Erika learned to code after deciding she wanted a change of career. If you are interested in coding but don't know where to start, read on for her tips!
Hey, so can you introduce yourself?
Hey! My name is Erika and I am a front end developer based out of Atlanta, GA.
What were you doing before being a developer?
Immediately before transitioning to become a developer, I was an auto liability claims adjuster. Prior to that I was a pharmacy technician, and had also worked various retail and food service roles.
Why did you learn to code?
Long story short, I was in college and my latest “plan” this time around was to become a pharmacist. I was studying Biology, which a focus on Biochemistry and everything was actually going quite great, until I ran out of financial aid. At that point, I had been super frustrated with working retail jobs and needed to figure something out.
My sister in law posted an article about top paying fields that don't require a degree. Most were things either I wasn’t interested in, or couldn’t do. However, programming was on that list and after a little Googling I ended up trying our CodeCademy. It turns out that I really liked it, so I decided to pursue it.
I toyed with it on and off for a few months, and then I picked up my job as a claims adjuster. That was going okay enough, and I was making okay enough money for someone with no degree so coding went to the backburner for a while. Soon after starting that job, my employer started a tuition reimbursement program where they would pay upfront for classes towards an Associates Degree. The only caveat was that it had to have a legitimate business reason, so biology was out the window for an insurance company.
I remembered that I liked coding at least a little bit, so I figured I would get an associate’s degree in Computer Science, and then transfer into getting a Bachelor's degree when I could afford the traditional reimbursement program. Spoiler alert: I didn’t finish the Associate’s Degree either. I found Java to be very hard to learn in my school coursework, but I was able to complete it. However working full time and attempting to take Calculus and Discrete Math proved to be too much of a challenge, so I didn’t pursue the degree further.
Eventually, I started dabbling back in front end development and bouncing around resources until one day I had an absolutely terrible day at work. It felt like every customer took out their frustration on me and at that point I decided I would take 6 months and really focus on learning front end development and see if I could land a job, because I didn’t think a career in claims was viable for me. I focused on coding daily and staying on the path I decided I would take and the rest was history.
How did you learn coding?
The way I learned to code was very convoluted LOL. I had a bad habit of jumping from resource to resource in search of the newest and “best” way to learn. If I could go back and do it again, I would definitely focus on the fundamentals and not move from one resource until I was finished with the one I was currently using or 100% sure it didn’t match my learning style.
I also wouldn’t let what other people do influence what I was learning. While I did (and still do) enjoy resources such as Udemy, Pluralsight and Front End Masters, I wish I had leaned more on free resources that I had started such as YouTube and FreeCodeCamp. Outside of those self learning resources and 1 year of Intro to Computer Science that I took as part of my employer's tuition reimbursement program I don’t have any formal training such as a bootcamp.
I probably benefit from a structured curriculum so, I probably would have done my research and found an affordable boot camp from the beginning to save time and frustration. All in all it took me almost 5 years from knowing no code (other than tinkering with MySpace a while back) to getting my first job, due to starting and restarting and switching paths.
I would highly recommend following the structure of FreeCodeCamp and using YouTube or Udemy courses to get additional depth in the topics. Above all, I would spend less time trying to learn something good enough to make something perfectly, and more time just building things and learning from my mistakes.
What does a typical day as a software developer look like for you?
For me I start my day around 6:45 am since we are working remotely due to Covid-19. I usually check my emails, and make a note of any meetings I have that day so I can block out chunks of time to be productive. After I’m caught up on any outstanding emails or administrative tasks such as logging my time from the previous day, I will prioritize my tasks for the day and follow up on anything I had to collaborate with someone else on such as fixing defects from code testing or feedback from code review.
I try to dedicate the first 30 minutes or so of my day to reviewing any of my teammates' merge requests in gitlab and giving any feedback or approvals as needed. If I am in the middle of work, I’ll start working to finish that or I will pull a new task from our team backlog. I’m strictly front end and work mainly with React. It’s quite harder than I expected to go from personal projects and working with a team using git etc.
My team does our morning standup around 9:30 am so I try to work by myself on small tasks up until then, and reserve the afternoon after lunch for pair programming if I am not in meetings. I usually finish up my day around 3:00 pm. Overall, even though it is harder getting acclimated to working with others instead of alone, I enjoy it.
What was the interview process like for your entry level software developer job?
My entry level job was actually a promotion/department transfer at my current employer. I applied for an internal opening and was asked to come in for an interview the next week. This interview was half behavioral/situational questions and the other half was technical questions- basically explaining concepts and discussing personal or school projects I worked on. Thankfully, there was no whiteboarding. There were some questions I was extremely comfortable with and there were some I honestly had no clue how to answer. For the ones I didn’t know I was honest and explained what I thought the answer could be.
What are your career goals for the future?
Currently, I have been very interested in getting into Dev Rel/Developer Advocacy so I am turning my attention towards making content to get a feel of if that role would be a good fit for me. I also would like to venture into learning some back end tech, while really honing my programming fundamentals. I’m mainly active on Twitter, my handle there is @eripdev and that is where I will update with any different content avenues I decide to pursue. Thanks again Pete!