7 Developers Who Are Thriving in a Second Career in Coding

By: Fullstack Staff

Not everyone lands the job of their dreams straight out of college—in fact, through their educational experiences and beyond, many people aren’t even sure what sort of career they want to pursue. It may take a few years of trying your hand at different jobs before you realize where you really want to be, and that’s okay. Just because you’ve started down one path doesn't mean you can’t make the transition to a new one in order to find a career that you love.

In fact, more people than ever are making the transition from non-traditional backgrounds to build careers in programming. The demand for tech jobs is only growing, and people are discovering the creative joys of coding every day. You don’t need a computer science degree anymore to be a successful programmer. You don’t even need to have written a single line of code before deciding you want to change.

If you want a job that’s challenging, rewarding, and pays well, software development could be it. Here are the stories of seven developers who made the leap to a career in code—and their advice for anyone looking to do the same.

Shawn Wang on the Importance of Doing Everything Twice

Shawn Wang had a career that many finance majors dream of. Working in a Wall Street bank, Wang traded “everything from bonds to currency derivatives to ultimately helping to manage millions in a global hedge fund.” But the job just wasn’t what Wang wanted to do with his life.

On New Year’s Day 2017, Wang made the commitment to build a career in coding. He started learning for free online before eventually enrolling at Fullstack Academy, one of the nation’s top coding bootcamps. Coding bootcamps are immersive educational experiences that teach in just a few weeks the frameworks, languages, and strategies that traditional universities take years to impart. Taking in all that new knowledge in such a condensed timerame is difficult, but Wang believes he benefited by “doing everything twice.” In other words, by studying programming on his own beforehand, Wang laid a solid foundation in coding principles, many of which were explored in much more depth during the immersive.

Wang didn’t stop there; he also went out of his way to review everything he learned multiple times. He blogged daily about his progress. He created a podcast to recount his experience. He even ran workshops on React and Passport JS.

Wang’s commitment to learning through repetition paid off. Less than a year after first committing to a new career in code, and less than two months after graduating from bootcamp, Wang accepted a six-figure job offer (having already turned down an offer in excess of $120,000 a couple of weeks before).

Sophia Ciocca on Taking a Quality-Over-Quantity Approach to Job Searching

Sophia Ciocca decided to make the transition into software development after health issues forced her to leave the Peace Corps, a job that had been her dream since she was 14 years old.

After teaching herself the basics of coding, Ciocca graduated from Fullstack Academy’s all-women Grace Hopper program, which gave her the technical skills, career coaching support, and portfolio she needed to find her first job in development.

When it comes to the job search, many people are tempted to take a blanket approach and apply for every opening they can find. But Sophia consciously chose a quality-over-quantity approach that required her to focus on the part of the process she felt weakest at, networking.

Her strategy went like this: She identified the companies that she actually wanted to work for, spent time obtaining contact details for employees of those companies, and then asked to buy them a coffee or to chat on the phone.

This plan paid off. She converted over half of these chats into phone screens, a third of those phone screens into onsite interviews, and 80 percent of those onsites into offers. In just seven weeks, Ciocca spoke to fewer than 50 companies, got four job offers, and ultimately accepted a role at The New York Times.

Person at laptop begins second career in coding

Stephanie Manwaring on Finding the Perfect Bootcamp

Stephanie Manwaring is proof that you don’t need a computer science degree to become a software developer. In fact, before considering bootcamp, she had never written a line of code.

Manwaring’s career pivot came about when she realized her successful career in marketing wasn’t as fulfilling or exciting as she wanted it to be. Though she knew she needed a change, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do instead. Over time, however, coding became the obvious choice.

It started when she saw a number of developer jobs at companies she wanted to work for. She was then introduced to JavaScript by her developer husband. Finally, she read a New York Times article about people successfully quitting their jobs for a career in coding.

Her mind was made up: A career in coding was the goal. She just needed the skills to make it a reality. Two years of grad school in pursuit of a CS degree, however, was not appealing—and while coding bootcamps sounded great, they also sounded almost “too good to be true,” she recalls. Research was required—and lots of it.

First, she attended information sessions run by various bootcamps. Manwaring also reached out to alums of these schools and asked them how easy it had been for them to find a job after graduation, whether their bootcamp followed through on its promises, if the instructors were as knowledgeable as advertised, and how each bootcamp grad now felt they compared to CS graduates.

Her extensive research led her to the conclusion that coding bootcamps could, in fact, deliver, and that Fullstack Academy was the bootcamp for her. She calls quitting her job and attending Fullstack Academy, “the best career decision I have made,” and has recently secured a new position as an engineer at Squarespace.

Sean McBride on the Possibilities of Promotion

After graduating from West Point, Sean McBride served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army before an injury nudged him into a career in IT infrastructure. This reignited his passion for software development and led him to Operation Code, a veteran’s nonprofit charity, as well as enrollment in Fullstack Academy’s Remote Immersive program. Less than a month after graduating from Fullstack, McBride landed a developer role at tech startup Decipher Technology Studios.

A common worry among career changers is that they won’t have the potential for career growth that CS graduates have–but that certainly hasn’t been the case for McBride. Within a year of his joining Decipher, McBride went from being the team’s lone full-time developer to being back in a leadership role after hiring several others.

Today, in addition to running the team’s agile process, McBride also reviews pull requests and mentors junior developers. The role couldn’t be a better fit for him. “It’s such an amazing feeling to enjoy what I do, be good at what I do, and pay the bills,” he says.

Seema Ullal on Why Persistence Pays Off

After college, Seema Ullal joined the Teach for America program and found herself teaching 9th-grade algebra in New Jersey. Despite her desire to help underprivileged children, she quickly realized that teaching wasn’t her passion.

In fact, after some reflection, she realized the only thing she hadn’t been bored with were the computer science classes she took in college. This epiphany led her to first complete a master’s degree in computer science and then enroll at Fullstack Academy.

But she’s quick to point out that even after all that training, she still wasn’t able to just walk into a developer role at a large tech company.

The job search, Ullal writes, “can be exhausting, frustrating, and deflating at times.” You’ll get more rejections than offers, so the key is not to take no for an answer. Many times, Ullal would push back on rejections and make a case for why she actually was a good fit for those roles.

She also asked for feedback wherever possible. Interviewers, she found, were often happy to provide constructive criticism as well as positive feedback, the latter being a much-needed confidence boost.

In the end, her persistent attitude paid off. After only a month of searching, Ullal landed a software development role at Gusto in the fall of 2015, and she’s still there today.

Two workers at laptops embark on second career in coding

Adam Barcan on the Need to Completely Commit to Bootcamp

Adam Barcan had what many would consider an enviable career. After graduating from Columbia University with a master’s degree in economics, Barcan worked as an economist at the U.S. Treasury Department before transitioning into a business analyst role at a global law firm.

But a brief encounter with JavaScript was all it took to convince Barcan to quit his office job and dive into coding by enrolling at Fullstack Academy.

It would be fair to say he found bootcamp more than a little tough. “Fullstack was the most challenging and satisfying professional experience of my life,” Barcan says. “Seriously. It was harder than grad school and much more fulfilling than any job I’ve ever had.”

That’s why he recommends committing completely to the course and immersing yourself in the experience. For Barcan, that meant creating side projects, competing in hackathons, building a freelance portfolio, and attending seminars. If it wasn’t related to coding, Barcan didn’t give it any attention until bootcamp was completed.

This approach may seem extreme, but Barcan thinks it is essential if you want to get the most out of the experience and put yourself in the best position for landing a job when bootcamp ends.

It certainly worked for him. Six months after graduating from Fullstack Academy, he secured a position at software company Greenhouse—a role he is still in today, almost four years later.

Stella Chung on Dealing With Imposter Syndrome

Stella Chung has always been analytically minded. Her first career was in database and CRM management for the nonprofit sector. This gave her a great foundation when she decided to switch to a career in code, initially through free online courses and then through Fullstack Academy’s Grace Hopper program.

It might be surprising to learn that despite her background in database management and the more than 700 hours of coding bootcamp under her belt, Chung suffers from imposter syndrome to this day—and she’s not alone.

Imposter syndrome is common among people pursuing second careers as developers. In fact, one of the things that helped Chung come to grips with it was knowing that this is a common affliction. As Chung writes, “Nearly everyone could relate to imposter syndrome, and readily shared words of encouragement.”

Chung’s story shows that it is possible to thrive despite feeling like an imposter. She learned how to build a 2D platformer in Phaser.Js over a single weekend, and how to write a program in Elm over another. It’s not surprising, then, that after graduating from the Grace Hopper Program, Chung was quickly able to secure a role as a software engineer for tech startup Niche.

If these developers prove one thing, it’s that a career in coding really is a possibility for anyone. It doesn’t matter what you currently do for a living or where you live—if you are willing to put in the time and effort required, a second career in coding is within your grasp.

These grads learned firsthand that Fullstack Academy delivers the programming training and career development skills you’ll need to jump into the tech industry. Learn more about their programs and see how they stack up here.

Images by: Mimi Thian, Headway, Annie Spratt

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