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How This MBA Went From Teaching Kindergarten To Marketing iPhones In Silicon Valley

Jeremy Schifeling says liberal arts folk can land tech jobs too

I’ve always been a huge nerd. While all my childhood friends were outside playing football, I was busy installing DOS on my first computer. And when I should have been writing book reports, I was instead blogging on Prodigy — before blogging was even a thing!

But I never thought I’d get a chance to actually work on my nerdy passions. Not with the scarlet letter that I have worn ever since college: a liberal arts degree. Eek. No CS major, no tech job: I always assumed.

So instead I started my career as a kindergarten teacher. And I thought I’d try to find outlets for my geekdom — building a class website, teaching my students PowerPoint — and I figured that was as close to the tech world as I was ever going to get.

As the years passed, though, I could never fully get the idea of a tech job out of my head. Each incredible innovation — PDAs, MP3 players, smartphones — was like a fresh taunt from the other side: “Hey, how cool would it be to work on me?” And like Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, the idea began to beat louder and louder in my thoughts until I finally broke down and asked a friend in the tech sector for advice.

A computer scientist by training, he took pity on a poor, pathetic PoliSci major and offered this nugget: “I don’t know much about the non-technical side of things, but an awful lot of folks over there seem to have MBAs.”

That seed, planted innocuously in my mind, quickly began to germinate. Before I knew it, I was signing-up for the GMAT, researching schools, and trying to figure out what “net present value” and “supply chains” were all about. And in the end, I was lucky enough to snag a spot at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, chosen because it seemed like a collaborative, down-to-earth place where an ex-kindergarten teacher might just be able to fit in. 


Thus, two decades after my first computer experience, it was with great trepidation that I entered business school in Ann Arbor — especially because on the first day, I met no fewer than seven former engineers who not only wanted the same tech jobs I did, but who were actually qualified to get them.

But here’s the crazy thing: fast-forward exactly eight months from that first day of orientation and I was on my way to a different kind of orientation — new intern training at Apple. I was lucky enough to land a plum marketing internship on the iOS team, the exact same role that all those engineers coveted.

And here’s the crazier thing: I wasn’t alone. On that same bus headed to Cupertino was a former snowboard designer, a former Navy submariner, and a former manager at China’s largest egg processing facility. And not a single computer science degree between the four of us.

How was this possible? How did we all make the transition into a world that can feel so forbidding to non-techies?

The secret is in the data. Because if you crunch the numbers on LinkedIn — and I have — it turns out that for all of Silicon Valley’s geekiness, 3/4 of its jobs are non-technical in nature. Which just makes sense if you think about it.

Sure, it takes a lot of coders to make an awesome app. But it takes even more HR people to hire those coders, project managers to keep them organized, and marketers to bring their work out to the world.

And the result is that there are tens of thousands of liberal arts folk working in tech, just like me.

So if you’re also a nerd, know this: the tech world is wide open for business. Just don’t be afraid to knock on its door.

Jeremy Schifeling is the founder and CEO of Break into Tech, a resource site for anyone who wants to land a great tech job — no matter their background