Reflections from a middle school teacher turned software engineerFeatured

Six years ago, I was at an all-time low. I was an 8th grade Science Teacher and had just gotten into a car accident on my way to work. I was exhausted, stressed out of my mind and depressed. I didn’t want to feel this anymore so I decided to change careers.

Choosing between a career that had me falling apart at the seams, and a career that had so many unknowns was absolutely horrifying. My car accident was an unknown blessing in disguise, it became the very catalyst I needed to make that jump. Had it not been for that, I might have stayed teaching since that was the “safe” option.

Wait, so how did you get into programming?

It’s a funny story actually! My husband, who is a Graphic Designer, would come home and complain about the other developers he worked with. He would say that they made up words and nothing they said made any sense. I, of course, took this as a personal challenge and that’s how it all started!

I started learning Ruby on Codecademy. Very quickly I noticed that I was really into this whole coding thing. Each challenge was like a small puzzle that was begging to be solved. This was no longer about my self-imposed bet. This was awesome. After my accident, I discovered coding bootcamps as a way to change careers. I contacted one that was local and I never looked back!

What happened when you got hired?

About 4 months after graduation I got my first job. It was a major milestone for me and made me feel like maybe I could do this. I did, however, make several mistakes in my time there but they were each important in their own right! These are some of the biggest mistakes I made and tips on what I would have done differently.

I said yes to everyone! I was such a people pleaser. As the only woman on my team, I felt the need to be overly nice to avoid being perceived as aggressive. I could write an entire article about walking this fine line!

It wasn’t long until I found that everyone would reach out to me directly to ask for something instead of my male colleagues. I got very overwhelmed and fast!

Learn to feel okay in saying “no” and realize boundaries are incredibly important! Find your allies and lean on them to help separate yourself from roundabout requests so you don’t become inundated! I am forever appreciative of those who were more than happy to “be the bad guy” when I struggled to find my voice.

I didn’t ask for help enough. I had an intense fear of asking for help! I was afraid of judgment, would the other person question whether I should be there or not? Would it be a hindrance to keep asking after I got an answer? Or I would start out with “I can figure this out” and that would then turn into “It’s been too long to ask for help now”.

This was definitely amplified by the fact that at times I would reach out and say “I tried X but it didn’t work”. Only to be responded with “Did you try X?”

Something I do is say that I’m stuck on deciding a solution and if I can bounce some ideas to find the best solution to a problem. It opens a line of communication and helps develop trust. Practice asking small questions and as you get comfortable you’ll learn you absolutely can (and should) ask for help!

Remember, all questions are valid, they are not a reflection of you or your ability! You are only human!

I didn’t have a mentor. This is the number one thing that I would change ASAP! I was essentially always working alone and it limited my growth in so many ways! You need someone who is more experienced to guide you. It’s certainly not impossible but it is a lot easier with someone pushing you in the right direction.

It wasn’t until much later I found someone who became a real mentor and a very dear friend to me. They always took the time to help me and made sure I understood the why. They cheered for me on even my smallest wins, even today! Thank you so much. You showed me such kindness and support at a time when I was really struggling. It meant the world to me!

I worked where there was no development process. My first job was at a startup, which is totally fine! However, there were some basic process things that were missing:

The majority of work was not in git and was one save button away from going to production!

When I did work in a repository, there was no process for releases. I pushed to master without a single review all of the time!

No code reviews/pair coding. I worked entirely alone and really the only standard to pass having code that worked! Over my years there I did revisit and refactor my work as I learned a thing or two but that was all of my own accord!

I stayed at my first job for far too long. I stayed at my first job for 3 and a half years! I didn’t want to leave and go into the unknown. I spent more time reusing the work I had already done and re-skinning it. If there is some sage advice I can pass down to you that a dear friend gave me, it's to try not to get too comfortable with anything!

Plus, I also didn’t want to leave my friends! After being there for as long as I was, I got so attached to my colleagues. Which is important and I do think you should try to make friends wherever you work but that leads to my next point.

Friendships are important but don’t let them dictate your career. As someone who gets very attached to people, I truly struggled with saying goodbye. I hated seeing people come and go throughout my career! While you may get separated, you can stay connected afterward! I have many colleagues that I’ve kept in contact with! Don’t put yourself on pause because you love the people you work with. Those who are truly your friends will root for you even though you’re leaving them.

I was inconsistent when it came to learning! Consistency in general was and still is incredibly difficult for me. I am very much an all-or-nothing type of person. I am very hard on myself and I find moderation nearly impossible and can’t wrap my mind around doing “just a little” of anything.

I found this quote that spoke to me:

“Success is a result of small seemingly insignificant moment-to-moment choices that add up to BIG results.”

This motivated me to start small so, every day for 15 minutes dedicated myself to learning, no more, no less! It kept me from doing too much all at once and getting burnt out. I made so much progress this way. I’ve learned more than I ever had this way than when I used to cram all at once.

I never took time off. THIS is one of the most difficult things for me. Coming from immigrant parents, the concept of taking a day off was absolutely insane. My parents worked constantly and struggled financially.

It was always drilled in my head that having a strong work ethic was the only way to be successful and get ahead in this country. Especially as a female minority, I was at an extreme disadvantage! I needed to work hard to prove my worth! I worked extra hours and even weekends, never asking for a day off. I got so burnt out at times that my eyes just could not focus at all. I still feel like I’m trying to recover from that time!

Never put up with a superior who puts you down. This is another thing that I was taught that I need to put up with from my parents. It was not uncommon for my parents to talk about their awful bosses. I was told that you just have to do what your boss says, that’s how you keep your job and get ahead! I won’t get into specifics of my own experiences but, if any superior belittles you, makes you feel small or makes you question your ability, it is not worth staying there. You are worth more than that.

I constantly compared and set my worth based on the progress of others. There are a lot of amazing and talented people in this field. It was and still is incredibly hard and intimidating to be around these brilliant people. I would ask myself why don’t I understand? How come it’s taking me so long? When will I get there?

Being a woman in tech I feel that I’m extra tough on myself. I needed to be better than my male colleagues. Which ended up causing me to develop a ton of compensatory behaviors. Your journey is very individual to you. Even if you don’t feel like you bring “enough” to the table, you as yourself have your own amazing talents that you do have that your colleagues don’t. Play up the strengths you do have and work towards improving the parts that need more work. You are amazing all on your own!

What are you up to now?

In December of 2022, I was laid off. I was shocked but in a lot of ways I was honestly kind of relieved. I had already been perusing the job boards with the plan of leaving. The layoff only moved my timeline up a little sooner than planned!

I am taking this time to focus on myself. Something I’ve never really done before. I spent a lot of my days learning to help build up my confidence. After spending so much of my career working blindly without understanding the why, it’s been so much fun digging deep.

I’ve been working on being unapologetically me and though I still have my days when I question myself, I have no intent on giving up.

Take a chance on yourself! Make that step towards your career change, no matter how small it may be! Believe in yourself, you are worth it. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, you can still be successful in this intense and difficult journey.

Wow, thanks for this, Jamilet! I wish I had read this many years ago:) Your advice is golden. Congrats on making the career change. I am sorry you were impacted by the layoffs. Even though you were planning on leaving, I can imagine that having someone else dictate your timeline has not made things easy. I admire you for making good use of this time and really appreciate that you've taken the time to share this with us.
Thank you so much Megan! Yeah, this time hasn't been the easiest but it's been nice in its own way as well. I'll get my chance and come back that much stronger!
Thank you so much for sharing this! After getting laid off from an exhausting and draining sales job this month, I feel like I'm at the crossroads you were at before starting coding. It's inspiring to read about this positive career change. I'm sorry that you've also experienced the layoffs, but every bump in the road can inspire bigger and better things!
Hey Emily! Thank you so much for the kind words. I am so sorry to hear that you're in the same boat with being laid off. We'll both get our opportunities and like you said these bumps in the road will inspire bigger and better things!