I have wanted to share my story for a while, but I didn’t know exactly how to start, or even what name to give it.
But recently I was talking with someone that I met when I was younger (when I was studying biology). A person who, after all these years, I now work with as a web developer. I asked for help with this article, and he gave me this idea for the title. I immediately fell in love with it. Thanks for that! Now I have somewhere to start.
I hope that my story inspires you also to go after what you want.
A year ago exactly, at the age of 30, I started my story within web development. But first things first.
I graduated with a degree in marine biology some years ago. I have a boat driver's license, I’m a SCUBA diver, and I love all things sea-related. But life doesn’t always go the way we expect, and sometimes we have setbacks.
I got in a really serious car accident that made me unable to walk for a long time. I spent two months in a hospital bed and another one at home. When I finally started doing physical therapy to be able to walk again, it wasn’t a process that made me feel healed right away.
For years I had a lot of pain. I was unable to complete certain movements or walk for any length of time. I felt that I was incapable of doing things for myself. And I didn't think I could even try to go after a job related to my field (or at least work outdoors) which was what I really wanted to do.
Then, 2 years ago, I started to think about what else I loved. I always enjoyed making small changes on blogger or tumblr, inserting scripts, and so on. So, I researched courses related to something like that. After a lot of investigation and conversations with people in tech, I finally decided to attend a Web Design course.
How I decided on a course
I chose a course after talking with several people in tech. It’s important to get opinions and tips from people who have been in similar jobs for several years. I talked with a developer, a graphic designer, and people whom I find interesting on LinkedIn. This phase was very important in helping me decide what I wanted to do.
I took the Web Design course at the Lisbon School of Design. A friend recommended it for design-related certifications. I ended up realizing that the creative part was the one that I liked most, and not the marketing or publicity areas.
The course covered a lot. Here are some of the topics we learned about:
- how to conduct a good briefing
- how to organize ideas
- all about UX and UI
- web design tools and concepts
- how to deliver a full website design and its prototype
- digital marketing.
The course ran from October 2017 until July 2018. I was working part-time in a store and half of my wages went towards paying for the course every month.
After I finished the course I kept on studying, focusing on front end development. I even reduced my working hours, because I was very committed to studying. I told myself that I was going to change careers that year. My only focus became that main goal. No distractions, no “but this” or “but that”.
Not everything was easy
Throughout the process I had two major problems. One was at home. My dad never believed that taking a professional course instead of getting a university degree was a serious path. He always said that it was just a way that some companies steal money from people like me – people who believed that they could change careers like this.
The course was very expensive, and I had neither help nor a kind word from him. In fact, it was the opposite. But I believed in myself and I signed up for it anyway.
The second problem was that in the beginning, during the Web Design component, we had to use a lot Photoshop and Adobe Creative in order to create the design for our website and logo. Everyone else seemed to have some knowledge about these design tools already, and it was easy for them to start making things appear. For me it took more time, and I felt a little dumb.
I started to watch tutorials at home to keep up with the course. Sometimes I felt that I wouldn’t make it and that, maybe, my dad was right. But after those moments of uncertainty, there were also moments in which I accomplished new things and I felt very proud of myself. So, I kept going.
The job hunting process
After I finished the course, I immediately started to search for front end jobs, because it was the part of the course that I loved the most.
The first thing that I did was update my LinkedIn profile. I changed my title, description, added the course and the skills I had learned. Then I changed my settings so recruiters would know that I was available for job offers. I also started to add more people from different companies that I found interesting. Finally, I created a list of companies that I wanted to work for and sent emails with my updated CV (I created one in Photoshop and saved that as a PDF).
I went to two interviews in the two weeks after I updated my LinkedIn profile, but they weren’t quite what I was searching for. But I went anyway to practice my interview skills. Meanwhile I started to code my own portfolio and hosted it in GitHub. I think this is very important for someone who codes.
While I was researching companies to work for, I found that a friend of mine worked for a consultancy. I asked her if they needed front end developers and she said yes. She asked me for my CV so she could share it internally. A week later I was called in for an interview.
On the day of the interview, after waiting a short while, a really nice lady (that would become my manager) introduced herself and took me to a meeting room. There I was introduced to a Business Manager and to a Senior Front End developer. They asked me several questions about my journey that year along with some technical questions.
I didn’t know much about the huge coding world at that time, but I showed a lot of interest in learning and evolving. They liked my dedication and commitment to changing careers more than my knowledge. A week later the company called me back with the good news: I had gotten the job!
And so that's how I got my first tech job. I couldn’t believe it – I was so happy. Just two months after I finished my course. I wasn’t expecting it.
Top tip: Networking in this field is extremely important. Both of my jobs were obtained through networking.
When you have the opportunity to go to a technology event, don’t miss it. Talk with people. Ask questions. Show an interest in what they do or their jobs. Exchange contact details.
Starting My First Job
When I got my first job offer it felt almost unreal. I only believed it after I was seated at my desk. At the same time, I felt like I deserved to be where I was and that all the hard work paid off. But I still felt so scared.
One of the first projects that I worked on was creating A/B tests with the marketing team. They had the ideas and I made them come alive.
After that I started to study Vue.js for another project that I was going to be a part of. I was starting to feel that, at this first job, I wasn’t evolving. It wasn’t providing me with the growth I needed to progress my knowledge, most likely because no one with a senior role was supporting me or training me.
The Game-changer: An Invitation
Coincidence or not, a few days earlier, I went to a friend’s birthday party. There, I made some connections and met a great friend who has always believed in me. He invited me to another party where I met the owners of the company of my future job, where I’m working now. I immediately fell in love with the office and the company on that day.
Second job interview
After some time, my new friend asked me to send in my CV. I didn’t have high hopes – I felt that was too good to be true, me working there, as I was such a junior. But I was called in for an interview. First it was just me and a senior front end dev.
The interview went very well. It was more of a technical interview, to help them understand what I knew so far. The interviewer was very easy-going, and he gave me some tips for what I should focus on learning.
After that, I was called in to a second interview with two managers through Skype. It was a little intimidating, as the Surface Hub is big and made me feel very small. Besides that, the interview was in English and I hadn't spoken English daily for years, so I was very rusty. This second interview was more related to teams, how to handle conflicts, soft skills, my personal goals and my intentions.
My Second (and current) Job
I think only one week passed after my interview. But for me it felt like an eternity. Then they called me back saying that the job was mine.
And that was really a dream come true!
Suddenly it seemed that all the effort of taking the course had totally paid off. I joined a team of several developers, with a project that was already very stable and well built. It was a good way to start because I didn’t have to build anything new, just had to made little changes.
This was good because I was able to see the structure of a big project and was introduced to Agile development. Anytime that I needed help, I also had a senior frontend developer close to me, which was amazing.
After a while I was asked to change projects. I went to a less well-organized project, by myself (although we are not ever really by ourselves. Anytime we need help, there is always someone available).
This was actually great, because it allowed me to develop my soft skills. I had to have a closer connection with the client in order to find solutions or ideas for new things. I even had to make use of my Web Design and UX knowledge in this project. It was nice to be able to present several ideas to the client so we could come up with the best result. That was amazing and helped me get out of my shell.
What I'm doing now
After a while I was asked to change projects again, and I'm currently working on this new project. This time, I have to build things from the beginning – not only the project structure but also new features.
I’m part of a great team and I have a lot of cool colleagues. I am growing and learning a lot, like I always wanted. It started with the styling, the typical CSS(Less/Sass), but now I’m getting more of what I want.
At the same time I am afraid of always trying to do more complex stuff. I also have to take care of content management in the back office/admin area of our application and help with the testing.
What I've learned
Soft skills do matter
It’s important for us to be more than just good developers. When we are in an environment where we work with a lot of different people, it is also important to have events where people can join in.
In this case I found myself to be the perfect match, because I learned that if we want something to happen, we must go for it. So, always when possible, I try to keep up with activities, charity events, and meetings. It’s something that I really enjoy doing, and I'm good at pushing others to do new things, too. I like to show initiative in order to bring new experiences to my colleagues. I try to see myself as a booster.
One thing that I have noticed about myself, coming from another field, was my ability to adapt. When I move from one project to another, when I have to learn something new, when I’m confronted with something unexpected, I am always thinking of ways to overcome those obstacles. Sometimes that means thinking a little outside of the box, or adapting to what I can’t control. But I find that I am able to discover another way.
Another thing that's helped me is the way that I always try to pass positivity on to my colleagues. Soft skills matter a lot when you work with a group of people, as I discussed before. Your mood affects others, and you can always use it in a good way.
Coding has helped my self-growth and confidence
Being able to change careers and accomplish the goal that I established for myself has made me feel more confident. After some months working in the technology sector, I decided to realize one of my dreams: to travel to Japan. And I’m going to travel alone. A big trip, far away from home. Out of my comfort zone. But I feel that I can do it easily now.
There will always be hard moments in our path – things are not easy, and there are times when we feel that we want to quit, or that we are not capable. Those days are just that: days. We shouldn't build our lives around those days. But, rather, we should create the opportunity to have better days. Focus on your goals and never quit.
I’m not comfortable in my work, because coming from a different field makes me feel that I always must work harder or learn more. But the secret is to never let our fears overcome our dreams. Look around and exchange ideas with your friends and colleagues – they can help you a lot in tough moments.
I’m now 31 years old and I’m happy that I didn't give up. I'm glad I decided to search for new challenges, to set goals, and to accomplish them.
Top tip: Take time for yourself. It’s never too late to believe in yourself. Do you have a dream? Then just go for it!