Recruiting in Tech for Non-Technical Students
The tech industry today is a giant behemoth of growth and opportunity. Limitless creativity, high-profile products, and generous compensation have attracted young talent from around the globe - and engineers aren’t the only focus. According to Glassdoor, 43% of all job openings at tech companies in 2017 were non-technical. Penn’s recent focus on promoting tech, analytics, and entrepreneurship in all schools positions students favorably for this shift. Though this guide is Penn-focused, much of the information is inclusive and aims to empower any non-technical student aiming to to recruit in tech.
If you’re only here for a comprehensive list of jobs to apply to, jump straight to the “What Can I Apply To” section. Otherwise, use this guide for the entire process.
Software engineers are great at building products. However, each company needs people to:
- Manage product scope and timelines among design, engineering, analytics, and business teams.
- Analyze data on how users use the product to suggest improvements.
- Analyze the market that will use this product and create the brand & strategy around it.
- Create financial opportunities for the company so it can stay alive.
These descriptions correlate to four main non-technical roles in tech companies: Product Manager, Business Analyst, Product Marketing Manager, and Financial Analyst. None typically require a CS major over other more relevant majors. While a tech company may not exist without a core team of engineers, the work they produce can become obsolete if they are not supported by these four functions.
Not a fan of the Land of Fog? No problem - Big tech companies typically have offices in every major city. Other top tech hubs and their biggest employers include:
- New York City // Warby Parker, Flatiron Health, Squarespace, Vimeo, Foursquare
- Boston // Wayfair, AthenaHealth, TripAdvisor, HubSpot, Zipcar, EdX
- Seattle // Amazon, Microsoft, Redfin, BlueOrigin, Tableau
- Los Angeles // SpaceX, Snapchat, Blizzard, Netflix, Riot Games
- Austin // Indeed, Apple, Amazon More cities
The average base wages for each role in decreasing order are (sourced from LinkedIn):
- Associate Product Manager - $90K
- Associate Product Marketing Manager - $85K
- Investment Banking Analyst - $85K
- Data Analyst - $80K
- Consulting Analyst - $80K
- Financial Analyst (in tech company) - $78K
More granularly, Penn graduates of 2017 received the following average salaries based on industry (sourced from Penn Career Services):
- Wharton // Tech - $83K; Financial Services - $86K; Consulting - $76K
- College // Tech - $71K; Financial Services - $80K; Consulting - $69K
Though salaries don’t vary widely, by comparing salary by the hour, you get a better picture of the benefits of working in tech. While investment banking and consulting analysts average 60 hr weeks and little time off, tech employees average 40 hr weeks with 2+ weeks of vacation time annually. In fact, some companies have unlimited paid time off (like Twitter!).
Lastly, tech companies offer a plethora of perks, including:
- Free in-office meals and kitchenettes with snack bars
- Gym and health benefits
- Ride-share and transit benefits
- Casual dress (replace those high-$$$ suits for your own aesthetic!)
- Open offices, modern furniture, nap pods and couches
- Average age of co-workers < 30
- Dog-friendly offices (the BEST perk)
This is the only misconception I would have agreed to - if I wrote this back when I was recruiting in 2016. Now, Penn is attracting both big and small tech companies due to its focus on analytical thinking and real-world applications. Career Services data shows tech companies represent a sizable portion of the top employers list for Penn overall.
The percentage of students accepting full-time jobs in tech has grown tremendously over the last 7 years. From 2011 to 2017, Wharton and the College have seen increases from 2% to 15% and 5% to 9%, respectively. Top employers of both include Amazon, Google, Facebook, IBM, APT, and Microsoft. Average salary for students who pursued a tech company full-time in 2017 were $83K for Wharton and $71K for the College.
General recruiting advice
Get to know the company // Read company updates on its blog, Medium, Twitter and LinkedIn profile.
Take advantage of Penn’s alumni network // LinkedIn and QuakerNet are your best friends. Don’t be afraid to cold-email people and learn about what they do. A referral can have huge influence in getting you past the resume screen.
Keep track of application progress // Stay organized with tools like Huntr.co, Trello, or a simple excel sheet.
Practice. Practice. Practice. // Outline your interview Q&As and mock interview with as many friends and professionals as you can. It’s easy to think your answers make sense when they stay in your head. In particular, ask for feedback on your body language. Poor body language can negate good answers.
Be strategic in scheduling interviews // Schedule your favorite companies later and “safety” companies earlier. Any additional interview is another chance to practice. The hard truth is your first few interviews will rarely ever go well.
Dress smart casual // While this may vary based on the role and company (e.g. financial analysts may still need to dress nicer), the tech culture prioritizes comfort. If you’re uncertain, clarify with the recruiter.
Types of roles
What do we do // Honestly... there's no right answer. In general, product managers are involved in the customer exploration, design, development, and post-launch analytics of features and products. They aren't expected to be an expert at any of those functions but rather should have a well-rounded understanding of each - enough to work effectively with designers, engineers, business, legal, and any other party required to make good product decisions. Above all, product managers are focused on unblocking teammates, prioritizing and advocating for user-centric features, and communicating information between all functions.
Build. Build. Build. // A strong record of leading and completing projects is crucial. Here are tips for increasing your project exposure:
- Build with friends // Grab some buddies, pizza, and a laptop and spend the weekend googling simple code tutorials. It doesn't need to be fancy - a basic website or app won't take more than a day. Then turn it into a "product". Think of something that annoys you and your friends and how a website could help. Add features that provide a solution and share it amongst friends. If you get positive feedback, you're on the right path to creating a great product. If not, reiterate and try again!
- Build at hackathons // Hackathons can be scary for non-technical people. Thankfully, the PennApps team has done an amazing job making the event friendly for people of all skill levels. If you're not comfortable hacking, you can always attend tutorials scheduled around the clock and reward yourself with free food. Most seminars will result in a basic website or mobile app. There's no better rush than creating something that was just an idea yesterday.
- Join clubs that build products // Clubs I recommend are: Penn Labs, The Signal, Wharton Design Club, and Mack Institute's Consulting for Startups program.
- Apply product management skills to your existing activities // A Penn mentee once voiced that he didn't have the time to build complex projects on the side. However, he was heavily involved in his acapella group and was wondering how he could develop product management skills through that. Knowing that product managers use analytics to determine whether a new feature is good, he decided to track analytics on his group's YouTube videos, Spotify tracks, and website to determine if specific content was more well-received than others. His "product" was his acapella group and he took the initiative to improve it.
- Be proud of what you create and show it off // Keep track of your work-in-progress and final products online. Having something on-hand to quickly show a friend or company representative can instantly make you memorable. It's also confidence-boosting to look back at all the progress you've made. You can either create a personal website via Squarespace, which doesn't require any coding knowledge, or share projects on platforms like Product Hunt and Medium. Pro tip: Attach your website url in your resume and email signature. I've gotten more callbacks from people who viewed my website than simply from a resume drop. After all, a picture is worth 1000 words.
Stay curious // To develop good "product sense", I recommend the following literature:
- Books // Cracking the PM Interview should be your first-and-foremost guide to recruiting. It covers interview questions and answers, what different companies are looking for, and an overview of technical and design concepts. Other books of note are: Decode and Conquer, Design Sprint, Competing Against Luck, and Ken Norton's book list.
- Industry blogs // Most tech companies have blogs and Mediums featuring articles written by their product managers, designers, data analysts, and engineers about product problems and decisions made. Some prominent product managers in the industry also have personal blogs. Here are some of my favorites:
- Podcasts // How I Built This with Guy Raz, 99% Invisible
Learn @ Penn // Recommended Penn courses and professors:
- IPD department, Analytics in the Digital Economy (Prasanna Tambe), NETS classes, intro CIS classes, Scaling Operations in Tech Ventures (Gad Allon), Digital eCommerce (David Bell), Enabling Technologies (Kartik Hosanagar), Engineering Entrepreneurship (Various), Product Design (Karl Ulrich), Negotiations, Public Speaking, MGMT101
Business Analyst, Data Analyst, Product Analyst, Business Intelligence Engineer.
What do we do // Business analysts are in charge of analyzing company data and recognizing patterns to help the team make the most informed product and revenue decisions. This includes opportunity sizing, querying and analyzing data, building dashboards and visualizations, and conducting experiments.
Develop an analytical mindset // Do you find yourself always questioning claims and saying "show me the data"? A great way to build data intuition is to practice analyzing it on your own:
- Step 1: Find free datasets online. My favorites are:
- Awesome Public Datasets // Github list of hundreds of datasets
- Data Is Plural // Archive and email subscription of weekly new free datasets
- Learn @ Penn // Recommended Penn courses and professors:
- Analytics in the Digital Economy (Prasanna Tambe), courses in STAT department, Dev Tools for Data Analysis, Analytics for Service Operations, Intro to R, Management Science, Marketing Research
- Learn online // The most relevant hard skills for a business analyst are Excel, SQL, and R or Python. Here are some online tutorials for beginners:
- Tableau // Industry-standard data visualization tool with no coding experience required
- Data Viz Project // Collection of data visualization examples
- Data Visualization Catalogue // Another collection of data visualization examples
Stay curious // To develop good "data sense", I recommend the following literature:
- Books // Freakonomics, Data is Beautiful, Moneyball, and How Not to Be Wrong
- Industry blogs // Most tech companies have blogs and Mediums featuring articles written by their data analysts, designers, product managers, and engineers about product problems and decisions made. Other references include:
- Data journals // Data journalism is an up-and-coming form of storytelling. Use these as sources of inspiration for stellar visualization and communication. Favorites include:
Product Marketing Manager, Strategy, Operations, Growth Hacking
What do we do // Product marketing puts the customer at the front and center of everything. Responsibilities include researching customer needs, building brand awareness, growing new markets or audiences, and crafting product adoption strategy with product managers, designers, and finance.
Get involved with local organizations // The best way to learn how to develop business strategies is to simply do it:
- Volunteer to lead growth and marketing efforts for a club, nonprofit, or your roommate's startup.
- Join existing consulting groups on campus, like Marketing Undergraduate Student Establishment (MUSE), Penn International Impact Consulting (PIIC), and Mack Institute's Consulting for Startups program.
- Compete in case competitions.
Learn @ Penn // Recommended courses and professors are:
- Courses in MKTG department, Scaling Operations in Tech Ventures (Gad Allon), Digital eCommerce (David Bell), Enabling Technologies (Kartik Hosanagar).
Stay curious // To develop good "business sense", I recommend the following literature:
- Books // Case in Point is a great guide for consulting-type interviews. Other books of note are: The Lean Startup, Crossing the Chasm, and Hooked.
- Industry blogs // Most tech companies have blogs and Mediums featuring articles written by their marketing team, data analysts, and product managers about business problems and decisions made. Other journals include:
- Podcasts // How I Built This with Guy Raz, 99% Invisible
What do we do // Financial analysts ensure the company can stay afloat. They forecast revenue of new products or changes, make strategic acquisitions, and discover growth opportunities for the business. Since I've had the least experience in this role, I'll defer to this wonderful interview of a financial analyst at a tech company.
Learn @ Penn // Recommended courses are:
- Courses in FNCE and ACCT departments, Venture Capital (David Wessels)
Stay curious // To develop good "finance sense", I recommend the following literature:
- Books // M&I Guide is one of the best guides to recruiting for any finance role. Other books of note are: Financial Intelligence: A Manager's Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean, The Intelligent Investor, and Sam Walton: Made in America
- Financial journals // Motley Fool, The Economist, Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg Tech all have great analysis on tech company quarterly earnings and strategies.
Play with real company financials // All public companies list their financials on the SEC website. Dig up your favorite tech company's 10K and put your learnings to the test. Get involved by:
- Join an investing club // Wharton Undergraduate Finance Club (WUFC), Smart Woman Securities (SWS)
- Compete in case competitions
What Can I apply to?
Bookmark these two links because you will use them for all of your tech job searching in the future. These two lists cover hundreds of internships and full-time positions for non-technical students in tech.
Big Tech // Applications usually open in August and close in October. Most companies will host multiple rolling interview cycles, with earlier ones reserved for referred candidates, students chosen from conferences, and selected early applicants. Offers are typically given no later than December.
Startups // Unlike Big Tech, startups don’t have the luxury of securing headcount a year in advance. Many are wondering if they will have enough cash to last until the end of the year. Therefore, expect recruiting to occur in the Spring for Summer internships and Fall full-time roles.
discovering tech companies
At Penn // Most major tech companies and some startups recruit at Penn for non-technical roles. Avenues include: PennApps, Handshake, career fairs hosted by each school, Wharton Industry Exploration Trek to San Francisco and New York City tech sectors (open to non-Whartonites too), and the student-led San Francisco Tech Trek.
Beyond Penn // Check company websites to see where the recruiting team is hosting events. Avenues include: Hackathons at other schools, Grace Hopper, Out4Undergrad, Lesbians Who Tech, Designation and other design conferences, Philly’s local tech scene.
Online // QuakerNet and LinkedIn are your best friends. Sign up for a free 30-day Premium trial for unlimited inMail and see which recruiters viewed your profile. Other websites for company discovery are: AngelList, Wealthfront’s “Career Launching Companies” list, Breakout List, and Glassdoor.
CS50 // Harvard’s intro to computer science course taught in C. Most well-known and popular online CS course.
Geeks for Geeks // Interview prep for technical coding questions.
Algosaurus // A layman’s guide to algorithms, expressed through visuals.
Made with Code // Little projects geared towards girls by Google.
Design is Dank // Design resources made by close friend and Wharton’19, Tiffany Chang.
Additional Penn clubs relating to Tech // Penn Labs, The Signal, Penn Virtual Reality Club, Hack4Impact, Wharton Fintech, Innovation & Design Club, Media & Entertainment Club, Penn Undergraduate Biotech Society, Undergraduate Statistics Society, Wharton Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Club, Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship, YouthHack, Penn Aerospace Club, Dining Philosophers, Penn Electric Racing, Penn Tech Review
Congrats! You’re about to get your first taste of tech! The following tips I recommend regardless of role or industry.
Document everything during the internship // Keep a journal and record:
Challenging decisions you make on the job
How you interact with your manager and team
Which specific skills or programs you used to complete your projects
What measurable impact your project ultimately had on the company
Highs and lows and how you managed work-life balance
Promotion ladder and fluidity of transitioning within the company
Impression of the city and culture
Reflect after the internship concludes // Answer these a week after concluding for a fresh outlook:
How did it compare to your expectations? Can you see yourself working here for the next 1-2 years?
How did you grow from day 1 both personally and professionally?
What shaped the internship the most for you? This could be your manager, industry, projects, location, team culture, etc. and can be a good or bad experience. This answer should be what you look for in future jobs.
These notes will be instrumental in helping you process your experiences and make conclusions. It can be overwhelming to recall specific moments throughout your 12 weeks by memory alone. If you decide to re-recruit the following year, you can source your resume points and interview responses here. Need more advice? Check out another article I wrote after my own summer internship.
thank you for reading ✌
Why I wrote this // This was created in response to an outpour of interest from Penn friends. I experienced my own round-about path to tech and hope this guide can help as many lost students as possible.
Feedback welcome // As a 22-year-old a month into her first full-time job, I’ve yet to touch the tip of the iceberg in career experience. If you think readers would benefit from an addition or change, don’t hesitate to reach out! No good document should be a final version.
Who am I // I’m an Associate Product Manager at Twitter in San Francisco and Penn alum ‘18. Immigrant born and raised, I’ve been fortunate to have strong mentors throughout my life pushing me to explore past my limits. If this guide didn’t answer certain q’s you have, my DMs are open for anyone in need 👇
Credits // Tai Bendit and Ernie Rosales for pitching in their experiences. Kim Salt for the beautiful career path illustration in my header. Check out her work here!