open-source resources like AWS’s open data initiative, Ronnie added, or look for opportunities to volunteer, for example at Code for Canada, where you can help build products and services for the public sector.
The bonus is that this kind of extra-credit work shows you’re passionate and committed to ongoing learning. “I think all the people who have stood out the most are people who’ve applied themselves to doing a home or side project to go deeper,” Hubert noted.
What’s the panel’s number one, best and most effective job search and career development tip?
Surprise! It’s networking.
That was a joke — we know you’ve surely heard this one before. But there’s a reason it’s the top tip of hiring managers and successful people everywhere: having a strong network really is the best way to find good jobs and move up in your field. “Every job that I have had in my career so far has been through a direct contact, versus a cold submission of a resume,” said Noel.
For one, having a strong network helps you learn about opportunities, many of which are never advertised on websites or job portals. And if you’re applying for a position that was posted, knowing someone on the inside of an organization can help you stand out from the hundreds of other applicants languishing in the HR inbox. “If you know people who have worked in a company that you would like to join, it’s always a huge leg up if you can have them help you out,” said Samir.
Referrals can also help get you around pre-screening requirements that might otherwise condemn your CV to the slush pile — if you continually find yourself falling short of that maddening entry-level experience threshold, for example.
So how can you get more connected? “Attend local meetups,” said Noel. “The more you get out and join those meetups, the more you understand what other people in the field are doing, the more you meet other contacts and enhance your network.”
Crucially, though, networking isn’t just about showing up to events or reaching out to people who might help you — the best way to connect is through giving. “Contribute back,” Noel added. “Don’t be passive when you’re in those communities — don’t be the fly on the wall who’s listening. Be engaging.”
How can I navigate ever-evolving new technologies to stay current, or even ahead of the curve?
Things move fast in tech, and keeping up to date with emerging trends can be job in itself. The overarching advice from the panel? Be proactive. Read books and articles, watch videos, take advantage of free or low-cost courses, get involved in communities and generally get excited about what you’re doing.
“Have a source of information that inspires you to keep pushing yourself, that you find naturally interesting for what you want to do,” said Hubert, adding that as you dive into your specialization, don’t lose sight of the big picture. “Go broad and deep at the same time, and have a network of people you can talk to and bounce silly ideas off of.”
“Stay abreast and try to keep current,” Noel added. “That means reading books, and there’s tons of free stuff on YouTube or even very low-cost Udemy courses. Even if you don’t need to do a deep dive on any technologies, you definitely need to have an understanding of how the different pieces fit together.”
“When I’m looking at a candidate, besides just assessing their technical capability, I’m trying to assess their ability to adapt. Things change quickly in technology today, and being able to adapt and be agile in how you get things done is very important.” – Taimoor Nawab, Syntronic
How can I really differentiate myself when so many people have the same or better credentials?
The panel’s resounding answer? It’s not just about tech skills.
Most hiring managers aren’t just checking boxes of required technical abilities and education — they’re also sizing you up for the more intangible qualities that make for a good employee, like openness to change, communication and teamwork skills, and commitment to continuous learning.
“When I’m looking at a candidate, besides just assessing their technical capability, I’m trying to assess their ability to adapt,” said Taimoor. “Things change quickly in technology today, and being able to adapt and be agile in how you get things done is very important.”
“Being part of a team is how you’re going to have a real influence and get things done,” added Catherine. “You can have those specialized skills, but bring them to a team and learn how to engage effectively as part of a team.”
AWS’s Ronnie agreed. “In 2021, we hired 300,000 people, and many of those individuals hired did not have the skills to work in tech. We hire people who might not have the exact skills because we hire builders.”
Do my resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile really matter if it’s all about who you know?
The short answer is yes. Your resume and LinkedIn profile are a hiring manager’s first window into who you are, both professionally and personally. Good write-ups won’t guarantee you a job, but sloppy ones will almost certainly hurt your chances.
“Your resume is the first impression that you’re making to a hiring manager, so make sure it has no errors in it,” said Samir. “A well-written cover letter can also go a long way.”
Be prepared to write cover letters that really speak to the organization and job you’re applying for and to tailor your resume to the position’s specific requirements and expectations. “Not everything is of interest to everyone,” Samir added. “Highlight the skills that you think qualify you for the job you’re applying for.”
This means being specific about what you’ve done. “I work for a very data-driven company. Your CV should be data-driven too,” Ronnie added. “Have specifics, metrics about what you’ve accomplished, not just generalities and open statements. Especially when you’re applying for a job in tech, people like to see data.”
Want to hear more from our panel? Follow us on LinkedIn and stay tuned for part two of the series, where we’ll share their best advice for growing in your career.