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Arit Developer
Arit Developer

Posted on • Updated on

I switched careers to Software Engineering in my late 30s while nursing a newborn, Ask Me Anything!

After freelancing part-time as a Wordpress implementer (cos I never got into the PHP code), I decided to learn to code and switch careers from Public Health to Software Engineering. I enrolled in 6-month-long, 35hours/week online bootcamp when my daughter was just 4 months old. Six months after bootcamp, I landed my first full-time role.

I'm here to advise, support and cheer on anyone with a non-traditional background, or non-typical profile, who dreams of being a professional programmer. Ask away!

Top comments (111)

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vaishnavi7712 profile image
Vaishnavi Kulkarni

Same is the story with me. Path was challenging and interesting. Major support required is from your life partner and your boss. And thankfully I got both. So ultimately, life is rewarding me with sweet fruits.

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aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer

Hello Sai! Congrats on the internship!

If I were you, I would focus on showing my enthusiasm for the company's products and goals. So dont merely complete your tasks. Show interest in how your tasks and the team's work fits into the global company vision. Show concern for the impact of your code on the company's bottom line or vision. Ask lots of questions. Ask to pair with senior programmers. Ask for feedback say every 3 weeks: "Is there anything I can improve in my work?" for example.

I wish you all the favor in the world :D

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eostrom profile image
Erik Ostrom

What was the hardest part?

What was the best part?

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aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer • Edited on

Thanks for your questions Erik :)

Hardest Part: The Job Search. I actually enjoyed bootcamp (even though it was a struggle at times, with sleep deprivation and constant interruptions from my baby).

But the job search was a real test of my belief that I was able and ready to work as a programmer. Each rejection - be it after a coding test, phone screen, or onsite interview - was a blow to my sense of competency.

What kept me going was (1) the unrelenting encouragement of my mentor from bootcamp - he had absolute faith that I was good enough (2) the fact that I had come so far and invested so much energy in my learning; I wasnt about to let it go to waste lol.

Best Part: Being mentored during bootcamp. My mentor was INCREDIBLE! He's the person I credit most for my success so far. He absolutely believed in my abilities and programming aptitude, even when I felt so dumb. He made time for me beyond what the bootcamp required, just to pair with me more, and explain things more. My experience with him is what spurs me on to mentor and encourage other future programmers.

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robertculp16 profile image
Robert Culp

Your story resonates with me. I too in my late 30s choose to throw caution to the wind and do a similar program. My daughter was born on the Friday of the first week of class. I missed but 1 day of class, needless to say, my wife is a Saint. I can't even imagine what it would be like doing that as a mom with a three month old. Good on you! Thanks for sharing!

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aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer

Thank you Robert! and yes, tell your wife I said she is #BadAss πŸ’ͺ

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rhymes profile image
rhymes

You rock!

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aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer

Why, thank you! :)

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kayis profile image
K (he/him)

What did you do in your previous job?

Did you have any higher education prior to your bootcamp?

What do you do now?

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aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer • Edited on

Hi K!

I worked in Public Health as a Research Associate and Program Analyst.

I earned two degrees (Bachelors Biology and Masters Nonprofit Mgmt) prior to bootcamp.

Now I work as a Software Engineer at a major dotcom in Virginia. Our tech stack is primarily Rails, React and OracleDB.

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kayis profile image
K (he/him)

Cool.

Thanks for the AMA.

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databasesponge profile image
MetaDave πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Ί

How do Rails and Oracle get along? It's not a very traditional pairing?

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jamonjamon profile image
Jaimie Carter

I'm in my 50s and have worked in broadcast for over 25 years, and I NEEEEEED to get out of television. I've been teaching myself and have managed to build a web app in PHP from concept to deployment. (patch.team if you want to have a look - it's nothing special, just a learning experience)
I have to say, i don't have any faith I'll be able to land a job as a dev. the task just seems too enormous. Anything you could advise?

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aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer

Hello there! Congrats on making the leap into code! I checked your app out - it's pretty cool!

I think your best bet is to build finished and finessed apps, and use them to prove your worth to any dev team. In fact, do that AND find an opensource project with a tech stack you're comfortable with and start contributing! A third thing to do would be to use your television skills to create mini-vids of you coding or debugging, and publish them here on Dev.To

In terms of life experience, you got that in spades! So put that to work for you. Build a portfolio of 2-3 complete apps, rack up some green in GitHub through opensource involvement, and define a brand that puts you out there are a developer. These 3 things done consistently will get you noticed, fetch you some interviews and land you a job. GOOD LUCK!!

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jamonjamon profile image
Jaimie Carter

Great points. I'd not thought of contributing to an open source project, I'll get straight on that. Thanks very much for the advice, it is greatly appreciated.

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josephgale profile image
josephgale

What an inspiring article, thank you for sharing. I'm also in my late 30's switching to programming. I was wondering what some of your first tasks were in the workplace. Do you remember your first ticket or the first coding problem that you had to solve? I'd like to know what kinds of actual problems that entry level programmers are expected to solve. Thanks!

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aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer

Hi Joseph!

Great question; my first-ever ticket was to set my development environment up, which was quite involved. My first contribution at work was to update the env-setup documentation :)

After that, I took tickets that involved small code updates, like HTML changes, or including a table column that allows an object to receive a new attribute. Most of what we code on my team ends up in front-end production, so I see the "fruit" of my work in a very visual way. Seeing my little changes reflected on our production sites gave my confidence such a boost.

I would say that, so far, my biggest trip-ups at work have been GitHub-flow related. Which is why I shout from the rooftops: "Get involved in opensource!!!" In my opinion, it's the closest you can approximate a professional coding environment, and it's great practice in code review, reading, understanding and modifying code, avoiding adding code debt, etc. If you're into Rails and/or JS, the Dev.To opensource project is just stellar!

Good luck!

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krlyric profile image
Katherine • Edited on

what things have been helpful for you to 'level-up' your skills other than the online bootcamp?

also, what is your opinion of wordpress now that you are an engineer? do you want to develop themes / plugins? or stay away from the CMS development side?

and congrats on your journey

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aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer

Hey Katherine!

Thank you so much! Well, post-bootcamp and pre-job, I would improve my skills by:

  1. building small projects and searching MDN for solutions to what I needed
  2. practicing algorithms on LeetCode and CodeWars
  3. taking tutorials

Now on the job, skills improvement is built-in :D

I still love Wordpress! I haven't had a chance to do any CMS development, but I love the platform - especially for it's ease of use for non-techies. CMS development is not currently on my career roadmap though.

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daurrutia profile image
David

What bootcamp? Or what bootcamp recommendations?

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aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer

Hello David!

The bootcamp was called The Firehose Project - but they have been acquired by Trilogy Education, so they're no longer taking students unfortunately. They offer their program through universities now; I believe UC Berkley is one of them.

The websites CourseReport and SwitchUp are excellent resources for researching coding bootcamps - check 'em out!

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daurrutia profile image
David

Thank you!

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aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer • Edited on

Hi Diogo! Thank you so much!

From my college days, I had always enjoyed tech for the power it gave to get things done. But I was a Biology major, pursuing what I thought was my passion to become a doctor. So when I later abandoned that dream, I believed that I needed to stay in the sciences, so that my college education wouldn't be "wasted".

However, throughout my career in Public Health, I maintained a Wordpress side-hustle, and once my site designs caught the eye of some local business owners, I began building WP sites for pay. That was when I first felt that I could have a career in tech. The rest - as they say - is history.

I write more about my journey here and here.

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sivaraam profile image
Kaartic Sivaraam

Hi Arit,

First of all, you seem to be doing a great job by motivating the people who comment here. Great job! It's such a great thing as motivation gives an energy which can be unmatched sometimes :-)

Coming to my question. In case you are interested, can you share about your career plan? What technologies have you learnt/learning/are about to learn to advance your career as a software development? What made you choose them?

I'm a person who is currently in a confused state as I would have to choose my career path (technologies to learn) but am not sure where to start or which one to start with. So I think your inputs might help.

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aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer

Hello Kaartic,

So sorry for my late reply to your question - thank you for your patience! :)

Prior to getting my first (and current) job, I had skills in Ruby/Rails and a little Javascript. So not very much, as you can see. Our tech stack at work is quite robust, and we're making the transition to technologies like React and ElasticSearch, so those 2 are definitely on my career roadmap.

However, I have heard time and time again that a solid foundation in the fundamentals really helps in picking up any new/emerging tech, as these are all built on the fundamentals. So my plan is not to "chase" emerging tech and stacks, but to deepen my understanding of dev and compsci concepts, techniques and best practices.

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sivaraam profile image
Kaartic Sivaraam

Hi Arit,

Thanks for the response! Just FYI, I generally do not mind late responses (BTW, this wasn't too late, really) because everyone has their one $DAYJOB and priorities :-)

Coming to the point. Thanks for mentioning the technologies you are learning/about to learn. I particularly like the fact that you encourage getting strong in the fundamentals. Though I do accept and realise that it is fundamental, I'm not sure that's enough as I think companies would look for expertise in some tech stacks. Though I'm not pretty sure about it. Regardless, I'm interested to learn how you think of improving your fundamentals? By taking online courses from MIT OpenCourseWare, etc.? Doing a degree in CS? Reading books?

In contrast, I actually think I have some grasp of the fundamentals as I took a Computer Science major in college. Of course, I won't say I'm strong enough. There are always places I could improve myself in :-) For now, I think of learning some of them so I'm not left behind :-)

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grantralls profile image
Grant Ralls

I am so blown away by your story! I am a person who's been programming for a while. I think my problem is that I don't study algorithms and data structures. What steps did you take for prep before applying to jobs? I find most people say to study algorithms and data structures. I wanted to see if you found that true as well.

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aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer

Thank you Grant!

I'll confess: I truly do not enjoy working on algorithms and data structures, unless they're in a context of some possibly real-world problem. Otherwise they feel so detached and conceptualization is everything to me.

I had 2 awesome onsite interviews (and one crappy one). The first interview (which led to my current job) took about 3.5 hours and only 25 mins of this was spent on algorithms. Whats more, they didn't actually want me to code everything out - they cared more about my thought process, how I would approach solving it, and my ability to talk through my thinking.

For my second onsite, I'd completed some homework in Rails and Javascript. So the technical portion of the interview was a review of my homework. I've never felt more relaxed in an interview - explaining why I coded the way I did, and receiving their feedback on different ways of achieving the same effect.

So to answer your question: yes, many companies use algorithms/data structures to evaluate potential employees, so you should practice. However, I sought a company which would understand that I was at the start of my journey, in need of training and mentoring, and hire me for my technical potential and prowess in other non-technical areas. And not many companies are like this.

Let me know how else I can help. I wish you all the favor in the world - good luck!

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richardsefton profile image
RichardSefton

I'm a tailor due to start my first job in the it industry (at 31). How did you find the transition to working with professional code from professional developers and how complex did you find the code base?

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aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer • Edited on

Super question Richard! Honestly, I was very scared the first week. I wasn't sure how complex the codebase was, and I was experiencing lots of imposter syndrome. However, I have a super-supportive team, and because I'm a Junior, the expectation is I will have lots of questions, and would need a fairly long runway to get up to speed.

Here are some practical things I did:

  • I prepared myself mentally each day to work hard. I figured I'd prove to my teammates that I was worth their support and input
  • I took every opportunity to pair with more senior engineers as they worked on their tickets. And asked lots of questions
  • Before asking a question about the ticket I was working on, I'd take no more than 30-45 mins to research all I could. That way my question sounded like "Hey Dan? I though this method would accomplish this task, but it's not working for some reason..." instead of "Hey Dan, I don't know how to work this issue"
  • In the first few weeks I took on simpler tickets that required little code. This way I increased my knowledge of the codebase (and databases) and built my confidence.
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richardsefton profile image
RichardSefton

Yearly update.

I'm on furlough right now but I love my new job. Wasn't too sure what to expect going into it but I am now a nav developer and also studying for a degree.

Best life decision I've made

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mariodrash profile image
Mario RodrΓ­guez

Hi Arit,

How did you handle the rejections when you were applying for a job?

I'm on my own job search but this seems to be so hard when you are rejected for a position.

Thanks for sharing your experience!

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aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer

Hello Mario!

Congratulations on being on the job hunt! Hmmm I admit: I found it HARD to get over rejections. Because I'm self- and bootcamp-taught, each rejection felt like a judgement that my skills weren't good enough, and I was never going to be good enough to be a developer. That was the hardest part. There were many tears, and great reluctance to put myself out there again and send another job application.

What kept me going was my mentor. He never relented in telling me and encouraging me that I had what it took. I believed him because he's a hiring manager at his workplace, so he sees candidates from all experience levels regularly. He would say "Arit, if you lived where I am, you would already have a job cos i would've hired you! That's how much I KNOW that you are built for this industry!"

So my advice is to seek out a professional in your chosen industry, preferably someone who hires for their company. Have them critically assess your candidacy and point out areas you can strengthen.

Then, brother, just KEEP APPLYING. Don't stop. Do what you gotta do for money or to pay bills or whatever, but every morning and every night say to yourself "I am a [insert your desired job title here]"

I wish you all the favor and open doors in the world! Good luck!

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