The web of career pathways into tech & startups can be hella confusing to navigate. We previously wrote a comprehensive guide on Job Titles Explained, but a key pain point we’ve heard from a lot of a lot of you folks is getting a picture of the key routes into tech & startups for non-technical students.
We get it. Whether you’re doing Commerce, Law, Science, or Arts, the idea of working in tech and startups can seem super appealing, but it’s hard to know where you fit into the picture.
You see a whole lot of technical entry-level roles / grad programs but not a whole lot for your generalist, soft-skill-type roles.
That’s why in this Weekly Cheeky Tip, we’ve done a deep dive on the Top 5 Non-Technical Career Paths:
Ops & Strategy
Sales & BD
Marketing & Growth
In addition to providing bite-sized insights into each career path, we thought it’d be cool to get some practical first-hand insight from young operators working in these areas across tech and startups, in order to understand what the day-to-day actually looks like and how to break in.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Strategy & Operations:
Strategy & Operations is the engine room. Putting together mechanisms and frameworks in place that builds scalability and sustainability. The finer details of this role depend on the size and business model of the company. For example, at an early stage startup, there probably isn’t a lot of entry-level strategy work as it’s generally more scrappy by design.
This area is a great starting point for a student who loves to solve unsolved problems and enjoys building things from scratch. It’s a popular landing spot for ex-consultants that take the plunge into startups as a lot of time is spent in the weeds of Excel and PowerPoint.
We were lucky enough to get some insight from Ariel Lowell, an Associate in the Strategy & Operations team at Salesforce.
What are some of your core responsibilities?
Before I delve too deep into this question, I just want to put a disclaimer out there that I have only been in my current role at Salesforce for around 2 months - so if my answer sounds extremely rudimentary, now you know why (hah!).
While there are a whole lot of fancy role titles out there like Product Management, Business Development and Growth, thankfully, I have the pleasure of being in a role which is much easier to explain. My core responsibilities can be divided up into two key sections (hint: it's in the role name) - strategic projects, and day to day operations.
In terms of the strategic side of the role, think of high level projects which outcomes would dictate how the ANZ team plans their go to market strategy, and build insightful recommendations of which areas of the business to prioritise in the immediate future (I'll get into more of the nitty gritty in the next question).
On the operational side, a lot of it is centred around using Salesforce's arsenal of tools such as Tableau and Einstein analytics to track, analyse and optimise how different areas of the business are performing, and what they can do to improve.
What are some of the day to day tasks you are involved in as a strategy & operations associate?
Again, let's split this up into the two components we went over in the previous question.
On the strategic side of things, I've recently been working on a really interesting project surrounding the state of the ANZ market, and how we can use that more holistic understanding to drive growth for the business. The aim is to effectively understand the market on an extremely granular level, in order for the Strategy team to be able to make data driven recommendations such as "How penetrated is the NSW market compared to Queensland?", or "How saturated are each of our products in specific industries?".
In terms of the day to day operational rigour, I'm mainly involved in business partnering with specific sales leaders to improve their forecasting and reporting capabilities - a recent project I worked on was using Einstein Analytics to create a comprehensive performance tracking dashboard. This has been extremely enjoyable, as I've been given the opportunity to build up my stakeholder and project management skills by gaining exposure to working with very senior stakeholders in the business (some who have been working for longer than I've been alive!).
How did you get started in strategy & operations?
Like most people in my degree (Commerce/Economics), getting into a top tier consulting firm after finishing university was always the dream (I'm half kidding), so I would have to say that I had a fairly traditional path in terms of work and extra-curricular experience throughout university - I interned at PwC over a summer, joined a few pro-bono consulting societies, all the typical stuff that a UNSW Commerce student would do LOL.
I guess if you were to ask me when my first foray into a 'strategy' happened, it would be during my time at Uber when I rotated through the Product Strategy team in their Rides business. My time on this team, while short-lived, cemented my desire to not only work in strategy, but to also do it at a tech company which would have a far reaching impact on a lot of individuals all over the world.
What skills and experience should students & grads prioritise to break into strategy & operations?
If I had to rank the top 3 most important things a student would need to break into a role in strategy and ops, it would probably look something like this.
1. Problem Solving & Critical Thinking.
I know, this can be a bit of a meme - who else has said in interviews that their biggest strength is how much of a natural problem solver you are? Yeah you and me both. But I can't discount how important it is to be able to logically think through problems and recommend solutions that will drive the desired outcome/impact, especially since most interviews for these roles will require you to solve a case study on the spot while talking your interviewer through the methodologies and analysis you used to arrive at your conclusions.
2. Work & Extra-curricular Experience
I hate to be that guy, but at this early stage of our careers, we're effectively the sum of all of the brands on our resume. While I don't discredit how valuable work experience at an early stage startup could be, my advice to students is to always seek professional experience at large companies which, as a result of their reputation as a brand and commonly accepted high barriers of entry, can make you a much more credible candidate.
3. Presentation, presentation, presentation.
Do as many case competitions and join as many consulting societies as you can - seriously. Getting involved in these things will not only bolster your business acumen, technical skills in analysis and modelling, but more importantly make you a much more effective and confident presenter.
Learn how to be a story teller - speak well in front of an audience, make great slides, and I'm willing to bet that you'll find success in this field.
In 2016, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece on the most coveted Job Title for MBA’s: Product Manager and ever since it’s gone to the moon (if it were a stonk). There are a wealth of resources out there that will give you a peek into the glamorous world of product management. The crux is that product managers help organisations decide what products to build and help teams deliver those products. PMs need to wear a lot of different hats - you’re putting out the latest fires, you’re being the diplomat, you’re putting on your psychologist hat to understand users and so on.
This article explains all of the different hats really well.
We chatted with Jenny Chu, who started in Atlassian’s Product Management program and is now leading product at consumer healthcare engine Eucalyptus.
What are some of your core responsibilities in product?
What are some of the day to day tasks you are involved in as a product lead?
A mixture of long term planning and short term, more feature delivery work:
Long term vision and strategy planning I.e. identifying where the product should go over the next year.
Planning work and features for the engineering team, prioritisation of them based on business objectives, customer feedback and metrics.
Scoping out features based off of customer and business requirements, wireframing solutions.
Working with engineering, design and marketing to coordinate the release of the feature - may include testing of the feature.
Creating dashboards so we can see how people engage with the feature!
How did you get started in product?
Started in product by accident! I actually cold emailed an agency for a UX designer role but they weren’t hiring and forwarded me to another company in the same office to be a product manager in a consulting company. Eventually I applied for the product management grad program for Atlassian where I feel like I learnt a bit more about what a product manager actually does.
What skills and experience should students & grads prioritise to break into product?
Entrepreneurial experience is super valuable — whether it’s a side gig or working in an early stage startup in a generalist role. The best way to learn about how product management works is trying to building one. Otherwise some sort of skills in design, coding, growth is a bonus.
Customer Success is the latest cool phrase in the customer service world and is growing in popularity and importance to companies, particularly in tech. “Customer Success Manager” (CSM) was pretty much unheard of until a decade ago, but an HBR study shows that 40% of 109 high-tech companies interviewed reported having CSM’s in their business.
So where did customer success come from and how does it differ to customer service or support?
The answer lies in the rise of SaaS products and consumption-based models (i.e. cloud services) and increased significance on key metrics such as customer churn and ARPU (average revenue per user) amongst others. Thus the birth of a new strategic function and shift in mentality from traditional customer service to customer success that is proactive, not reactive, ongoing not transactional and importantly long-term revenue-generating and not a short-term cost centre.
We spoke with Erica Soon, a graduate CSM at Microsoft.
What are some of your high level responsibilities in customer success?
Hi there! My name is Erica and I’m currently a Modern Workplace Customer Success Manager (MW CSM) at Microsoft. Our role focuses on maximising the value our customers reap from the MW product suite, particularly Microsoft Teams. This involves identifying and prioritising key business scenarios in our customers, driving adoption and change management activities for Teams rollouts, and orchestrating with internal and partner teams to successfully execute on Teams engagements for our customers.
What are some of the day to day tasks you are involved in as part of customer success at Microsoft?
My daily responsibilities are currently split between driving our scaled customer programs (e.g workshops, webinars and communities) and closely working with customers to drive their business outcomes with Microsoft Teams (e.g scoping conversations with key business stakeholders, running envisioning workshops and curating change management plans).
How did you get started in customer success?
I was fortunate enough to be offered a graduate position in Microsoft’s Customer Success unit after doing their internship program. Prior to this role, ‘Customer Success’ was something that was super new to me! But after conversations with friends/peers who worked in the field, I felt like the role aligned with what I was looking for in a graduate position in terms of skillsets, opportunities and growth, and took the plunge!
What skills and experience should students & grads prioritise to break into customer success?
One of the greatest things about CS is that the skills you’ve built during your university/internship experiences can probably be translated into the role (e.g problem solving, leadership, etc). But specific skills/experiences that can help in your CS journey include getting involved in projects that require you to be the conduit between technical and business teams, driving and leading initiatives end-to-end as well as being able to work with (and influence) business decision makers such as execs and senior managers. Further, any experience in change management is a big plus!
Sales & BD:
Sales & Business Development is the high-demand tech job that no one really likes to talk about. The current explosion of high growth tech companies hasn’t just created an overwhelming demand for engineers, it’s created an equal (if not greater) demand for salespersons. However, there is a need to rewrite the popular perception of “sales,” which can often conjure images of door-to-door sales or sitting in office cubicles smashing through cold call lists. Tech sales can be a great entry-level route into tech and startups with relatively low barriers to entry, great pay and endless career opportunities.
We chatted with Katherine Tjendana, part of the sales team at AWS.
What are some of your core responsibilities in sales?
Being the first touch of engagement in the sales cycle
Following up warm leads within a timely manner
Prospecting into greenfield or existing accounts
Qualifying opportunities by understanding the customer need, why are they interested in AWS, what are the current pain points they’re facing etc.
Handing qualified opportunities to Account Managers, facilitating introductions via email and meetings
What are some of the day to day tasks you are involved in as part of sales at AWS?
Managing how we divide up warm leads to call amongst the team daily
Creating contacts and logging activity/opportunities in our CRM tool
Building prospecting lists to call down
Participating in sales plays, which involves calling targeted accounts/personas to discuss a particular service, workload or industry
Regular training and enablement
How did you get started in sales?
Despite never having plans to go into sales, as I was finishing up my internship in a business development role, I wanted to branch out into a customer-facing role
The opportunity to be a grad in a pre-sales team came up and I figured I’d give it a go. The role was more about the volume of customers you engage with rather than deep relationships with customers, but I was reassured it was a great role for learning the ins-and-outs of sales
What skills and experience should students & grads prioritise to break into sales?
Thinking on your feet and adaptability to wherever a conversation goes
Asking lots of questions that reveal someone’s priorities
Resilience to handle tough or a lack of meaningful conversations
Retail or customer service experience
There’s a lot of learning on the job – I didn’t have any proper sales experience but through the help of my team and lots of training, I’ve grown in my sales techniques.
Marketing & Growth:
With the landscape for digital real estate being more competitive than ever across ever-changing, new platforms, the marketing function is increasingly becoming very data-driven and strategic. This new digital age has given birth to new popular positions in marketing, performance and growth marketing. These roles are largely experimental, responsible for running quick, iterative A/B tests across the marketing funnel and using results to shape strategy updates.
Kathy Shi, who works in marketing at Basiq (recently raised $10m from Afterpay Ventures) shared some insights.
What are some of your core responsibilities in ,marketing?
- Driving and executing content strategy across owned and paid media channels.
- Distributing and creating assets for product, company, partnership and customer announcements.
- Identifying opportunities to grow organic search and expand promotional channels.
What are some of the day to day tasks you are involved in as part of marketing at Basiq?
On a day-to-day basis I’m writing, everything from blog articles, press releases, company newsletters, website, ad and social copy to sales collateral. Every piece of content is an opportunity to build a relationship with people who have never heard of Basiq and increase engagement with those who already have. That means getting input from the right people, whether it’s the sales and support teams to better understand customer pain points or the product team to translate their vision into assets that will engage and convert.
How did you get started in marketing?
I always had a passion for writing and creative content. Marketing became a natural extension of that and I was lucky enough to come across Basiq and a team that has valued content and brand from the get-go. The advantage of working at a startup/ scale up is that you need to be able to learn on the go and do a bit of everything, which is a great way to become a T-shaped marketer.
What skills and experience should students & grads prioritise to break into marketing?
Over 90% of customer journeys start with a Google search. No matter what your marketing specialisations will be, it’s useful to have an understanding of how search engines work. There are heaps of free online courses available - Google’s digital marketing fundamentals certification is a great starting point. Another useful thing to do is look at job ads for roles you want to be in, in the next 5 years. They’re the skills you should focus on building now.