Changing Careers and Getting into Tech – Experience of 3 Self-Taught Programmers
Are you thinking about making the transition into the tech industry? If you are, I’m sure you have a ton of questions about the process: about what you should learn and about where do you even start? So I’ve interviewed three brilliant self-taught programmers on the topic!
Here are these wonderful women:
Eden – a Backend Engineer at Lemonade
Kellyn – a passionately curious Software Developer working with React
Alex – an iOS Developer and a Section Lead, Lambda
All of these women have had a different career path in mind, but then they fell in love with programming and decided to make a transition into tech. Their career paths have been fascinating and they have so much goodness to share. So let’s get into the interview!
Masha: What do you do now?
I’m a software engineer at an InsureTech startup called Lemonade. I do back-end engineering on our customer-facing product. So if you’re a policyholder, a customer of ours, you’ve touched things that I’ve helped build. So that’s pretty cool.
My name is Kellyn , I am a software developer and I’m currently working in front-end with React.
To start off, I’m going to tell you a little bit about my journey through Lambda, which was an online Bootcamp and I currently am still working for them as a Section Lead. So as a Section Lead, I’m over students and I just make sure that they understand the core curriculum and that they’re on the right track, that they’re turning in their module assignments. I do plenty of one on ones to make sure that they’re learning and absorbing everything that they need to know about ILS.
Masha: What path were you on before getting started with tech? What made you switch?
Yeah, I used to be a teacher, but I left five years ago. I left the classrooms and I started working in tech companies. Since then, I have been fascinated with the idea of using software to solve problems and I found out that programming includes all of my passions like creativity, organisation, logical thinking and this puzzle that I love to solve. In addition to that, I strongly believe in the power of programming to change and improve the lives of people around the world. So last year I decided to focus and build my career as the software developer.
Before getting into tech, I was really in an entrepreneurial spirit type place. I started a small company called raft fitness app because I was a personal trainer at the time. This app was pretty much designed to bridge the gap between clients and trainers on an online platform so that there was no requirement to go to the gym for custom fitness. That’s what really got me into iOS development. So as I wanted to produce this app, I just fell in love with the process of design, development, execution. And that’s what led me to Lambda school.
Before I got into tech, I was actually very premed. I studied neuroscience at the University of Michigan and did biomedical research for four years – the whole thing. Long story short, I took the MCAT and was applying to med schools. Eventually, in the application they asked: why do you want to be a doctor? And I was like, that’s a great question! Let me think about that. And the more I thought about it, the more I was like, wait, I don’t think this is what I want.
So before I abandoned my lifelong dream, I took a year off and I went to a new country. That’s how I ended up in Israel and that was five years ago and I’ve been here ever since. But taking that year off allowed me to explore things that I was curious about, that I had never looked into before or had the time. And one of those was programming.
My brother is a computer engineer and I saw him doing all these things. He would show me his projects and I was really impressed, but it was so beyond me. I didn’t understand it, but because I didn’t understand it at all, I was really curious to know more.
So during this year, I took the time when I wasn’t working to teach myself programming. The more I got into it, the more I was like: “wait, this is something I kind of have a feel for and I want to explore more”. So I did a coding Bootcamp for five months and it was a full stack program.
I didn’t know what that meant before I started. My brother tried to explain it to me, I still didn’t get it. But by the end, I ended up getting a job at the company I’m at now, Lemonade, as a front end engineer. When I started working, I didn’t even really know what it meant to work every day is a software engineer. So I kind of just dove in headfirst and that’s how I got where I am today.
Masha: What were the biggest challenges for you? What would you do differently?
My biggest challenge through Lambda school was believing in myself. There was a huge gap between what I thought I was capable of – versus what my actual capabilities are. Once I was able to develop some self-confidence and really set goals and orient myself to believe that I could do it, it became a little easier. Of course, there are always challenges in development, but that was definitely the biggest one I faced through school.
The biggest challenge was to get out of my comfort zone. I was always more involved with human sciences and it was difficult for me to understand some concepts of programming, so I gave up some times in the beginning. If I could go back in time and do something different differently, I would have pushed it myself harder and not have given up and I would have believed that I could do it.
There’ve been a lot of challenges. One started at the beginning of my journey when we first learned for loops – or the whole concept of loops. I couldn’t get it. I didn’t understand it. I was starting to doubt myself – doubt if coding was right for me. You know, this would ever work out.
Eventually, I pushed through and I got it. And now I can’t even understand how I didn’t get it before. So I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t let it freak you out when you first start learning to code because it’s a completely different way of thinking and don’t compare yourself to others. I came in with that premed sort of competitive mentality and I think it just made me really hard on myself when I didn’t need to be. Everyone gets things at their own pace, just keep pushing.
Another big challenge was that when I first started at my job, I was the only female on the entire engineering team. And not only that, I was the youngest by far. Everyone seemed to be very senior, handpicked from other companies. So I was definitely the only junior there, among a lot of other differences and it was really tough. Yeah, not gonna lie. But it made me a lot stronger. Another big challenge that came along with that was a lot of imposter syndrome. Felt that a lot, still feel that even today.
But would I change anything? I wouldn’t change my degree. I loved studying neuroscience. I think I would change how hard I was on myself and how for so long for the first few years at my job I was always trying to prove myself. I think that put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself and it wasn’t good. I think if I was easier on myself, it would have helped me gain that confidence faster. But honestly, would I change anything about my experience? Not really because, as cheesy as it sounds, it got me to where I am today and I’m really happy and proud of that.
Masha: Do you think anyone can go into tech?
I believe that anyone can get into tech. I am an example of that. I didn’t fit the stereotype, I had no experience and I started at almost 30. But, of course, you need to have a lot of commitment and dedication.
Yes and no. I think everyone should definitely try tech, try some kind of technical career, explore programming 110% – please try it. If I hadn’t tried it, I wouldn’t be here now. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. So you really never know. But is it for everyone? No. Just like being a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher isn’t for everyone. So everyone should definitely explore it. But is it for everyone? No. And that’s okay.
I 1000% believe that anyone can go into tech. If you have the drive and you have the want to, there’s literally no holding you back. It’s an amazing career choice and I wouldn’t have done anything differently.
Masha: What would you recommend for anyone thinking about making a transition into tech?
For anyone who’s thinking of transitioning into tech like I did, I have lots of advice. I guess one thing would be to not compare yourself to others. It’s not a race and it doesn’t matter how quickly or slowly are catching on to some concepts. All that matters at the end of the day is that you can keep pushing forward, you’re challenging yourself and always learning new things. Don’t be hard on yourself and also don’t get discouraged.
Programming is a completely different way of thinking and I think people underestimate that. So when you’re first starting out, things are going to be hard – and it’s not because you can’t do them or it’s too hard. It’s just that it’s hard and you’ll learn and you’ll get through it. You’ll be challenged and learn from those experiences. But don’t let it scare you away from continuing on learning programming. It’s just hard. And, and that’s what you signed up for, you wanted a challenge. So you’re in the right place.
The other thing I would say is don’t be afraid to Google things, please Google everything. Whether you have 10 years of experience or 10 minutes of experience, it doesn’t matter. It’s not cheating if you Google things. Everyone does it, it’s part of the job. I would even say – I joke with my friends that I’m a professional Googler, but it’s not really a joke, I am. It’s a matter of figuring things out, knowing that you’re going to get a problem that you’ve never seen before. You don’t know how to deal with it, but that’s fine. You’ll think about it based on past experiences or you’ll Google it and that’s how it works.
When I first started, I was taking Harvard’s CS 50 course online. And the first assignment they gave us was this Python exercise. I promised myself I would give myself two weeks to go at it full force, not Google anything. That was such a waste of time because in the end, after two weeks of still not getting it, I Googled the answer and I was like: “wait, they didn’t teach us that in class or I didn’t know we could use that”. And that’s the whole point.
They can’t teach you everything, all of the different tools you can use. So that’s why you have a Google. They teach you the basics and you have to sort of take that and go for it. There’s nothing that’s out of bounds or: “Oh, we haven’t gotten to that unit yet. I can’t use this” – no, you can use everything and anything that’s out there. Be creative, have fun and be resourceful. So use everything that you can to help yourself. That is not cheating.
My advice for those who are thinking about making a transition to tech is: be consistent. I only started to improve when I dedicated myself every day. For me, this happened when I did the #100daysofcode challenge and I created a commitment and I shared my progress with the community every day. This gave me a lot of motivation. If you don’t want to, you don’t need to do any challenges but at least keep the consistency. Take 15 minutes a day every day and with time me, you’ll see progress. And this will give you a lot of motivation to keep moving forward.
For anyone thinking about making the transition to tech, I cannot say enough about the community that is behind you and the support that you have. Before I was in tech, I’ve never had the kind of support and love and passion behind me that I do. Now I can get on any social media and find a million people that are saying amazing things about other developers. And I think that that is what truly makes the tech community amazing. So if you are thinking about transitioning and you love people that are supportive and encouraging and loving, then make the leap and we’ll be right here waiting.
Thank you so much, Eden, Kellyn and Alex for sharing your experiences and your advice! Make sure that you follow these wonderful ladies and social media because they are sharing so much value on a regular basis.
Learn more about Eden’s story in this post and follow her on social media:
Instagram of Eden’s blog: https://www.instagram.com/_whatthetech
Learn more about Kellyn’s story in this post and follow her on social media:
Learn more about Alex’s story in this post and follow her on social media:
I hope this was helpful for your decision-making process. Let me know in the comments below what industry you’re trying to transition out of and watch out for next week’s post where I will interview another three badass self-taught programmers on their learning process.