My first year as a developer... the highs and lows

Should I quit my job and train as a developer?

Rachel Dolan
Rachel Dolan
7 mins read

If you're thinking about changing careers and becoming a software developer you might be wondering how to go about it and whether its the right decision for you. A year ago, I did just that and decided to quit my job in PR to become a developer. Here I talk about that roller coaster of a year, the highs and lows and some things I’ve learned along the way.

That Lightbulb Moment

My journey towards life as a developer started in my previous role when I was asked to update the company website. It was an out of the box number, but I was curious about what was going on under the hood so started tinkering with HTML and CSS. My interest became a bit of an obsession! And after reading a ton of articles from people who had trained as developers and switched careers, I realised that I could make this happen too.

Decisions... decisions...

I headed down that well-trodden path of a coding Bootcamp with the promise that in just three months I would learn enough skills to bag a job. Still haunted by that intensive driving course I failed to complete ten years ago, I was slightly sceptical that I would learn enough in such a short space of time. It was also incredibly daunting turning my back on my familiar job and stepping into the unknown.

This was one of the biggest decisions of my life, what if it all went wrong?

Woman coding on laptop

Coding Bootcamp

I had been pre-warned by bootcamp grads of the highs and lows I would experience but hadn’t quite realised how extreme they would be, even just in the space of a day! I’d often find myself feeling completely lost in the morning when being introduced to a new subject, only to feel elated by the afternoon when the penny had dropped.

Sitting alone that evening with my laptop I could find myself in no-mans land again when it came to homework, it was an endless cycle of ups and downs and pretty emotional at times.

One of the most frustrating times was my attempt to integrate Google Maps into my app and getting 99% of the way there but forgetting to give the containing div any height... so seeing nothing. Another time I was so excited having made a countdown timer before realising it carried on counting down after it hit zero! But hey, I learnt from my mistakes.

Tech Challenge

Finally the last day of the course came round, and after producing a final project I was proud of, I was definitely ending on a high. Then I was faced with a trial tech challenge and found myself staring at my laptop in panic wondering how I would get a job after just three months if I couldn’t even complete this tech challenge?! My 984th Bootcamp Meltdown!

As it turned out, none of the real world tech challenges ever proved to be as hard and actually I found them a great way of practising my technical skills during the job search.

Speed Dating

A few weeks into the job search and it was time for the dreaded 'Meet & Greet' organised by General Assembly. A lot like speed dating, this is an opportunity to sell yourself to potential employers in the space of a few minutes, but equally for them to sell themselves and their business to you. You are encouraged to bring in props that would convey your personal brand which made me want to crawl inside myself!

After polishing up my CV though and fixing a few bugs, I was actually feeling pretty confident with my work and not too bad about the prospect of the meat market scenario by the time it came around. And then I smashed my laptop screen the day before... disaster! I did wonder if I could use this as a prop to demonstrate how I was breaking the mould in coding?!... but instead managed a last-minute dash to the other side of London to borrow a laptop.

Despite my trepidation, the event was great interview practice and really helped me to get comfortable with talking about my work and myself. Surprisingly I also found that more often than not, the people attending were selling their company to me rather than the other way around!

Finding the One

I thought hard about what I wanted from my first role. I’d asked a lot of people about their first few months as a developer, and the answers I got were a real mixed bag. Some coded from day one, others didn’t touch code for weeks, some had a huge amount of responsibility, others almost none. I was looking for three main things; a company that:

  • supports learning and development
  • stays on top of new technologies and industry trends
  • has a company culture that empowers the team

So, when I interviewed with JDLT, who specialise in bespoke software, it became clear that they were what I was looking for, and I was over the moon when they offered me the job after only a month and a half of searching.

The Three Month Mark

With every new job it takes time to settle in - for me it’s usually 3 months until I feel completely comfortable and actually this was no different.

The first week in the role was, as expected, exhausting. I was keen to start coding as quickly as possible because I know that’s how I learn best, so I was pleased that I was pair programming on live projects with the more senior devs from day one. But wow, there was so much I didn’t know!

I found myself with questions that I couldn’t articulate (or so lost that the only question I could think of that would help was “can you repeat that please?”), and error messages that even googling didn’t solve. I was dreaming about code, had solutions to problems popping into my head when I was showering, and browsing twitter only ended with me adding more stuff to my list of topics to learn. I felt overwhelmed by the amount of things I still didn’t know and didn’t have the brain capacity to cram in any more outside work. But by about the three month mark I had realised that the amount of things I was learning daily, were quickly adding up, and I was constantly gaining a better understanding of topics by implementing them in my day to day.

I love my job written on notepad

Happily Ever After

I’m now coming up to my one year anniversary of taking the plunge and quitting my job to start Bootcamp. Having now been a fully-fledged and paid developer for 6 months, whilst there are still bugs that I need help tackling, technical language that I don’t understand, or a .reduce() that I just can’t wrap my head around, I’m definitely progressing and feel great about it. It’s easier said than done to not compare yourself to others and I’m so guilty of it, but when I look at where I was a year ago, struggling to wrap my head around a for loop, I’m impressed with what I’ve been able to achieve so far.

I can honestly say I have no regrets in changing careers and I’m excited about my future as a developer. Its not been an easy year by any means but the late nights and stressful times have been worth it. I still don’t have a driving licence... but one step at a time!

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