From science to software engineering – here’s how I made the transition and what I learned – Kristina KaldonFeatured
Growing up, I was always taught to be my most authentic self – to challenge ideas and pursue my happiness. So after two years working for an MIT government-funded Department of Defense laboratory, I knew needed to make a change. I was so unhappy that I was constantly questioning my unhappiness; Am I still not adjusting to life after university? My performance reviews are great, so why do I feel useless? As a physicist/astronomer, what could be better than working at MIT? During this time I also had doubts about my feelings because people around me were happy. It left me wondering if perhaps I’d get over the ‘unrooted’ feeling I had living in Boston.After some great advice along the lines of “this is your life and no one else’s” and “stop worrying about how others will view your choices or what would make someone else proud”, I decided to make a change for my happiness: I quit my job at MIT and moved to Puerto Rico, the place I feel most at home, to start a new career as a software engineer. Coming from a science and mathematics background, it was very threatening to learn to code. I am a detail-oriented person who needs to understand the ‘why’ rather than just executing. Luckily, I had the most supportive team in Puerto Rico; a three person back-end team of VB and SQL developers who welcomed me into the fray. I watched tutorials, but mostly learned on the fly by shadowing them and learning the existing code base. It was hard for me to understand how people could take a business change and implement it with code, test it, and document it well. It was overwhelming and exciting and reminded me of how much I love to learn. I am forever grateful I had the opportunity to learn from an amazing team. They gave me confidence, were patient with me as I learned, and provided helpful feedback. I’m especially grateful because I joined the team right before Hurricanes Irma and Maria destroyed our homes and flipped our lives upside-down. In late 2018 I decided to move back to the US for personal reasons after the hurricanes, and accepted a position as a Robotic Process Automation developer at UiPath. RPA developers build software robots that mimic repetitive human tasks. It was an easier transition because RPA is a newer field and almost everyone in the field has little to no experience. I love it at UiPath. I feel supported, I feel that I have room to grow, I feel that there are options to keep learning, and I feel the excitement of every employee as we grow globally. Every day I miss Puerto Rico and think of ways I can help and hopefully move back in the future, but right now I’m happy where I am.I believe in prioritizing present-day happiness and avoiding the trap of focusing on being successful. At the beginning of my career, I spent too much time building my life around being ‘happy’ in the future – when this or that would happen. In my transition from science to tech, I learned a lot about myself and the different industries and company types where I would be happy working.My advice to anyone looking to make a change in their career is to start by identifying what is important to you – culture, work-life balance, benefits, employee resources – and work backward. Once you understand your values, talk to a lot of people. Meet with people in your field and ask them about experiences, reach out to random people on LinkedIn, talk to someone who’s reached goals you aspire to, and see how your values are different and alike. And when you consider new opportunities, make sure they come with supportive people, room to grow, and the opportunity to develop new skills. Realize that the culture of science is different than tech and you may need to adapt. Learn from this. Learn to work with people from every background; your thoughts will become more diverse and your work will prosper. Even if it’s a negative interaction, you can learn from it. Be humble and seek humble co-workers, mentors, and managers. Most importantly, don’t be afraid. If you are happy and you are gaining skills and experiences, you are moving in the right direction.Kristina is an astronomer, software developer, educator, and volunteer living in Washington DC. Currently at UiPath, developing software robots that automate manual tasks for businesses and personal life, training the next generation of RPA developers, and consulting as a subject matter expert for the academic alliance team. Prior to that, Kristina worked as a software engineer at Abarca, a pharmacy benefit manager in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and as assistant technical staff in the space division at MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts. Kristina’s passions are advancing diversity and inclusion and STEAM education in underrepresented areas, traveling to new places (and back to Puerto Rico), and her dog, Snax.