How I shifted careers after a coding bootcamp and became a developer

Today’s careers are not always straightforward and it is getting more common to change your mind about what you want to do for a living. Yet, if someone had told me a couple of years ago that I would be a developer today, I wouldn’t have believed them.

How I eventually got into coding

I have always been into design and love all the creative ways to express myself online. However, back in my high school years, the technical side of building a website didn’t spark my interest all too much. So when it was time to decide what to do after school, I didn’t consider pursuing a computer science or media related degree. Instead, I followed my interest for the French language and culture and went to France to do a business degree and get some work experience.

My first job after university was as an ecommerce manager where I found myself working with a group of female devs. Today I think it’s a pity I only then started to be interested in programming, but the women I worked with made coding more accessible to me. I was inspired by them and when I learned some basic HTML and CSS through them, I was hooked. I digged deeper into coding online courses and did an evening class in basic web development. What I liked so much about it is the creative task of designing and building a UI, combined with the challenges of logical problem solving. I saw that I can figure things out and don’t need to be scared of it being extremely complicated, dry, or boring. However, at the time I didn’t think I could work as a developer and playing around with code stayed more of a hobby for me.

Taking the leap

But after some more years working in product owner roles, I came across a coding bootcamp in Hamburg. There are quite a few programming bootcamps out there, most of them offering a web development training in three months. I was familiar with the concept but wasn’t quite sure how valuable it could actually be, given its short length. That bootcamp I stumbled upon however convinced me with small learning groups, experienced teachers, a very close to reality curriculum, collaborations with local companies, and a thorough student selection process.

So after I passed their selection process, I decided to leave my job and do the programming bootcamp. For me it was a test: If I finished the bootcamp successfully and was still keen on web development, I would take the leap and work as a dev. If not, then I would at least gain some technical knowledge, which would still be helpful as a product owner.

The coding bootcamp was very much focused on frontend development with modern Vanilla JavaScript and React as the JavaScript library of choice. In order to be able to give a good overview of the taught tech stack in just three months, we concentrated on the latest and most modern syntax: We learned more about JavaScript ES6 and later versions as well as React functional components and hooks, than about React lifecycle methods and class components for example. Similarly, HTML and CSS were part of the bootcamp, but prior knowledge about the basics was expected, so that the course could focus more on the importance and best-practices of semantic HTML and the newest additions to CSS such as grid and flexbox.

It was a crazy three-months period with most waking hours spent programming and learning about web development, in a speed which could at times feel overwhelming but also in a very supportive atmosphere which made it fun and motivating. After two months of theory and hands-on practice via pair programming and in smaller group projects (using the shell, Git, and GitHub from day one), the last month was reserved for each student’s final project - the development of a complete progressive web app.

First steps as a developer newbie

I finished the bootcamp excited to start working as a developer, when COVID-19 hit Europe and forced us into a first lockdown. 😅

Luckily, many companies were still recruiting despite the insecure situation, with ePages being one of them. I passed ePages’ recruiting process and was impressed by the positive and supportive atmosphere among developers during my trial day. I joined team Crimson, a frontend team at ePages consisting of designers, JavaScript engineers, and QA engineers. We are using nearly the same tech stack and modern technologies as in the bootcamp, which made my start not too hard. Still, there were of course many challenges, such as finding my way around a code base much larger than anything I had worked with before and familiarizing myself with Redux and TypeScript for example, which I hadn’t used until then.

It has been nearly nine months now that I’m working at ePages and I’m as exited about web development as ever. I have learned a lot but there are still many things to discover, I want to gain more speed in developing, and learn about general computer science and software architecture principles for example.

Here is some advice for people thinking about switching to development and for teams working with a bootcamp graduate:

What I learned along the way

For career changers:

  • When I applied for dev positions, I was worried about how I would be perceived by experienced developers. Would I be ridiculed or be perceived as a „wannabe“ dev? But it turned out most companies were genuinely interested and open. Make sure to properly show the skills you gained so far and your motivation to further learn and evolve. Don’t underestimate the fact that you have learned some of the latest technologies which could be very helpful. Sometimes you might have some valuable knowledge about a framework, library, or tool that a company is looking to switch to and is only just familiarizing itself with. Also, think about what else you can bring to the team. Your individual background and experiences from past jobs in another field as well as a fresh perspective that you might have can also be valuable.
  • Try to proactively contribute to a good onboarding experience: Ask many questions and go through available documentation of the code base. During the job interview or trial day, make sure to understand what the tech stack is. If there are things that you are not familiar with yet, you could use the time before your first day to dive into them (Redux and TypeScript in my case).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It allows you to progress faster. It serves no one if you „hide“ and desperately try to figure out everything by yourself. Just make sure to spend a minimum of time on a problem by yourself first, to be able to approach your colleagues with meaningful questions.
  • Tenacity is key, don’t give up if you don’t understand anything when seeing it for the first time. It will become familiar and you will eventually understand it if you keep going (something that one learns quickly in a bootcamp too 😉).
  • Do as many code reviews as possible. This way you learn from your colleagues’ code and get to know the code base. You might not always be able to give your more experienced colleagues suggestions on how to improve their code, but you could also ask questions about parts which you don’t yet understand.

For companies and dev teams:

  • Bootcamp graduates might not have the same, broad theoretical background knowledge as computer science graduates. But the skills and knowledge that they have are hands-on and modern. Also, they are usually passionate and curious about coding and very keen on further developing their skills. They have after all proven a lot of motivation and perseverance by finishing the bootcamp.
  • Knowledge transfer and supportiveness is key. At ePages, we have an onboarding plan for new developers, regular knowledge sharing sessions, and do pair programming when a dev is stuck with a task.
  • Giving feedback early on and checking-in with the new dev helps to identify gaps. For every new employee at ePages, we do a feedback session after 100 days in the company, allowing to exchange feedback in a constructive way and secure environment.
  • Some knowledge gaps might be a bit too large to bridge during the day-to-day work. It could be helpful to provide some time and budget for further training. ePages provides a budget for developers to spend on conferences, training, or the like.

Also without coding bootcamps, there are successful self-taught web developers who don’t have a dedicated degree or training. A short bootcamp cannot be compared to a traditional computer science degree but it is a great way for a career changer to quickly get up to speed when learning to code. It gives you guidance in the jungle of ever-evolving web technologies and provides you with a good level of practical knowledge to start working as a junior developer. I think it is a great springboard into the world of programming, but it can only be the starting point for a journey of continuous learning and development.

About the author

Carina Menke is a JavaScript Engineer who is passionate about frontend development as well as design. She loves learning coding languages just as much as foreign languages.