It’s Never Too Late to Pivot

My Journey to Becoming a Software Developer

Unlike the iconic scene from Friends, I’m not referring to furniture, but rather a career pivot.

Pivoting careers and my path to becoming a programmer was neither straightforward nor easy. Like many with a similar background, growing up in an immigrant household didn’t really lend itself to very many options on the career front. My choices were basically limited to being a doctor or being a doctor; at least that’s how it seemed to me. So, from a young age I started accumulating all of the accolades and distinctions that would hopefully make me stand out amongst everyone else. I participated in extracurriculars and took almost every advanced course my school offered. I volunteered, shadowed, and studied. As I advanced to medical school and things got harder, I tried to tough it out. Not being a good test-taker was a real disadvantage since this was the primary method of determining who made it and who did not. It didn’t help that one of the board exams was eight hours long with limited breaks, which I tried tackling more than once to no avail.

I was at a crossroads. I wasn’t sure how to move forward since passing the medical board exam was the only way to continue. It was a difficult decision to even think about pursuing another career, but I knew I needed to get myself out of this cycle. I knew I wasn’t reaching my full potential and that I was capable of doing so much more.

I looked into different career paths, and I became increasingly aware of how technology is integrated into virtually every aspect of our daily lives. A lot of soul searching, research, and Googling followed. This research included a self-assessment that highlighted my strengths — I was a critical and logical thinker and a problem solver. So, I decided to try programming. It seemed like the skills I would gain by venturing into the tech sphere would open a whole new world of opportunities for me.

So now that I knew I wanted to pursue programming, where do I start? Luckily, my brother went through a coding bootcamp, Tech Elevator, and came out on the other side with a fulfilling job. I knew it could be done if I put in the time and effort. Watching my brother go through Tech Elevator made me realize why it’s called a bootcamp; it’s intense and you are basically doing something programming-related 24/7 for 14 weeks.

I enrolled in Tech Elevator and decided to “trust the process,” which is what the instructors loved to remind us of every time they could sense the stress starting to get the better of us. My cohort mainly consisted of students who, like me, were at a point in their lives where they were looking for a career path other than the one they were on. From bartenders to EMTs to grocery store managers, we all were in the same place and hoping to make a better life for ourselves.

A couple months into the bootcamp, the pandemic started. So now not only did I have to continue learning a whole new skill, but I would have to do it from home and away from my instructors and peers who I grew to rely on. The transition to learning virtually was initially difficult. Everyone was figuring out things as they go, so at least I knew we were all going through the same thing. Luckily, my amazing instructors were available at all hours for any help we needed. When it came time to do virtual interviews, I came to appreciate the perks of being in the comfort of my home.

I was fortunate that AWH saw potential in me, a new bootcamp graduate, and decided to take a chance on my career. At a scary time when people were being laid off, I was just embarking on this new transition.

Surviving the bootcamp taught me many important lessons that I’ve carried with me to my first programming job.

  • You can’t know everything. Coming from a competitive medical background, it was hard for me to admit when I didn’t know something because I saw it as a sign of weakness. Technical proficiency develops over time. Even senior developers must turn to Google every now and then.
  • Ask for help. I learned it is encouraged to ask for help and that it is essential to being a successful developer. I’m still working on this but being part of a welcoming, non-judgmental, and team-oriented group has definitely made it easier to speak up.
  • Time management is crucial. This is especially true working in a consulting company since our clients expect us to deliver in a timely manner. I’ve learned that timeboxing can be very helpful when I’m stuck. After trying to figure out something myself and using the available resources, I ask for help so I can solve the current problem and move on. I am getting better at predicting how long a task will take and that will certainly improve with experience.

Starting my first job as a developer remotely wasn’t too difficult since I was fresh from completing the last part of my bootcamp virtually. When necessary, I have been able to Zoom with my mentor about any questions that arose, whether it was about a task I was working on or a concept I didn’t understand. This availability really helped smooth the transition. Since I’m not able to see my co-workers when I get up to grab a snack or get some water, I have tried to come out of my comfort zone and participate more in our virtual lunches and gatherings.

I have grown a lot in the last year, as a developer and as a person in general. I went way out of my comfort zone and embarked on a new career in which I had no experience. I made it through a 14-week coding bootcamp, got a job in the beginning of the pandemic, and am a better developer than I was a year ago. I’m thankful for the support of both my own family and my work family at AWH.

-Shabnam Ahmed, Software Developer at AWH. We are helping companies fuel growth through technology.

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