loading...

How I Became a Software Engineer

alyssaw90 profile image Alyssa Williams ・6 min read

My name is Alyssa Williams. I am a Software Engineer at Microsoft, but that was not what I thought I was going to be when I grew up.

I went to the University of Portland in Portland, OR. It was a small private Catholic university and was predominantly white. When I was choosing a major of college, I looked at Engineering, Computer Science, and Biology (for healthcare careers) because I enjoyed math and science in school. I decided I should go with a Biology degree with an emphasis in pre-physical therapy. I liked helping people, so the healthcare route seemed the best. I chose that major because I didn't want to be the only woman and woman of color in the engineering and math classes. I did not think I was smart enough to take these classes. I lacked confidence in myself. 

After graduating from college, I worked at physical therapy clinics and worked on applying to physical therapy doctorate programs. I applied three times and didn't get in, which sucked. I spent all of this time and money on what I thought I knew was going to be my career, but it wasn't working out. When I finally realized that physical therapy was not for me, I was working at a nursing home in the physical therapy department. Learning more about insurance and dealing with insurance companies made me lose interest. I did not want to become a physical therapist with the way the current healthcare system is structured.

I was no longer sure what I wanted to do when I grew up. I made a plan, but it was not working out. During this time, my boyfriend was working on a tech startup. I enjoyed hearing about what they were working on, how they were building the product, and what technologies they were using. Then my boyfriend suggested I tried learning how to code. Since I was unsure of my next steps in my career, I decided to try it out to see if I even liked coding. I signed up for Codecademy and Treehouse. I started learning HTML and CSS. Then it happened, I became hooked. Every day I got home from work, I would get on my laptop and continue learning.

When I started learning how to code, there were online resources, but not as many as there are today. I needed more in-depth content to continue my journey of learning how to code. I started looking into coding bootcamps. It was around October/November 2014, so coding bootcamps were beginning to pop up in the Seattle area. I researched the available ones and the programs they offered. I was extremely nervous thinking about quitting my job to switch careers and learn how to code. With some coaxing from my boyfriend, I took a leap of faith and applied to the General Assembly Web Development Immersive program. I was ecstatic when I got accepted! I was officially in the very first cohort of the Web Development Immersive (WDI) program in Seattle.

The WDI program was a great experience, but I had my ups and downs. I remember my first two weeks in the program were tough. I wanted to quit. What we were learning wasn't sticking. All I could think about was that I left my job and, but I wasn't getting anything in class. However, then I had a breakthrough, and all of the pieces started to connect.

The journey of learning how to code or learning any new technology contains ups and downs. One day I understood what I was learning, but then the next I would feel like nothing was making sense.

I finished WDI in February 2015. I was nervous and excited to be starting my job search. I was busy networking, studying for interviews, and applying for jobs. I also got the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for the next WDI cohort at General Assembly. Being a TA was a helpful way for me to deepen my understanding of basic coding concepts as I helped other students through their learning process.

I took me about a month and a half to find my first full-time web developer job. I got hired to be a Site Developer at Affirma Consulting. I was excited to start and learn. However, in the end, this job was not the best fit for me. I was doing a lot of SharePoint development, which was not my favorite, and I did not find interesting.

After leaving Affirma Consulting, I was worked part-time, delivering groceries through Instacart while I applied for jobs and studied for interviews. After more networking, I got the opportunity to part-time work for a health care startup called Healthy Beeps as a Full Stack Developer. I learned a lot while working there, like Project Management, React.js, Agile Methodology, and more. However, since this was part-time, I was still working at Instacart delivering groceries to make ends meet. I wanted something full time so that I could have some stability in my life.

A couple of months later, I got an interview at a company called Indigo Slate. I was interviewing for a Front End Developer position. I did not get the full-time job, but I did secure a contract doing SharePoint development. Even though it was SharePoint, I was excited because I was working on a project for a large commercial airline. I only say I know SharePoint development when I need to. It was getting easier to make ends meet with this contract and working part-time at Healthy Beeps. However, part-time and contract work still had a sense of instability. I was ready to level up my career. Then I heard about the Microsoft LEAP program.

The career coach from General Assembly told me about the LEAP program. He said to me I needed to apply because they were looking for women and people of color to apply to the program. I applied, interviewed, and got accepted into the LEAP program as a part of cohort 3. (I think I will do another blog about the LEAP program another time.) The LEAP program was fantastic. It helped me level up my career. (I am planning on writing a separate blog post about the LEAP program.) I learned many skills and worked with technology I had not ever worked with before.

When I finished the LEAP program, I did get an interview with my team, but there were more LEAP apprentices on the team than positions available. Looking back on it, that team was not a perfect fit for me. The role was a Software Engineering but incorporated tech evangelism. Being more introverted would have made it harder for me to thrive on that team. Eventually, I received an offer for a vender role at Microsoft on a small group that put on events around the world for Microsoft. I was in charge of working on their consumer-facing site and building demos for the team to use at events. I enjoyed this team and the responsibility I had. I was on able to work on that team for about a year due to the 18-month rule that Microsoft has in place for specific contract roles (certain contractor positions can only work for 18 months then have to take six months off before working at Microsoft as a contractor). As my contract was wrapping up, I continued looking for position and networking at Microsoft. I also kept in touch with the program manager for the LEAP program in case teams reached out to her for resumes. So as luck would have it, my current team did. So, in a way LEAP help me get a full-time position at Microsoft.

When I received the full-time offer for my current role, I was beyond excited. I had a feeling my interview went well, but I don't always trust that my feelings after interviews. There have been several times that I felt I did great but did not get the job. So, this is my story of how I became a Software Engineer. I am happy that I changed careers. I am one of the lucky people that can say I love what I do.

Discussion

pic
Editor guide