Cracking Code

Recent CodeClan graduates, now thinkWhere developers Heather Malloch and Dafydd Pearson, tell us how they changed career to become coders.

What made you want to change career?

Heather

I’ve had many jobs over the years, mostly in the sport industry…a Ski Instructor in Switzerland, Outdoor Ed instructor in the Lake District, working in shops and an Active Schools Co-ordinator.  I enjoyed all of these greatly but was looking for a new challenge.

I’d been learning to code in my spare time and discovered the constant learning, the challenges, the problem solving and the booming industry all made me too excited about a career in the tech industry not to give it a go!  The seed was planted.  I came across CodeClan, a Digital Skills and Coding Academy, after a friend of mine had done a similar course in London.  After a CodeClan info session and half day of coding, I knew I was going to go through a career change.

Daf

Two and a half years ago I hiked the entire length of New Zealand, over 3000km, and was looking for a new challenge. I came across the website freeCodeCamp and found writing HTML and CSS to be fun, but it didn’t captivate me right away. I reached the Javascript challenges and it was a revelation. Puzzling my way through the challenges, I discovered how, even with a few simple methods, I could creatively solve problems that seemed unfathomable a short while ago.  I was hooked. It was frustrating and difficult at times, but it was also genuinely exciting and rewarding.  I knew from that point on I wanted to delve further into programming.  Through research, I discovered the rewards, challenges, and options that a career in tech could offer me.

I’ve worked as a teaching assistant in South Africa, a film extra, a chef, a nursery school teacher in Japan.  Most recently, I worked in the financial services sector.  However, I never found anything I wanted to pursue as a career until I began coding. In April 2019 I took the plunge, and enrolled in CodeClan’s Professional Software Development course in Glasgow. The intensive 16-week course was fantastic and exactly what I was looking for.  It challenged and pushed me each and every single day, and confirmed for me that a career in tech was the right choice for me.

 

How was the transition from CodeClan to work life?

Heather

CodeClan prepares you well for starting out as a junior developer.  You learn the basics very well and the course is full on, with 8 hour days in the office and hours of homework each night.  I started my position at thinkWhere one week after the course finished so I was raring to go at the same pace as CodeClan.  I learned many transferable skills at CodeClan, but I also had many from previous roles that have helped me fit into the team and kick-start my new career as a software developer.

I knew I would be using different languages and technologies at thinkWhere, but CodeClan showed me how easy it is to pick up a new language once you have learned the concepts. Working at thinkWhere is similar to doing a group project at CodeClan but on a much larger scale.

Daf

I secured a role as a Developer at thinkWhere in September after graduating from CodeClan in August. This unique role has allowed me to combine my newly acquired software development skills with my long-held fascination with maps and cartography.

I feel that CodeClan prepared me very well for working in a professional environment, both in terms of soft and hard skills. The core software development skills I learned have of course been essential – even when using new languages, frameworks and technologies at thinkWhere. The skills I gained at CodeClan were immediately transferable, and I was able to quickly get up to speed and contribute to the team. The daily routine at CodeClan is set up to mirror a professional environment eg. working to agile methodologies, giving product demos, and having a daily stand up. These may seem like fairly simple aspects of the course, but I found them to be incredibly useful in assisting the transition into working life as a developer.

All this isn’t to say it’s been easy!  There’s been a very steep learning curve and I’m challenged on a daily basis. I don’t see this as a bad thing at all, quite the opposite, but it’s important to be realistic about expectations and measuring success.

 

How were your first few weeks at thinkWhere?

Heather

My first few weeks where an awesome but daunting experience.  Not only was I getting to grips with a totally new industry to me, I had to start getting my head around the GIS aspect of the job also.  A very exciting concept as it made my new job even more interesting!

Getting stuck in to the projects and learning by doing was the best way for me to get to grips with the tech stack. I even managed to contribute to the code on my first day!

Everyone at thinkWhere has been so helpful teaching me everything I need to know about GIS and I’ve putting it into practice with all the apps I’ve worked on so far.

Daf

The first few weeks were certainly tough in terms of getting to grips with a brand new tech stack, and learning core GIS knowledge which would be essential for the role. Despite this, the overwhelming sense I had in the first few weeks (and still have!) was excitement and enthusiasm for the work I was doing. I’m fortunate to have found a role with so much hands on work to get stuck into, and real responsibility. Contributing right away has been the best way to learn. Even within the first few weeks I was working on brand new features, and developing new core functionality for our products.  It’s been pretty incredible, and I feel very fortunate.

I was also lucky in my first week at thinkWhere to be able to attend FOSS4G UK, a conference bringing together all those interested in free and open source geospatial software. It was a great introduction to the industry, thinkWhere’s role within the industry, and the exciting future growth of GIS.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference!

 

What’s the best thing about working at thinkWhere?

Heather

The team are awesome!  Everyone is so knowledgeable and helpful, and I’ve learned so much from some amazing minds.  They’ve made me feel part of the team.  I think I have been really lucky becoming part of such a great team at the beginning of my coding career.

The products I work on are so interesting.  I get to do a lot of programming every day which means I’m learning all the time.  I love maps, so the fact I get to work with them every day, and develop GIS applications, is a very good perk to the job.

Daf

There have certainly been plenty of great things about working at thinkWhere.  Working on interesting products which have real momentum behind them, an exciting and forward-looking tech stack, and of course, working with GIS on a daily basis. However, hands down the best thing about working at thinkWhere has been the people.  I’ve had a very warm welcome since joining, and wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have without my colleagues and their guidance. Working within a diverse team of tech and GIS specialists, and being able to draw from those two pools of knowledge is what, I feel, makes thinkWhere unique.

  Daf and Heather – product development with Alastair at thinkWhere

Any advice for someone wanting to change career and get a job in the tech industry?

Heather

I would say go for it! If the thought is already there, and you enjoy problem solving, then what’s stopping you?  There are plenty of online courses out there to try and see if you like it. The course I did gave me the foundations to walk straight into a junior developer role. I didn’t need a computer science degree to get a job, and neither did any of my classmates.

If you’re about to start your first role as a developer, jump in and enjoy yourself. No-one is expecting you to be amazing and know everything to begin with. I’ve yet to meet a developer not willing to help out a junior.

Daf

Go for it! It’s certainly not easy, but if you’re the type of person who enjoys problem solving, and wants to push and challenge themselves, then it could be a great fit. If you’re interested in coding, or want to learn a little more, there are excellent free resources such as freeCodeCamp, or Codecademy to get you started. CodeClan also run open evenings and taster sessions in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness on a regular basis.

The journey of retraining as a software developer, and changing career over the past year has been transformational for me personally.  I’m genuinely excited for what’s ahead in the years to come as I continue to grow into my role at thinkWhere, and continue to develop my skills.

 

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