Today's interview is with Debora Piu, who made a career change from hospitality to web development after learning to code at Makers, a 12 week software developer bootcamp based in Shoreditch, London. Their education philosophy focuses on training world class, language agnostic developers, who can pick up any language in a couple of weeks, and who excel in teamwork. Makers is often described by the developers who finished the course as life-changing: during the 12 weeks, people not only learn to code, but learn how to give and receive feedback, and how to think more empathetically.
My name is Debora, I've lived in London since 2017 and I've worked for Deloitte UK as a software developer since summer 2019. I come from the Italian part of Switzerland where in 2015 I graduated in Tourism and Hotel Management, an industry in which I worked until late 2018 in several countries and finally in London.
I had been exposed to some front-end web development in my teenage years and I really enjoyed it but it wasn’t a light-bulb moment yet. I’ve always enjoyed creating complex Excel formulas for various tasks in my previous jobs and then I decided to explore this problem-solving side of myself when I realised that hospitality wasn’t for the long run.
When I visited Makers I felt good vibes in the air. The building is cosy, the people were friendly and everyone seemed to have a special connection with each other. The staff and coaches are always really excited about what they do and, the way they talk about it, really shows that they care. I felt like I was going to be taken care of, rather than just taught coding to.
It’s an intense course and one needs to keep up with the speed, from day 1. There are weekend challenges to practise the week’s topic, to lock the knowledge in and step it up every Monday. The actual goals of the bootcamp are to learn the basic logic of programming and to learn how to learn. At Makers they really push you to learn on your own and rely on your peers. I’ve definitely experienced a rollercoaster of emotions throughout my time there, from confidence to imposter syndrome. What’s important though, is to never give up.
I’m not sure I can choose a part of the course that I enjoyed the most. I think that getting out of one’s comfort zone always creates a love-hate relationship with the journey. We all love the results and, once we get there, we have good memories, but it’s really tough and uncomfortable while you’re still working through it. However, if I can choose an aspect of the whole experience rather than a part of the course, I’d say the support received from the community. I enjoyed the way we would help each other out and we built good relationships, which have now been lasting for a year already.
Makers has some hiring partners who look for junior developers directly with them, visiting the Academy to pitch and meet the students. Deloitte is the biggest partner so far, having hired over 60 of us. When I graduated from the course, Deloitte was the first hiring partner that opened vacancies for us. There was a tech test and a short interview face-to-face. The careers team at Makers regularly keeps in touch with their hiring partners and always try to widen their network.
Apart from these companies that Makers help us get in touch with, there are many others that also know the Academy and have hired graduates in the past, which makes it easier for new students to apply to, however it must be one’s own research and job-hunt. The careers team still helps with advices and suggesting companies or graduates to get in touch with. There is a Slack channel for Makers alumni where we can post vacancies and network, to make meaningful connections.
In the end, once one secures a job offer, we celebrate with the famous gong party. The last floor of the building at Makers is reserved to graduates, to job-hunt and keep coding once the course is over. There’s a gong hanging from the ceiling and you hit it to announce that you made it, it’s loud, everyone claps and it gets posted on our Slack channel as well, sending notifications to the entire Makers community. It’s an empowering moment that I got to hear about when visiting Makers the very first times, even before applying, and which sealed my career change… with a bang!
The main difference between my previous career and software development, is the pace. In administrative jobs I was used to starting my day full speed with a long to-do list and ticking as many tasks as possible by the end of the day. Quality appreciated, but quantity all the way, also multi-tasking was an underestimated virtue. In my new job I had to learn to be patient and take one problem at a time. Learning how to solve the task, is most times more important than getting it done.
There is obviously some time pressure in software development as well, especially for my colleagues in closer relationship with the client and the delivery of the product, however quality is never to be overseen. Changing my pace at work has overall reduced my stress level. There are less chances of making mistakes and a higher reward from delivering a task.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to get their first programming job but they don’t have the time or money for a CS degree?
There is such a high demand in this sector, that there are many ways of getting there. It all depends on one’s current situation, budget, time and background. Many companies offer their own technical training on-site, for absolute starters with a big desire to work hard and take on a challenge, mostly renamed under “internship”, “graduate scheme” or some sort of entry level title. There are bootcamps, usually, but not only, for career changers.
There’s a program between Deloitte and Makers for previously technical people who took a long break and need to re-introduce themselves to the new technologies. Maybe the very same company you’re working for right now, would offer you the chance to learn and slide into a different role.
I think the main reason why people are scared of changes, is letting go of the accomplishments achieved in whatever field they’re in and start from zero. My main advice would be to never see your first title (or paycheck) as a downgrade, but to take it instead as a new beginning and embrace it with pride for the hard work you’re putting into it.
Can you tell us what an average day looks like for you just now? What are you working on at Deloitte?
I’m currently on the biggest project in the private sector of the firm and I agreed with my team that I’m going to cover different roles depending on their needs, in order to learn as much as possible and, especially, to try out different technologies and be able to choose what I most liked at the end of my first year of experience.
My day starts with stand-up where we shortly update the team about what we’re working on and we mention if we need help. The rest of the day can be different every time. I work on a ticket (technical task) and get feedback or help if I need it.
Following agile methodologies, we have 2-weeks sprints to deliver a certain amount of tickets, we have team meetings to kick-off and to close each sprint. Sometimes there are meetings including the whole project or certain areas of it, some internal trainings or the chance to take time off the project to take relevant courses and certifications.
Definitely. I don’t think I have any special way of dealing with it. I’ve talked about it with coaches and colleagues, however it’s just something that I needed to accept at some point. I remind myself of what I accomplished and work through the bad days. If I can get anyone to help me get through any task that is making me feel that way, I ask, take my time and I feel better when I get it done.
At Makers they used to ask us “are you a better developer than you were yesterday?” I think that stopping for a moment and realising how further I had gotten to in the past year, month or week, gives me some confidence that I’ll get through whatever I’m facing today as well.
This is a huge industry and it changes very fast, therefore there will always be so much that one doesn’t know. What’s important is the attitude in working through it.
Right now I’ve been in my company for 6 months, therefore a short term plan for the next 6 would be to take some certifications on a couple of technologies I’ve worked on and secure my spot for the second year, possibly with a higher title soon. Remote work is also in my wish list for later in my life.