In the Fall of 2019 when I finished my software engineering bootcamp I never would have imagined that it would take almost 2 years for me to land my first job as an actual developer. However, I couldn’t have foreseen the pandemic and my job search colliding and the obstacles I would encounter as companies began putting up hiring freezes for all junior positions. I was fortunate that I had taken on a part-time remote gig with the bootcamp I had attended as a technical coach for their online program. It gave me hope that I’d eventually land a job even if I couldn’t even get a phone screen.
I had friends who slipped into new positions just before the shut down, but I was a few months behind them as I wanted to finish up an acting job that was supposed to go until April 2020. Obviously, that show didn’t go as planned and my job search for engineering positions began in March 2020. I spent about three months doing interview prep, working with my career coach, and keeping track of every person I’d messaged on LinkedIn in a spreadsheet. I reached out to friends in the industry to see if I could chat with them about their roles and try to get as much advice as I could for how to land my first job.
I realized that an engineering job may not be in my immediate future and began to look for alternative roles in tech. I spent my days googling “what is a solutions engineer,” “what do developer advocates do,” “non-technical roles for people with technical backgrounds and great soft skills.” As a former actor, I figured if I could combine my expertise in collaboration and empathy with my new engineering skills there ought to be some job that would want to hire me. I ended up getting an interview at a startup for a customer success position. It was the only interview I got and I managed to charm my way through the process and land myself the role.
I underestimated the amount of customer service this role would entail and found myself stressed beyond belief to try and answer a million emails before the end of the day. I discovered that having good people skills does not necessarily translate to loving a battle with customers over why they were charged for something that they bought. The role did, however, give me an opportunity to educate our users through live demos about the product and as a former teacher, I enjoyed this part of the role. I was also part of a product expert team that spent a lot of time debugging and digging into the more technical components of the app.
After about a year as a success associate, I started to see my friends who had recently begun their coding journeys (after my own) start to get jobs as entry level engineers. I decided it was time to get back out there and brush up my programming skills and start interviewing again. What a difference a year made. While I hadn’t worked as an engineer, having a year in tech under my belt definitely gave me a leg up during the process. I would speak about the technical and educational aspects of my role and how knowing how to code leant itself to learning the product better and being able to communicate the intricacies of how it worked to our customers. But also that my true love was in programming and I was ready to dive into my first dev role.
Fortunately, in the summer of 2021 I landed my first role as a junior engineer and haven’t looked back. It’s been almost a year and half and I’ve already been promoted into mid-level dev status and received a sizable raise. Not to say my decision to move into tech was all about the benjamins, but I still can’t believe how quickly one can climb the ladder in this field. When I was working on Broadway, the only movement in my paycheck year over year was the required (small) pay increase that the union mandated. There was no way to get a promotion unless you were lucky enough to be moved up to a lead role and that happens pretty rarely in long running Broadway shows that would prefer to bring in big names to headline rather than promote from within.
Leaving a Broadway show and going to another show is also not an easy move since there are too many actors and not enough roles. Engineering is the complete opposite. Engineers will job-hop to receive massive pay increases because once you’re a mid-level dev, you become unbelievably more valuable and the job market opens its arms to you. Recruiters reach out on a daily basis, and it can start to feel like being at a company for longer than a year isn’t a great financial move.
I battle with whether or not I should be out there interviewing, but I’ve been fortunate to land at a great company with excellent mentorship and lots of great benefits that I’d prefer to hang around. I really enjoy the work my team does and I also enjoy the people I work with, which from what I’ve heard, can be pretty rare in tech depending on the company’s culture. I’ve found, having space to grow, especially at such an early stage in my career, is more valuable than chasing a paycheck for now. And to sweeten the deal, I get to work entirely remote which lets me and my husband (who also works remote) travel as much as we want and enjoy our life however we want. The health insurance and 401k are pretty nice too.
The main thing I’ve learned throughout my journey into tech is to not be afraid to pivot if need be and never stop learning and growing. I could have easily spent a year interviewing and hoping to land my first job as an engineer, but there was a lot of value in getting a different job in the field I wanted to be in and continue to grow my skills. I think it made me a better candidate a year later and the skills that I gained from working on the customer side of tech has made me a more empathetic engineer.
My advice to bootcamp grads as we are seeing lots of tech layoffs is that there are more jobs available than you think. If you aren’t seeing your dream role, try to think about the other skills you have that can help you get your foot in the door. Your first role doesn’t have to be your forever role and most people don’t get their dream roles right out of the gate. Each opportunity is a chance to build your network in a new field and to grow your skill set. Good luck, you got this!