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‘TechTok’ Makes Working in Tech Look Appealing — But Experts Say There's More Than Meets the Eye

Tech and startup influencers are going viral on TikTok as people flock to the industry en masse — but experts warn that promises of cushy jobs, high pay and utopian offices can be overblown.

Tech workers and startup founders are making it big...on TikTok. (Photo Illustration by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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6 minute read

Alex Friedman, a 30-year old serial entrepreneur living in Austin, Texas, boasts an impressive resume: three companies founded, a stint running Austin’s TechStars accelerator program and, just a few months ago, the sale of her talent marketplace startup FounderGigs to an Arlan Hamilton-backed competitor called Runner.

But her latest success story began in January, when Friedman began posting TikToks about the realities of entrepreneurship and breaking into the tech industry. After posting videos with titles like “startups you should be paying attention to” for thirty consecutive days, @HeyAlexFriedman had amassed 10,000 followers, a number that has exploded to more than 65,000 today. Friedman estimates she spends between five to 10 hours a week creating her TikToks, which she’ll film in batches and upload over the course of a few days — a lucrative side hustle earning her up to $8,000 per month, primarily through sponsored posts.

“I felt like a lot of people were pushing this whole narrative of, to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to wake up at 5 a.m. and you have to run 10 miles and you have to drink Athletic Greens and you have to have this certain mindset, and I'm not like that,” Friedman told The Org. “I wanted to be the voice for people…who couldn't relate to this very powerful image that a lot of founders and tech people have.”

TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, presents a massive opportunity for tech creators. Videos with the hashtag “#TechTok” have garnered a whopping 13.6 billion views, while the more specific “#techjobs” hashtag has 115.6 million views overall. (For context, the app sees about one billion total active users each month.)

And who wouldn’t want a tech job? The industry is hiring en masse and offering top dollar even to entry-level candidates fresh out of school. Influencers often paint employment in tech as a rare path to riches and work-life balance — but experts warn that promises of cushy jobs, minimal hours and utopian offices can be overblown.

Should you get career information from TikTok?

Americans are hungry for career tips. In fact, if they could start over again and plan their career or work life from scratch, 53% of all U.S. workers say they’d try to get more or different information about career options than they did the first time, according to a 2021 survey published by the National Career Development Association.

TikToks can be one source of the career information that workers crave. They give an alluring glimpse into the everyday lives of tech workers — or at least the side that creators want to show. Bite-sized videos of three minutes (or much shorter) can include helpful advice and insights, but they don’t leave much space for nuance.

The pros and cons of turning to social media for career guidance is a subject that Dr. Deb Osborn, a professor and educational psychologist at Florida State University, has been researching lately. Originally a trained counseling and school psychologist, Osborn has spent more than two decades studying how technology impacts people’s career decisions.

Osborn's main takeaway on social media: it should be one of many sources that people consult for career advice. She says she’s been pleasantly surprised by the quality of some career-related TikToks — but cautions people to consume content critically, and to consider the possible biases and motives (including sponsored posts or brand deals) career content creators might have.

“A ‘day in the life’ video can be really helpful, but it's just one day and one person's life, and there’s no guarantee of what it was before that, or what it'll be afterwards,” Osborn told The Org. “You’ve got to take it in context.”

Before making a major career decision, she suggests seeking out other sources like Glassdoor reviews, informational interviews, professional career practitioners and the U.S. Labor Department’s ONET platform, which includes data like average pay and growth potential for a slew of different occupations.

“The access to information — good, bad and ugly — kind of complicates things, just like when we go to a physician, and we have already diagnosed ourselves,” Osborn said. “Teaching people to know how and where to locate quality information, and then how to apply and evaluate it, is a different skill that I think career practitioners in particular have to step up.”

When to pivot to tech

The career pivot is a common thread on “TechTok.” There’s plenty of demand for coders — median pay for computer and information technology jobs was $97,430 in 2021, more than double the $45,760 median for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and employment in the industry is expected to grow 13% from 2020 to 2030, outpacing the average for all occupations. But workers from non-technical backgrounds want their pound of flesh, too.

Prerika Agarwal, a Washington, D.C.-based career coach, said pivoting to big tech is the “number one” question she gets from clients, who run the gamut from clinicians and healthcare providers to consultants and construction workers.

In these cases, Agarwal advises clients to make sure they have genuine interest in the tech industry and a passion for the company, product or job function they’d be working on before they take the plunge.

“I’ve literally seen people say, ‘I hate social media,’ and then wanting to have a job at Facebook or Meta because of the pay,” Agarwal told The Org. “That’s not going to be sustainable...that misalignment is going to come out very quickly, and you’re not going to enjoy what you’re doing.”

Friedman hopes her content will help viewers understand the realities of tech beyond the allure of high pay and perks, ultimately making the industry more accessible to people of all backgrounds.

After all, striking it big as a TikTok creator might not be that different from building a company or a tech career. For each of these paths, success hinges upon a desire to help people and to solve problems.

But above all else, Friedman still sees herself as an entrepreneur. “I will always be launching stuff. I'm in the process of creating a venture studio right now,” she said. “So I will always put my best foot forward towards being a creator and still create and still put myself out there, but I think I still identify more as a founder.”

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