Do I Belong At a Tech Firm?

Hands Together
Sarah Woods

Chief Operations Officer

Sarah Woods

I have spent almost 20 years in human resources roles, and during that time I’ve worked in a number of industries, including airlines, recycling, renewable energy, manufacturing, and financial services. Each time I began in a new industry, I knew there would be a learning curve, but I was excited.

Then I interviewed at DockYard. During the process I thought “no way am I a candidate, I have no background in digital product development.” Not only that, I live in Iowa—hardly a well-known technology hub (despite being the birthplace of the first digital computer). Imagine my surprise when I got the offer and joined. I spent the weeks leading up to my start date reading up on the web app design industry, the programming languages DockYard used, and how to manage the HR function in a remote environment.

Other industries were easy to read up on—they had long histories, established protocols, and common terminology. Tech was scary—it was new and continuously evolving. It was a “young” industry. The things DockYard is doing weren’t even concepts when I was in college. I played the original “Oregon Trail” on a beige Apple II computer with actual floppy disks, and the internet was just starting when I went to college (where I got my first email with the domain of I felt a little bit like that new kid whose family moved in the middle of the school year—awkward and unsure of how things were done.

What I have learned is that each of us has a unique story of origin and that’s what makes working at DockYard so great. We bring our intelligence, skills, and abilities, sure, but we also bring our experiences and perspectives formed through our unique histories. Each of my coworkers has developed through unique paths—some went to college, some went through bootcamps, and some learned on their own—but the common denominator in their success is their passion for learning and improving.

I realized that simply reading as much as I could was not going to ramp up my knowledge, so I took an introductory programming class about six months into my role here at DockYard. While I am in no way able to contribute to the technical side of software or digital product development, the terminology makes more sense and I’m better able to follow conversations. I was also shocked to find that I actually enjoyed coding and software. Finally, I leaned on my coworkers and asked questions. I had an eye-opening discussion with a DockYarder when I first started: I said I did not know a lot about the software or coding work they did, and that person replied, “we don’t know what you know.” Touché.

My advice to anyone thinking “I don’t have the knowledge, skills, or abilities” is twofold: One; consider job postings a “wish list.” Most employers realize their postings will not result in a group of applicants that meet all qualifications. If the role appeals to you and you have a majority of the qualifications needed—apply. And, two; you know more than you realize. We tend to be hardest on ourselves and sometimes don’t realize how much we can contribute. Don’t self-select out of a job that interests you solely because you don’t feel you measure up. Learn more about our culture. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

DockYard is a digital product agency offering exceptional user experience, design, full stack engineering, web app development, software, Ember, Elixir, and Phoenix services, consulting, and training.


Stay in the Know

Get the latest news and insights on Elixir, Phoenix, machine learning, product strategy, and more—delivered straight to your inbox.

Narwin holding a press release sheet while opening the DockYard brand kit box