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How To Brand Yourself When Switching Careers Into Software Development

James Hickey
Software Architect & Senior Developer | Microsoft MVP
Originally published at yourdevcareer.com Updated on ・4 min read

A few weeks ago I received a question from a reader of the Navigating Your Software Development Career newsletter about how to position or brand oneself when switching careers into becoming a software developer:

"I've read your post about branding for online presence as Developer on Dev.to 💪 great read!

May I ask your recommendation?

I assume your post is intended for Developers who already working as professionals.

And for code newbies who are a complete beginner — just newly starting learning to code and wants to write a blog (either self hosted, or using Dev .to / Medium), how can we 'brand' ourselves while we are transitioning from non-tech field into software engineering?"

Love it - great question!

Non-Technical Backgrounds

Many of you guys/gals reading this are probably already developers - but I'm sure many of you actually have a "past-life" before becoming a developer.

As an example, I only started really coding at around 25 years of age when I went back to college to learn how to code!

I had used computers during my late teens and was playing around with Unix machines and some bash scripts - but nothing more than that.

My background is actually in music and philosophy 🤔.

Before starting to code, I was planning on completing my studies... until I decided that spending another 7 years getting a doctorate just wasn't worth the time, the money, etc.

So I had to think about what other possible careers would be available that:

  • Didn't require tons of schooling
  • I was passionate about
  • Was available to study where I lived
  • Paid well in general

That happened to be programming!

Short Answer

Here's my answer to the question that was posed:

Position/brand yourself as someone who is transitioning careers into software development.

Hmm....🤔

Long Answer

Here's a great example I've been seeing on LinkedIn - Alex Ortiz.

He's been blogging about his journey of trying to get into more technical/dev positions lately - as a non-developer.

I think this is a fantastic approach.

Tactics

As you are learning to make the switch, you can make your journey public by:

  • Blogging
  • Creating short video updates every now and again
  • Tweet smaller bite-sized updates about what you are learning, what's difficult, what's easy, etc.

By branding yourself as someone that's - let say - more of a traditional marketer (if that's your field) who is switching to a dev career, you can market yourself as just that: what you are!

Branding after-all is simply all about your reputation - are you intelligent? Passionate? Helpful? Trustworthy? Authentic? Honest? Who do you help?

The key is to build a community and reputation around who you are, where you've been and where you are going.

Note: A long-term approach should actually revolve around where other people are and where you can get them. But for now, starting out, focusing on your own journey is a natural and great way to do this.

People who are either going through the same process or considering making a carer switch to becoming a developer will DEVOUR your content!

There are so many people that are doing this - switching from non-developer roles to learning and starting a career as a software dev. I think that's one of the reasons why boot camps are so popular.

I know from speaking with one of the major boot camps in the US that they have a high percentage of students who are pivoting from a previous career track.

The Next Level

If you are really serious about building a reputation and trying to help others who are looking to make this switch, you could also start an email newsletter.

Weekly or bi-weekly send updates about your journey, tips or even interview other people who have successfully made the same type of transition.

Eventually, you could self-publish a book to this market too. You'll already have a following that wants to consume your content!

Some Final Thoughts

Finally, most companies are, as a requirement, looking for skilled developers.

But the people who end up getting the jobs are those who can demonstrate their worth to a potential company. Having a good reputation and a following can really help you to do this and stand-out.

You'll gain so many more connections this way and will be in a great place to enter the field - if you've built a following around your journey!

Here's Your Cue!

If you are a developer and have come from a non-tech or non-dev background, I'd love to hear your story (even a couple sentences would be awesome!).

Keep In Touch

Don't forget to connect with me on twitter or LinkedIn!

Navigating Your Software Development Career Newsletter

An e-mail newsletter that will help you level-up in your career as a software developer! Ever wonder:

✔ What are the general stages of a software developer?
✔ How do I know which stage I'm at? How do I get to the next stage?
✔ What is a tech leader and how do I become one?
✔ Is there someone willing to walk with me and answer my questions?

Sound interesting? Join the community!

Discussion (32)

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dancalderon profile image
Daniel Calderon • Edited

I'm lawyer, with a Master in Corporate Law, I used to have a great job in this area, but one day I spoke with a friend who is a swift developer, I felt in love for the developer career, It was just so fun watch all the changes and logic in front of my eyes, be "sure" that the code actually works, something totally different from my career, and the possibility to travel to other countries, meet new people and places, that's something that I couldn’t do as a Lawyer, so...I quit my job, pick my pc and start to learn how to code, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Node.js, React.js, etc..., now I'm moving out to another country, I don't know how hard it will be to land my first job, but even with that fear, I'm so happy of my decision.

Hopefully I'll update my story with a happy state, or maybe not, but at least I’m sure that I took the risk for do what I really love.

Thanks for the post, James!

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Woah! That's crazy (awesome)! You should def. start logging your journey. Especially with a master degree, you'll do fantastic.

Having that degree is like having a trick up your sleeve - you can present yourself as someone who is ambitious, intelligent, accomplished, a good communicator as a lawyer, etc.

Def stay in touch! Would love to hear how things go.

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dancalderon profile image
Daniel Calderon

Thanks, James and everyone.

I'll log and share it eventually, maybe this could help someone who has some fears or it's no sure of make his decision.

Happy code!

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abdulghani200 profile image
Abdul Ghani

All the best ♥️

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frondedaniel profile image
Daniel Fronde

All the best

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Igor Smirnov

Hello. Just came across this article and decided to share my story. I was graduated from the Business School in 2014 with a 1st class degree. Shortly after that, I realised that I lack technical knowledge as I could not perform on my first job after graduation at the start-up company. I left this job by myself after only 3 months. Right after, I decided to study computer science topics by myself as well as completing online tutorials and getting some 'Mickey Mouse' certificates (edx, coursera, codecademy, treehouse, youtube and many others). It was tremendous amount of pressure on my shoulders, as I was short of cash, but luckily I had at least my girlfriend next to me, who was supporting my idea. I started with Python and Flask, so that I know at least how to build a website. Surely, it was not enough to get into software development, but was good enough to get into more technical position 5 months later e.g. web analytics and perform pretty well there. Not to say, I had to leave my girlfriend for a period of 7 months, to get some experience in another city, which is egoistic given that she was all these time next to me. It was a hell and I do not know how we saved our relationship on distance. Then, I returned and changed to the similar job, which involved working with data and reporting. Also, nothing too advanced, but still plenty room for demonstrating technical knowledge, integrating different tools, analysing, debugging and even proposing possible solutions. In the meantime, I continued learning programming. Got some work related rewards for performing well. Eventually, in March 2018, I have been offered a chance to step into full-time software engineering at my latest company, after working as a web analyst for 2 years. I was about to be promoted second time, but I reset my career by switching to software engineering, which is mostly front-end related. Now I am junior again and hopefully I can reach mid-level this year. It is crazy, remarkable and very, very painful at the same time. Am I proud? Yes. Do I feel satisfied? Not really. I guess I do well by putting constantly myself under more crazy amount of pressure, which is close to masochisms. There are so many things yet to learn, that it feels that I need a lifetime to reach at least a minimum level of comfort and satisfaction. At the end of the day, I want to be relevant and build something cool, useful, meaningful, rather than just being employed. I work with React Native and React, practice Angular at home by building my app and know a bit of Python, but I am not an expert in any of these technologies yet. New things come out on daily basis and I gotta jump on the bandwagon and learn it, because tomorrow we're going to use it. I am 28 now, I feel lonely in my world and completely have no feeling how I am doing. Meanwhile, respect to my girlfriend as it will be 5 years in October since we're together :))) P.S. I also thought that running a Twitter account may become a long-term investment, but tbh, I deal not really well with that as I am not really a social-media type of person. twitter.com/igorsmirnov_tw

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

That's quite a journey! Thank for sharing this. I just followed you on Twitter 👍
Would love to keep in touch.

Sometimes it takes hard work (a lot...) to achieve your goals. But dude - you're a software developer now! If you feel like you don't know enough stuff - the sad truth is that you will always feel that way 🤦‍♂️.

I still feel that way after over 5 years in the industry (not counting 2 years at school). I know developers who are 10 years+ that still feel the same way.

I wouldn't beat yourself up over that. It's just the way the industry is. You're very fortunate though to be working with very relevant technologies like React, Angular, etc. Some devs are stuck working with really irrelevant technologies and struggle to get out of that hole.

I love what you said, "I want to be relevant and build something cool, useful, meaningful, rather than just being employed"

That's something I think many developers feel at some point in their career. There's nothing stopping anyone from building cool stuff! It's quite a privilege to be able to do that.

Thanks again!

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kerushag profile image
KerushaG

Wow, respect

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djfordz profile image
David Ford • Edited

I was an Aircraft Structures Mechanic for 18 years before making the switch at 37.

The number one thing that helped me the most is taking actual university courses on edx.org over any other type of self learning approach. In fact, the one thing that is actually inhibiting my career potential right now is the lack of a degree. I was prepared and did start off at the bottom. That is what most people don't understand, coming from another career you shouldn't expect to immediately start off with a high salary. I started at an agency at 15/hr. It took 4 years to make it back to what I was making in my previous career and another 2 to surpass it. So be prepared to start at the bottom, as should be expected. I didn't become a top rated structures mechanic overnight don't expect to be a top rated developer overnight. I think some people's success stories about landing a 6 figure income with 0 experience really skews people's perceptions. Yes, developers are very much in demand right now, yes people pay top dollar for us. But the company expects a return on there investment and nothing, absolutely nothing replaces on-the-job real world experience. I don't chase money, I chase job satisfaction, luckily we are in such high demand that companies are very aware of keeping us happy. But juniors aren't in demand and shouldn't expect the same as a seasoned, experienced dev. Gotta pay your dues, and be confident in your abilities wherever your experience is at, if you are not confident in your abilities practice until you are.

Lastly, my advice,building your own unique projects and having a portfolio of them (not tutorials, the more advanced the coding concepts, the better,especially with a solid understanding of Object Oriented Design principles) and a professional blog are the two things that will be beneficial in getting started in a career.

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Awesome - love this comment 💯 I really love hearing other people's stories, especially when they were able to jump into software dev. with a different background.

Love your points:

  • Degrees do help
  • The norm is to "start at the bottom"
  • You have to "pay your dues"
  • Your company expects a return on investment
  • On the job experience is key
  • Portfolio
  • Professional Blog

Thanks so much for sharing Dave!

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seepgulati profile image
Seep

My story:
I was a Public Relations professional before beginning my Bootcamp journey in February 2019. My motivation to get into the tech world stems from the urge of learning something new every day and making applications accessible for first-time tech users. We have covered Ruby, HTML and CSS so far. I really enjoyed HTML and CSS.

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Sweet! I really fell in love with the front-end stuff when I started my studies too.

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fdevinar profile image
Fabrício Devinar

Hi James, I'm transitioning from Non-Dev Tech Job, I'm an IT graduate working in Application/Infrastructure support in a big consumer goods company. I got tired of "supporting", "managing", "engaging", I want to "build", "improve", "create". I believe my IT background will help me a lot, having worked on the 'other side' of the IT business. Just subscribed to your list btw, cheers!

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Great! Keep in touch and let me know how things work out 👍

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dafear profile image
dafear

Great read I'm an Actor/Musician and your content resonated with me. I went to a coding bootcamp and I've been learing javaScript/node.js/React and aws for about a year now. I'm also a marketer and I love your point about the email news letter.

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Thanks! 🎸

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Lucas Olivera

I've been trying to brand myself on Twitter because I don't like sharing my articles or making videos (too shy). The thing is I didn't have any idea of what to Tweet, so your post was very enlightening!

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Awesome 👍

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kerushag profile image
KerushaG

Hi I found this super encouraging as I am currently going through this process as well. I'm currently doing a bootcamp and I have been keeping a diary and intend on writing a few articles about my experience, I was also a bit concerned about the question you received, so this article really helps!

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Nathan McClain

I should probably do this, i went from being a mechanic in the military to a paralegal in the military to now being a software developer and game design adjunct professor... Maybe something I did will reasonate with someone.

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

For sure man! I'd love to hear your story. I've seen a lot of ex-military people either wanting to become a dev or already in the industry. That would be a very intriguing read 😉

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qureshi81 • Edited

I'm working as a customer service executive for a software firm in my country. I have been learning programming with Java for over a year now and also trying my hands dirty with Android development. Though I have a post grad diploma in advance computing but it did'nt really worked out since I had no idea how to code plus I lost my mother during my time in university, and then three of my elder brothers died of Schizophrenia and lost my sister also couple of years back due to severe thyroid. Yes. anxiety had me for four years but I was'nt ready to give up. So I thought I should start doing something else as I am a constant learner. Let me mention, the prime reason to get a job like this is because I had financial difficulties as well. I want to learn programming because to be honest I am really tired handling complaints :-(. but because I tried learning it in the past and I really loved it and I know I can do it. Right now I am enrolled in android nondegree program with udacity. Having said that as I am kick starting my career as a developer or may be as a programmer so learning only through online degree program was difficult as I was starting again from scratch and now I am constantly learning new things everyday. I am using tons of different resources like tutorials, mostly books, stackoverflow (super helpful) and blogs. I read so many stories here on dev community so I thought I should share mine I think as they say "constant learning eventually leads to success" so I am keeping my fingers crossed!

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Vladimir C

Holy shit, man! I hope things going better for you now and you achieved or on the way to your goals.

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Nice post James.

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Thanks Ben!

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tsigie profile image
Tsigie

Thanks for the awesome post James!

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Thanks!

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Vinci Bhardwaj

Hello, I'm in my final week in my coding bootcamp and I feel nervous and excited but I don't have any offers yet, do you have any advice once I finish?

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author
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hussein cheayto

Great article :)
You can read my experience with programmimg:

dev.to/hussein_cheayto/why-i-start...

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Max Ong Zong Bao

Awesome post :)

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Thanks!