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How to Jumpstart a Career in Coding

Software developer Aylin DeBruyne talks about how she got into a career in coding despite not having prior experience or training.

Aylin DeBruyne

Software Developer, Axio

What inspired you pursue a career in coding?

At the time, I had just come back from a six-month sojourn hiking the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, and I was itching for a new challenge. I have a college degree in psychology and for a time I worked as a counselor at a homeless shelter. But I was looking for a career that would be new, challenging, and, as an avid hiker, offer flexibility to work from afar. In the tech field, I knew that I would be constantly pushed to learn new skills and solve different problems.

Similar to long-distance hiking, software engineering surprises you with frequent obstacles that force you to rethink your original pathway. Sometimes it appears to be an insurmountable barrier; you’ll struggle and try different approaches. If you don’t give up and keep at it, you’ll overcome that challenge. The feeling when you finally reach the other side of a treacherous, icy, turbulent rain-swollen river — or successfully solve a difficult code problem — is pure bliss. It’s a moment to celebrate with your companions. But before long, it’s time to pack up and move on the next adventure ahead. I find a lot of fulfillment in that.

How did you manage the transition from student to tech professional?

I tried to keep an open mind and say the word “yes” often. I took a part-time unpaid internship to gain hands-on experience. I later served at my school as a mentor for a period of time. Mentoring is a great way to learn and to gain confidence in yourself. At the same time, I immersed myself in the tech community. I attended all sorts of meetups to broaden my professional contacts. I went to hiring events and attended meet-and-greets. I increased my online presence by writing technical blog posts. DigitalCrafts, the bootcamp I attended, offered many resources through their career services; I absolutely took advantage of these.

I applied to a number of jobs that I suspected I was under-qualified for, but these occasionally provided me a chance to practice my job interview skills — and partially “inoculate” myself to the sting of rejection! Rejection is not easy. I remained focused, I was persistent, I believed in myself—and I didn’t give up. I made an effort to independently research prospective employers and “cold email” executives introducing myself and asking them a question or two. Sometimes I’d ask if I could meet them for coffee, and sometimes they said yes. It took time, but not really that long; the network and contacts I built eventually started me on my way.

What did you like more about the program you chose?

I loved DigitalCrafts. I still do. They have done some amazing work. I was drawn to them for what I would call their organic, homegrown, “down-to-earth” approach. They took the time to look into what other programs might be lacking and made sure theirs had no such voids. The instructors and staff are friendly and supportive. Students like me who were totally new to computer coding and the tech field are made to feel comfortable. They provided a lot of encouragement. Instructors and students develop a special bond. The entire staff knew your name and took the time to get to know you. I’m not from Atlanta and so I didn’t know many people when I arrived. They made me feel very welcomed, warmly as though part of a family.

The DigitalCrafts program was a month longer than the others I had researched at the time. My instructor was highly qualified and made learning to code so much fun. He is attuned to students’ needs, and like a seasoned hiker, would occasionally adjust the curriculum pathway to enable everyone to keep steadily trekking forward. Very impressive to me as a woman is DigitalCrafts scholarship fund supporting students from underrepresented groups — female, Black and Latinx students — in technology. There has never been a better time to become part of the tech community. The tech industry will be greatly enriched with more diversity.

What advice would you offer someone else who is looking to jumpstart their tech career?

Change is uncomfortable in any circumstance. In tech, change happens constantly. One piece of advice I was given early on was, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Your anxieties about solving a problem will always be worse than reality. Some days may be more difficult than others; that icy, raging river crossing may seem insurmountable. Take a deep breath, collect yourself. You’ll find another way across it. Everything will be okay. Be patient and be kind to yourself. I recommend finding a mentoring or support group.

In my case, I joined Women Who Code, and in that community, I found so many stories similar to mine that gave me the confidence and belief that I’d not only survive but succeed. Remember that change happens — and that’s okay. Nothing is permanent. If you start out somewhere and it isn’t a good fit, it’s perfectly acceptable to take a different trail. Or if you encounter something that isn’t right, stand and speak up; perhaps you can be an agent of needed change — to the appreciation of your bosses and colleagues. There are tremendous opportunities across tech, including starting your own business. Make “embrace growth” your ethos. Lastly, don’t forget to have fun. Celebrate even the tiniest wins. Celebrate the wins of your colleagues and others. As frustrating as the challenges can be at times, always remember that there is a person on the other side of the computer screen. Never lose your human touch. Bring positivity, authenticity, and lightheartedness to your endeavors.

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