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From Digital Marketing to Front End Engineer in a Pandemic: Lessons Learned, Resources & Tips

zahrakhadijha profile image zahrakhadijha ・11 min read

Like majority of the world last year, I was in a place of panic. My friends were being laid off and furloughed from their jobs, people around me unsure of their future and financial stability, the economy being in an unpredictable place. It was hard to imagine a world full of opportunities when everything was crashing and shutting down.

I was working at a Marketing & Web Design agency at the time. I liked the team I was on but I wasn't passionate about the work. I knew that it wasn't for me in the long-term and I knew that I wanted to get into programming eventually. So why the f was I panicking about losing this job? It was terrifying to not have a plan.

I finally got the call,

"So Zahra, we're actually going to cut your salary and we think you'd do better in a sales position at the company and work on commission. You'll do well because you've maintained great relationships with our clients."

LOL WHAT.

I was already unhappy with the career trajectory in marketing. It was hard to pivot into web design within that company (which was a dead end to me) and they decided that cutting my salary to less than what I was making when I started, to give me more work and more clients AND to add the pressure of commission while the world was falling apart was going to help me succeed. Absolutely not.

One Year Reflection

In April 2020, I made the terrifying choice to quit my job without having another job offer to lean back on and attend a Full Stack Software Engineering Immersive Program at General Assembly. People's lives were falling apart and here I was — "lucky" to have a job during a pandemic — quitting it to pursue this other path. I could've taken to safe route, I could've stayed, I could've fell into the sales role that the company decided to throw me into, and I could've listened to my family and the people around me telling me,

"Times are hard, you're taking a big risk quitting now, we don't know where the economy is headed, it's going to be impossible to find a job, just wait, do it later, wait and see."

I knew it wasn't going to be easy and I knew that I'd have to commit 100%. There were a lot of unknowns and uncertainty around what would happen after the bootcamp. But what made the decision easier was that I wasn't going into the career switch blind. I had started self-teaching myself to code here and there in 2016 after graduating college. I wanted to attend a bootcamp then but I couldn't afford it at the time. And The fact that we were all in lockdown seemed like the perfect opportunity to make the most of it.

How I Got Started Learning to Code 👩🏽‍💻

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In my final semester of college, I took a computer ethics course. This course wasn't exactly about programming but there was a lot of interesting information we learned about gaming, ethics of creating a program, HOW to create programs, etc. The professor casually mentioned Treehouse and how we can build our own things. I didn't think much of it at the time.

In the summer of 2016 (a few short months after graduating college), I went to a music festival in New York City. There was a massive focus around tech, from incredible sound systems to art. They had a lab full of immersive art installations that were focused on design & technology. I was fascinated and hooked.

"I want to make that." 😍

I started looking into how technology could be combined with art. I found SO many resources on creative coding, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Processing.js, JavaScript. As I dug deeper, I learned that JavaScript was the most universally used programming language. It can be used to build desktop applications, mobile apps, web apps, VR apps, robots, etc. A world full of possibilities and creation opened up for me and my mind went back to thinking about that Computer Ethics course from college.

I wasn't sure I was going to actually like coding so I started with the free resources available to me instead of paying for Treehouse:

  1. freeCodeCamp
  2. Flatiron School's Bootcamp Prep JavaScript Course

I didn't finish freeCodeCamp, but I did finish the bootcamp prep course and shortly after, purchased Colt Steele's The Web Developer Bootcamp on Udemy. There's so many other courses now, but at the time this was rated one of the best, so I bought it for like $10.

Coding was HARD but I really enjoyed it and I loved creating. I was working a different job at the time though so I wasn't super consistent with it. But as I was learning the Fundamentals of Web Development through Udemy, I also learned to create CSS animations. This was a way for me to have fun with programming while learning some of the hard stuff. This is the first CSS animation I created from scratch 🥺

And then I fell off and stopped coding...because well...life got busy and I fell into another career path. And I needed a job.

How Did I Get Here? 🕒

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I didn't completely stop coding. I would code here and there but I wasn't the best at time management so it was hard to stick to it with a full-time job.

(I have all respect for people who are able to make a career switch WITH a full-time job. 👏🏼)

The Timeline:

November 2016 — Started self-teaching myself JavaScript.
January 2017 – Attended tech meetups at Flatiron School.
March 2017 — Learned about #100DaysOfCode and was exposed to a whole community of wonderful people.
June 2017 — Was "kind of" coding but fell off to pursue a career in Event Marketing.
July 2018 — Took a Creative Coding and Robotics course at FIT.
September 2018 — Applied to Flatiron School, got rejected from their in-person bootcamp but got accepted to their remote bootcamp. Didn't attend. Continued with current career.
April 2019 — Applied to General Assembly. Got accepted but couldn't afford it/was too scared.
May 2019 — Got a job in Digital Marketing at a Web Design Agency (in hopes I'd be able to learn Web Design).
April 2020 — Quit that job.
May 2020 — Attended General Assembly's Full Stack Immersive Program.
August 2020 — Graduated General Assembly
January 2021 — Landed my first job in tech as a Front End Engineer. 🎉🥂🤍✨

As a result, my life has NOT been a linear line upwards. It's been a rollercoaster.

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But I kept coming back to wanting to code, wanting to pursue a career in it, being able to visualize what that would look like — and it wasn't until I set my full focus on it that things started to come into fruition.

There are two approaches to life:

  1. You can be active and control things and live your life how you want to, or
  2. You can play the oblivious card and just let things happen.

And while I love the idea of the oblivious approach to life and still strike gold — the satisfaction you get when you realize, "I made that happen, I DID that" is much more rewarding.

So Here's What I've Learned

I've made so many mistakes throughout this entire process — if I knew what I know now, my mental and emotional health would probably be in a better place 😭

1. Compare yourself to yourself, and only yourself

If you're attending a bootcamp, you will encounter people who are on a completely different level of understanding than you are. Don't compare your progress, comprehension, what you get/don't get to someone else. You don't know them. You don't know their journey or why they're in a bootcamp. Instead, compare yourself to where you were on day one to where you are now. Your own growth is the only one that matters. Everyone's path is uniquely theirs. That applies if you're self-teaching yourself as well.

2. Focus on the design and aesthetic of your portfolio

Tech recruiters don't know the difference between good and bad code. If your portfolio looks good, it'll be assumed that the code is good. Not saying to write bad code, but make sure to take a little bit of extra time to focus on the design of your portfolio. I'd use sites like dribbble, siteinspire, awwwards, the gallery and Pinterest for inspiration. You can also take small parts of websites you already really like and build them into your portfolio, frankenstein a beautiful site of your own.

3. Let go of the distractions

When you're learning to program and especially when you're making a career switch, you're going to need to learn to be selfish with your time. Anything or anyone that's taking your attention away from that and isn't serving you in a positive way does not belong in your life. It'll cause you unnecessary distress and you don't need more of that.

4. Find a Community

In a pandemic, it's hard (and impossible) to find an in-person community. So make a Twitter account and be active with your social presence. There are so many amazing ones such as the #DEVCommunity, #100DaysOfCode, #CodeNewbie, #WebDev, #WomenWhoCode, to name a few. You can also get active on slack channels. I used Ladies Get Paid, Tech Ladies, Remote Women, Built by Girls, WWWCode. These were great for job searching as well.

It'll be helpful and beneficial to surround yourself with people who are going through the same things as you. These people are there to encourage and support you, as you are for them. It's extremely valuable to be around people who "get it."

5. Build your soft skills

It's really hard to network when we can't do it in-person. Here's what I did:

I made an account on LunchClub — they connect you with other professionals so that you can network virtually. Everything is currently remote - your job, the bootcamp, networking events, meetups, etc. So I wanted to practice being able to hold a conversation with people virtually. To learn to ask the right questions and break through the awkwardness we all feel. It's a valuable skill for interviewing AND genuinely connecting with someone and having a conversation. Making friends, potentially, too. I know I like to get to know people I'm working with outside of the normal day-to-day job conversations, so it gave me the foundation to get to know my current teammates as well.

6. Know your WHY

You started programming for a reason. Whether you want to switch careers or make your current job more efficient, you must have a strong WHY because coding is not easy. You will get upset, frustrated, discouraged and have moments where you feel like the dumbest person in the room. It's important to remind yourself of why you started in the first place. That'll help you keep going in moments of defeat.

7. Ask for technical assessments even if you get told that the role you applied for isn't for juniors

The job search process is ROUGH. Especially landing your first job. No one will tell you that landing the first role sometimes depends on luck (positioning yourself in the right place at the right time) and someone deciding that they will take a chance on you. However, when I was job hunting, I would see roles posted in Slack Channels and I would connect with the job poster and they'd tell me, "We're not hiring juniors right now." Instead of being like "Oh ok, thanks." I would ask them to take their technical assessments anyway. Most recruiters are open to sending them to you. You want exposure and practice. Especially if you're new, you're not going to know what to expect from a technical assessment. Also, what if you complete that technical assessment, send it back, and that company decides "Well shit, this person I thought was a junior can do the job" 😉 This also helps you build connections for future opportunities as well.

8. Have a CLEAR vision of what you want your career to look like and don't let people sway you

I have a background in Marketing. The recruiters that I worked with told me that because of my background, it's more likely I'd land a role as a "Marketing Developer" or in "Email Marketing" and BASED ON THE STATS, very unlikely that I'd land an engineering role as my first job out of a bootcamp.

I knew that I wanted to work in frontend. So I didn't listen. DO NOT let people sway you. I've seen people land intermediate level engineering roles from self-teaching themselves and switching careers WITHOUT a degree in computer science, WITHOUT bootcamp experience. It's not impossible to get what you want.

9. Do not neglect yourself, your mental health or your emotional wellness

When you're learning to code, you want to know how everything works. There's so much information overload. Do you apply to jobs? Do you build projects? Do you study algorithms for interviews? Do you follow along tutorials to retain information after a bootcamp? It's overwhelming but taking care of your mind and body is what makes productivity possible. Making sure that you're sleeping, exercising, journaling, eating healthy is essential to your well-being.

I made the mistake of neglecting myself and my needs — physically, emotionally, mentally — and focusing my energy on things that are irrelevant to my life now. I wasn't sleeping well, eating well, my mind was a mess and I was anxious all the time. As a result - as soon as I signed the job offer, I crashed.

10. CELEBRATE 👏🏼 YOUR 👏🏼 MILESTONES 👏🏼

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Make sure you celebrate yourself and surround yourself with people who celebrate your milestones. Completing a bootcamp is a MASSIVE win! Be proud of yourself and celebrate it. Landing your first interview is a win! Getting a first technical assessment is a win 👏🏼 Failing your first technical assessment is ALSO a win because you LEARNED. And when you land that first role, celebrate HARD. And keep track of these milestones and wins somewhere so when you're having a shitty day and you're discouraged, you can look back at what you've accomplished. Switching careers and learning to code is f-ing hard and not many people have the guts to even get started. You deserve to be celebrated. ✨

How I Landed My Job & How That's Going 💙

I landed my first role in tech through Twitter. I connected with an awesome person who put me in the interview pool for the company. I can't say that this is a massively unique story. A lot of it had to do with luck. However, I wouldn't have learned about the company or their interview process otherwise.

Having a social presence and being involved in the community is SO SO important. My life has changed for the better by being active on Twitter. The people I've met, the friendships I've made and the knowledge I've gained and will continuing gaining are invaluable. Most of the interviews I landed were from connecting with people on Twitter.

I'm a Front End Engineer at BlockFi and it's the best team I've worked on. You want to work on a team that's supportive of your growth, open to asking and answering questions, don't think that anything is too dumb to ask, listens to your needs, and is encouraging. That's exactly what I got and I'm excited to see how that will progress and how I can contribute my skills further to the team. I'm just so happy I get to code for a living and learn and grow in this field. 🥺 💙

Find something YOU love and not what someone tells you to do/love. Something that finds its away into your every passing thought. Grip onto that and don't ever let it go because what you have is a love for something that not many people seem to find, and a dream that you could very well make into a reality. If I can do it, so can you.

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Discussion (5)

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viktoriiatito profile image
Viktoriia Titova

Thanks. It's a really useful article for me now. Your journey inspiring me.

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zahrakhadijha profile image
zahrakhadijha Author

Aw amazing! I hope you pursue it, there's room for everyone!

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noemarbali profile image
noemarbali

Am so happy reading this article.
Thank you for sharing.

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leewynne profile image
lee

This is so awesome 😎

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xtremer15 profile image
Mihai

FE Engineer is way to much, maybe programmer.