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If you’re ready to ditch outdated 9-5 office schedules and salaries that bear a depressing resemblance to minimum wage, tech careers are one of the most direct ways to get there. But if tech is the way to workplace happiness, what exactly is the way toward working in tech? The answer is learning tech skills, of course!
On its own, that’s not a very helpful answer, but don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging. In the spirit of narrowing down the nebulous idea of “tech skills” into an actionable list of things to learn, I’ve rounded up four tech skills that are both smart and lucrative specialties. Each of these individual skills can put you on the road to making money in tech—or to getting a salary bump even outside of tech—but stacking two or more together will blow open the doors to a tech career. And since a career in tech can run the gamut from a part-time tech side hustle to full-time employment, I’ve included examples of average full-time salaries from Glassdoor and hourly freelance rates from Upwork associated with the jobs linked to each skill.
If you’re ready to learn more about any of these skills after reading, you can find free beginner tutorials on sites like Codecademy and Coursera, while deeper dives can be had through instructor-led courses from online schools like Skillcrush.
While there are certainly non-coding roles and career paths available in the tech industry, the endless appetite for web content means that learning how to code and becoming a web developer is a guaranteed fast track to tech jobs. Research backs this up, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics citing a projected 15 percent growth in web developer jobs between now and 2026.
Among the different skills used to build websites, the two most foundational are a pair of markup languages called HTML and CSS. These two programming languages are used to create basic, static web pages, with HTML defining the parts of a page and CSS determining the style (things like fonts, colors, layout, etc.). On their own, these two skills won’t take you to the top of the tech payscale, but they have a huge return on investment when it comes to getting started in tech—particularly when you consider that HTML and CSS can actually be learned in a matter of weeks. After putting in those weeks and getting a handle on these basic skills, you’ll already have unlocked opportunities for paid side-hustle work. Meanwhile, adding HTML and CSS to your resume can lead to a potential pay bump even at non-developer specific jobs.
You might already be familiar with WordPress.com, a blog hosting platform similar to sites like Wix and Squarespace that allows you to create websites using a series of pre-made templates and plugins. WordPress.com is designed to be used without any specific tech or web know-how, but that’s not where the WordPress story ends. For people looking to get more customization, WordPress.org lets users download the WordPress CMS (Content Management System) software program, a powerful tool for web development. Using the WordPress CMS, developers can create, publish, and manage digital content online, but they’re able to do so through a user interface where changes are reflected immediately after pressing a “Publish” button (as opposed to the less streamlined experience of coding sites from scratch).
The WordPress CMS platform can also accommodate a range of skill sets and skill levels. Tech newcomers can use pre-existing templates and follow menu cues through the user interface to build basic WordPress sites (similar to using WordPress.com), but as you layer on skills like HTML, CSS, and PHP (a scripting language used to create custom WordPress themes and behaviors), you’ll be able to create your own WordPress page templates and site features, giving you the same kind of options for customization you’d have when coding from scratch.
Because of this versatility, the WordPress CMS is a widely-used tool for building sites that will appeal to side hustle clients as well as full-time employers. (Web technology survey site W3Techs cites WordPress CMS as owning 60 percent of worldwide CMS usage.) Simply knowing how to build basic websites with WordPress is enough to open up work as a WordPress developer, and WordPress’ sliding skill scale will allow you to learn gradually as you go—all qualities that speak to the wisdom of WordPress specialization.
WordPress Developer Average Yearly Salary: $61,442/year
4. User Experience (UX)
All of the above skill examples have a return on investment that far outstrips the time and money it takes to learn them. However, they’re all skills that have to do with the hands-on part of building websites and web applications. So what if tech’s perks sound amazing to you, but you don’t see yourself as a web developer? No problem. There’s a lot more to tech than building websites, and you don’t even have to sacrifice high job availability (or high pay!). UX (User Experience) is a tech field that focuses on improving the experience that users have with products like websites and web apps. And this isn’t done by sitting in front of a screen and coding—it’s accomplished by interviewing users, listening to their feedback, understanding their problems with a product, and finding creative ways to solve those problems. While that might not sound like the most “tech” thing ever, UX is actually on the forefront of the tech industry with over 43,000 jobs currently listed on Glassdoor.
UX a different kind of specialization than the skills listed above—not only because it isn’t coding-forward, but because it doesn’t involve learning a single language or discrete set of rules. UX is a synthesis of communication and listening skills, UX-specific terminology and tools, critical thinking, and problem solving. But just like more coding-specific skills, you can start to tackle UX through tutorials like these from Lynda, or through paid, online UX classes.
UX Professional Average Yearly Salary: $86,927/year
Scott Morris is Skillcrush's staff writer and content producer. Like all the members of Skillcrush's team, he works remotely (in his case from Napa, CA). He believes that content that's worth reading (and that your audience can find!) creates brands that people follow. He's experienced writing on topics including jobs and technology, digital marketing, career pivots, gender equity, parenting, and popular culture. Before starting his career as a writer and content marketer, he spent 10 years as a full-time parent to his daughters Veronica and Athena.