I started my professional career as a manual tester and worked my way up to to a lead developer in test, effectively leading software automation across the company I was working in and one of the main goals of my role was bringing manual testers along into automation.
In my mind the only thing you NEED is the drive to improve and initiative to get stuck in.
Automation as a way into a more technical role is a great path in my mind as the tools lend themselves well getting gradually exposed to software development, technical concepts and good processes. The beauty of it too is that depending on what you're working on, there are a bunch of tools that help enable automation.
for API testing, Selenium
for browser based testing, JMeter
for load testing are all examples of dedicated tools for test automation where the idea is for ease of use and adoption.
However, where this gets more difficult is when you aren't doing something that is either a web app, APIs or a mobile app, which I'd guess 75% of all software that's being tested today falls under. However when I started in my current role I needed to build a test framework to deal with a big data, distributed data pipeline which had a ton of challenges so there comes a point where building custom tools becomes necessary. In order to do that, I've recommended the following resource to people which is good for getting people with basically no development knowledge up to a point where they at least have a basic understanding of what is possible:
This is in python but you get useful, practical exposure to development tutorials that build tools that could be used in a real workplace. If you get through all this, you could easily start contributing to test automation in a company.
Ultimately though, it's a case of always thinking about new things to try, trying to learn how things work, getting people you work with who can support you with their knowledge. Have a project on the go! Build your own website, publish a mobile app, build an alexa skill or release your own game, every one of these will massively improve your ability to understand how software works and your ability to build test automation tools.
Its a great position to be in though, we have a terrible time hunting down decent automation engineers, they can name their price usually