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I’m an elementary school band teacher turned full-stack developerFeatured

Up until just recently, I had been teaching elementary bands in a lovely school district that adored its music programs. I taught for seven years, but I figured out really fast that I wasn’t going to end up retiring as a teacher. I knew I didn’t enjoy the daily work enough to make it until retirement.

At first, I thought maybe I wasn’t being challenged musically, so I tried to get higher-level jobs, but nothing really worked out. I took on more responsibilities in my district by working with an advanced elementary jazz band and with assisting our awesome high school marching band.

But, nothing really stuck or kept my attention.

When the pandemic hit, I reanalyzed what I wanted in life. It was something that kept me up at night. I started to see that education didn’t align with what I wanted. My interest in continuing in education waned dramatically.

After some friends mentioned I should pick up development, I started learning on my own. I learned just enough to make a simple HTML & CSS website to accompany my personal YouTube channel, and although it was exceedingly challenging at the time, I had so much fun! There were a lot of complex problems that took quite a bit of brain power to overcome, and I loved that! It was creative, it was problem-solving, I loved that I was continuously learning, it was “hands-on,” and it has been calling my name ever since.

The big hurdle in changing my career was the fact that I didn’t have any experience as a developer, and I didn’t even come from tech. While continuing to teach, I had been trying to get my first job as a developer for about a year. This whole endeavor, which started out as a hobby during the pandemic lockdowns, just became very real, too – I got my first job as an Apprentice Full-Stack Developer!

Here’s what helped me get there.

PRO TIP 1: NETWORK EVEN WHEN YOU HATE IT

This will probably seem like white noise, but seriously, network. Trust me when I say that I am not really a great mingler. I feel so awkward just striking up a conversation with strangers. I don’t even like to leave comments on social media because I get freaked out someone will take things the wrong way. But this will absolutely help you as you transition into a new career.

As soon as I started taking my new job search more seriously, I got involved in more official organizations. I signed up for Women Who Code, started taking more LinkedIn Learning classes, and got involved in the Girl Develop It workshops. I met new people there that helped me expand my network beyond local teachers and musicians. Now, I’m starting to build relationships with people who do the things I want to do, too. And honestly, don’t count cold calling out! I actually had a lot of success with this:

Cold Call 1

I watch a lot of YouTube. One of the channels mentioned that they had somebody redesign their website. I was curious, so I looked it up, and the website was awesome! To take it a step further, I ended up figuring out exactly who did that redesign, and started following them on Instagram. After following them for a little bit, and loving all their work, I literally just sent them a message saying if they ever wanted to work together, I’d be happy to do some custom development for them. Here we are 6 months later, and we’re about to start work on my first project together!

Cold Call 2

On my way to school every morning, I listened to a podcast called Front End Happy Hour. After getting through the first 2 years of episodes, I felt a little kinship with a few developers (even though I had never met them). They gave, and still give, grounded, practical, actionable advice, and I love that! Then one panelist started giving out his actual work email, encouraging the listeners to send him questions. After a few podcast episodes, I emailed this amazingly successful software engineer, and I asked for some help. And then he emailed me back! It’s almost been a year since that email, and we meet every so often when I have questions. Based on his recommendations, I started writing on Medium to boost my presence online, and even joined his developer group.

The cool thing about networking and growing the brood of people around you is that you can start to find people who are willing to help. I have two other developers that fairly regularly check in on me and have given me so much guidance over the past two years as I taught myself.

PRO TIP 2: JUST ASK

This might be the teacher in me, but for the love of all that is good, just ask! This goes in tandem with networking. I would preach and preach and preach to my students about asking questions when they got confused. They would get so nervous to try anything new, knowing they’d probably be bad at it the first time. So, I took my advice and turned it on myself. I might be “bad” at this now, so I should ask somebody who I think will have the right answer!

The tech world is insanely blessed in this way. There are so many people, from all sorts of backgrounds, and they all want more people in the field. The plethora of open knowledge is terrifyingly huge, and if you just ask the questions, somebody out there will have the answers. The more questions you ask, the more you start utilizing the correct language and asking the right questions. You’ll challenge people to answer your questions and if they can’t, they’ll try to find out or direct you to someone else with the answer (and thereby expanding your network more 🥳). Tech is full of people waiting to share knowledge, and more often than not, if you ask, they’re willing to help.

Another good way to get your questions answered is to write. This is not something I ever really planned on doing, but honestly it helps organize my thoughts. Sometimes I end up answering my own questions after I write them down and sort of say them out loud. Other times, colleagues will offer their perspective or thoughts. It’s just helpful to get things out of my head, into the air, organized so I can visualize my problems better.

PRO TIP 3: FIND AN APPRENTICESHIP

I got beyond lucky and landed an apprenticeship. I had no idea that was even an option, unless you were something like a skilled tradesperson. I am now in a full-stack developer apprenticeship program, and it is literally everything I could have asked for! I found a great company, with an awesome culture, a growing team, clear professional growth targets, a decisive curriculum, a regular feedback cycle, dedicated mentors (half the company offers office hours for the apprentices to pop in for questions) and more.

It’s a dream, and it’s nothing I realized existed! This is on-the-job training, but they understand I don’t have many good habits yet. There are big gaps in my knowledge, but they’re still willing to work with me. After working on my own and teaching myself in a bubble, having a team that I can go to with questions and working through problems together has been so eye-opening and refreshing. With people expecting to see work done, I feel more accountability and have begun to create clearer, more realistic goals for myself.

As I move forward through my apprenticeship, I can already tell you that I want to be a mentor to other new developers eventually. That sort of calls to the teacher’s heart in me, and I just want to share with future newbies that they can freaking do it. I’ll keep writing since it helps me organize all the stuff inside my brain. I can’t wait to see what the remainder of my program has in store.

I am still sometimes in shock that I have been so lucky to have the opportunity to change careers completely, and I’m coming out on the other side loving every second!

Thank you so much for sharing your journey! You're also a great writer. I love it that you shared very specifically what you did in your "cold calls" to get connections - hopefully this can help others who are looking to transition in their careers as well. And best wishes for the rest of your apprenticeship!
Thanks so much! The cold calling was a little scary, just reaching out to random strangers, but it had paid off for me!
Way to go! I’m changing careers from forensic science to software engineering right now so I love to read about others doing it successfully. Congrats!
Thank you so much!! Good luck to you, as well!
Wow, congratulations! Awesome story and thank you for giving specific tips! I'm in the middle of learning about what the different fields within tech are but I'm still not sure if I want to go into tech or not. I'm glad you learned HTML and CSS on your own and that is encouraging for me to do the same. Perhaps that is what will really help me decide if I want to go into tech or not.
Thank you so much! Personally, learning HTML & CSS on Codecademy was awesome. Their tutorials have instructions and videos, and I learned a lot because they make you code along. Good luck!
Thanks! I'll definitely check out Codecademy! Thanks for sharing where you learned HTML & CSS.
Today was my final day as an apprentice. I am so lucky to say that I got an offer, and I transition to a full-time developer in January! 🥳
Amazing news! Thanks for sharing an update! I'm sure you're over the moon. As a fellow self-taught dev/career switcher, I completely understand how happy you must be!!
Yes, thank you, I am!!!
Congratulations! That's awesome!
Thank you so much for this post!You are helping lots of people.I loved hearing about both your challenges and your successes!
Thank you so much for this- I definitely hope people get something out of it!
Congratulations on your new journey! I, too, am a former elementary school band teacher (4-5th grade). I have been a website analyst for over 15 years now. How this happened, I’m not sure. 😜
No way! That’s amazing!