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What to Think About Before Transitioning from a Functional to Technical Role (or vice-versa)

What to Think About Before Transitioning from a Functional to Technical Role (or vice-versa)

Hassan Nasrallah By Hassan Nasrallah,
Recruitment Specialist at Eagle

In our ever-expanding and constantly changing IT world, you might have realized you are meant for a career or transition that is more rewarding, whether that be more money, personally fulfilling/satisfying or provides better flexibility with your work/life balance. Your IM/IT experience may be more transferable than you think and here’s what you should know

Career transitions are always a hot topic and now more than ever, people are finding themselves needing to either make a change due to economic pressures or a needing to expand their horizons through bigger challenges and bigger rewards.

OR

Even more specifically, you have been recognized within your client company as a top contractor whether that be for your technical skills or commitment to the industry, and are now being considered for a role that is outside your comfort zone!

From functional to technical or vice versa, I want to delve into some of the challenges that one may encounter when transitioning into an unfamiliar role and a few tips to help make that transition.

Determine Your Career path

First and foremost, determine the path you want to take. One thing is absolutely certain, you are changing your current role to something else entirely. Aside from the obvious immediate change, what other factors do you need to adjust, add or remove in order to be considered “effective” and ultimately, is this the correct path for you?

While salary might off-set some concerning discrepancies in what you’re doing now to what you actually enjoy doing, make no mistake, there is a point of diminishing returns. This will hit you doubly so when you are making a move between a functional and technical position because the skills in tech are usually constantly being updated so you will need to learn fast if taking an interim break is not an option for you. On the flip side, soft skills are called soft not because they are easier to attain but because they are not readily quantifiable. Communication skills, character or personality traits, attitudes, career attributes are all decades long skills that are practiced everyday naturally from our childhoods; however, if an individual is lacking in a critical soft skill in a non-technical role, it would be incredibly difficult to ramp up on them. It’s not like you can just read the release notes of being “emotionally intelligent”.

As an IT recruiter, I am able to peer into the tasks and responsibilities of high-level architects, solution managers and deeply technical software engineers and while they all share commonalities, there are hurdles and bounds that make each role distinct, especially within the software development lifecycle. For example, architects are extremely broad in their knowledge of implementations and understanding of software development while often having excellent communication/articulation skills. In contrast, engineers are excellent problem solvers and have to be quite meticulous when it comes to programming according to customer requirements. (additionally, on average, developers/programmers don’t need the communication aptitude of an experienced architect)

Although there are different ways to approach a change like this, I found that I can work it best through 3 main parts.

  • The mindset or perspective of the target role in which you would like to apply to
  • The working culture surrounding the role
  • The key abilities that make that role become effective within the industry you are working in

Mindset

If you’re coming from a technical role and are transitioning into a managerial setting, you would need to adopt a different way of solving problems than if you were fixing errors in lines of code. People are more fluid and resistant to solutions that you think might work. You need to become accustomed to unsolicited feedback, unprecedented and often illogical challenges.

It can prove detrimental to stick to just a familiar (and obviously previously successful) way of thinking and problem solving. While this may have proven useful in your past roles, mindsets in either technical or functional areas are more often mutually exclusive.

A mindset change is essential to grow within your new role and eventually, your deliverables will be measured and judged on quality, efficiency and innovation.

My best advice when trying to think differently about certain approaches that one might take is to appeal to an authority. Find a trusted advisor or expert that can answer your questions and provide you some perspective on how to implement different solutions that were resistant to your initial efforts. This will give you a foundation to grow from and hopefully start a pattern of successful learning experiences

Culture

Another huge area when considering a potential switch is the work culture. What is your new role’s culture like and do you see yourself fitting into it?

I place a lot of importance on this because humans are creatures of habit. We fall into environments that complement our social mannerisms and when removed, it tends to affect us in adverse ways. You may be more familiar to a team environment when your new role requires you to be alone most of the time. You may like to dive head-first into your projects and take a very hands-on approach when your new role requires that you go through compliance/guidelines/approvals/etc.

A personal example is a candidate of mine that was an innovative thinker that really wanted to change some work processes to ensure success and “productivity” when really, the role called for him to “toe the line” (referring to him ignoring any inefficiencies). He eventually quit the position and the hiring manager was not saddened to see him go.

Your work culture is essential to your success and some people might turn up their nose at this citing that it’s less important in the IT contracting world. I would argue that it’s more important due to the finite amount of time to understand the tasks given to you and how you can achieve them operating through an unfamiliar culture

Take the time to properly understand how things are done at your client company, how it might revolve around your new role and what you can do to effectively integrate yourself within that environment

Ability

Lastly, I’ll touch upon ability

I don’t mean to question your own ability to perform well in this new career path but to recognize and utilize your already well-earned abilities to your advantage. Make use of your own KSAs (knowledge, abilities and skills) and actively try to meld them into your new environment. If you’re more used to design and are now working in development. Try to bring your design knowledge into your workstream and incorporate in any way that you think might coincide effectively with your new tasks and responsibilities.

It will differentiate you from others when meeting project deadlines and increase your value to your client when they get more than they bargained for!

All in all

Making a switch into a completely different avenue of work can be very challenging and in a lot of ways, a brave and respectable endeavour. You will gain an entire scope of knowledge that you may have not known even existed. I hope to have brought some helpful advice to individuals who are considering a transition into a new field and I wish you good luck in your future success!