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Shannon Kendall on Acting to Coding

Sam Jarman 👨🏼‍💻
Software engineer (iOS/JS/Anything). Likes: blogging, running, improvising, public speaking, positivity, helping newbies and great banter!
Originally published at samjarman.co.nz on ・7 min read

Dev Chats is back for season two! This is a series where I speak to an awesome developer or techie every week or so. You can read more here. Let me know if you know someone awesome I should chat to next.




Introduce yourself! Who are you? Where do you work?

My name is Shannon Kendall. I'm a New York-based developer who spent seven years as an actor for film and television, before transitioning into programming. I'm currently working at Lifion by ADP as an Application Developer.

Who or what got you into programming?

I really loved acting. I was determined to stay in the game until I made it. However, after seven years, I started to recognize that the longer I stayed in the acting industry, the further away I felt from what I loved most about me. I realized that the day-to-day experience of being an actor was making me unhappy on a deep level. The moment I recognized my source of unhappiness, I decided it was time to change careers. I was going to make sure it was something that would make me happy on a daily basis.

I knew that I wanted to go into a STEM field, I wanted to be part of change in a very real (and not 'when I'm finally famous enough') kind of way. I come from a tech-friendly family; my father is a computer engineer on the hardware side, and my brother is a technical artists in gaming. When I told them I was thinking about changing careers and learning to code, they were both encouraging and sent me links to free trials of online javascript courses. I tried one and was immediately hooked. It was all continuous motion from there.

Acting to programming, a bit of a change! How have you found the transition?

Entering into office work has been a bit of an adventure for me. Getting used to sitting though multiple meetings a day has been a challenge for me and my ADD. There are also many things that I did not expect, like having regular one-on-ones with my manager. I've never worked jobs where my managers cared about my concerns or how I thought I was doing. I still find Performance Reviews to be one of the strangest processes.

As far as the job goes, I really love it. I love working on a dedicated team - I've always worked best in collaboration. I have the crazy fortune of being placed on a team comprised entirely of female developers, and we all have completely different approaches to problem solving. I'm incredibly grateful for all my training in acting, which taught me to hear more than just words when someone was communicating to me. But I'm mostly grateful to have something that challenges me every single day and gives me that amazing feeling you get when all the pieces come together.

How was your experience at Fullstack Academy? Would you recommend boot camps as a way to transition careers?

Absolutely. Bootcamps are really tough, and to even get accepted, you have to demonstrate that you're skilled enough to come out of them ready to work. But I was ready to change my life around, and I didn't want to go into massive debt to get another degree.

I was accepted into Fullstack Academy's Grace Hopper Program, a track that ran parallel to their regular full-time immersive, but was only open to women and non-binary individuals. The program includes a deferred payment plan, which allows its students to postpone payment until they get a job. I absolutely loved my time there - so much that I wrote one of my TWO medium articles about it.

When it really comes down to the whole bootcamp debate, what really matters to me is that coding bootcamps make tech careers accessible. They grant access to brilliant people who would otherwise not have the chance to find a place in this industry. Because of this, they are good for the tech industry. They are a source of well-needed perspective. They flood the industry with fresh ideas and experience in matters that have been lacking. It took me seven years to find tech as a career, and I don't know if I would have made it without the help of a bootcamp.

How do you think the tech industry will change over the coming years, and how might that affect your role?

That is a big question. I haven't been in the industry long enough to reflect on the patterns of change. What happens to an industry when its basic skill set becomes part of the curriculum for school children?

That's insane. This industry amazes me. I can't really worry if it's going to change because the tech industry is change. It is pushing against the edges of what we think is possible. It is recognizing that we are profoundly brilliant in our laziness. It is the application of rational, critical thought to creative solutions for our problems, no matter how minute they may be. I am here for that.

What has been your toughest lesson to learn in your software career so far?

There are a lot of people in the tech community who are hard on newcomers. The number of memes that joke about how intimidating people can be on stackoverflow speak to my point. There was a part of me that believed that, in order to prove that I was actually a software developer, in order to be recognized as someone who isn't just a novelty actress-turned-"developer", I needed their approval. I felt like I needed to know everything to even gain entrance. I had no idea just how vast the software world truly is, and how impossible it is for anyone to know everything. I felt like I needed to eat, breathe, and dream software to even catch up.

But I didn't. It's taken some time for me to gain confidence in my skill set, but the whole time that I didn't feel confident, I was still producing the work. I became confident because I saw myself doing it over and over, and each time that I did it, I made it better than the last. You will always make mistakes, but you only fail if you stop going.

What would be your number one piece of advice for a successful software career?

Get comfortable with being wrong. It will never stop happening, because you are a human being. As a developer, you spend most of your actual development time diagnosing what you did wrong. But also be okay with your ideas being wrong. Working through a wrong idea is how you find the right one. As developers, we are wrong so often, that it's too difficult to work with someone who has a problem with it.

Have you got any hobbies outside of your job? Do you think they help your tech career in any way?

I have so many hobbies. I really like making things - food, accessories, shelves. I like to make the gifts I give to people because it feels more personal to me, so I've dabbled in a lot of hobbies over time. I picked up knitting recently as something I could take with me during my commutes so I didn't just play candy crush two hours a day. I found it to be really relaxing and a great outlet for my anxiety. I love trying a new baking technique, or putting together a dresser. I have a curiosity as to how and why things work, and I enjoy getting to put my spin on something once I understand it well enough.Being a maker definitely impacts the way I approach my projects at work because it allows me to constantly hone that sense of how every part fits into and affects the whole.

What books/resources would you recommend for others wanting to follow a path similar to yours?

I really loved watching youtube tutorials when it came to learning a new concept in development. FunFunFunctions is my go-to channel when I want to check in on new developments in JavaScript, or refresh a concept I haven't used in a bit. I also watched a lot ofNet Ninja for step-by-step demonstrations how how to use libraries (I had a head start on the rest of my cohort in the bootcamp because I had gone through his first 30 or so tutorials on using Node.js).

If you'd just like to test the waters, I tried a couple free tutorials when learning JavaScript. For very beginners, I recommend Khan Academy's JavaScript for Animation tutorial. It was my introduction to cod, and there's nothing quite like seeing your code cause a dorky little spaceship to shoot across the screen to confirm that you did the thing. If you're getting the hang of it, I definitely recommend CodeSchool, if you can afford the $30 a month. The videos and workbook style nature of the courses felt really thorough. However, if that's not an option, I'd recommend combining Codecademy's free courses with videos on Youtube. Since Codecademy is text only, it can be immensely helpful to have another explanation to get a more well-rounded grasp of the concept when completing their exercises.

Finally, make your shoutout! What would you like the readers to go have a look at?

It might seem a little off topic, but one of my new favorite podcasts to listen to on my commute is about agriculture, hosted by my cousin, Sarah Taber. It's called Farm to Taber, and that, in and of itself, is a fantastic reason to listen. I had no idea she had a podcast until I finally got a twitter account and started following her. She has a PhD in Dirt Science (it's how she's always referred to the subject), and has been working in agriculture for around a decade. I had no clue agriculture could be so fascinating. She's so brilliant and funny, and is able to find direct links or parallels between agriculture and the industry of every single guest she interviews. It's nowhere near hard tech, but I find her observations on the influences of agriculture to provide amazing insight into what we see in the tech world today.

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