Interview with candidates: How I switched careers from Science and research coordinator to a software developer

  • 8 minutes read

Hello, Alice 🙂 Could you please introduce yourself a bit more?

I´m 33 years old and I come from Prague. Up until recently, my whole career was devoted to Art History. I grew up in a family that was very much into the Humanities and Social sciences. I always used to flip through books about history and heritage, so I considered it natural to continue in this line of enquiry. I enjoyed math at high school, but still, I never thought I had any other option than continuing in the ‘family lineage’. And so I embarked on my studies of Art History at the Philosophical Faculty and found a job at the Museum of Applied Arts in Prague.

Why did you start programming and who has influenced your IT career the most?

The major influence was my fiancé who is a Java developer. He watched me spending my free time doing sudoku and various logic-based quizzes. For many years now, he’s been telling me that I could do well in IT and that I would probably enjoy it too. Later on, however, he confessed he thought of me as an analyst, and that my decision to go into programming itself took him by surprise.

 

What did you do for a living before you became a developer?

My role in the Museum was to help with creating exhibitions and books, as well as coordinating research projects. I spent most of my time doing editorial work in the Museum’s publishing house, where I functioned as a kind of a ‘midwife’ for the books. Last year, we have finished a major project which has cost me several years of my life, so I felt it was time to decide where to go next. It was clear to me that I needed a more prominent change, a new impulse. So, I decided to finally have a go at programming. I thought, after all, it’s just another way of working with language, just swapping one logical structure for another.

 

How did you get into programming? What motivated you to learn something new?

I was certain that I could not succeed if I were self-taught. I started searching for a longer course which would help me orientate myself in the mesmerizing universe of IT and provide me with a solid structure. After some time, I came across a retraining programme ‘Object-oriented programming and website development’ at the Technical University in Ostrava. I enjoyed the contents of the course, and the cost was very friendly, compared to Prague. I also really liked the idea of living in another town for half a year – a complete change of setting seemed like just the right kind of restart. My fiancé was of great support to me especially as he accompanied me to Ostrava. Also, I was driven by the desire to prove for myself that I can do it, that I can become anyone and anything I decide to be, no matter how bizarre it seemed to some people around me.

Each step on a career path can bring new expectations and obstacles to overcome. What challenges have you faced? How did you overcome them?

The greatest challenge has been (and still is) being able to take in so much new information on a daily basis, coming at me from all sides. Another great struggle is the one with my own head, with my self-confidence and with anxiety. Sometimes I’m thinking that I’ve started too late, that I am too old to learn so many new things really well.

 

The 6 most common reasons why employees quit their jobs:

  1. job that’s not fulfilling their desires
  2. they’ve reached their goals and did the best in their current job
  3. they have lost their job or are at risk of being laid off
  4. they are frustrated to see no other meaning in their work or having a job that contradicts their values
  5. they are overworked or close to a burnout
  6. salary

 

Do you agree with these reasons above? 

Yes, definitely, I can especially relate to the last option mentioned. Last year, when I was finishing my work on a several years lasting project, I was somewhere between burnout and physical collapse. Moreover, I finally understood that this was a very common feeling among the underfinanced state-run cultural sector and that I could either get used to it or leave.

 

It’s never too late to start anew – how would you encourage someone who is afraid to take a step forward?

I do hope that it’s never too late! 🙂 To anyone considering it, I would say: go for it! You will have to gather all your courage and physical as well as mental strength, but the harder it is, the better you will feel about yourself in the end.

 

Do I need a certification to get a programming job?

I only have experience with retraining course in Ostrava, and I am certain that it made me look better at my job interviews than if I were self-taught. However, my future employers were more interested in my potential and my enthusiasm, rather than my qualification. So I believe everything is possible even without any certification.

People tend to believe that to achieve success, you should be crystal clear about your goals and have some long-term career vision. What do you think about it?

Not for me. My programming journey is a journey of constant learning and encountering new things; it is a process that never ends, so giving oneself some definite goals right at the start would be very limiting. One of the beautiful aspects of this work is flexibility – when you’ve worked for a few years and you start fancying something different, you are very likely to find your new opportunity in the very company you work for.
 

 

Another thing that might discourage some of the programmers -wanna-be-s is the claim that besides the time they would also need to invest quite a lot of money into learning. Is that true?

Not necessarily. For example, at the retraining course that I took, many of my unemployed co-students were funded by the Employment Office. Besides, the IT community is very strong and there are multiple resources available online for free. Furthermore, whatever investment you make will return to you really quick, because even as a beginner programmer, you have a good chance of a really good salary.

 
 
So, what about your actual programming job, do you like it? 

I got my first job in IT mid-April and started at a Slovakian company Softec. Since then I am constantly amazed – that my colleagues communicate with me with respect, that my superiors appreciate my work and my dedication, that everyone is doing their best to be kind and helpful. The greatest upgrade I see is in the communication between people and in the overall company culture. To put it simply, I have entered into a totally different world. The work itself is very interesting, and it’s really great that the company is using the latest technology and makes sure that their employees have access to further education and development.

 

Which programming language did you start from as a beginner?  What skills/languages would you like to improve?

I first came across VBA, then Visual Basic and C#, and remained faithful to the latter. I have also come across the basics of JavaScript and PHP. I am currently working with JavaScript, or more accurately with TypeScript. In the future, I would like to get to know Java.

 
Which programming language should a beginner start with?
 

Java or C#

 
 
How did you get your first IT job? Feel free to share some of your tips or ideas.
 
With a very heavy heart, I turned down two offers and only took the third one, which came about a month and a half after I started searching. I am confident this was the right decision. There is a great lack of IT specialists on the market, and even though the post-coronavirus crisis might make things more difficult, IT workers will probably still be in one of the best positions on the job market.
 

Prepare your CV and LinkedIn profile really well and register at portals that support companies and job applicants, such as Techloop, Jobs and others. Get ready not to ever hear back from many companies, after you’ve sent them your CV. On the other hand, those companies that do reply are probably ready to give you a chance even if you’re a total beginner. I recommend that you don’t overrate yourself, but don’t underrate yourself either. The key is to show your determination to move forward and give it all you’ve got. In the beginning, this is much more important than any concrete technical knowledge. You should also investigate what training will the company provide you with at the start and whether their expectations of you are realistic. When I started going to interviews, I worried there might be some bias against women. Fortunately, this worry proved to be completely wrong.

 
 

From your perspective – what are the pros and cons of being a software developer? 

Pros:
Creative and dynamic work, with new impulses coming all the time, good position in the job market and good pay.

Cons:
You can’t stop even for a moment, because technologies evolve rapidly and you might miss out on new stuff; moreover, what you learn one day, might not work anymore the next day.

That aside, I can’t see any other cons of programming. 🙂

 

What soft skills does a software developer need in 2020?

As most developers work in teams, it is crucial for them to master communication skills, openness and assertiveness, and – especially for the beginners – to be able to take in any criticism of their work.
 
 
 
What would you like to accomplish or learn in the next months/years?
 

My main goal is to learn really well the contents of my current work, to be useful to my colleagues and my employer. In my case, this means mastering Angular and ASP.NET and to really quickly get my head around a project which I’ve just joined.

 

 
 
 

 

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