Australia’s accidental techies: The nontraditional path to a career in IT

The CIO Australia Show: With talent shortages and increased demand making tech hiring so difficult, CIOs should be be even more open to candidates from a variety of backgrounds beyond just tech.

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The tech sector has plenty of people who never set out to work in the industry, let alone ascend to senior roles. Yet through some twist of fate or chance encounter, that’s exactly what has happened. And in some cases, they’ve found themselves in major tech roles, with hundreds of staff reporting to them and managing massive IT budgets. People with traditional backgrounds should be on every CIO’s radar.

David Jones, who is Asia-Pacific chief at global recruiter Robert Half, says now is a good time for candidates without tech backgrounds to move into tech. The buoyancy of the Australian tech sector is a main factor contributing to record levels of employment in the country, which is leaps and bounds ahead of many economies still suffering from the pandemic—and that means tech jobs are hard to fill. The ongoing travel restrictions brought by the coronavirus has also put an end to previously larger inflow of skilled migrants looking for jobs in IT and other technical professions.

“This is leading people to think more laterally around what talent is available and what talent can you tap in to. People in hiring positions are beginning to think a little bit differently and probably looking at attitude and behaviour perhaps more so than just pure technical capability,” Jones says. That said, the 30-year veteran of tech and other executive recruitment admits recruiters rarely have the luxury of responding to tech clients’ requirements by putting forward candidates without any actual tech experience. “What we do so see, increasingly and particularly when you get to the top of the food chain in IT is that the initial background of those people is quite wide and varied.”

Jones sees HR and IT execs seeing anopthert advantage to look beyond just tech experience: “When you’re looking at change management programs and when you’re looking at digital and tech innovation, at the end of the day it’s not so much about the tech. It’s more about the behavioural changes that are required and the people.”

It’s trend that been in train years before the pandemic, however, with Jones observing greater divergence in early career skills and experience between CIOs and other tech leaders. He says that as people move to the top of the food chain, their roles become more about influencing others and working collaboratively, often from home. CIO Australia spoke to three people whose moves into IT positions followed nontraditional paths.

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