How I became a developer

Bridget McMahon, 3 min read

How I became a developer

My journey into the deep dark world of tech started a little over 12 months ago. I had this job in marketing. It was fine, and it ticked a lot of boxes. But I wasn't passionate about it. My many years of education left me with no clear indication of what I wanted to spend my life doing. None of the 'traditional' pathways (think law, medicine etc.) appealed to me that much, and I'd say the career I'd fallen into post-university was largely the result of luck and circumstance rather than firm direction or planning.

Last year I worked closely with a web developer on a website redevelopment project. I found myself increasingly interested in the development process and before long I was trying to work out how to fix bugs before I even alerted the developer to them. I started learning Javascript using online tools like Codecademy and Udemy so that I could provide more value to the project, and all of a sudden I found myself amidst what I often refer to as my 'quarter life crisis', during which I endured a month-long internal debate. I knew I wasn't satisfied where I was but I was too nervous to act on it. Did I actually want to pursue software development? Is dabbling in front-end web stuff the same as being a real developer? What if I spend all this time and money and end up hating it?

After a lot of umm-ing and ahh-ing I started a 3 month immersive course at General Assembly in Sydney. It was intense. I had almost no social life and spent more time with my laptop than any human being for that period. I can confidently say I've never learned so much in such a short period of time. I thought my little brain might explode. But I loved it and it was so worth all those times at 1am when I was grabbing my screen and shaking it in frustration because I couldn't get a button to work (ah, the beauty of hindsight).

I've always loved puzzles and I enjoy learning new languages (currently I'm learning Mandarin). I've always preferred when things have an answer or explanation. One of the reasons I love programming is that code is very black and white. It's just a bunch of rules put together to make something more complex. You have a problem and you know when your solution works - your tests pass, there are no errors and the thing just works. But the amazing part is that there's also a degree of flexibility and even creativity. So while code is black and white, coding is not. There are dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of ways to solve any given problem with just as many ways to improve and refactor.

So why did I tell you all of this? People often ask me what it's like being a woman in tech and why I got into it in the first place. I think the tech/developer stereotype is still very prevalent. If I said the words 'software engineer', most people picture an introverted, hyper intelligent person (likely male) who only wears black and sits in a dark room with lots of computers screens. After some reflection, this is probably the key reason why I was so hesitant to try software development as a career, because I definitely don't fit that stereotype at all (in fact, as I'm writing this I'm wearing a bright yellow dress and pineapple earrings!). What I now know is that the tech community is diverse in many ways and is only becoming more diverse as time goes on. People are realising the stereotypical traits I listed above are not a prerequisite.

Good programmers are not characterised by their IQ, sex or social personality. They are people who can break down problems into small and specific pieces, people who love to learn, people with patience and who understand that ultimately software is for people, not computers.

I'm convinced that pretty much anyone can learn to code. It's not this magical or secret or terrifyingly difficult thing. It's just like learning a language, or any new skill for that matter. Logical thinking is a skill that can be learned and refined with practice, and once you get the hang of thinking like a coder, the rest is just the syntax (and you can always google that - I definitely do).

Bridget McMahon

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