This week I graduated from the full stack immersive online web development program at the Flatiron School. Throughout the program I created five portfolio projects, had live coding challenges with instructors, expanded my horizons as I learned new languages and frameworks and made new friends from around the world who also decided to throw themselves into this line of study.
Before the program if you had asked me what a closure was, I'd say it was an emotional reunion between estranged family members. If you had asked me to sort an array or discuss ternary operators I'd look at you quizzically and ask if you knew who you were talking to. Now, after finishing the program, I know how much more there is to know (hint: it's a lot!), but I also know that I have a solid foundation.
It was with all of that in the background that when my final assessment ended and the instructor disconnected from the video conference that I felt a combination of both tremendous excitement and contemplative hesitation. After all, I have spent nearly the past ten years in a very different line of work. As a rabbi and non-profit professional I've had the pleasure of working with college students on campus, organizing communities around social justice issues, teaching adult education classes, creating trips and retreats and counseling people on issues ranging from birth to death and marriage to divorce.
What would I need to do to prepare myself to enter a new career in a field very different from what I've done before? I've reflected on that question and, for the benefit of anyone else also making the second career transition, here are some of my thoughts:
As a recent graduate of a coding bootcamp my first position will most likely be as an entry or junior level developer. I may have held senior positions in my previous line of work, but in this career I am new and an entry level position is a good thing! A junior developer position lets you make a positive impact on the company you work for while also having the opportunity to be mentored by colleagues more experienced than you. With the right perspective, an employee committing to a junior level position is investing her/his new (and growing!) skillset in the company, and the employer is investing in her/him. It is a win-win scenario that depends on a second career person approaching it with the right level of humility.
Remember Why You Made The Switch
If you are like me, you did not switch careers because you hated your previous line of work. I loved working as a rabbi. It was immensely rewarding. I had the privilege to accompany people during critical moments of their lives and will never take that experience for granted. I didn't run away from my previous work, I ran towards coding. I fell in love with programming. A programming language is just a collection of letters, numbers and symbols but when put together thoughtfully by a developer the potential for what can be created is unlimited. People's lives are inextricably bound up with technology in countless ways and as a developer you get to shape that human-technology relationship. There is something exhilarating about going through the process of ideation -> code -> deployment and seeing the final product and how it enhances people's lives. That is why I become a developer and the more I keep that foremost in my mind during the search and throughout my work the better both my job search and my code will be.
A job search is stressful. Add on top of that switching careers when you have [insert list of responsibilities (i.e. parenting, financial, etc.)] responsibilities. You are probably not in your early 20s anymore if you are making a career switch. Life does not just wait around for you to finish your new education, do the job search, find a great new position and then, after all of that, pay your bills. It is precisely because of all of that tension and stress that it is extra important to have fun. Even if I wasn't job searching, I'd enjoy the opportunity to meet new thoughtful people, hear interesting talks and learn about new projects so I'm going to enjoy those moments now also. Potential employers don't want to hire someone who presents as super tense and stressed out and the best way not to be is to not pretend, but rather find ways to enjoy it. Maybe for you it means making sure to carve out some Netflix time at the end of the day, or going for a run in the morning. Find what makes you both happy about the search process and what makes you happy in general and focus in on them.
Your Past Is Not Irrelevant
Maybe for the past ten years you have been a dog walker in Manhattan and now you are ready for your first web developer position. Should you forget your ten years of dog walking? Absolutely not! A dog walker has to manage competing interests (in other words, many different dogs), many different bosses (in other words, many different dog owners and their dogs), navigate treacherous terrain on a daily basis and many other responsibilities. The framing for your past experience must not be: what about my previous line of work is not relevant to coding, but rather what about it is relevant? As a rabbi I've negotiated some pretty thorny interpersonal situations, thought deeply about member engagement and seen the implementation of new initiatives from ideation to final rollout. If that sounds like some important skills in a work environment, and in a programming space, that is because they are. I need to remember that what I've done before can add depth to the developer I am striving to be today.
Those are just some reflections that I've had as I go through the process of falling in love with coding and transitioning to a new career. I'd love to hear what are some of your tips for transitioning to a second career in coding? What worked for you?