For the past six years, I have had the pleasure of meeting many people who are trying to jump-start a new career in programming from an old one that isn't tech-focused. As a result, they tend to disparage everything that they learned in their first career as useless. That is the furthest from the truth. Your early career taught you valuable things that you can leverage in interviews and your day-to-day work. Let's go over some of the soft skills that many jobs teach you that translate well into working as a programmer.
Ever have to work in fast food? I did, a long time ago. To this day, I remember the steps it took to make a taco from Taco Bell. I remember placing the taco shell on the wrapping paper, placing the beef into the shell, adding lettuce, then sprinkling cheese sparingly on top ( always got yelled at for overdoing cheese). I would then wrap and place it in a bag to give to the customer. Because of the processes that I learned, I could consistently make quality food repeatedly promptly.
I've used this same soft skill working on Vets Who Code. I go to our main branch and type
git pull --rebase to get the most up-to-date changes in the order Team members added them, then type
git checkout -b WHATEVER_I_NAME_BRANCH then I get to work. Doing this helps me get to work on new features on our website while ensuring that I minimize the risk of merge conflicts.
We call this soft skill process. It's a series of actions or steps taken to achieve a particular end. Whether it's with tacos or with the starting steps of a new branch on processes are everywhere, and needed to do our job well. One thing I did while learning to code was I documented the techniques I made for myself that helped me understand and how I retained what I learned. Doing this gave me something to speak to recruiters and hiring managers about that showcased how I thought even though I didn't have much experience. For you, being able to leverage your knowledge with processes, build your own and be able to speak about them to people with whom you want to work will showcase that even if you're new, you're taking the craft of programming seriously.
You know one of the things I heard the most as an enlisted veteran? That we only take orders. That we don't "think outside the box". Well, I challenge anyone who thinks that way to walk a day in the shoes of any active duty troop overseas, and you'll learn that it's "fake news" fast. Critical thinking is a skill applied in many ways and doesn't always show itself in the most obvious method.
Let's go back to my time at Taco Bell. There was a day during our peak hours when all the power went out in about four blocks. The only thing that worked was the fryer. So now, with more people coming to the store cause they couldn't cook and customers that were already in line, there was a way this could have gotten bad quick. There is nothing scarier than hungry hot people. But this young woman I worked with she had a brilliant idea. She started frying Cinnamon Twists and Empanadas and handing them out along with apologies. So I stepped in, offering drinks to those who could pay cash. Soon everyone was joyful, and the tension had deceased, and people were happy in a situation that they really shouldn't have been. Once the power came on, people ordered food, called friends, and had a more significant peak hour than usual. Monday, a letter from the CEO came in thanking us for handling it, and we received raises, although she deserved all the credit. It was that fast problem-solving and critical thinking that led two sixteen-year-olds to successfully manage a rush of angry customers that any leader would want on their team when the web app has an outage, and you need to get it back up as soon as possible. Being able to pull stories like this from your prior experiences to showcase your fast thinking and showcase how you would apply it to your new career is a great way to let your future coworkers know that they can trust you to be in the trenches with them when things don't go as planned.
While sounding cliche, showcasing that you know what it feels like to work as a team speaks volumes. While people don't say it, the most stressful thing you can have at work is people who don't know the value of teamwork. That means pulling communicating thoughtfully and being respectful, building trust, and showing up to do your part consistently to help the goal to move forward. Thankfully, as a military background, I don't have to work too hard to let hiring managers know my ability to work with a team.
These are but a few ways I have learned over time to transfer the skills I had in other jobs to technology interviews. The soft skills, the habit stacking, the methods you use to learn new things, those things still matter. All you have to do is take a hard look at your experiences and pull out the parts that serve you the best.