How to Make Big Bucks in Tech

You don’t have to be Elon Musk, Travis Kalanick or Evan Spiegel to know it’s a good idea to get into the technology industry these days. This is not news; tech has been the place to be for decades. Yes it does tend to be somewhat cyclical, but innovation continues even in a down market, so that’s neither here nor there.

Truth is, the best thing that ever happened to me in a life way longer than I care to admit was finding my way into the high-tech industry. OK, meeting my wife was a close second. Just don’t tell her I said that. In any case, the opportunities are still enormous and the barriers have never been lower.

As global transformations go, we are definitely in the midst of a multi-decade technology revolution that rivals the Industrial Revolution. While digital technology has clearly transformed our culture, there’s a laundry list of evidence that the trend is continuing well into the new millennium:

People with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) degrees, especially in engineering and computing, make more money over the course of their careers than other majors, according to a Georgetown University analysis of Census Bureau Data.

The world’s most valuable brands include Apple (#1), Microsoft (#2), Google (#3), IBM (#5), Samsung (#7) and Facebook (#10), according to Forbes’ just released 2015 list.

Technology is disrupting and transforming age-old industries such as transportation, hospitality, food services and real estate through innovative new business models from companies like Uber, Airbnb, GrubHub Seamless and Zillow, to name a few.

One of the main reasons for the growing wealth gap in America is that technology is concentrating wealth in fewer companies like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). That’s especially true in this post-Web 2.0 world of social media and user-generated content.

The list of Unicorns – private venture-backed companies with valuations exceeding $1 billion – continues to grow. Today that list stands at 91 with 9 of those companies valued in excess of $10 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. And CB Insights counts 588 private companies valued above $100 million in the U.S. alone.

While it might be tempting to think of this as a relatively closed phenomenon that you’re either a part of or you’re not, nothing could be further from the truth. Nobody is born into tech riches. People don’t just fall out of the sky and land in an office building in Silicon Valley. We all had to find our way here somehow.

The most important thing to know is that high-tech is still very much in demand, innovation continues unabated – even in a down economy – and there are lots of paths to participate in this continuously growing trend, have a great time doing it, and maybe even make some big bucks along the way.

Obviously, there’s the old fashioned way of getting a job and climbing the corporate ladder, but the thing is, you don’t need to be a geek to do that. I can’t quantify this but, if I had to guess, I’d say roughly half of the senior-level positions in tech companies don’t necessarily require technical degrees. Think finance, operations, marketing, sales, communications and human resources, to name a few.

Besides, the tech industry is essentially ground zero for entrepreneurship. There are thousands and thousands of startups all over the country and, let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to get into an executive position at a startup than it is at IBM or Apple, that’s for sure. That’s how I landed my first executive-level job: by joining a company with just 20 employees.

The other advantage of getting involved in a startup – whether as a founder or as part of the team, in a technical capacity or not – is that it’s like drinking water from a fire hose. You learn so much so fast it’s ridiculous. Sure, you may have to give up any semblance of a life for a while, but you get to wear a lot of hats and become business savvy practically overnight. Startups accelerate career advancement. And you don’t need a degree.

And with the advance of core technologies like ecommerce, mobile computing, broadband infrastructure and the Internet of Things, competitive barriers for any entrepreneur or business in any industry are lower than they’ve ever been. Competitive markets are being remade across the entire industrial landscape, from retail and banking to healthcare and agriculture.

Not to sound like a living advertisement for the technology industry, but if you’re looking for the land of opportunity, find a way to get into a tech-related company – hopefully one that’s going places. One piece of advice, though: Be flexible, adaptable and geographically mobile. And learn to say “Yes” a lot. Don’t ask why; just do it.