In September I published a post on beginning the coding job search. I had just graduated from the Flatiron School then and was preparing to embark into the great unknown. In that post I shared some of what I considered to be the essential ingredients towards a successful job search, particularly for people coming from another career and making the career switch. I discussed humility, remembering where you came from, why you made the switch and the value of enjoying yourself.
In that article I was speaking to myself as much as I was writing for others. Now, after a little more than 3 months later, I have successfully completed my first coding job search, and it is time to reflect on the process. What was it like? What are some of the big takeaways for me and for others? What will I strive to remember as I begin my first developer position?
In the approximately three months that I searched for a position I had around 180 intentional job related interactions with people. I define an intentional interaction to be one where my motivation going into the moment was specifically related to advancing my career and they include coffee meetings, Skype or Zoom conversations, interviews and substantial email correspondence (i.e. beyond an introductory message). I had 40 interviews , including second and third round interviews, at 13 different companies.
The interviews ranged from phone pre-screens where I was asked rapid fire technical Q&A to cultural interviews with HR professionals to timed coding challenges on site. I only experienced 2 whiteboard interviews on data structures and algorithms, although I had prepared the most for those type of interviews.
This experience was as exhausting as it was exhilarating. I discovered an entire network of people like me. No, not rabbi turned professional software developer (although I did meet a few of these and one of them ended up becoming my coworker) but rather an entire world of people who fell in love with coding later in life. I met actors, scientists, stylists, teachers, salespeople, administrative assistants, accountants, lawyers, financial professionals and more all turned developers. I met people from around the world, from every conceivable background who all shared one thing in common: the power and creativity of technology swept us into new careers.
I remember sitting in a coffee shop with a fellow career switcher — an art restorer turned developer and her partner — as we laughed about the sometimes absurd moments of callbacks and asynchronous operations and it was in that moment that I realized that this was not just a new profession, but a new community with its own language.
Looking back on the journey and reviewing that essay I wrote in September, I would underline the need for humility. As a new developer coming from a previous career, there will be lots of people you meet who have a lot more knowledge, both practical and theoretical, than you. In the interview process it is guaranteed you will feel stupid at times. You will have moments where you second guess your decision to pursue this path entirely. It is not easy to feel prepared and walk into an interview and be left dumbfounded by, what retrospectively, should have been an easy question.
The night before one interview my children had a hard time falling asleep and I had scheduled two lectures I was giving on programming first thing in the morning. I was exhausted and under-caffeinated. Not a good combination. I had a pretty bad interview and I felt horrible about it. It took me a bit of time to feel better after that. I had to find my own center again and remember the value of self-care. I began giving myself wider windows of time around interviews. Thankfully, my kids are pretty good sleepers most nights.
I would say don’t beat yourself up when you fail or take it too hard, but if you are like me and similarly invested in this emotionally and intellectually, then I know you will. So, instead of advising the impossible, I would just say to try and learn from those moments you did not perform as well as you liked. What was the question that stumped you? How can you do better on that topic the next time? What were the factors around the interview that might have impacted it negatively? Not knowing something does not make you stupid. Remember how much you didn’t know when you first started and how far you’ve come in your learning. Yes, there is so much more to know, but you already know so much.
On a related note, I don’t know how I would have gone through this process without support. I don’t only mean financial, but yes I also mean that. It is a great privilege to be able to afford to switch careers a decade into one’s professional life. It is a social and economic privilege and one I don’t take lightly. However, in this case, what I primarily mean is emotional support. For me, that took the form of my spouse, who would hear me vent about a particularly hard experience or who would celebrate with me a win. She listened more than offered feedback, supported more than suggested, and in those ways and in so many other ways, made this possible.
Thankfully, if you make the effort, there is an entire community of career switchers out there. They are easy to find, whether at in-person meetups, on Slack or in online communities like The Practical Dev or Code Newbies. Whether you have someone at home to share with or not, you can cultivate meaningful friendships and a network of mutuality with other career switchers. As I mentioned above I get the great joy of working with one daily in my new job.
William Faulkner once wrote that the “past is never dead, it’s not even past.” The person you were before making the career switch is the person you will be after it as well. If you spent a decade as an art restorer or a decade as a rabbi or a decade as an accountant, you will probably retain some of those interests in your new professional life. In my case, I am still heavily invested in my community and still care passionately about it. I have not lost my love for Jewish learning. In fact, from one of my first coding bootcamp portfolio projects to an Alexa app I recently built I have managed to integrate my past and my present together in a shared future.
This journey is not about running away from what you once did but embracing the possibility of what you can do now. I look forward to starting my new position in just a few short days, sitting down at my new workstation for the first time and coming face to face (or face to code) with the endless potential of what can be accomplished.