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I took a 75% pay cut to ditch law for tech. The switch paid off and got me to Google.

Shubhangi Goel   

I took a 75% pay cut to ditch law for tech. The switch paid off and got me to Google.
  • Zubin Pratap, a former lawyer, decided to transition to the tech industry at 38 years old.
  • He landed his first tech job by networking and shortlisting best-fit employers.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Zubin Pratap, a software engineer based in Melbourne. It has been edited for length and clarity. Business Insider has verified his employment history.

I started law school in the late nineties.

By the time I graduated in 2003, the dot-com boom had happened, the dot-com bust had happened, Google had been invented, and the internet had become mainstream.

Seven years into my career, which took me from litigation to corporate law, and from India to Australia, I began taking an interest in tech.

I realized I was sitting far away from the sidelines of the tech industry and had no way to get in. I was doing well in my legal career, but it didn't align with who I was as a person: I was more interested in creating things than calculating risks and reviewing contracts.

Over the next few years, I tried various things: I worked on two startup attempts while in my full-time job, then switched to a business role within the company. I quit my job cold turkey to build a tech startup, which cost me six figures and ultimately did not work out.

I decided to restart my career, this time in tech. I was 38.

Foot in the door

While I had learned enough about software to run a small business, convincing someone to let me work for them was a different ball game.

Given the amount of competition in the industry and my non-computer science background, I knew I had to work hard to stand apart.

This is the four-step plan I used to land my first software job.

  1. Spend time with people in the industry:

    I ditched networking on LinkedIn. I would try to meet people for coffee and put myself in places where developers and engineers congregated, such as conferences. The idea was to start learning the ways of the industry. Instead of asking them about skills I needed to learn and getting cookie-cutter answers, I asked people what they did every day. It gave me my biggest advantage — being able to speak to engineers in their language.

  2. Identify employers that need someone like me:

    I focused on companies with fewer applicants and high turnover: those that are smaller, high-pressure, and don't pay as much as Big Tech.

  3. Skip LinkedIn's "easy apply" function:

    Once I identified that small web development agencies fit the bill, I still had to convince them to take a chance on me. I showed up at their offices and asked if they were hiring developers. Talking to people in person or on the phone gave me a chance to embrace how "crazy" it was that I was an ex-lawyer switching careers at 38 and that I was risking a lot to work for them.

  4. Build connections with recruiters:

    I realized that most people are nice to recruiters until they get what they need. After reaching out, I tried to keep in touch with recruiters. I messaged them every now and then and even picked up the phone to catch up or suggest good candidates I had met while networking.

    My efforts landed me four job offers, and I ended up taking one at a small software development firm in Melbourne, where I was based. I took a 75% pay hit from my last pay as a lawyer and started as a junior developer.

    Four rejections before a Google offer

    In a year and a half, I moved to a software engineering role at Google. I applied some of the same strategies: talking to lots of people and getting industry insight. Google had rejected me four previous times, thrice as a lawyer and once as a product manager, which were industries I was most experienced in. Landing an offer a fifth time around felt like a combination of effort and luck.

    I left Google after close to two years to work at a smaller company where I thought I could make more of an impact.

    My compensation recovered from leaving law and is now higher than my last pre-tech salary.

    Looking back, I know Google is the part of my journey everyone talks about, but my big break was the small company that hired me when I had no experience.

    Did you take a significant pay cut in your career and have a story to share about it? Email

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