Nurse Turned Developer
Kalene Mar 7
If you would have told my 22-year-old self that my day job would be a web developer, I know she wouldn't believe you. To be honest, almost three years ago, I wasn't really even sure what exactly the term "web developer," "software engineer," "software developer," really meant or what the difference between all these titles even were.
I was a nurse, and didn't know anything about software other than how to use it to chart all our patients' vital signs.
Wait, back up. You're a nurse???
Kinda? I was. I went to school for nursing and graduated in 2015 with my bachelor's of science in nursing. I had many interests growing up and biology, health, anatomy, and helping people were some of them. Wouldn't nursing be a good choice for me?
Well, since I'm here writing this article, I'm sure you know the direction this is going to take. 🙃
Honestly, I hated it. And I felt guilty that I hated it. Nurses did "good," "saved lives," and "helped people," so by the transitive property, didn't it make me the opposite of all those things?
Plenty of different factors led to this guilt, ranging from societal expectations of women being caretakers and kind, from high expectations of myself, and to other nurses who were quick to call out anyone else who pointed out the negative aspects of the nursing field.
Being stressed, being overworked, being understaffed (and in my position, underpaid) wasn't a feeling I particularly enjoyed. It took lots of introspection for me to come to accept the fact that nursing, although a great field, was not the right profession for me and I would not be happy working in this field.
Hmm, then what did you do...?
I started researching different career paths to take up and came across the word "computer science." Looking back now, and somehow at the time, I knew it was some kind of turning point in my life. It sounds crazy, but I knew in that moment that this was something that held great potential for me, and I researched more into it.
For weeks, I spent hours each day researching different career paths that involved coding, leading to more questions than answers: What the heck is the difference between a computer scientist, web developer, software developer, and software engineer? What programming languages are relevant? Should I go back to college? Are bootcamps a scam? Am I even technical enough to learn all this stuff?
With a ton of doubts, but even more ambition and determination, I quit my nursing job, took up a technical support job in the meantime to ease the transition into tech, and made a promise to myself to learn programming fundamentals in the meantime. I didn't have a strict plan in mind, but decided that as long as I worked hard and kept my determination, things would work out.
So how'd you make the jump from nursing to tech?
To put a long story short, two things: 1.) I worked my ass off and 2.) I received help from a lot of amazing people. I joined my local Girl Develop It chapter and met an amazing friend who taught me to love CSS. I took online courses (I made it my goal to never pay more than $20 for a course), read books, watched YouTube videos, read blog posts, listened to podcasts, made a Twitter, made a LinkedIn account, and made myself a website. I looked at others who made the transition into tech and used their stories to inspire and motivate me.
While I was just a few months into my new tech support job, I found out there was a new coding bootcamp opening up in the Pittsburgh area (that's where I live!) that was offering fully funded scholarships to underrepresented groups in technology. The name of the bootcamp was Academy Pittsburgh. Since I just started my new technical support job, I couldn't quite quit, but made it my goal to apply for the next session.
Queue 6 months later and an acceptance letter to the bootcamp...
I was accepted! And the bootcamp was super fast paced but filled with lots of humble, amazing people. To this day, I'm still in a slack channel with all the friends I met there and we talk on a daily basis.
The curriculum was jam-packed, and most of the time I was impatient and felt like I knew nothing. It was easy to seem like everybody knew more than you on some days, and there were other days where you felt like you were the top of the class. It was hard but so rewarding and I don't regret it for anything.
When the program ended, it took me three months of hardcore networking to find my first dev job. This included attending tech meet ups, talking to recruiters, applying for countless jobs online, putting myself out there on online, and basically all other activities that are super scary/exhausting when you're an introvert like me.
A lot of my interviews were filled with rejection. I failed miserably on a white board test, was ghosted on multiple interview processes, was told "sorry we love you, but don't have the funds to hire you on," and was even told by one company said I had "too much frontend development experience."
After a while, I found a small agency that was happy to invest in me and took me on as an intern! A few months later I was hired on full-time.
What was your first tech job like?! Everything you hoped for?
Going from working on my small pet projects to working with huge code bases was scary but so exciting!
It taught me how to be patient with dealing with errors. Before when I would experience an error with my code, I would automatically get very mad and frustrated. After watching the more senior devs deal with an error like it was something to be expected and worked through rather than something alarmingly wrong, I slowly learned to do the same.
Since the company was a small agency with only 2-3 other devs at max, I also learned very quickly how to solve problems when there wasn't always someone around to help. Of course it takes more time (and sometimes frustration) rather than getting a quick response from someone more senior than you, but I also learned more that way.
Where are you now?
I actually got laid off from my first job as of three weeks ago. This of course was extremely hard, but I came to an acceptance with it. It also helps that I am starting a new job at a larger company with more room for mentorship next week! It's a UI developer position working mainly with JS and JS frameworks. I had a great opportunity to try lots of different technologies at my old agency job, but am looking forward to a more specialized position on the frontend.
I'm also an organizer for Girl Develop It Pittsburgh and am continually working with the other organizers to offer different events and classes that can make web development and technology accessible to women and nonbinary individuals.
What can I take away for myself from your story?
- Never be ashamed of your background
Own your story. Be proud of it. It might not look like anyone else's and that's okay! Nobody is going to have the same story as you and that's why you have to own yours.
- Having a support network is a must
It's always hard to put yourself out there and build a network. It takes time and effort but it's completely worth it. You never know how someone you met a year ago can come into your life and help you find a job, become a friend, or heck, maybe even want to start a start-up with you.
It's also super important to have people who you can share your successes with and who are also there to comfort you when you're at a low point. Having my coding friends to reach out to when I was laid off from my first dev job helped me tremendously.
- Nobody knows what the heck they're doing
By that, I mean to say that nobody knows everything. Everyday us developers run into problems we don't know exactly how to solve. The more you work in this field, the easier it will become to figure out those problems. And those problem-solving skills don't happen overnight-- they take weeks, months, years. However, overtime you will see improvement.
- Don't compare your day 10 to someone else's day 1000
When I first started, I put way too much stress on myself to be perfect. I still do from time to time, but I'd like to call myself a recovering perfectionist. You're not going to be an expert overnight or have code that is as neat and well-factored as someone who has been in the industry for fifteen years. Good enough is good enough!
- Be patient
Be patient with yourself when you're stuck on a problem. It doesn't matter how long it takes you to figure something out, who you have to ask to help you, etc. As developers, we're going to spend the vast majority of time stuck on something. Learn to lean into the discomfort with me-- you'll figure it out eventually.
- Give back
Give back to the dev community. It doesn't have to be anything big. Maybe the next meet up you're at you can help someone with a bug they're experiencing. Maybe write a quick blog post about something you're learning or answer a question someone has on Twitter or Stack Overflow. I'm a firm believer that the little things add up.
- Share your story
I was hesitant to share my story because 1.) I still find it kinda scary to talk about myself at length online and 2.) I don't really see how my story can help anyone sometimes.
But then I think back to when I was considering making the transition myself... what really helped push me towards my goals was reading others' stories online. Everybody has a different insight that they can offer on their journey that can help others on theirs.
- You belong in the tech world.
You do. I promise.
Thanks everyone for reading my story! Please do reach out to me if you have any other questions or just want to get in touch! I'd love to help others on their journey.