I completed Hackbright Academy’s software engineering fellowship in April 2014, alongside 30 other smart, exhausted, excited women. I spent 3 months going from beginner to…well, an employable beginner, and I was ready to see my hard work pay off. Little did I know Hackbright is actually the easy part of the whole career transition.
You can’t sit with us
Surprise: Tech jobs aren’t the only jobs! Can you believe it? You’d never know this attending a Bay Area coding boot camp, or speaking with other engineers in San Francisco. Carrying this ignorance around meant soul-crushing disappointment when dozens of applications were ignored and interviews resulted in rejection. No one wanted to hire me. I thought I’d never get a job. Tech seemed to be sending me a very clear message.
Then I discovered there are other opportunities that allow junior software developers to level up their skills, make a living, and most importantly, figure out where they really want to focus their energy as a developer.
Sure, explore the tech scene, play the interview circuit, collapse into a ball after hours of technical questions and whiteboarding (just me?). But you’d be remiss to forget about advertising agencies, small businesses, non-profits, and pretty much any group with an online presence in 2015. They want you, too!
I had zero familiarity with agencies before serendipitously landing interviews at a few. Unlike the daylong on-sites where I left feeling exhausted and depressed, I’d leave the offices feeling inspired, confident, and excited about my potential future. There was appreciation for creativity and non-traditional backgrounds, as developers in agencies often do more than just write code.
ARGONAUT, where I ended up accepting an offer, fully embraced my eccentricities, from my code to my ukulele cassette to my camel toe-themed zine. I also felt more fairly judged on not just my current skills as a junior developer, but also my aptitude and ambition to learn.
I was lucky to work alongside kind, extremely intelligent developers, who treated me as an equal and trusted that I could learn anything. When you’re just starting out (and really always), it’s crucial to have a supportive team.
There were many times when I didn’t believe in myself, and having someone give me a confidence boost, or remind me that hey, it’s just programming, was priceless. A mentor once told me, “At the end of the day, no one is going to live or die based on this project,” and I still have to remind myself of that when the deadlines get tough.
Be your own boss
Maybe offices aren’t your thing, or you need a more flexible schedule. There are seemingly endless opportunities to freelance as a developer, if it fits with your lifestyle and stress tolerance. It can definitely be a challenge, but the payoff is comparable. There are so many entrepreneurs, artists, startups, etc. that need help, from building their website to third-party integrations to bug fixes. Hackbright alum Gulnara Mirzakarimova has this great post about freelancing you should check out.
Put the word out to your own network, including friends, former co-workers, and other devs you know. Check out mailing lists for coworking spaces, which often include small businesses and entrepreneurs ramping up and in need of tech help.
Challenges include taxes, time management, paying yourself fairly, and getting invoices paid at all, to start. Benefits include working wherever you like, controlling your own developer destiny + tools you use, learning resourcefulness and resilience, wearing sweatpants, and the list goes on.
You don’t have to feel terrible
Many interviews at tech companies left me feeling pretty low and worthless. I know most devs have interview horror stories, and it doesn’t mean you should give up and abandon that world. But for me, there was such a drastic difference in my experiences between tech companies, agencies, and freelance clients. Sure, you might think advertising is a soulless, misogynistic industry, but then again, have you read tech news lately?
Do I want to work in advertising for my entire career? Not necessarily. There are plenty of tech start-ups I admire, and I’m full of ideas I want to build myself. I definitely covet a complete engineering team that can work together and build amazing shit. I fantasize about never writing another HTML email template again.
But I’m so glad my first full-time job led me to agency life. It taught me that there’s an entire world beyond the tech bubble, and I can choose to work and learn wherever I want. It gave me freedom over my future. I don’t have to enlist at a buzzworthy company to have self-worth.
Whether you write code for Twitter, the government, a local business, a national brand, or yourself, you’re still a developer. Explore all your employment options, and find your happy place. I promise it exists.