A Career in Tech: 5 Transferable Skills Gained While Leading a Classroom
January 17, 2020
At Teach For America, we know it takes leaders working in all sectors to change the inequitable systems that prevent all children from receiving a high-quality education. After working as teachers, our corps members go on to many different careers, continuing to impact children’s lives from any number of industries. In this series, we explore the skills corps members gain from the classroom that help them succeed and deepen their impact as they pursue a variety of careers.
Working in technology often requires knowledge of programming languages and a future-looking sense of customer needs and industry trends. But to truly flourish, tech professionals must have a solid base of fundamentals including problem-solving, leadership, and collaboration. These are skills you’ll use—and develop—during your time in the corps.
Teaching “gives you a set of transferable skills that you will use no matter what you do,” says William Trang (Los Angeles ‘08), a product marketing manager at Google. “And it will give you a sense of purpose for the rest of your life.”
William is one of many TFA alumni who have gone on to pursue a career in technology. Some alums in the tech industry have found inspiration in their time in the classroom, going on to develop tech solutions to address system issues in education.
Here are some of the skills you’ll gain as a corps members that will directly—and positively—influence your work in technology-related fields.
Few jobs in the technology space allow you to work in complete isolation. Today’s tech workers work alongside a wide range of professionals, including project managers, marketers, developers, and others, on a regular basis. If you can show you’re able to collaborate with others and effectively facilitate communications across teams, you will become more valuable to employers and more effective at your job.
These collaboration skills, of course, are also essential as a teacher, where the connections you create with students, peers, school leaders, and administrators will be vital to your efforts to motivate students and encourage learning.
Louise Baigelman (Massachusetts ‘09) uses the relationship-building skills she learned as an English as a second language (ESL) teacher as executive director at Story Shares, the nonprofit tech organization she co-founded. “As a teacher, it was key to invest others in achieving the desired results,” Louise says. “As an entrepreneur, I also rely on this skill. The ability to connect with others and grow long-lasting partnerships benefits both parties involved.”
As a professional in the tech industry, skills connecting with others and building relationships will help you stand out as a leader.
Build Analytics and Problem Solving Skills
As a teacher, you’ll quickly identify problems, think through their causes, and come up with workable solutions. You must be able to analyze all of your students’ achievements and challenges and help them advance and grow as individuals. This ability to understand, analyze, and act on data is central to a successful tech career.
While Louise was helping her students learn English, she faced a recurring problem she set out to solve: “I saw how demotivating and embarrassing it was for a student to be 12 years old but reading books written for 7-year-olds. There weren’t enough books that were compelling for my students while also being readable.”
She founded her company as a solution; it helps readers who are below the expected academic level for their ages engage with literary sources that are entertaining, which in turn encourages them to read. Without the problem-solving mindset she developed as a teacher, she wouldn’t have been able to work toward her goal of helping students learn how to read in an enjoyable and effective way.
Productivity and Time Management
Educators need to juggle a lot, focusing on many different tasks and needs seemingly simultaneously: lesson planning, grading, teaching, working with students who need extra help, building relationships with students and others, attending meetings and professional-development events, meeting with parents, and so much more.
This ability to stay on track and maintain productivity, even as more and more items are added unexpectedly to your “must do” list, will serve you well in your future career, where you may find yourself managing people or workflows and developing and delivering new products and solutions under tight deadlines and budgets.
“You may not think there are a lot of directly transferable skills from teaching to a corporate job at Google, but there really are,” says Charles Lai (Dallas-Ft Worth ’11).
As a product specialist at YouTube, Charles draws from his TFA experience to effectively educate users on products, tools, and platforms while leading trainings on how to create support centers for products. “There’s time management, a lot of planning and leadership—all those skills you learn as a teacher come into play,” Charles says.
Project Planning and Management
“In conducting market research, you have to introduce new, often complicated concepts to people in a simple way to gather meaningful feedback,” Emily says. As a strategic partner with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), where she works on understanding customer travel habits and opinions, Emily draws on her hands-on time in the classroom, which showed her how to “break down concepts into bite-size chunks.”
Leon, who works as a structural engineer, applies the long-term planning skills he developed as a teacher when he develops project plans. “It’s important to plan backwards from major deadlines, just like you would backwards plan individual lessons from major learning goals,” Leon says.
Plus, Leon notes, in engineering, where items in the field often aren’t an exact match for the designs developed in the office, “being to think on the fly has helped my career.”
Effective, Productive Leadership
As workplace trends continue to shift, organizations are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of having flexible and responsible leaders who can come up with effective solutions to new problems as soon as they arise. Leaders who can get others to work together to overcome challenges and achieve common goals.
As a TFA corps member, you will gain hands-on experience leading children from diverse backgrounds, with unique learning goals and different life experiences. Understanding others and instilling in them a desire to learn more are key skill sets that TFA corps members can learn in the classroom. These skills are easily transposed to a wide range of careers and industries, such as product management, UX design, software development, and computer programming.
Plus, after teaching, other careers will feel like a relative cakewalk. “As hard and challenging as it is to start a company, it was still so much easier co-founding a startup than being a first-year teacher,” Dan Carroll (Colorado ‘09), co-founder and chief product officer of Clever, an educational software company, says. “If you can teach a group of rowdy 8th graders, you can stand in front of any group or audience and present. The grit I developed at TFA made it easier to push through the hard times as a founder,” Dan says.
Your time with Teach For America will have a long-term, positive influence on your career in technology. Apply to Teach For America today.
It's not just tech! Teach For America alumni are excelling in other industries as well. Learn more from our alumni about how they took the skills they learned in the classroom and transformed them into successful careers in business, nonprofits, education, and media.
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