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

Updated on Apr 14, 2019 ・1 min read

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 3 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!

DISCUSS (100)
 

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.

 

What was the hardest part?

What was the best part?

 

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.

 

What did you do in your previous job?

Did you have any higher education prior to your bootcamp?

What do you do now?

 

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.

 
 

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

 
 

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!

 

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

 

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

 

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.

 

Regards! (Not from programming background, a fresh grad took up programming, 4 months ago)
I have been learning core java and javaScript for 3 months and now offered a no-stipend internship offer from a startup and the work is with PHP and javaScript. What should be my strategy to bag the job after the end of the internship?

 

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

 

Go for it , opportunities are not common in today's competitive tech market!

 

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!

 

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!

 

Hi
I am also at same situation , actually I am feeling not right to be only Front End Developer( playing with different themes of WordPress and Shopify not giving me satisfaction).
The main point is I never get into learning of core programming. Now I am feeling that I have to get into coding that can help me better understanding of things and increase daily productivity.
Another thing is I am also working on some research topic in my Master's Degree Program.
I need to keep my earning so to maintain my expenses.

I don't understand where to go , what to choose for get into programming.

 

Hello!

There are so many languages and paths out there; I would choose one (I'm partial to Ruby or Javascript), and just start learning. The thing is: proficiency in one language helps you learn others faster. I had never written a line of code in PHP, but I was tasked with editing our Wordpress-based blog at work, and I was surprised as how easy it was to make the modifications πŸ˜ƒ

 

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.

 

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.

 

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 :-)

 

What bootcamp? Or what bootcamp recommendations?

 

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!

 
 

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.

 

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!

 

Hi Arit,

Thanks for your offer of assistance. You certainly are keeping busy responding to people. You can reply to me in a few days or a week if you need a break.

I am 61 years old and have not worked for the past 2 years because of health conditions. My goal is to obtain employment as a front end developer at the begining of 2020. I have plenty of time to study on weekdays. $ are tight so I am using free resources: YouTube, library books, free online courses and doing Google searches. I am using a small tablet to practice coding.

I have been studying html and css concurrently because they are integrated. After two months of study, I am feeling overwhelmed with all there is to learn. It seems like one should know the essentials and be familiar with what other kind of things can be done and then look them up as needed. The question I have is what resources are available that list the essentials of html and css? Even with the essentials, I think trying to memorize everything is not realistic.

I know how to create databases, but learning to code and programming are more challenging for me.

John

 

Hi John,

Saturday is my veg-out day πŸ˜† which is why I posted my AMA when I did, knowing I'd have all day to answer questions in a timely manner. But thank you for caring about the effort it takes.

First off, congratulations on your developer goals! That's half the battle. I hear you on how overwhelming all the information is.

This is my advice: rather than just taking tutorials and lessons, think up a cool project you'd like to build. Or if creativity fails you (like it does me sometimes), choose a cool website to replicate.

It doesnt matter in the least whether you think you have the skills to build said website. Just start with the HTML and then add the CSS. This approach does two things: (1) gives you a continual point of focus, so you're not feeling like your learning is random (2) forces you to start learning the important skill of troubleshooting and finding solutions on the internet.

For example, the website you're building has a button that changes color when the mouse hovers on it. You may not know about :hover in CSS, but maybe you Google "change button color when mouse cursor touches it". Then you click through all the links until you find some code snippet (or demo) and then you integrate this snippet in your code, and then....

This learning approach may be slow at first, but it's more organic and allows you to develop several skills at the same time - reading and understanding code, modifying code, troubleshooting bugs, etc. And as your project grows, you will feel a great sense of accomplishment. Plus, it give you organic stories to talk abut during interviews πŸ˜€

I wish you all the fortune and favor in the world. Please connect with me on Twitter - I'd like to see where your journey takes you πŸ€—

 

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!

 

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!

 

Well done Arit! I'm on the same journey. Just finishing my bootcamp πŸ˜‰

 

Thank you mama! Hey by any chance could you be Oiza Baiye?

 

Yes! And I remember you :) I'm not a mama yet though. But totally with you on changing careers in mid-late 30s.

oooooooh we HAVE to catch up! yaaay! How is Nene? And your family? Abeg message me on LinkedIn or Twitter biko - let's connect! :D

 

Hello Amana, Fazli Mola Jan here. I am Software Engineer having 3 years experience in Android App Development. I did some good projects but recently I have resigned from a job and I didn't want to apply for new job. I don't know why? So any good advice for me that can motivate me to take start again. I want to do new job but I don't want to start, again don't know why?
Thanks for your kind advice in advance.

 

Hi Fazli! My first question would be: What about your Android App dev job took your motivation away?

Was it the actual work - the coding?
Was it the salary level or benefits package?
Was it the work environment - perhaps your teammates or managers?
Was it the commute or the time away from home?

I assume that before you landed the Android dev job, you were very motivated to get the job right? So in my mind, there is something about your work experience that has cooled your passion.

I think when you get the the roots of why, you will know what needs to change at your next position, and maybe you'll get excited about finding a job that better fits your needs. Good luck my friend!

 

I too, made a career change at about the same age as you, via a boot camp, when my kids started to go to school full-time. It wasn't easy, there were tears involved, but thanks to the support of my husband and friends, I graduated and am now working as a developer. Zero regrets. Kudos to you on your success!

 

Congratulations! How did you go about structuring your cover letters/resumes to showcase your project work? For example did you create a website with your work or shared a GitHub link?

 

Thank you Michelle!

For my GitHub, I made sure each of my Rails projects had a simple but complete README, which described the project and the tech used. I also created a portfolio site, which listed thumbnails of my projects that linked to each project demo on Heroku.

You may view my resume here. It was a bit of a challenge fitting all the info I wanted to in there πŸ˜† but I managed. Please let me know how else I can support you πŸ€—

 

What would you tell a 22 year old who is in the same position you were at that age?

 

You know Ben, at 22, I had already begun my side-hustles in tech. But given the fact that I'd majored in Biology (in pursuit of a later-abandoned dream to be a doctor), I was convinced that I needed to "stay" in the sciences - which is why I went on to Public Health. However, I never fell out of love with tech.

So I would advise any 22 year old to have the COURAGE to give their passions and desires - spoken or secret, sensible or fantastical - a chance to breathe! Gone are the days when you stayed in the same career field for 30+ years; I believe one's entire 20s decade should be devoted to exploration, taking risks and being truly committed to self-discovery 😊

 
 

Dear Arit,

Thank you so much for sharing this, i am in the same boat you were.

But it is good to read and know that this storm is surmountable.

But please share, how did you overcome those times you lack motivation and you
feel like giving up?

i am on the verge of throwing in the towel.

Regards

 

Hello!

Thank you for your question, brother, which proves to me that there is still some fight left in you. From the sound of your post, I would advise you to just hang the towel up for a while, but don't throw it in. Let me explain.

I believe that to succeed in any endeavour takes the intersection of skill, passion, and opportunity. Of those 3, passion is the fuel. And the answer to low passion is not to force ourselves to keep going, but to revisit the source of our passion (the fuel station), which is our love for what we were doing.

So brother, hanging the towel for you may mean taking a deliberate and time-bound break from pursuing coding, to give yourself a chance to remember why you took it up and what you enjoyed about it. I'm not sure what your financial situation is; you may have to do whatever you can to make ends meet for right now. Then take up coding again when you're rested and refueled.

It's a marathon, not a sprint. Please take care and I wish you all the favor and peace in the world.

 

Wow! Do you think you could have done it without a bootcamp? I have a 3 year old and 6 month old and work full-time in a non-tech job, and I'm struggling to meet my goals. Unfortunately I do not have the ability to do a bootcamp :(

 

Hello MillCode!

Wow! Let me first say: you have already proven that you are a #BadAss #Amazonian. To have coding goals while wholly responsible for 2 whole lives? Bravo, sis, I'm proud!

But that isn't why you posted is it? :) I hear you about affording bootcamp; they can be expensive. I would advise the following:

(1) Ready your mind to be in the learning zone for a while. Learning to code is no small feat. A major source of stress for us moms is burdening ourselves with crazy expectations. No matter how long it takes, it will be so worth it when you land a programming job that fits your family and goals. So please take the time and invest it well.

(2) Get a sense for what skills are stubbornly in demand where you live. I'm not sure how "relocatable" you are; for me, it just wasn't an option. I know that, across the board, Javascript is pretty hot (frontend JS like React, backend like Node, etc). So you can start there. Don't fall into the trap of dipping your toe into multiple languages. Pick one and get good; proficiency in 1 language helps you pick up others quicker.

(3) Focus on the fundamentals. As you pick up new skills and knowledge, use them on a project that you build piece by piece. Say a portfolio site: start with the HTML and CSS, adding onto it bit by bit, then incorporate JS as you learn.

(4) Set task-based goals (not time-based). Example: "Today I'll implement 2 examples of the 'map' method" instead of "I'll study for 3 hours". As moms, our time is largely not under our control, so I think time-based goals can be potentially self-defeating.

(5) As soon as you've covered a good part of the fundamentals, get involved in an opensource project (or some group that codes together and builds a project together). This will help get you comfortable reading, understanding and modifying other people's code - which is key in a professional environment.

I'll stop there. Please mama do not be overwhelmed. That's why I started with "this will take time, yield and embrace it". You'll be a much stronger and competitive developer for it. I wish you strength and grace. Congratulations!

 

Incredible story, Arit! What was your motivation? What's it about tech that caught your interest and gave you the strength to make the move?

 

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.

 

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?

 

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.
 

How did you balance out being with your child and learning?

 

Great question Christian! Well early on, I prioritized training her to sleep longer stretches at night. During the day, I nursed her frequently to fill her tank lol. She would sleep from 8pm until 11pm or 12am, which is when I would do more intensive, concentrated coding. She'd wake for a feed, after which I'd go to bed during her second night stretch.

During the day, I'd focus more on tutorial videos, or working on short coding challenges (like on LeetCode or CodeWars), which are tasks that frequent interruptions from my baby wouldn't be so impactful.

One day a week, I'd do NOTHING coding-related, to rest my mind.

Early on, I'd set time-based goals but would feel very defeated if my baby was especially needful of me that day. So I switched to setting small task-based goals (like: configure one method in a class), which left me feeling accomplished even on very busy days.

I must say that a major advantage I had was not needing to work; my spouse supported our family during my learning.

 
 

Great question Daniel,

I remember my first lesson in TDD during bootcamp; I was so THRILLED that there was a less tedious way to test my app's functionality lol! So I jumped headfirst into TDD.

Now that I'm working with a team that prioritizes TDD, I'm learning soooo much more. I write specs for about 80% of the code that I write. However, I have worked on tasks where passing specs didn't invoke 100% confidence that the code worked. I'm learning that in some situations, tests don't cover or capture everything.

So my take is: learn and embrace TDD for its power, but understand that it's not a substitute for conscientious, intelligent coding :D

 

Have you learn anything about Functional Programming?

Cool. I think that TDD is a great improvement for code confidence :D

 

According to you is software engineering is a good career?

 
 

This is truly inspiring Amana. I am in my mid-thirties also and I am a self-taught programmer. Hope to find my passion one day.

 

Thank you so much! I wish you much favor :D

 

Thanks for your offer of assistance. You certainly are keeping busy responding to people. You can reply to me in a few days or a week if you need a break.

I am 61 years old and have not worked for the past 2 years because of health conditions. My goal is to obtain employment as a front end developer at the begining of 2020. I have plenty of time to study on weekdays. $ are tight so I am using free resources: YouTube, library books, free online courses and doing Google searches. I am using a small tablet to practice coding.

I have been studying html and css concurrently because they are integrated. After two months of study, I am feeling overwhelmed with all there is to learn. It seems like one should know the essentials and be familiar with what other kind of things can be done and then look them up as needed. The question I have is what resources are available that list the essentials of html and css? Even with the essentials, I think trying to memorize everything is not realistic.

I know how to create databases, but learning to code and programming are more challenging for me.

John

2

 

What kind of obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them? If gender was one of them, what advice could you give me as I am a 16 year old girl looking to go into software engineering.

 

Hi Danielle!

My greatest obstacles were in relation to balancing family and learning and/or applying to jobs. Thankfully I had a few incredible friends who were willing to take PTO from work to watch my children while I went for an onsite interview, for example. Those sort of friends are lifetime-keepers :D

Genderwise, I didn't really experience overt bias or discrimination; it's possible there were covert attempts made against me, but I wasn't cognizant of those. In a 6-month period, I applied to dozens of jobs (I wish I kept accurate count, sorry!), about 40% of those applications turned into phone screens and/or coding tests, and I ended up having 3 onsite interviews (out of which I landed my current job). So let's assume I applied for 36 jobs; this means my onsite interview rate was ~8%.

At 16, I APPLAUD you for being so clear about what you want to do with your career! You literally have your entire life ahead of you. My advice would be: Don't lock yourself down too much into just a few tech stacks. Please explore, browse and familiarize yourself with all that's out there. Commit to always doing excellent work - no matter how small the project - and you'll stand out spectacularly from your peers. Proud of you mama - keep getting it! :D

 

Hi madam, I am learning python generally from youtube.I am confused about what to do after learning it. I am interested in the data science field,should I join any boot camp regarding data science and start doing certificate courses and please tell about scope of data science.

 

Hello Siddhant,

Unfortunately I don't know much about career pathways in data science. If you're trying to figure out your next move, I would seek out someone who's worked in data science in your area (I say "your area" because they'd give advice better suited to where you are - unless you don't mind relocating). Sit down for coffee (or a Skype session) with this person and ask them all the questions you have. Then I think you'll be able to make fact-based decisions about your next steps. Good luck!

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