Formerly a full-time musician, Paula became interested in coding and learned to code remotely with Makers coding bootcamp in London. Today she is a professional software engineer without a CS degree. In today's interview she talks through her impressive career change aged 30, a day in the life of a developer and how Makers taught her to code.
Hey, so can you give us an introduction for people who want to know more about you?
I’m a backend engineer at BRYTER, working in Kotlin. I am originally from the USA and after an international career as a violinist, at age 30 I went to Makers and learned to code! I now live in Cambridge, UK but have also lived in London and Liverpool (in the UK) and Massachusetts and Michigan in the USA. When not coding, I still play the violin quite a lot, I do Yoga with Adriene, I solve (and occasionally set) cryptic crosswords with my partner, and I spend a lot of time with our Cockapoo.
What does a typical day as a software developer at Bryter look like for you?
We have a pretty flexible schedule and few meetings, so I have a lot of time to code, which is lovely! Currently I’m working on a feature involving tables in Microsoft Word, so I’m spending time thinking about all the automated test cases I can throw at it, and also developing a presentation on parameterised testing for the rest of the team. BRYTER has a great remote-first culture, and we are encouraged to spend time having virtual 1:1s as well as a company-wide video call each morning.
Obviously working in tech is a big career change from being a full-time musician. Why are you interested in coding and what were your first steps in learning programming?
Well, to be honest, the first thing that interested me was I wanted a stable career and a good salary, and a job that I could do from anywhere in the world! Then I started coding and realised I love the challenge of solving problems. It’s a wonderful mixture of creativity and logic that is similarly disciplined to playing a musical instrument.
I started out with CodeAcademy’s Ruby course, which was a really good introduction. Ruby is a wonderful language to start with as the syntax is very readable and the community is incredibly friendly. Makers requires you to learn some code for their interview, so completing those steps was a really good first learning experience for me!
What attracted you to do the Makers coding bootcamp?
I heard about Makers because I knew someone who went there, which made it real for me. Then the more I found out about their teaching style - best practices like TDD (test driven development) and XP (extreme programming) and the atmosphere of emotional intelligence, the more I knew it was the right place for me. Plus they have a great careers team, and getting a job is what it’s all about, right? I was so nervous about getting in when I applied - I knew a lot of people were applying to go there and I was so excited when I found out I got in!
I see you choose the remote option for learning at Makers. What was it like learning to code remotely?
I loved it. I function much better working from home - offices are loud and bright, and I get drained much more quickly. We had a really strong connection with virtual drinks, games, and ad hoc chats so I never felt like I missed out on a social experience - and bed was only a few steps away! Plus without having to spend time commuting, I was able to go for walks every morning around my neighbourhood and I had a meditation buddy during the course as well.
Studying remotely also set me up really well for my first job, which was 80% remote. Knowing how to create remote community is a really critical skill to a successful remote working experience, and given that I didn’t live in London (and didn’t want to!) I knew I had to find a remote job.
What were the best parts of the Makers programme for you?
I went to Makers at a rough time in my life - I’d recently been diagnosed with depression and was facing a massive upheaval in my career and identity. Makers was such a supportive and encouraging environment - it would have been worth it to go there even if I hadn’t learned to code and got a job.
Dana the Chief Joy Officer was absolutely fantastic at two critical moments in the course for me: one after the first weekend challenge, where I was totally disheartened and convinced I didn’t have what it took to be a developer, and one later on in the course when there were some difficult family issues that were impeding my progress. Makers expect a lot from their students, but they also give you the support needed to achieve great things.
Can you tell me how you got your first job after completing the Makers bootcamp?
1. Attend Makers hiring fair.
2. Interview with one of their hiring partners.
3. Receive job offer 1 week after graduating.
There was definitely some luck that the right job came around for me at that time, but I’d put in a lot of hard work and was really well supported by the Makers careers team.
How has your life changed since becoming a programmer?
I’ve met so many interesting people! Programming conferences and of course the workplace are wonderful opportunities to meet interesting folks. Financially I’m so much better off (I have a pension - top tip, if you’re late to the pension game, start contributing lots of your salary to your pension via salary sacrifice!!).
I know that you did the Makers course remotely from Cambridge. Did you get to hit the gong when you got hired? (Another Makers graduate, Debora Piu, told me about that ceremony in her interview).
I did! I met up with another Maker from my cohort and we gonged and then had a celebratory drink 😀 It’s a wonderful way to signal the start of a great new journey.
What are your career goals for the future?
Oh goodness, there are way too many exciting things out there - being able to work in any industry is one of the best things about being a dev. I’m especially interested in automation of tests / processes and in writing code that’s art, not just a bunch of words strung together.
I don’t see myself as an engineering manager (that’s a very different career path than an engineer), more of an individual contributor who eventually gets more and more senior and experienced. I love teaching, so I could see teaching code being in my future at some point. I’ve also recently founded a small (but growing) community of professional musicians who are learning to code so I do a lot of mentoring there. And NASA has some cool jobs going some time so might end up there…!
Thanks for the interview!
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