Quick intro for a bit of context – I’m writing this blog from my ‘office’ (formerly known as my living room).
I’m a week into my very first job in tech – an Apprentice Innovation Developer/Instructor with the brilliant Code Nation. Everyone at Code Nation has made me feel so welcome and supported, and I already feel very much part of the team. My only regret so far is that I passed up on the offer of a remote yoga session earlier this week, though I’ll definitely be joining the personal fitness training when that starts!
A year ago I was working at The Bridgewater Hall; Manchester’s beautiful, 2000+ capacity concert hall, developing community engagement projects, putting on concerts for schools and finding ways for music to make a difference to local communities.
After 15 years of a marketing and community engagement career – which I’d absolutely loved – I knew that I wanted to learn a new skill and develop a new career. I analysed what areas of work I got the most satisfaction from and realised it was problem solving that really got me going.
I’d always loved analysing the patterns in a piece of music and breaking it into small components to make it easy to learn. I am definitely not a natural musician – but I am a trier, which is definitely not a bad thing. I learnt early on that sometimes you just have to practise, practise, practise until something sticks – a mindset certainly needed for a career in tech!
The past 12 months have been life changing for me and I thought that it might be useful to share my journey:
Talk about your dreams
My career change started by playing a game on my phone.
I eventually spoke to a friend who works in programming and he was really supportive and told me about coding ‘meetups’. Now I have to be honest, they sounded terrifying – hanging out with a group of really clever ‘computer’ people when I’ve never even owned my own computer game console. I suddenly found myself being the Learning & Participation Manager who was afraid to participate!
Find a community and never underestimate the power of a cup of tea
I realised how important finding a supportive community would be and I started pouring over Twitter, Google and Eventbrite looking for events. I am lucky to be based near Manchester where there is a really wide range of in person meetups, but there are also loads of online communities and meetups – even more so now that many meetups have become virtual in response to social distancing.
I borrowed my sister’s old laptop and went to a free DiverseTechNW session, in the basement of Federation House. For a usually confident woman I felt really nervous, but managed to eat some pizza and chatted to some really lovely people. One attendee really inspired me to make a change that night – we were making a cup of tea and she was telling me about how she’d recently taken a big risk and shifted career with a view to moving into tech. She made it seem so simple and doable.
I really wish I could remember her exact words, because they were seriously life changing for me.
I’d been signed up to attend Code And Stuff sessions twice and cancelled my ticket twice because I was really nervous about what to expect. The third time, I remember being in the toilets at work at 5pm wondering whether to cancel again. I had a word with myself, went back to the office, got my makeshift laptop bag (a bag for life with a jumper to wrap my laptop in), actually left work on time for a change and headed off to Code And Stuff for the first time.
When the lift doors opened onto the 10th floor of the NEO building I was blown away by the Manchester skyline at sunset and the most hi-tech offices I had ever seen.
I felt like I’d just stepped onto the set of Minority Report. Floor to ceiling glass windows and glass office walls covered in lines of code in black pen. It felt great. I got paired up with a lovely engineer from Jaguar Land Rover who sat next to me, doing some work on his laptop whilst I worked through a Codecademy course on HTML and CSS.
Online courses and resources
By April I’d started regularly attending Code And Stuff and Codebar meetups, working through online materials suggested by mentors there. Codebar provides their own bespoke projects for you to work through, but there’s also an amazing array of online materials and many of them are free.
Fey and her team of Code And Stuff mentors pointed me in the direction of Codecademy and FreeCodeCamp. I mixed up my learning styles and in the beginning I switched between interactive sessions such as Codecademy and the Grasshopper app and FreeCodeCamp and the Codebar projects.
ThoughtWorks Scholarship, TechUpWomen and Northcoders
In June I applied for two programmes – TechUpWomen and a ThoughtWorks scholarship for the Northcoders bootcamp. Fey Ijaware and the mentors and attendees at Code and Stuff were completely instrumental in giving me the confidence to apply for these schemes. They were a calm voice of reason whenever self doubt reared its head, and attending regularly also helped me to make a commitment – it was good having someone to answer to other than myself.
I almost cancelled my technical test for Northcoders because I felt that I wasn’t quite ready, but the mentors at Code And Stuff believed in me and that gave me the extra push to just give it a go. I passed the technical test and then successfully completed 3 rounds of interviews for the ThoughtWorks Scholarship.
At the end of August I handed my notice in at work and by mid-October I was a full time student at Northcoders, thanks to ThoughtWorks. ThoughtWorks have been incredibly supportive throughout – providing me with a mentor and a friendly voice at the end of the phone or just an email away. The course at Northcoders really stretched me and it felt incredible to be immersed in learning. Countless software developers have since told me that’s never going to go away – to be a software developer is to be constantly learning and I think that’s one of the most exciting things about the industry.
Finding my first role in tech
March and April were spent job hunting post graduation – I had to look harder to find roles but companies were definitely still recruiting and it was really comforting to find that my friends were beginning to pick up roles. I’m generally an optimistic person, but I also think it’s really important to recognise that sometimes job hunting can be hard, especially when your usual outlets such as spending time with family and friends simply aren’t there, or you’re worried about loved ones. It’s ok to not feel 100% positive 100% of the time.
Still, I was definitely enjoying the job hunt in many ways. I started learning Java so that I’d be able to complete technical tests in an object oriented programming language, I approached recruiters, started to apply for graduate programmes and a couple of weeks ago I started looking into apprenticeships. Which brings things neatly back round to the start of this post – starting a new career in tech during a lockdown.
A friend had suggested I contact Code Nation because they deliver paid apprenticeships with some brilliant employers. Last Tuesday I sent my CV off to them along with an email introducing myself and explaining what sorts of roles I was interested in. The next morning, Code Nation’s CEO Andy Lord called to tell me about an internal role they were recruiting for and booked me in for a video interview that afternoon.
On the Thursday I gave a presentation to 6 members of the Code Nation team over Google Hangouts and I was lucky enough to be offered a job the same day. The process didn’t feel rushed at all and Code Nation were very clear that they were happy to interview me in a week or so if I preferred. However, I was keen to keep up the momentum because I was really excited about the role, which is the perfect way to really develop my newly acquired tech skills whilst also being able to make use of the skills and experience of my previous life in marketing and community engagement.
I came away from the interviews feeling really positive. Despite being an outgoing person, I sometimes get a bit nervous during the hiring process and don’t always manage to give a true reflection of myself. This time I just felt completely comfortable, happy with my performance and felt as though we all understood one another.
I had to answer some in depth technical questions and also answer some questions designed to test my soft skills such as communication and empathy. I really do feel that I was able to be myself during the hiring process because of how supportive each member of the Code Nation team was. That was also one of the main reasons I accepted the job offer – I’ve been lucky to work with some great people in the past and a supportive and open working environment is an absolute must for me.
At the end of last week I started my role as Apprentice Innovation Developer/Instructor and I’m once again fully immersed in learning. I’ll be stretched by this role in many different ways – both advancing technically and learning to be an instructor. I’m already working on my very first app using Swift and iOS – two brand new pieces of tech for me. I’m very excited about what I’ll be able to achieve with Code Nation and I am really looking forward to meeting my new colleagues in person one day!
In the meantime, the last 8 days have been a whirlwind of firsts for me – video interviews, delivering a presentation over Google Hangouts, remote on-boarding into a new job, daily stand ups via video calls, remote coffee breaks – and I’ve genuinely loved every minute.
Finally, here are my top ten tips – as much for myself as anyone else:
- Set yourself an end goal and then break it down into manageable chunks so that you’re not trying to climb a mountain. It will honestly get you so much further, quicker if you’re not over-faced by the end goal.
- Ask for help.
- Don’t compare yourself to others – compare what you know now with what you knew last week.
- Remember that it doesn’t matter how long it takes you.
- Celebrate all the little wins – every time.
- Take regular breaks – see family and friends and try to maintain a sense of perspective.
- Make sure to look after yourself physically – if you’re struggling to concentrate or something is niggling you, make some changes or visit the doctors.
- Bring people with you – remember to help others.
- When you feel completely stuck on a problem, or you feel like you’re never going to understand something, remind yourself that you are learning and that this time next week there’s a big chance that what you’re struggling with now will be the easy bit.
- Be open to opportunities, be determined and have back up plans.