“Own What You Know, Admit What You Don’t Know,” Samantha Hepburn, on Navigating Tech Industry

By March 7, 2016Other

One of the two exclusive talks by General Assembly at EXPAND London was covered by Samantha Hepburn, careers adviser knowing ups and downs of the tech industry. How does tech recruitment work and what is tech talent looking for in London? We asked Samantha to give us a few insights.


You are currently Partnerships Lead at General Assembly (GA) London, how did your career develop?

I come from a non-traditional educational background. I am originally from South Africa and came to London five years ago. I actually never went to university. I started in the hospitality sector, partly because of my family background, but I was always genuinely interested in technology. I taught myself to code but once I started trying it out, I saw it wasn’t the career I wished for, so I went back to hospitality. Moving to London was a continuation of my palpable curiosity in technology. I was introduced to meetup.com and a whole new perspective opened to me.

I started by attending tech meetups (yes, as a non-techie member). I started to assist in running tech communities including the London Java Community, London CTO’s and now run three of my own, including Find a Tech Job in London and a community for Non-Technical Women in Tech. This has definitely paved the way for me to join General Assembly. First I was an Outcomes Producer. Six months ago, I transitioned into the Partnerships role.

Having skills seems not to be enough, do you think showcasing them is as much of a skill?

Definitely! Here at GA we don’t only educate in how to be a developer or UX designer but we also train you in how to navigate the job market. We are educating people about alternative education, how General Assembly fits into the landscape, how to not just attract talent but how to upskill and retain them.

In my talk at EXPAND London, I will tackle what I call necessary evils – business cards, CVs – all the things that we are still using but more usually than not find outdated and impractical, even broken. Having digital presence is essential because we live in times when it’s all about ‘show me what you can do’. In that regard, Jobbio is a platform that perfectly fills in the gap. It gives all the tools for talent to showcase their skills in an effective way. In my talk I will cover all the questions you always wanted to ask but never knew where to get relevant answers.


Tech industry is driven by passion more than any other field.

What was the best piece of advice you got when starting your career journey?

Own what you know and admit what you don’t know. The only way I managed to navigate through tech industry is openly saying “I am sorry I don’t understand it, please can you explain it to me.” A lot of people take a “I don’t want to sound like I don’t know what I am talking about” approach. Well, the more you bullsh*t, the more you sound like you have no idea of what’s discussed! It is especially true for tech industry which has so many acronyms. Sometimes you may know what they are talking about, while you might not know it is called that specific word.

It is also about owning your experiences. I have experience in hospitality for instance. If you put together tech and hospitality job descriptions, there are so many transferable skills! I meet a lot of people going through a career change and they tend to throw away everything they did before – well, that’s what makes you unique, that’s why people hire you, so own what you know and ask when you don’t know.

How do you think tech industry recruitment differs from other fields?

I think there are two answers to this question. We still use the word tech very loosely and I personally think recruitment for developer roles differs from recruitment of other tech roles. To hire a developer, you first identify what excites them. Developers are usually problem solvers who get excited by technical challenges. I always say, you can’t ‘sell’ to a dev – simply put, developers have to hire developers. Traditional recruitment is less effective because of a lack of knowledge on the subject.

If looking at the tech industry generally, I would argue the tech industry is driven by passion more than any other field. It is not enough to have skills, a lot of companies are looking to find employees that are passionate about the subject.

What is the dream tech job Talent are seeking in London?

It is of course very individual, but if we are looking at trends, talent today is looking to be valued regardless of their position and if it makes a difference within the company. So, there are hot positions, like UX designer and product manager at the moment, but you should chase your own dream and not just a trendy role. What is your hobby? It is something that comes naturally to you, so you will excel in it much quicker than in any other skill you pursue by pushing yourself and not been genuinely interested in it.


EXPAND London is a great example of what talent should be attending.

What are the most frequently asked questions by tech talent?

It’s mostly about navigating the industry. London is a tech hub with so many companies we don’t even know about. Literally today I gave a talk at a conference mentioning London’s baby Transferwise and only approximately 2% of the audience had actually heard about it.

There’s this huge gap in the market – tech talent doesn’t know where to go. Just googling the job brings up all those horrible job boards saturated by SEO and Google search. So the biggest question is ‘where do I find these jobs?” Talent wants to join startups but how do they approach them? How do they simply find those opportunities?

What do you see is the way out for talent lost between job boards and abundance of choice?

EXPAND London is a great example of what they should be attending. My advice is to attend such events even if you are not looking for a job at the moment. It is necessary to understand the market and have opportunities in sight, rather than pushing it to the point when you have to leave your position and have no alternatives.

You should always be passively looking for a job, it doesn’t mean you should jump at every opportunity but accepting something last minute, simply because you have no choice, is not the best idea. Chat to people, network with those in the industry, it will help you to keep a track of the landscape.


Get a ticket for a chance to listen to Samantha’s talk at EXPAND London

See what more is offered in General Assembly’s session

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