23 Alternative Career Paths that Software Developers Can Grow Into
A few questions never fail to come up: "Which language should I learn next?", "How can I prepare for technical interviews?", "Are you hiring?" But one question that threw me off was, "What if I don't want to be a software developer?" I've been thinking about this a lot lately.
Tufayal Hossin Emon
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23 Alternative Career Paths that Software Developers Can Grow Into
Here's what we've been up to recently.
A few questions never fail to come up: "Which language should I learn next?", "How can I prepare for technical interviews?", "Are you hiring?"
But one question that threw me off was, "What if I don't want to be a software developer?"
I've been thinking about this a lot lately. After almost a decade of leading product and engineering teams, I realized I was ready for a new challenge, so this summer, I started freelance technical writing. I didn't know it when I got my first client, but I quickly realized that technical writing is one of many valid career paths for former software engineers.
1. Developer Relations, Advocacy, or Evangelism
As more companies strive to build relationships with developers who are their customers, users, or advocates, the field of developer relations is growing quickly.
Developer relations professionals (some companies call them developer advocates, developer evangelists, community managers, or "DevRels") help establish and build a community around their company's software.
They are often involved in creating demo applications, writing blog posts, speaking at conferences, and managing social media accounts for tech-focused companies. Many of the big-name tech companies (Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc.) hire teams of developer relations professionals.
If you're interested in this field, read up on what Mary Thengvall and PJ Hagerty are doing. They're two of my favorite influencers in the space, and they put out the Community Pulse podcast together.
2. Developer Marketing
While there's some overlap with developer relations, developer marketing is more outwardly focused.
Marketing to developers is especially tricky because we don't like to be sold, so many of the more aggressive marketing tactics that work for other markets are taboo here. As a person with a technical background, you'll naturally understand the way developers think, and you'll have more clout than a traditional marketer might.
SlashData puts out a lot of great content about Developer Marketing, including a book on the topic in 2018. If you'd like to get started in this field, learn online marketing: SEO, social media, content marketing, influencer marketing, etc. You can practice many of these skills on your blog to demonstrate your knowledge before applying to jobs.
3. Sales Engineer
Many engineers are turned off by any job with "sales" in the title, but that's just because we've all encountered bad salespeople.
The truth is that everyone is in sales. Whether you're "selling" yourself as a job candidate during the interview process or advocating for a new framework on your engineering team, sales means matching a customer's needs with the right solution.
Sales engineers are unique in that they have some level of technical expertise. This can be an excellent match for developers who don't want to write code all day but understand software engineering.
The other nice part about sales is that you don't need any specialized certifications to do it. Hubspot offers a great introduction to some skills and resources you can start with. As more companies build software tools and services for engineers, sales engineers will likely become even more in-demand in the coming decade.
4. Technical Recruiter
Another profession that gets a bad rap among software engineers is technical recruiting.
If you want to remain on the product team, but you're not sure you want to be a software developer, there are many fields you can transition into. These roles work closely with engineers, so your coding knowledge will help you, but they also require other specialized knowledge.
5. Quality Assurance or Test Engineer
While there are subtle differences between quality assurance and test engineers, both deal with testing software before it goes live.
6. Business Analyst
On the other end of the product development lifecycle are business analysts. They typically work as a bridge between the business and technical teams to ensure that requirements, limitations, and timelines are understood. They may also hop in and help with testing and quality assurance, depending on the team's structure, so they need to have a wide range of product knowledge.
If you have a background in business, product development, or design and some coding skills, you may qualify for an entry-level business analyst role. If not, I'd recommend looking into some online courses to help you develop a basic understanding of the role and what it entails.
7. Project Manager
Like business analysts, project managers must understand their product's business requirements and technical constraints.
The key difference is that project managers typically go deep into a single project. They often define tasks and resources for the teams working on the project and track the project's progress as it nears release.
Smaller companies may combine the business analyst, project management, scrum master, and product manager roles in various ways, but larger companies may define separate responsibilities.
Excellent organization skills, understanding of the business, and people skills are critical to succeed as a project manager. This role hinges on your ability to manage expectations and motivate people who might be more senior or experienced than you, so you have to build trust quickly. This role's multifaceted nature makes it a good fit for analytical, technical people who don't want to write code anymore.
8. Scrum Master
In Agile teams, the Scrum Master helps make sure everyone knows and buys into Scrum theory, best practices, and rules.
This ends up looking a lot like project management, but with a particular emphasis on serving the other teams involved in building the product. Again, this is not always its own job, but in larger organizations, it may be.
The ability to manage expectations and limitations is critical to your success as a Scrum Master. You'll also need to know Agile best practices, so I'd recommend finding a suitable course or book on the topic. Agile has seen widespread adoption at organizations of all sizes, so this career path is likely to continue growing in the coming decade.
9. Product Manager
I spent a lot of time in 2019 learning about product management to improve our product delivery process at The Graide Network.
Product managers look holistically at the company's products to ensure they are desirable (customers want it), viable (makes business sense), and feasible (we can build it). The ability to think at a high level like this is rare, so if you have it and some technical background, you might do well as a product manager.
Entry-level product managers may start with smaller parts of the product or as project managers in some organizations. This can give you a taste of product development and help you build relationships with all the necessary stakeholders before you're assigned your own product to manage.
If you come from a design or artistic background, becoming a UI or UX designer with some coding chops is a great way to stand out in your field. This combination of skills will allow you to speak more effectively with engineers and create interactive mockups in HTML/CSS rather than just static image files.
If you don't have much experience in design, take a course, and start building a portfolio. Many companies will hire people without a degree if they can showcase their knowledge and skills. Dribbble is the most common portfolio platform I've seen, but you can also use your own website.
11. No or Low-Code Developer
The explosion of no-code and low-code development tools in the past few years has opened up opportunities for companies that want to quickly build software without hiring a development team. These tools allow you to create a mobile or web app in hours instead of weeks, and because they are getting better every year, more companies are embracing no-code apps.
Makerpad and No Code Jobs are good places to start looking for these kinds of jobs. Because this is a new field, you'll find a wide range of required skills and payscales, but your background writing code will undoubtedly prove to be an asset.
A lot of new software engineers aren't aware of the many employees behind the scenes who help keep servers, websites, and operations running smoothly. Some of these roles require you to write automation scripts or have in-depth knowledge of server administration, but if you are looking for something outside of the traditional product development cycle, but with a technical bent, these could be a great fit.