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Feature 22 August 2023 (ITpro.com)


If you haven't got a computer science or engineering degree you could be forgiven for thinking that a solid IT career is not for you, yet IT also needs creative thinkers.


People trained in music, writing, history, literature and drama have all carved out successful careers, even in quite technical roles.


Rebecca Taylor, threat intelligence knowledge manager in the counter threat unit (CTU), has been at Secureworks for nine years after studying creative writing alongside psychology and business. Starting out as a personal assistant, she realised that being "willing to graft" offered her multiple options.


"I moved to business operations, change or project management – then moonlighted in incident command, looking after customers that had experienced attacks like ransomware," she says.


Drawn into increasingly technical tasks, by age 24 she was in the CTU full-time, although she'd "never thought" she'd be "good enough".


Taylor's responsibilities include capturing and ingesting multiple indicator types from diverse sources, making sure they're standardised and that "good, robust" processes and procedures around them are usable, accessible and searchable for the teams that most need them.


With a writing background, she could absorb, learn and engage with unfamiliar knowledge and jargon and express herself effectively – although she has supplemented with technical and on-the-job training, she says, to ensure she can "own her space" even in a room with more technical people.


"There were elements of 'running fast' (to catch up), but that pressure was more of a personal choice," Taylor says. "It was about exposure, having great mentors and sponsors that could lift me up and help me network and find the right answers.

Getting a foot in the door for non-STEM graduates

Jessie Hommelhoff, chief people officer at consultancy Monstarlab, agrees talent shortages should push firms to be more creative themselves about finding candidates.


"For the types of roles we need in future, it is critical for arts and humanities people to work with STEM folk with a broad spectrum approach to tech problems," Hommelhoff says.

"Sometimes we can get narrow-minded – yet few of us desire a world that's completely automated and machine-driven."


Arts and humanities study can improve the understanding of people and their motivations, while how humans interact with certain technologies and digital is critical to product success. Partnering 'arts skills' with STEM backgrounds in house, having them work more closely together, can reshape projects, processes and products, Hommelhoff suggests.


Robin MacDonald, director of Harvey Nash NextGen, warns that although tech is proving increasingly attractive to candidates from both STEM and non-STEM backgrounds, not every arts or humanities student has the makings of a good programmer.


Non-STEM candidates, however, can demonstrate useful cognitive and analytical capabilities in cross-training or coding bootcamps to get a foot in the door; there are also plenty of less technical opportunities if they understand the vision, future and purpose of a technology and its positioning, he says.


"Liberal arts degree-qualified candidates who can utilize analytical capability and skills through things like automation can support applications running in a commercial or production environment," MacDonald suggests.


"We support young people who come from diverse backgrounds – and others – and help upskill them to be valued by a client who's probably used to hiring senior consultants or senior technologists."


At NextGen, they often use logical deduction and spatial reasoning tests, for instance, alongside "a demonstrable desire to become a technologist" to uncover the right candidates to bring forward in the programme for specific clients' needs.


Their academy programmes are looking to overcome another hurdle – the response and level of interest from employers in supporting candidates to enter careers in tech without that initial STEM background but the right aptitude, hard work and dedication, he says.

Moving from the arts to cyber security

Where tech meets creativity in – for instance – UX/UI or product design, roadmapping, or anything involving the user journey, responding to "the business side", plenty of opportunities will arise even as tech roles change. "I don't have all the answers but reskilling will remain important," MacDonald agrees.


Matt Rider, vice president of security engineering at cloud cyber security vendor Exabeam, studied literature and medieval studies ...

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