From Model to Self-Taught Software Engineer

From Model to Self-Taught Software Engineer

I'm joined today with Madison Kanna, a former model and now a Software Engineer. She taught herself to code after seeing her older sister Randall, who I previosuly interviewed, become a Software Engineer without a CS degree.

Madison had dropped out of college and was doing modelling jobs but wanted to learn to code after seeing her sister's success. Read on for Madison's tips on productivity when learning to code, her coding community and what it's like being a Software Engineer.


Hey, so can you introduce yourself?

I currently live in the Bay Area and I’m the creator of CodeBookClub, a community and a weekly meetup for programmers of all experience levels, from beginners to mode advanced developers. I’ve worked as a Front End Developer for a few years now and currently work as a React dev for an awesome company, Showcase IDX.

Before I worked as a developer, I had dropped out of college and was working as a model for a modeling agency. I left college because I felt I wasn’t learning any real world skills. Once I discovered programming, I was able to teach myself to code using mostly free online resources and now I have my dream career as a developer.

Have you coded much with your sister Randall?

Definitely. My sister is actually the one who helped me learn to code. After I had dropped out of college, I was working different jobs and trying to figure out what to do with my life. Then I visited my sister Randall in San Francisco where she was working as a Software Developer at a tech company.

I realized that programming seemed like an incredibly fun and rewarding skill to learn. Rand told me that she knew I could get a job as a coder if I studied hard and stuck with it. With her help, I was able to make the transition.

Why did you learn to code?

When I saw my sister Randall teach herself to code, I thought it could be fun to try. I took Udacity’s Computer Science 101 by David Evans and I was hooked. I just thought--and still think--coding was the coolest thing ever.

Coding is also permission-less--anyone with an internet connection and some spare time can start coding. As a college dropout, I realized that I could teach myself to code and gain a valuable and rewarding skill. That’s why.


How did you use the principles in the book 'Deep Work' to learn to code?

I cut down on all my notifications. It’s hard to learn to code when you’re constantly being interrupted. I set aside big chunks of time where I was just building things. I tried to always be stretching the limits of what I know--working on coding problems or tasks that actually challenged me, instead of just doing things I already know how to do. TLDR--teaching yourself to focus helps you learn how to code.

What made you choose self-teaching vs going to a coding bootcamp?

I honestly couldn’t afford a bootcamp at the time, and I was hesitant to take out a loan as well. I figured I could teach myself if I put enough time in. Learning without a bootcamp is much harder and bootcamps are definitely valuable, but it’s definitely doable to self-teach.

coding mentors

How has your life changed since learning to code?

I left college because I felt I wasn’t learning any real-world skills. But so many people told me that I would never have a successful career without a college degree.

I was told that I’d spend my life stuck in dead-end low-paying jobs with no degree. I was depressed at the time, because it seemed like everyone was right. The only job I had back then was modeling with a modeling agency, where I would get paid to pose for magazines and catalogs.

But modeling was not a promising career--it’s all about appearance and being way too thin. Plus, much like acting or painting, only the 1% of models actually make it big, whereas most models end up waiting tables for a living. When I learned to code, I gained a valuable skill that’s rewarded in the economy today--and now my whole life is different.

Now, I get to do something I love every day. I work with amazing people, I can work from anywhere in the world, and I make six figures. I also found my people. I created CodeBookClub, which is a community and a virtual meetup that I’ve hosted every Sunday for over 2 years now. There’s nothing better than learning and growing with other people who are just as passionate and excited as you are.

High Signal cover

What does a typical day as a software developer look like for you?

I work as a frontend developer for Showcase IDX (we’re hiring for developers btw). We use React on the frontend and I spend most of my time building UIs. We’re a fully remote company.

I typically have stand up (daily check ins) in the mornings over Zoom where my team looks at our tickets for the day and talks about what we’re currently working on. I’ll spend the day either working on a feature or fixing a bug, and I’ll often pair program with someone on my team during the day.

Pairing is great because I learn so much from the developers on my team. The developers I work with as well as my engineering manager always help me find opportunities to grow or learn, so I’m learning every single day. Working remote is also amazing--last year I worked remotely while visiting Greece, which my company supported and encouraged.

What are your career goals for the future?

I want to become a Senior Engineer, so I’m focused on building side projects and learning as much as I can. I also plan on hosting coding book clubs and group programing challenges for the rest of my life, or until code is totally automated by AI :) Other than that, I’m working on coding courses that will be released in the coming months.

Thanks for the interview!

You can check out Madison's Twitter here

If you're looking for an entry level developer job, I send out job listings on Wednesdays in a newsletter you can sign up for here

Also, if you want to brush up on your React skills, check out this Beginners course from Wesbos (affiliate)

About the author
Pete Codes

Pete Codes

Hey, I'm Pete and the creator of this site. I am a self-taught web developer and I'm based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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