Career change from academia to full-stack software developer
Sophie tells us about her career change from academia and how she might be able to use her theories on cognitive bias and philosophy in a more practical way.
What was your background before joining the Coding Fellowship?
My background is in academic research – philosophy and cognitive science – with a particular focus on cognitive bias. I’m fascinated by the way people think, interpret information, and make decisions. I’d always gravitated towards the work where our team’s research could be put into practice beyond academia to help people. To that end, I started tinkering around with Python last year, and realised that many of the goals I had regarding helping people make better decisions might themselves be better achieved through building applications that help make the sorts of abstract information that often trips us up easier to understand and navigate. So I decided to make the leap and retrain!
Did you have any questions /concerns before joining the Fellowship?
It’s really important to me to be part of a community when I’m learning. Whilst it’s obviously the responsible decision for everyone’s safety, I did wonder if/how that sense of community would manifest on a remote course. I knew I was going to miss not being able to hang out in person with the other students and instructors, being able to huddle around someone’s laptop to see a neat solution they’d just come up with, or spin my screen around to show my neighbour how I’d solved something.
How has your experience on the Fellowship answered those questions / concerns?
I’ve been pleasantly surprised – my experience has been that you can build a sense of camaraderie, teamwork, and friendship remotely relatively quickly. We chat on Slack, and there are lots of opportunities for pair programming and project work together. We’ve even had a few visits to a “virtual pub” to share a few pints and catch up after class. And whilst it’s perhaps a bit more formal than simply spinning your lap top around to show your neighbour, it’s totally possible to screen share on Google Meet and do code reviews and all of that sort of thing remotely. I suppose that getting comfortable with presenting your work to the class and talking through your code in a video call is great practice for the workplace whilst so many teams are remote at the moment.
Describe your Coding Fellowship experience so far? (Teaching, curriculum, community…)
Over and above learning the fundamentals of programming, I have really valued learning best practice principles of software engineering that should guide our work, such as thinking about the reusability and maintainability of our code; designing good application architecture, and testing both our algorithms and our assumptions about them regularly. There’s a lot of food for thought there: sometimes the most elegant solution isn’t the easiest to understand on first glance, or the most flexible in terms of scaling up later – all of this impacts on how easy it is for a team to maintain/build on your work. I’m really interested to see how balancing these concerns is put into practice in real life codebases.
How are you finding remote learning?
I think it works well. Lectures work well over Google Meet; the instructors screen share as they live code examples; we access coding challenge materials through Github and push up our work to repositories to be checked over by the instructors; and we screen share our own work when doing code reviews. I have prior experience of remote working, so I suppose I have a good rhythm with it, and it’s nice to be close to my favourite local nature spots for a breath of fresh air during the breaks. And as above, I’m pleased that we have been able to build a sense of community in the cohort even though we’re remote.
How would you describe the support on the Fellowship?
Whilst there is lots of independent learning by working through challenges, it’s been really valuable being able to jump into a private Google Meet with an instructor if you do get stuck on something. Whilst being a good developer undoubtedly involves getting proficient at debugging, it’s great to have someone point you in the right direction when you do get particularly stuck, remind you of good principles that will help you avoid that error in the future, and reassure you that it’s often beneficial to ask questions and for help.
There’s a great article by Zachary Ernst, a professor of philosophy who pivoted to software-engineering 7 years ago, about the sorts of things ex-academics moving to tech should be particularly aware of, and asking for help is one of them: In academia, though it is perhaps unspoken, there is often this underlying sense that if you don’t know how to do something, and need to ask for help, you’ve somehow failed. In tech it’s the total opposite – if you struggle along on your own without asking a colleague for assistance when you need it, you’re letting down the team and stalling progress. One of the most valuable soft skills I think I’ve learned from the fellowship is that it’s okay – indeed expected! – to ask for help when you need it.
Have you had thoughts about what industry you may like to work in?
I’m inspired by organisations who build software to help their clients better access, navigate, and understand complex information. Even though I’m setting research aside for now, I’m still interested in facilitating better decision making in the face of cognitive biases and other effects that prevent us from making optimal choices given the data available to us. I think there’s a role for these considerations at many junctures of the development process, and I’m excited by the idea of tech as an interface between a complex problem domain and an optimised decision process. I’m open to all industries, but I’m particularly motivated to help tackle the challenges that arise in the GreenTech, GovTech, EdTech and HealthTech sectors with this approach.
What achievements are you most proud of? (both pre-bootcamp and during)
I’m really proud of the subscriptions management app that we built as a team of 4 in week 12. It was great building something full stack together, each bringing something different to the project, and learning from each other.
Outside the bootcamp, I’m proud of my band Other Tongues. We’re a folksy trio, and had a really great year in 2019 gigging and playing small festivals – obviously that’s been on hold more recently, but I look forward to when we can safely play together again!
With our full time bootcamp going from strength to strength over the 5 years since inception, we now also offer students the chance to learn with us part time to become full stack software developers over a period of 52 weeks. Please get in touch to learn more or head to our courses page.