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Sim Yan Ting · November 6, 2019

Want to work in tech but can’t code?

5 highlights from our GoTalk SG fireside chat

At recruitment events, a question we often get is, “Can I work in a tech company like Gojek if I cannot code?” To this, we always reply with a resounding yes. According to Glassdoor, 43% of all listed open positions at tech companies are for non-technical corporate roles. Gojek’s numbers tell a similar story, with the ratio of technical to non-technical corporate roles being almost 1:1 in the Singapore office.


What are some of these roles, and if you’re considering a leap into the tech and startup space, how can you sufficiently equip yourself for them? We sat down with a panel of leaders from Gojek at our recent GoTalk SG fireside chat to find out. Here are our top 5 highlights from the event.


“The term ‘tech startup’ simply indicates the sector that a company is in; and not the roles in it,” says Michal Polanowski, Head of Data Science, Financial Services Platform. “There will be roles that are technical, and there will be roles that are non-technical.”


The level of technical expertise required also depends on the role we pick within the startup. We have to be technical if we would like to be, say, a data scientist, but there are still many roles typical to most companies — like operations, marketing, and HR — that need to be filled and which do not require technical know-how.


While we do not need to learn a technical language, panelists note that learning the business language is helpful for communicating effectively with teammates, and collaborating to solve problems for our customers.


Experiences may vary, but panelists recall feeling a sense of restlessness in larger organisations. They often wondered if they really mattered there.


“I moved to a startup to see the impact I could make,” says Susan Chen, SVP Group Head of Corporate Talent Management, OD, and International People and Culture. “At a startup, while you work long hours and solve very challenging problems, you can articulate the impact you make everyday.”


Others also felt like they were still relatively young and could afford to take the risk of joining a startup for the excitement and growth it could potentially offer.


The growth mindset was mentioned several times throughout the discussion as a key attribute to achieving success in a tech startup.


Vrutika Mody, Senior Manager of International Operations, recalls going home and recounting a list of things she could not do. For her, the first step was to focus instead on the things that she could.


“I work with a product manager on projects,” says Vrutika. “I constantly ask him about things I don’t understand, and schedule half-hour catch-ups with him to answer the questions that I have. You have to get used to being comfortable with asking for help.”


Jonathan Soh, VP of Regional Food Expansion and Performance, says that it all boils down to being humble and having the willingness to learn. His advice is to be proactive about learning. “Take notes, watch YouTube videos, go for coffee chats, find a mentor,” he says. “Doing these things in your first few months will help you see your impact a lot faster.”


While Michal believes that the onus is on the tech teams to make a conscious effort to bridge the knowledge gap when communicating with their non-technical counterparts, there are a few things non-technical hires can also do to bridge that gap.


“The first thing I’ll do is to ask for help,” he says. “The data science community is made up of extremely helpful and nice people, and they’ve helped me a lot.”


If we find ourselves regularly interacting with colleagues from technical teams, Michal recommends picking up some common terms. “There are a lot of free courses you can take part in that require zero coding,” he says, “Go on Coursera, and try the ones you find useful. You don’t have to pay for them, you can just audit them. Skip the portions that require coding; don’t be discouraged by them. This is a really good and inexpensive way to learn more about technical topics you’re unfamiliar with.”


Michal also recommends to listen to books and podcasts to broaden one’s perspective on the tech and startup space. Some of his recommendations are The Effective Engineer by Edmond Lau, Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday, and The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle.


1. Know your ‘why’

Susan says that it is important to know why we would like to make the switch. “If your answer is, ‘I think it makes more money’, is that something that will give you energy and purpose, and which allows you to play to your strengths? You need to switch for the right reasons.”


Susan also believes that knowing our ‘whys’ will make the next step, finding a mentor, a lot easier.


“Your mentors are going to be great people,” she says, “and they’re probably going to have a lot of requests. They have to figure out, ‘Why should I mentor you?’ All the mentees I’ve accepted are people who are so passionate about their switch because they know their ‘whys’ and they’re trying to figure out their ‘hows’. So I believe it’s important fundamentally to start with knowing your ‘why’.”


2. Get a mentor

Michal believes that it is helpful for candidates to get an insider’s look before transitioning into a new role or sector. This is where having a mentor will save them a lot of time.


Michal observes that many people hesitate to put themselves out there to find a mentor, which can be countered with a simple trick. “I heard this on a podcast with Jamie Foxx on the topic of fear,” he says, “which is to ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ What’s the worst that could happen if you send a LinkedIn message to someone? They ignore you. So send 20, 50, 100 messages until you find a mentor. People are going to ignore you, but there are a few who are going to give you advice and that’s going to help you make that change.”


3. Volunteer to be part of projects

Shree Mogan, Head of Corporate Recruitment and HR Business Partner, recalls her switch from IT into recruitment early in her career.


She says that one thing a lot of people don’t think about is starting with what you have. Even though she was in an IT role at the company she was in at that time, she constantly put her hand up to volunteer for HR projects. “I reached out to the hiring manager and asked if I could help design a better interview process, or if I could sit in with the HR team to understand their pain points.”


She advises those interested in making a mid-career transition to look for opportunities to job shadow, volunteer for projects to build their skill sets, and to find a mentor who can fill in the gaps along the way.


She also left her job for a contract role in HR shortly after. “People asked why I wanted to leave a permanent job for a contract role,” says Shree. “But when you know your why, and you know that that’s something you would like to do, you have to take the leap of faith and just do it.” She was in the contract role for over a year before moving to a permanent role in HR.


4. Communicate your story at interviews

Vrutika notes that even when people identify their ‘whys’, many struggle to communicate it well.


“You need to be able to tell your story,” Vrutika says, “Say you’re switching from marketing to finance. You have to find the adjacency between the two. It could be something like, ‘When I was doing marketing, I was making sure the ROIs were communicated well, and I know the ins and outs of handling a marketing budget.’ This is going to be very helpful during an interview.”


One thing that all panelists mentioned at one point or another during the discussion was the level of ambiguity when working at a startup like Gojek, and having to learn to deal with it.


Jonathan recalls being surprised by the rate of change at Gojek, and having to learn how to cope with the speed of that change. “You have to constantly unlearn and relearn,” he says, “and that really expands your horizons.”


Susan says this is why the growth mindset is an attribute she particularly looks out for in interviews. “We are solving problems that we do not even know exist today,” she says. “Which makes the interview process much less about having a perfect CV, and more about demonstrating your thought processes when approaching and solving the real-world problems that we present you.”


Vrutika also believes that it is important to know ourselves and the kind of environment we best thrive in. The tech landscape is often spoken about in very broad strokes, but in reality, a Series A startup would look very different from Gojek, which would in turn look different from Google. The levels of ambiguity would also be very different in all these places, so it is important for us to figure out who we are, where our strengths lie, and find a match.


Jonathan adds that on top of all these, it is important to show persistence and grit when joining a startup. “Be persistent in asking and learning, and have grit when adapting to change or when things don’t go your way,” he says, “These are qualities you need to survive in a startup.”


Interested in exploring non-technical roles at Gojek? Check out our available vacancies here.


We would like to extend a big thank you to our panelists and moderator for being so generous with their time and knowledge, and our staff volunteers, without which the organisation of GoTalk SG event would not have been possible.


Panelists: Susan Chen, Vrutika Mody, Jonathan Soh, and Michal Polanowski


Moderator: Shree Mogan


Staff volunteers: Azwan Rahim, Adrian Zhou, Bernard Tan, Bhavna Naresh, Felicia Wu, Javier Ding, Khairil Baharudin, Mellissa Rusli, Paulina Sudjatmiko, Shawn Wong, Lim Xin Yi, Vishal Singh, Weixi Ong


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