Tell us about yourself
I transitioned into software engineering at 38 years old, after being a stay-at-home mom of two for 6 years, and working several years as a Public Health Analyst before that. My first tech job was with Gartner Inc, building complex features for web apps that averaged 20 million unique visits monthly. Now I’m at Forem, where we are building software that empowers creators and their communities. I’m also the founder of Our Time For Tech, a nonprofit initiative that supports women breaking into Tech careers.
How did you first get started in your career in tech?
I had been a homemaker for about 6 years, and had a small WordPress side-hustle. My client’s requirements were getting more complex, and because I did not know how to code, I couldn’t fulfill these needs. I started taking free online coding courses, but lacked the structure that I felt was needed to make significant progress. That’s when I chose to enroll in the Firehose Project, a since-acquired online coding bootcamp. My experience was equal parts challenging and exciting; I built 6 Rails apps during the 6-month-long bootcamp. The hardest part was caring for my infant daughter and 6-year-old son during this time.
While job-hunting, I recorded my interviews, so I could play myself back and identify my chokepoints lol. I also decided to target jobs that matched my rudimentary skillset (Rails and a lil JS) instead of trying to learn a dozen new frameworks, gaining only surface knowledge that wouldn’t showcase well in interviews. Granted, this approach limited the number of jobs I could apply to, but I felt more confident.
To find my first job, I hit job boards consistently. I also used LinkedIn heavily; I made sure my profile was descriptive and detailed, and kept reaching out to tech recruiters on LinkedIn. I found my first tech job through a recruiter on LinkedIn (shoutout Claire Johnson!).
What are the most important skills in your current position? How did you develop these skills?
The most important skills I use are:
- Clear, concise communication (both oral and written) and documentation
- Version control skills (Git, GitHub)
- Self-teaching; consuming documentation effectively
To develop these skills, I pair frequently with my teammates and I use online tutorials. My favorite resources are Dev.to, StackOverflow and YouTube (for tutorials).
What are some difficulties you faced in your career? How did you overcome them?
In two words: imposter syndrome! At my first job, I struggled with feeling inadequate, like a fraud, like I would never know enough to be a useful team member. However, I had very patient and encouraging teammates who took the time to slow down and help me learn our codebases and processes (sometimes over and over!). I also found that I could contribute using my other strengths, like my organization and communication skills.
Also at my first job, as wonderful as my team was, I struggled with being just one of 3 women (in an Eng department of dozens) and the only mother. My commute was 60-75 minutes one way; I needed to drop my kids at daycare right at 7am so I could be at work by 8am and leave at 4pm to pick them up at 5pm (and avoid late-pickup fees) 😓.
I started feeling like I was leading 2 lives, and the mental & physical strain took a deep toll. I also felt like my teammates, while sympathetic, couldn’t really relate to my experience. This is the main reason I seized my current role; it is 100% remote, our work ethos embraces work-results over time-spent-working, and there are other moms on my team.
Looking back on your career, what advice do you wish someone had given you that would have helped accelerate your career?
I wish I had researched in-demand tech stacks, both local-to-me and generally. While I love Ruby-Rails, I believe I would have been more-widely marketable with JS-related skills like React and Node. I’m slowly learning these now.
I also wish I had done more networking through social media. My job-search approach was to hit job boards and just apply everywhere; while this method has its benefits, I may have landed a technically-appropriate job sooner through making personal connections online.
Thank you for sharing your story with us. We really appreciate it. How can we support you?
My nonprofit Our Time For Tech is accepting applications for our 2 tracks: CodeCollab and BetterPrep. For 12 weeks, our CodeCollab software engineering fellows build a complex web app as a team, with the guidance of senior engineers. For those seeking a software job, BetterPrep offers mock interviews, live-coding practice and weekly mentoring, to improve your interviewing performance. DM me @aritamana on Twitter if you have questions. I hope you apply!