September 27, 2023 — 13 min read
How Jess Went From a Primary School Teacher to a Software Developer
Jess is a FrontEnd developer that went from teaching at a primary school to a software developer through a coding bootcamp
Hi everyone, I'm Jess, a Junior Software Engineer working for Sky Betting & Gaming. I changed careers at the start of 2023 from teaching, where I worked as a Primary Teacher for 5 years. In my new role, I mostly work on front-end development, using mainly React and Typescript.
How did it feel to transition from a completely different career like primary school teaching to the tech industry? What was the biggest challenge you faced?
It was quite daunting at first. Not only was I new to the job, but also completely new to the industry and ways of working. It was a huge learning curve, but one I have thoroughly enjoyed. Working from home every day is completely different to being in a busy classroom. It has taken some time to adjust to ways of communicating with my team remotely and not being able to just ask a colleague a question in person. Although it has had its challenges, the transition to working in tech has been worth it. I love the freedom it has given me and the possibilities for learning and progressing are exciting.
Do you feel your background in education provided you with a unique perspective or skills beneficial to your current role?
Absolutely. Communication is so important in education and you are constantly having to talk or present to a wide range of people. This has given me an an advantage in my new role as I can communicate effectively with my team and have the ability to articulate specific problems that I need help with, in a way that is easy to understand.
Teaching also required me to have high levels of organisation, which I have found to be useful in my new role as I am responsible for planning my own day based around tickets I’m working on, meetings and other commitments in my calendar.
One of the biggest challenges I faced in my journey was trying to balance the demands of my full time teaching job whilst learning to code in the evenings. The CFG Degree was Monday - Thursday 6.30-8.30pm for 14 weeks. It was exhausting coming in from a hectic day at work and then having to give my full attention to the lessons. I had to set aside further time in the evenings and weekends for revision, homework and group project work, due to the fact I was so busy during the day when the rest of my group had time to work on it.
To avoid burnout, I always tried to give myself at least 30 minutes at the end of a night to unwind with a book and treated myself to a couple of hours at a weekend to do something for myself.
It was tough giving up my free time but I just kept reminding myself it was only short term. The thought of a potential job offer at the end of the degree, and knowing my days in teaching were numbered, really helped me push through to the finish line.
What misconceptions do you think people have about transitioning into tech from a non-traditional background?
I think it can be quite an intimidating industry if you’ve never had any experience or know anyone who works in tech, especially as a woman. I always perceived tech as an industry where men worked, purely because I didn’t know any women in tech at that time. I believed that you had to be amazing at science and maths or have a computer science degree. I had neither of those things going for me, but I still found it was possible to learn to code.
It definitely helps if you are mathematically minded, but it isn’t essential for you to succeed. Some of the best developers I have met on my journey so far have come from a non-traditional or self-taught background. If you have an interest and are committed to learning, anything is possible.
I was quite fortunate in that my company interviewed me before I had actually learned to code. They were interviewing me with the intention to sponsor my place on the bootcamp, if I was successful. The interview was based around whether I would be a good fit with the team, how my values aligned with theirs and why I was passionate about getting into tech. This gave me an opportunity to showcase my existing people skills, creativity and drive to succeed in tech. I prepared for this by ensuring I had high quality real life examples of how I demonstrated the skill or quality I was referring to in my answers. I didn’t read from a script as I wanted to sound natural and build rapport with the interviewers, rather than sounding too robotic.
If I had to prepare for a technical assessment as part of an interview in future, I would use platforms like HackerRank, LeetCode and CodeWars. Your ability to solve real problems is a huge focus of the interview for many companies, so practising regularly on sites like these will ensure you are well prepared.
As a remote worker, I open my laptop around 8.30am and catch up on any emails, slack messages or updates to tickets I have been working on. My team stand up is at 9.15am each morning, this is where we run through our Jira board and provide updates for any tickets we are working on and move them across the board. The rest of the day can vary from working on tickets (pairing on more complex ones), releasing my work to live through our release pipeline, spending time on L&D courses or attending larger company meetings. I always make sure to take regular short breaks and an hours lunch break to go for a walk to ensure I am not spending too much time at my desk. My day finishes between 4-5pm depending on when I started. With no commute or additional work to worry about in the evenings, I have so much more of a work-life balance than I ever did in teaching.
For those looking to transition into tech without a traditional tech background, what advice would you offer?
Go for it! I have a lot of people that message me saying “I don’t know if I’ll be good at coding” or “what if it’s not for me?” - my advice is always that you won’t know until you try. You don’t need to spend thousands on a bootcamp to learn to code. There are So many free resources out there to get you started.
Start small with a YouTube tutorial on something simple like html and css, see if you enjoy it and go from there. YouTube, Udemy, CodeAcademy, Scrimba, HackerRank, FreeCodeCamp, Code First Girls (and many more) all have an abundance of free courses and content that you can access. Set aside some time each day to learn, start small and don’t be afraid to reach out to others in the tech community for help.
I find that LinkedIn is usually a good source to stay up to date with new trends and technologies. Follow and interact with people and organisations that interest and inspire you to ensure your feed stays up to date with the latest content from them. I also subscribe to some tech newsletters like TDLR, as I find this a quick and easy way to have fresh tech content delivered to my inbox.
This is definitely something I struggle with at times. Moving into tech from a non-tech background can be challenging. There is so much to learn and things are constantly evolving - it can feel like you will never truly ‘master’ the title you’ve been given and a sense of worry that someone is going to try and ‘catch you out’ with something you don’t know can creep in. I have never experienced this happening in my tech journey so far, everyone has been so kind and extremely helpful, but I still give myself a hard time sometimes for not learning quick enough or try to compare myself to others progress, which really isn’t helpful.
Having a good support network around you really helps on the days where you feel like this. I am very lucky that I have a group of other women working in tech that I can reach out to for reassurance or just to rant if something hasn’t gone to plan. Celebrating small steps and milestones also helps to remind me how far I’ve come in my tech journey, I often have to remind myself “this time last year you were teaching 5 year olds in a classroom”.
How do you balance your work responsibilities with personal time, especially considering the fast-paced nature of tech?
Compared with the dreadful work-life balance I had in teaching, I find that working in tech has given me back so much of my personal time. I am very luck to work for a company who heavily promote a healthy work-life balance and do not expect you to work (unless being paid for overtime for a specific reason) outwith working hours.
In teaching, I used to have to bring home piles of jotters to mark at night and was constantly going to the shop to buy resources for lessons in my own time. Now when I shut my laptop at 4/5pm, I don’t think about work again until the next morning. This has given me the opportunity to explore new hobbies and interests, see more of friends and family and take time for myself to relax and unwind.
I think it is important to set boundaries for yourself, whether that is in tech or teaching, as giving up your personal time for work can lead to burnout.
It can be easy to fall into the habit of just following YouTube tutorials and not actually using what you have learned to consolidate it. Spending more time building projects with what I learned would also be something I’d focus more on if I was to do it differently.
Lastly, could you share what the future holds for you? Are there any exciting projects or learning opportunities on the horizon?
I am hoping to continue to learn and progress in my role as a Junior SWE at Sky Betting and Gaming. I’m looking forward to getting involved with a big project that is kicking off in January 2024 - I think it will be an invaluable experience to see a project this size run from the beginning and be involved throughout the full process.
Outside of work, I am excited to get more involved with charities and organisations which help get young people into tech. I’ve recently signed up as a STEM ambassador and am looking forward to getting out into schools (not as a teacher this time!) to deliver sessions to get kids excited about tech. I wish I had known more about jobs in tech when I was at school, so I am passionate about using my position now as a tech role model to give back to the community in any way I can!
I’m also hoping to continue making content on my Instagram page @teacher2coder, as it feels so worthwhile knowing there are so many out there who have been inspired by my journey and it has given them the confidence to start learning.
Huge thanks to Jess for making the time to share her experience. Be sure to follow her on Instagram @teacher2coder. If you enjoyed this article then you'll surely enjoy the newsletter. If you haven't already, consider dropping your email so you don't miss out on the latest news in the world of programming.
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