Jessie was able to change career to become a Software Engineer without a Computer Science degree. In this exclusive interview she shares her tips for people who are learning to code and how she was able to move from a sales job to a Software Engineer position.
Hey, so can you introduce yourself?
Hello! I’m Jessie, I’m a Software Engineer at CybSafe. I’m based in Bristol in the UK. Outside of my engineering role, I’m a part of the leadership team for an organisation called Coding Black Females. In the last year I’ve co-founded and co-host a podcast called Glowing in Tech, which aims to demystify technical roles within the industry through exploration of the careers of our guests, and their specialisations.
Why did you learn to code?
In 2018, I joined CybSafe in the sales department a couple of years after graduating in Psychology, unsure of what it was I wanted to do. Although I was fascinated by human behaviour and the science behind it, the available roles I was qualified for after graduating, were not what I was interested in.
In 2019, whilst I was in the customer success department at CybSafe, some of the Software Engineers offered to teach an introduction to python course one evening a week, for a few weeks. It was an incredible opportunity to learn from the people I was working with, and helped to show the role of a Software Engineer in context, as they could illustrate how they were using some of the fundamental concepts in the software they were building.
Being able to understand how software was built, and seeing that coding as a job was within reach for me, despite not having studied computer science, was massively illuminating.
I was hooked from there.
How did you learn coding without a CS degree?
In 2020, after lots of research and attempts at self study, I knew that for me to truly make the move, I needed the structure and support of a taught course in order to stay on track. I was lucky enough to get onto the Sky Get into Tech programme, a free 5 month part-time bootcamp.
The classes were twice a week, for 3 hours each, with homework and additional self study taking up another 5-10 hours.
It was an intensive period of learning, but it provided a strong foundation for me to start coding upon finishing.
I started as a Junior Software Engineer in the same company, the week after finishing the course. During my first few months in my new role, I was on a formal mentorship programme with Black Valley, and my mentor helped to coach and guide my preparation and initial learning.
This was massively helpful, as building and contributing to a large, production project was a massive difference to what I had been used to up until that point, working on portfolio projects.
If there was something I would have done differently, it would have been to get more involved with Open Source projects earlier, to gain experience in contributing to a large, already existing software project. This would have helped a lot with understanding the Pull Request process, reading documentation and working in a larger team than just pairs, which I hadn't done before my first day in my new role.
How has your life changed since learning to code?
I have much more flexibility and freedom to live as I want. Despite still being relatively early in my career, the change in responsibilities and additional time I have from not working multiple jobs, has meant I have traveled much more.
Being able to work from anywhere has meant I have worked across Europe, and visited family in the US.
What does a typical day as a Software Developer at Cybsafe look like for you?
I have a team standup with my squad in the morning, consisting of a few frontend and backend engineers, a product designer, a content writer, a behavioral scientist and led by a product manager. We share updates and as we go around the (virtual) room, we share a positive from the day before, or a fun fact.
Any strategy related meetings (eg. refining a feature, or having a retrospective on our previous sprint) tends to take place in the morning, leaving uninterrupted building time for the afternoons.
I have a few scheduled sessions throughout the week with more senior engineers, to ask for technical help, discuss and break down tasks together, or pair. This is always a great way to learn, and I often keep track of questions I come across or concepts I’m struggling to grasp (after trying by myself) for these sessions.
Afternoons are (ideally) uninterrupted time to code, and I usually schedule some time in at the end of the work day to review my colleagues' code.
What was the interview process like for your first developer job?
It was a massive help being able to move internally, so the process was slightly different for me. As the engineering team already knew me, and I had worked with them closely whilst being in customer success, it reduced a lot of the performance anxiety that I may have otherwise had interviewing elsewhere.
I was asked to present my portfolio project, and answer questions on the code from others within the engineering team.
The questions were to ask about why I made certain choices, if I would change, what it would be, and ways I would improve the project with more time.
What are your career goals for the future?
My career goals in the future are to continue to develop my software development skills and knowledge, through reading, building and teaching. I’d love to become more competent in frontend, and round my skills to be more fullstack, and contribute to more open source projects.
I want to grow and continue podcasting, creating technical content and teaching with Glowing in Tech.