My Coding Journey Q&A – Geography graduate to Software Engineer – Fellowship Programme @ Makers

My Coding Journey Q&A – Geography graduate to Software Engineer – Fellowship Programme @ Makers

“When I was 5, I got my first computer and wanted to be a computer hacker. I imagined myself working undercover as a secret agent, making potions and hacking through computers, like Disney’s Kim Possible saving the world from monsters!”

This childhood feeling never really left me.

I wanted to share my coding journey in the hope that it will inspire you to make your career change.

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Kim, what are you up to nowadays?

I’m currently living and working in London and drawing my business-technology role to a close. Psst…I have some amazing news to share; I’m about to become a Software Engineer as part of the Fellowship Programme at Makers. I will be starting my Pre-Course on Monday 4th February 2019. Thanks to the Makers Fellowship Programme, I am about to embark on my childhood dream and being sponsored too! Big shout out to Makers for the fantastic work you guys are doing! I thought that dream was over a while ago, since I didn’t do a Computer Science degree. How wrong I was! The London tech community has been amazing and quickly debunked that myth. Turns out, I never really stopped ‘coding’, it was just hiding within my climate/environmental modelling work during uni, my Microsoft Excel functions at work and my interest in computers waiting to be unlocked. There is actually a lot in common between Geography and Software Engineering; the ability to break problems down into component parts and systems-thinking has helped me tremendously.

Being out of my comfort zone for the Fellowship, I’m excited and nervous at the same time. I guess it’s natural given I’ll have new routines, new environments, the chance to meet new people and take on new concepts and ideas. It is quite sad to draw my current business-technology opportunities to a close for now and leave that chapter behind; though I am super hyped up to get stuck into my Software Engineering career!

Why did you choose to study Geography at university? What did you do after graduation?

I didn’t know what I wanted to do after college; 18 was a young age to make decisions and yes, it did feel like the end of the world at the time. Growing up, it was drilled into my brain that university was the only logical option. I flipped between Medicine and Law and felt compelled to fit into the ‘ideal’ of what people expected from me. In the end, I chose Geography because I was curious to learn about what makes the world tick. I felt Geography had a good mix of arts and sciences shedding light to environmental, social, economic and technological interactions. As an alumna of Oxford and UCL, I graduated with my Bachelors in Geography (2014) and Masters of Science in Environmental Modelling (2015).

After graduation, I still didn’t know what career was right for me; many of my friends took on great Graduate Schemes and were well-remunerated and at the time, I felt like somehow I had ‘failed’.

Instead of comparing myself to others, I bounced back to forge my own path. I eventually landed a full-time role as an Energy Industry Analyst and wrote loads of reports for a market intelligence company, whilst working at my part-time tutoring job too. My gut felt that job wasn’t for me and after 6 months, I moved onto a sustainability consultancy focused on accelerating the evolution and productivity of sustainable building management in cities, where I have stayed for the past 3 years.

When did you first encounter code?

I wrote my first line of code whilst trying to find a better way to extract some climate data for my project in 2011; back then, coding was merely a tool for me to get to the final answer. In the past couple of years, I found myself wanting to know more about how something works rather than just receiving the end output.

What does coding mean to you?

Good question. Nowadays, I see coding as an art-form and a way of thinking – a philosophy. I never thought in a million years I would go to the Foyles book store out of curiosity to find “The Agile Samurai: How Agile Masters Deliver Great Software” book by Jonathan Rasmusson, which I used to support the introduction of Agile product and project management strategies to my company. To this day, I have been able to blend my skills from all aspects of life. I love consolidating my knowledge so far, improving my coding everyday and challenging myself! I am inspired to teach others to code one day and volunteer my skills for diversity and social mobility in the technology industry. I also see myself helping responsible businesses grow which aligns to my mission to use the power of coding and technology for instigating social, environmental and economic change.

What sparked you to make the career change to become a Software Engineer?

Looking back to my quote at the beginning, I wanted to connect with my childhood self to get away from what my mind thinks I should do, to seek what I really wanted to do and link it to my passions. I’m passionate about sustainability and smart cities and how technology brings people and the environment together, changing how people perceive and inhabit their environment. At the same time, opportunities at work and curiosity to know more about the inner-workings of technology made me realise that a career in Software Engineering would be a good fit for me.

You can read on more below.

I tried to split it into two sections: opportunities at work and opportunities outside the 9-to-5, as I’m a big believer in enriching myself inside and outside of working hours.

Opportunities at Work

My friends at the sustainability consultancy are a bunch of fantastic people, who inspired me to come into work everyday to do my best. After a year as a Junior Sustainability Consultant on the consulting team, I was given the opportunity to put forward some ideas to grow the company’s proprietary technology solution, which was focused on the sustainable real estate industry. The solution had a data-driven approach to support on environmental data management and reporting for commercial real estate sector clients.

I’m so grateful that the company put its trust in me and offered me the chance to be part of their new technology team. It was pretty much a blank slate at the time and something felt ‘right’ about it. Though I hesitated to leave my sustainability consulting days behind, I was elated at the prospect of being part of something special.

For over 2 years, I grasped with the concept of Agile and engaged with the team on the software development of the sustainability software through the implementation of agile product/project management strategies, business requirements gathering and specification. I learned about scrum iterative software development and how to use Atlassian’s JIRA tool.

It was awesomeness all round!

With my multi-disciplinary background, I spoke both the language of business and technology. I wore many hats to bring together the details of the technology to something meaningful at the business level. I secretly enjoyed it whenever a bug appears, as it would mean I could have a chat with the developer to try and debug something and ask them questions. I had loads of fun at work, everyone was very supportive and had good ideas to bring to the table. Wearing many hats was challenging but rewarding when you were transforming the way the user approached technology-driven sustainability.

P.S. I also have a soft toy Angry Bird called ‘Yoda’ and a ‘Pusheenosaurus’; they also attended some meetings too!

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Opportunities outside of the 9-to-5

I’m fortunate enough to have access to a lively technology community at my doorstep. There are so many great communities out there, here are some wonderful ones I got to know about:

Code First: Girls

In September 2017, I joined the Code First: Girls Web Development Beginner’s Course and never looked back again. I remembered dashing off after work an evening a week to the Twitter UK HQ, being utter exhausted, but felt so excited and energised to code. I had sessions once a week which covered so many things such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, GIT, GitHub collaboration, development concepts, Twitter Bootstrap and responsive web development and even had the chance to work on a group project.

As soon as that ended, I enrolled onto the Code First: Girls Advanced Ruby Course, where I was introduced to Ruby programming, Sinatra framework, GET/POST requests, development concepts, automated emails using Mailgun, external APIs and deployments. I got to understand application deployment on Heroku cloud hosting services and explored the Twitter API.

Thank you Code First: Girls! You really helped me to find my passion. As a Code First: Girls alumna, I feel like I could change the world!

If you haven’t heard of Code First: Girls, definitely check out their courses. They have free community courses and professional courses aimed at getting women into tech.

Rails Girls London

The 2-Day Rails Girls London Installation Party and event in December 2017 was cool beans! Held at Deliveroo, there were some inspiring lightning talks and coaching.

There’s plenty of materials online too! Watch out for their next event!

Codebar London

Codebar is growing so fast across the UK and the world. I have been a student as part of the Codebar London chapter for a while now. It’s been cool to meet everyone over good food and code! Yummy!

Thank you to all the coaches who have coached me so far, your workshops have been so insightful!

Technology for Good & Women Who Code London

Going to talks through https://www.meetup.com/ run by Tech for Good and Women Who Code London really got me thinking about the application of coding for specific social causes. I’d recommend checking out their upcoming events!

Makers

By the time I encountered Makers in late 2018, I was sure that Software Engineering was for me. I attended the Demo Day events and was blown away by the projects created by the students there. The Intro Cohort was a useful time for me to meet up with like-minded people and code together.

Entering Makers felt like home to me and I imagined myself there one day. I actually looked at several coding bootcamps across the UK, but was deterred by the costs. Luckily, I came across the Fellowship Programme at Makers and applied! It was the best decision I had made. My interview was challenging; though it was one of the most enjoyable interviews I have ever had!

What advice can you give to someone wanting to change their career?

Take the time to think about why and how you would like to change. Changing career is always risky and an opportunity cost; if you think it is worth it, make the jump and take the time you need to ease yourself in. Everyone is different, you know yourself better than anyone else. Change doesn’t happen overnight, you have to have grit and patience to see it through. If you fail at something, it’s natural to get frustrated, but get back up again. If it’s not right for you, then find something that makes you tick. Successes are without failures; they go hand-in-hand. Remember to go easy on yourself and get plenty of rest! I speak from experience of burning out so many times! Most of all, there are some things which don’t work out in life; c’est la vie!

And that’s a wrap to my long-ass blog! I hope you found it useful.

Byeeeeeeee,

Kim