I got to interview a political analyst who resigned from her job and changed her career to a software engineer. Enjoy reading!

Please introduce yourself

Hi, I’m Jing, a political analyst turned software engineer. I resigned from my previous role in January 2020 and received my first job offer in July 2020. Now I am a software engineer at Klarna and part of a team that is working on a new feature for the Klarna app.

What was your background before learning to code?

Before learning how to code, I was a political and security risk analyst at a global risk management consultancy in London. Prior to that, I spent some time in Beijing, working as a consultant for a German development organisation and in government relations at an international think tank. I have a bachelor’s degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics and a master’s degree in Global Governance and Diplomacy.

What got you interested in coding and how did you learn to code?

My interest in coding developed gradually when I was living in Beijing and surrounded by a vibrant tech community. As a consultant at the German development organisation, I was working on a Sino-German project related to Industry 4.0. Although my role itself didn’t have anything to do with coding, there was a heavy focus on Chinese tech policy and new technologies. All the discussions around Industry 4.0 made me realise how little technical knowledge I actually had and how important new technologies were becoming.

At the same time, I was attending a variety of events outside of work and met quite a lot of people working in tech. Among the speakers I listened to during my time in China, one stood out in particular. She is an entrepreneur and neuro-artist but has also taught herself how to code. Her talk made me realise that people can actually wear many hats in their career, and that it is possible to teach yourself how to code. It might sound obvious now, but back then I had been so focused on one career path that it had somehow slipped my mind.

Not long after I joined a 30-day challenge of learning how to code. I used Codecademy, but a fellow learner was following The Odin Project. I paused my coding journey when I moved back to Europe, because I wasn’t sure which path I wanted to take. But after another year of working in politics, I eventually resigned, moved back home and taught myself how to code. This time, I focused on The Odin Project. The whole journey was a bit more complicated than that, but I’ve already written an article on that, with more details about my approach.

How did you get your first job in tech?

Mainly through talking to people. Because of the pandemic, I couldn’t really go anywhere, so I joined a lot of online communities early on. Even before I was actively looking for a job, I reached out to people on different platforms to find out more about the field and the roles they were in. At the same time, I kept an eye out for suitable roles on LinkedIn and in the jobs channels of Slack groups I was part of. There are not a lot of positions I formally applied for, because I didn’t feel ready for it. But some of the conversations I had eventually turned into job opportunities.

The role I am currently in was also advertised in a slack group. I reached out to the person who posted it to ask whether they would also consider self-taught people. We had an initial chat shortly after, and then I went through the rest of the application process, which consisted of a logic test, some coding challenges, a technical interview and a behavioural interview.

How did you prepare for an interview?

I didn’t have a proper plan, but practiced coding challenges on Codewars on and off early on, and for a period of time every day. I also did that with a friend a couple of times, so I could get used to coding on the go and explaining my thought process along the way. Apart from that, I reviewed key concepts in JavaScript and went over some common interview questions that I found online.

Any obstacles that you have to overcome in learning coding?

I think the biggest challenge was basically believing in myself and keeping myself motivated. Being unemployed during a pandemic and stuck at home, it is easy to question yourself. And I don’t think the people around me really knew what I was doing, nor did I always feel like I knew myself. At first, I tried to stick to a set schedule and watched a lot of tutorials, but that didn’t really work for me. So I eventually adopted a more project-focused approach. I built projects from scratch and looked things up when necessary. I also coded when I felt like it and took a break when I felt like I needed it. I forced myself less and as a result ended up doing more.

Tips for newbies?

  • Be nice to yourself and share your achievements

Learning how to code is not an easy task and there will be days when you feel frustrated, doubt yourself, and maybe even think about giving up. To stay motivated, it is important to be nice to yourself. Be self-compassionate and treat yourself well. Take breaks when you need them and don’t be too harsh on yourself when it comes to your progress or the mistakes you make. Share and celebrate your achievements instead, no matter how small you think they might be. Looking back it’ll make you realise how far you’ve come.

  • Join a community and talk to people

Joining a community and engaging with others is a nice way to learn and stay motivated. There are lots of people who are learning how to code, and lots of people who are willing to help. Make sure to ask questions and go out and talk to people. I know it’s easier said than done, but becoming comfortable doing this will give you an advantage in life. It shows that you are proactive and not afraid to put yourself out there. It might even lead to your next job. After all, it’s people who choose people to work with, and presenting yourself in person will give others a better idea of your personality. At the end of the day, it’s easier to teach people how to code than to teach them how to become a nicer person.

  • Learn how to think out loud

I think many people tend to underestimate the importance of communication skills when they first start out. Being the best problem solver in the world won’t be of much help when you cannot communicate your thoughts and ideas to others. Because in most cases, you will be working in a team and others will read and review your code. A technical interviewer even told me during my interview that solving the problem was not as important as my approach and the way I communicate it. So in this regard, pair programming and solving coding challenges with another person really helped me the most when preparing for interviews.

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