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From project management to software development

The conventional route of a science or engineering degree isn’t the only way to become a software engineer. With the tech sector crying out for more people to meet burgeoning demand, businesses are looking to attract talent from other industries. My colleague Julian shared his career-change story on our blog recently, talking about how a major life event was the trigger he needed to take the plunge – and he’s never looked back.

Made redundant, weeks before becoming a parent

My story also happened around one of life’s biggest events: becoming a parent. Just before I was due to go on maternity leave, the tech startup, where I was working as a project manager, made everyone redundant. To say this was a challenging time would be an understatement. I’d done a variety of jobs but had never found a field in which I genuinely felt I’d enjoy building a long career. It felt like I was at a crossroads: I didn’t just want to update my CV and apply for more project manager roles, but equally, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do instead. Questions were flying around in my mind. Would I be able to find a profession I actually enjoyed or was I the problem? How would I manage looking for a whole new career alongside being a parent? What sort of career would give me a semblance of work-life balance?

Could I be a coder?

During my time at the tech startup, I’d watched software development teams working and found myself growing increasingly curious about the field. It looked great from the outside – but what would it actually be like to work in? And could I do it? So in between feeds, nappy changes, power naps, and everything else that comes with looking after a newborn, I signed up to some online teach-yourself-to-code courses. And to my delight, I actually enjoyed them. The challenge was trying to fit learning to code around everything else I needed to do, which meant progress was slow. There was so much to learn, and if I was to get my skills to a level that would enable me to credibly apply for software development jobs, I needed to find a way to speed things along.

I looked at various coding boot camps, including Makers Academy. The course looked great, but with finances, a bit tight, the cost of it put me off. But just as I was giving up hope, I had a stroke of luck: Makers Academy launched an offer where the course was provided for free, and you were guaranteed a job at the end of it. In one fell swoop, this wiped out much of the risk, so I applied and was accepted.

Supportive learning environment

Having eight hours a day of dedicated learning time for three months was transformational. It meant I had the luxury of being able to properly focus on study. And learning in this environment meant I had other career-changers around me, which provided priceless reassurance that I wasn’t crazy to attempt this.In addition, I got involved in some of London’s tech communities. As well as the technical guidance this provided, it gave me the chance to talk to people who had made this kind of career change before. It was further reassurance that what I was doing was genuinely a viable route into a software development career.

Relief

Having secured a role as a software developer off the back of the course, there was still a nagging worry that I wouldn’t enjoy it, and would end up at another career crossroads a few years later. I’m happy (and relieved!) to say that having been in the role for several years now, I can hand-on-heart say I like it. I love being part of innovation that changes sectors for the better, particularly healthcare. The other big factor has been the ability to build a career, while still having plenty of time with my family. At Softwire, we’re not overworked, and bottom-line profits aren’t the only focus, the way they are at some organisations. There isn’t the expectation to get in early, leave late and jump through lots of hoops to progress. There are people here in senior-level positions who have children or other commitments and are still having extremely successful careers that don’t take over their lives.

 Options

The stars aligned at the right time for me, in terms of the free Makers Academy course and job offer, which made it so much easier to commit to making the career change. I realise I was fortunate in that regard, but there are scholarships and other sources of funding out there, while Softwire’s sister business, So if you are considering making the jump from another field into the tech sector, my advice is to go for it, and do so in a way that suits you. For some, that will be self-taught, while others will prefer the full-time training route. Whichever you choose, you’ll hit blocks along the way. You’ll question whether you’re doing the right thing. But perseverance is key: nothing is insurmountable. You’ll get through it, and hopefully, build yourself a career that you find as fulfilling as I do.