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Sandra Spanik
Sandra Spanik

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My Coding Journey - Becoming A Software Engineer in Under 1 Year

I've written my first line of code exactly one year ago. Today, I'm preparing to start my new job as software engineer. Here's my story.

๐ŸŒช๏ธ The Interview to End All Interviews ๐ŸŒช๏ธ

In February 2020, I ran out of an interview room with tears streaming down my face. I was interviewing for yet another administrative role at an educational institution I had precisely zero desire to actually do. The first part of the interview consisted of an Excel test, which I bombed - atomically. I remember already being at the verge of tears when the nice HR lady led me to the second room where I was to meet the interview panel, consoling me along the way and giving me well-meaning advice. "Don't worry - you can make up for this! Go meet the panel with your head held high!"

Heeding her advice, I held my head high as I promptly proceeded to knock over the glass of water the panel had prepared for me. Excellent start. The rest of the interview went by in a similar fashion, and by the end of it, it was clear to everyone and their mum that I didn't want the job, they didn't want to hire me, and that it was absurd we were all in the same room. When I got asked what topic's addition to their institution's curriculum graduates might benefit from, I went silent for a couple of seconds, then laughed and said, as a graduate of said institution, "Interview Skills". The joke landed.

An Exact, Unexaggerated Replica of My Mental State Post-Interview

After this tragic event I took the dramatic vow to never ever ever EVER interview for anything EVER again. I would die poor and hungry, but save myself the humiliation of continuously competing for and losing out on something I found deeply uninspiring.

๐Ÿก Lockdown ๐Ÿก

Fast forward 2 months. It's now April 2020. Lockdown has robbed me of any distractions. I have ample time on my hands and I choose to invest it in learning new things. First, I do a Harvard MOOC on the chemistry of cooking. Many mouldy kombucha attempts and a now 12th-generation sour-dough starter called Bob later, I abandon my culinary aspirations and decide to replace pretending to be a Masterchef with watching Masterchef.

๐Ÿ–ฅ๏ธ Enter Coding ๐Ÿงฎ

What could I learn next? How about something I've always found fascinating, incredibly cool but equally intimidating? There was no time pressure, for what seemed like the first time in years. I might as well get creative. Having a history of ascribing God-like qualities to and immediately falling in love with anyone capable of using a terminal, I knew just what I wanted to attempt to learn next: coding.

me, in love, after seeing virtually anyone use a terminal

๐Ÿ˜ป Colt Steele, The Absolute Legend ๐Ÿ”

I was lucky to stumble upon Colt Steele's modern Python bootcamp. I purchased in on sale, and it remains the best ยฃ14 I've ever spent in my entire life. (I pity the fool that purchases a full-price Udemy course - there's a sale almost every month.) I have come to be a great fan of his teaching style and admire the rigour and depth he applies to explaining concepts. Before I knew it, I was dreaming about writing code.

I imagine that at this point, my story could have easily branched off in a different direction. I could have abandoned coding the second it got tricky, and thrown my Mac out along with the last remnants of my misguided fermentation attempts. But it felt like something had clicked - turns out, programming perfectly encapsulated everything I had always known I was quite good at and loved doing, namely:

  • creative problem-solving (nobody ever tells you how inherently creative coding actually it - but it is!)
  • logical/analytical thinking (a trait that wasn't always beneficial in my previous industry - mental health)
  • striving for efficiency (I am half-German, after all...)
  • learning new things (turns out, there's no shortage of things to learn in the realm of code)

๐Ÿ’ป Pursuing Tech Professionally ๐Ÿ’ป

I got asked what precipitated my decision to pursue coding professionally during one of my interviews. I'm not sure I gave a good answer to this, because in reality, I didn't just wake up one morning and decide "right, tech is where it's at". My decision was forming over a number of months, as I explored Python, and later JavaScript and web development via cheap/free online courses. I was becoming more and more convinced that I didn't just thoroughly enjoy coding - I was also good at it, and learning at a fast enough pace that I could imagine myself, in the distant future, being quite adept at it.

This was a surprising finding. I grew up in 90s Slovakia, and encountered no computers in educational settings. Computer science seemed like a field reserved for a select few boys who spent their teenage years hacking away. By the time I was 18, I already considered myself too old to catch up and a career in tech, consequently, never even seemed to be within my realm of possibility.

I'm not saying that there are 0 Slovak women my age who were independent and brave enough to become software engineers, but on average, the cultural norm fed girls some limiting beliefs that took me almost a decade to dismantle.

๐Ÿฉน The Ugly Bits ๐Ÿฉน

I prefaced this article with a promise to be fully transparent. These early months of learning to code from scratch were not exactly a walk through a rose garden. There were many days when I doubted my ability to learn. Not every topic immediately clicked with me - I cried over async JavaScript and for some reason, Axios (which I now love). I also cried over CSS, but who hasn't. It took me a while to adopt a beneficial mindset and stop seeing every bug or knowledge gap as a personal failure. I'm a billion times better at it now, but I'm still not perfect. This is a normal part of the learning process, I'm told.

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Programming is an amazing way of getting comfortable with failing and accepting failure as a good thing. You will fail over and over again, and that's okay - it's the only way to learn. I find it amazing that I found a perfect metaphor for life inside a computer.

๐ŸŽ“ Finding the Right Bootcamp ๐ŸŽ“

Once I realised I wanted to transition to tech professionally, I decided to attend a bootcamp. Learning from a structured curriculum curated by expert teachers appealed to me, and the prospect of receiving a certificate to prove my skill felt like the right way to approach my job hunt. I attended Springboard's remote-first software engineering bootcamp, designed by Colt Steele The Absolute Legend and Rithm School, one of the world's top 10 bootcamps according to SwitchUp (note: Colt Steele doesn't actually refer to himself as an Absolute Legend and would likely sigh disappointedly at my doing so. He does have a chicken called Stevie Chicks, however, which proves my moniker correct.).

I was lucky to have half of my tuition waived. Although, I'm not sure "lucky" is an appropriate word choice here - my tuition was waived due to Springboard's scheme to help out 2 students per cohort who have suffered financially in the pandemic. By August 2020, most of my sources of income had dried up, and I was receiving government assistance.

I did continue working for a couple of mental health organisations as a contractor, which is part of the reason I chose a remote, self-paced bootcamp. It gave me the freedom to keep working to support myself at least somewhat.

๐Ÿ‹๏ธโ€โ™€๏ธ Turns Out, Bootcamps Are Intense ๐Ÿ‹๏ธโ€โ™€๏ธ

My dedication towards splitting my time between working and studying evenly faded about three months into the bootcamp. I made the difficult decision to leave one of my contracting gigs behind. This felt risky - I already had a tiny income, so reducing it further seemed like a silly idea. But I wanted to put my energy and time where it mattered most - coding, and I didn't like the feeling of falling behind the suggested learning pace because I often had to prioritise work over learning.

The bootcamp was not easy, especially the first couple of months. It often felt lonely and frustrating. I didn't have a cohort to get to know or grow alongside of - all I had was a Slack channel which barely anyone used, and my best pal Google. Whilst I missed out on the social aspect of bootcamps due to the remote nature of mine, the course more than made up for this with a rigorous and extremely well-designed curriculum that focused on depth rather than breadth. I'm convinced that I owe my job-search success in large part to Springboard's flawless curriculum, and no, I'm not being paid to say this.

๐Ÿ”Ž Job Search ๐Ÿ”

At the 90% mark of my bootcamp, I started saying yes to recruiters approaching me on LinkedIn. Initially, I saw this as a good strategy to learn how to interview well, so that by the time I applied for my dream role, I would be ready. But my first ever interview process was with Trustpilot, and it quickly became apparent that I didn't just want to use this opportunity to "practice" - this was THE job, and I wanted it badly. I landed the role, less than a year after I wrote my first line of code. I'm hoping to share useful interview advice in an article that will come later in this series, so if you're keen to hear more, bookmark this.

โœจ Luck โœจ

As mentioned in the intro, I want to acknowledge the privilege I benefited from. First of all, I spent the year in a supportive and safe environment, and as someone who hasn't always had this, I've come to understand how crucial feeling safe is to personal development. It's nearly impossible to change your life when you have to spend energy on worrying about your own physical or emotional safety.

The world also kindly decided to go nuts and rob me of any distractions as I spent my days, weeks and months writing code. I am not in any shape or form glad that the pandemic happened, but I do need to acknowledge that one of its repercussions was me suddenly having all the time in the world to examine my life.

My partner is my number 1 fan and the world's best rubber-ducky. Whilst he's not in tech, he is fluent in Python, and his knowledge helped me immensely over the first couple of months. It also helped that, once I quit one of my admin jobs, I only had one part-time gig left and was pretty free to code on most day. Many others in my bootcamp were completing it alongside a full-time job or parental duties. My hat goes off to anyone who is a caretaker or juggling a full-time job whilst re-skilling. You're literally the most inspiring people in the Universe.

I also got lucky that a company with values that 100% overlap mine decided to hire a junior at exactly the time I began feeling ready for a job. What is more - the hiring manager, an inspiring person with a plethora of online public speaking videos, specifically told the recruiters that a computer science degree was not a pre-requisite for the role. Had this not been the case, I might have never heard about the position.

I will not go into a philosophical debate here, but I will say that I don't believe we have a lot of influence over the luck in our life, and I also don't believe we can "manifest" opportunities by the sheer power of our thoughts, as per The Secret. The Real Secret is, in my near-scientific and not at all subjective opinion, that hard work prepares us to benefit from those moments in our life when we experience random positive spikes in our fortune. So if you make smart choices and spend your energy wisely, you will be more likely to find yourself in a position where you can fully capitalise on random fortuitous opportunities, once they present themselves to you. And in time they likely will, because, well - statistics.

So, in conclusion... No, it's not too late to switch careers, and yes, you can do it too. Good luck hard work! ย โœจโœจโœจโœจ

Top comments (4)

schleidens profile image

I learned a lot from this article, thanks for sharing with us.
So can you tell me a bit about recruiting on LinkedIn, or job searches?

sanspanic profile image
Sandra Spanik

Thatโ€™s exactly what Iโ€™m writing next! :)

schleidens profile image

yooo :) just cool, can't wait to read this article

mrothe570 profile image

Love reading articles like this! I'm self-teaching so The Night Is Dark And Full of Terrors but reading about everyone else's journey helps me with perspective and persistence.