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From Coffee to Code, a Three Part Story

From Coffee to Code, a Three Part Story

October 4, 2018

Kia ora koutou, ko Amelia ahau, and I’ve just joined JRNY as a software engineer! Today may feel as good as any to write my first JRNY blog, but it’s actually better than any; 4 years ago today I became a developer or at least embarked on the second part of the journey!

The physical journey

I left high-school and almost immediately jumped onto a plane from the UK to Bali, setting off to discover the world, and possibly myself. In the 5 years after boarding that plane I had travelled parts of Asia, the South Pacific and South America, and Scotland. All of this funded by hours of waitressing & bartending.

Around the 4 year mark I had somewhat settled in NZ and started wondering what else I could pursue, sure hospitality could be fun, but it didn’t light that fire behind my eyes.

The mental journey

I quit my job, sold most of my belongings and spent a few months back home in the UK hoping to ‘find myself’ (again). I stumbled across Enspiral Dev Academy (EDA), a 9 week coding bootcamp based in Wellington, (and now Auckland), tried out some Ruby on Codecademy and knew it was love at first sight. My love affair with code was official and I signed up to the second ever cohort at EDA.

I won’t go into too much detail about my time at EDA as I have many blog posts devoted to this, but I learnt A LOT in such a short amount of time - Ruby, JavaScript, SQL, Engineering Empathy - I describe this as valuing the person as a whole, not just their logical, rational, code-solving mind.

Between stepping out into the wild winds of the Wellington tech scene and starting at JRNY, I found myself at two other startups, experienced redundancies (a reality in startup life), taught back at EDA (imposter syndrome much?!), worked in a large .Net company and most recently took an 8 month hiatus to travel and decide on the next step.

Your journey

Mine’s not the usual get-into-tech-story, and neither are those of the other 11 members of my cohort at EDA, it consisted almost exclusively of people who had never written any code. We are all successful professionals with every one of us using our tech skills in some way in our current jobs. But we hadn’t studied computer theory, none of us knew what a binary tree is (and probably still don’t!) but these things do not make the programmer, YOU are what makes the programmer.

So what might you need to get into tech?

Whilst there may still be some bias to those who have had traditional education in computer science and related areas of study, in my experience it is what you can do, not what a piece of paper says you probably know what to do that matters. To successfully score a developer role (especially without the traditional pathway), I believe you need to:

  • Have a passion for code - This isn’t a job for you if you want an easy life, sure the money can be good, but if you are in it for the money you are going to have to do a heap of hard work too!
  • Enjoy a good challenge (or a horribly frustrating throw-your-computer-out-the-window-challenge) - There are days when you won’t know what you’ve even done wrong in your code, let alone how to make the computer do the darn thing you want it to do.
  • Be good at thinking, yep just thinking - It’s amazing how many hours of a developer’s week can be spent thinking whilst feeling they have put very little pen to paper. But computers are hard, complex programmes are hard, you can’t write anything if you haven’t thought about it a heap first.
  • Read as much code as you can - You are going to have to do it all the time. Starting a new project? Read the library you are using to understand it. Starting a new job? You gotta read that code before you can go in and edit it! Part of a team? There are going to be code reviews for you to do, that takes a lot of concentration to understand what the developer was doing and why, and if it’s the best approach.

To those of you who do the hiring within your company - I implore you to look past the qualifications when looking for a developer and:

  • Hire the right people - diverse people - ages/ethnicity/EXPERIENCES, not everyone is a senior dev, but if we never hire those of us who know less, we’ll have no more developers left. The self taught-ers will have questions for the computer science graduates that will make those grads realise what they know and what they don’t so well. There is no better way to solidify learnings than to teach and be asked difficult questions.
  • Longevity != seniority - one thing I have faced is that because I had been around code for a shorter time at the start of my career, some felt I had ‘skipped’ forward, or that I must be more junior than those who had just left university. This is simply not true, and is also prevalent at the other end of the spectrum - just because you have written code for 20+ years, doesn’t mean you have continuously improved yourself; you could still be far less experienced than someone younger than you.
  • Have realistic expectations - if you are interviewing for a three month intern, don’t ask them to repeat the top 10 security vulnerabilities. This will only make them feel like they can’t do it. Get them to write some code with you, hell even write the code yourself but get them to guide you, get them to bring something in they’ve done. You want your juniors to feel confident that they’ve got this.

The next step of the journey

Maybe you’re thinking of getting into code, maybe you’ve you already started your journey. I’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences too; flick me an email, amelia@jrny.ai, send me your blogs or come for a coffee! Share your stories far and wide so others can also benefit from the paths less travelled and share the love!

Kia ora rawa atu!


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About the Author

Amelia Laundy

Software Engineer

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