Here at Coder Academy, many of our students are career changers. They have made a deliberate choice to study so that they can become a senior web developer, software engineer, or software developer. For this reason, we take a different approach to software developer training and placement. We want to see our students succeed, and so we ensure they are equipped with job-ready skills and industry contacts in addition to their formally recognised qualifications.
Changing careers may come with unique challenges, but it also presents unique opportunities. Someone who understands this is Joanna Otmianowska, a front end engineer at OLX Group. Joanna’s session at the 2021 WomenTech Global Conference was aptly named, Surprising Skills That Will Make You a Better Software Developer. Joanna covered her own journey to becoming a successful software developer while offering a number of actionable tips for others with varied career experiences.
Joanna has worked in sales, as a bank account manager, as a mystery shopper, and a translator. When Joanna became a software developer, she thought that she could take that previous experience and, “throw it away,” she says; because now her role would be solely focused on her newfound technical skills. As it turned out, Joanna soon found that varied experiences and non-technical skills can help a good programmer to become a better programmer.
Even for those coming straight from high school, there might be the temptation to “throw away” those part-time jobs, hobbies, or volunteer work. You probably don’t think that working as a barista or playing sport on the weekend will help you to succeed in your software developer training and placement. But what if it could?
Surprising Skill No.1 – Listening
You have probably heard that communication and presentation skills will be indispensable soft skills for any software developer. Training and placement programs may even try to teach these vital skills through collaborative team projects and simulated work presentations.
As important as effective communication and presentation skills are, Joanna believes that learning to listen well is even more important.
Whilst working in the sales world, Joanna quickly realised that a good salesperson could sell just about anything to anyone – but that doesn’t mean that they should. Instead, the highest priority should be to listen, and to find out what people truly need.
“Users, customers, stakeholders – they are more important than you, so you have to listen to what they need,” Joanna says. “If you build something only for building, it doesn’t matter. For us as programmers, if no one uses our software, our software is useless… so your goal is to actually understand their needs, and then to build something on that.”
“You think new technologies may be tempting – having literally the newest or the best things in your app, but sometimes this is not the point… so sometimes you have to say, ‘OK, I believe that the best solution will be not to add this feature, because it won’t add anything to the flow’… So be careful… of course, it’s great to use new technologies. But be careful of what needs of your users you try to fulfil here.”
Surprising Skill No.2 – Putting Yourself in Their Shoes
You may not think that working as a mystery shopper would equip you with many skills that are transferrable to a tech role, however, Joanna found that her time as a mystery shopper had truly taught her to put herself in someone else’s shoes.
If you have similar experiences (perhaps from a customer service role) then you might find that this has set you up surprisingly well for your software developer training and placement.
“Things that I found obvious, may not be obvious at all to different people,” Joanna says. “So, when you’re building software, it’s always crucial to remember that you have a different perspective, you have different knowledge. You have to have that knowledge to build the product, but the majority of users that will use your software won’t have this knowledge.
“So, after building something, you always have to step back and think... maybe the feature is too complex, maybe it should be simpler, maybe you have to think about it a little bit.”
Surprising Skill No.3 – Having an Eye for Details
As software developers go through the process of stepping back and refining their code, they need to focus in on the smaller details. However, while undergoing software developer training and placement, you will most likely be taught to focus on the bigger picture. Hiring managers will appreciate a candidate with the proven ability to see projects through from start to finish.
But once you’re on the job, you might find that your previous roles have taught you to look over your own work with a critical eye for details, and this can be a very useful trait.
“This is not crucial, I agree, but it can be really, really helpful,” Joanna says. “Thanks to having an eye for details, you can spot small errors, you can see small improvements that may be needed in your code, but it can also help you with code reviews, for example, so you can see a small tweak that can be done, and thanks to that, the code will be better.”
Joanna went on to explain that she believes it’s important to look out for positive and negative details. While you might catch a small error, you can also search for opportunities.
“You can see some small things to improve. You can see small wins,” Joanna says. “Let’s be honest, a programmer’s job can be really, really frustrating when we’re stuck with something for hours, so seeing a small win may be good for us.
“I know some people say, ‘I just don’t see it. I don’t see those details; I don’t know how it’s done.’ But you can practise it. If you practise it, you can be better at it every day.”
Surprising Skill No.4 – Understanding That It’s Not About You
When you’re undertaking your software developer training and placement you will get used to receiving feedback and being assessed on your work. All of this will help you to grow and develop your skills, but once you are working as a software developer, you will need to learn to create some distance between yourself as an individual and criticisms of your work.
This is where drawing on previous employment experience (rather than your experience of a training environment) can help.
“I used to work in sales, as I mentioned before, but I also worked in a call centre,” Joanna says. “And as you may imagine, sometimes, you have to speak with people that are really angry, that are frustrated, and they just yell at you with no reason. I mean, maybe they have reasons, they have some problem, but you are not this problem.
“And I’ve learnt that I have to cope with this situation somehow, I have to handle it, I have to talk to people, or I just have to actually, sometimes, step away to keep my mind sane. And I believe that this also applies to programming.”
“Because it is not your fault that someone criticises your code, and in a healthy work environment, comments to the code shouldn’t be personal. So, if someone says that he or she would build it differently, that simply means that she or he would build it differently. Part of your job is to actually apply changes, apply suggestions, and engage in discussions, but don’t treat it personally. Your goal is to have a better product.”
“Because it’s not against you, actually - all these comments, these things - they are for you. So just learn, learn from it, and move forward, and the most important thing here to remember is that you are not your code. The code is just your work, something you produce.”
Surprising Skill No.5 – Being a Career Changer with No Strings Attached
Maybe this one is less of a skill and more of a mindset. If you’re someone who has changed careers a lot, as Joanna has, then you may be worried that changing careers to become a software developer will become just another phase.
You’ve taken the time and invested the money to participate in software developer training and placement, so what if you decide on another career change down the track? Joanna’s advice is not to worry about it too much.
“I believe that this is actually the most important thing that we can know, working in the IT industry – that there are actually no strings attached,” Joanna says.
“So, as I said, I changed jobs a lot, and I tried different things, and this really helped me.”
“I learnt the hard way, because for a few years I was studying Hindi language… and then I started talking in India, and nobody could understand me… and I just had to drop everything, basically, maybe not everything, but pretty much the majority of the things I learnt, and I had to learn from scratch. And this is just how life goes.
“So, going back to programming, you can make errors, you can try different things, you can change your mind.”
“Especially in the beginning, you may have this feeling that right now you are choosing the only language, the only programming language that you will use till the end of your life…. You don’t have to pick one thing and stick to it for the rest of your life.”
“Technology today, the technology world is changing so fast, and things easily get outdated, they get useless, or even, you can simply get bored with something, so, you can always change your mind.”
If you’re wondering whether your previous experience could help you when making the transition to a career in tech, then why not speak to one of Coder Academy’s course advisors. You can also register to attend an info session, and learn more about our bootcamp software developer training, and placement opportunities with our well-regarded partner companies through Coder Academy’s internship program.
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