Like A Girl

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The Mothercode: career-changing into tech with kids

What I learnt whilst embarking on a career switchup in the midst of family life.

On 4th October 2016 I wrote my first line of HTML on a Mums in Tech “Intro to Coding” course while on maternity leave with my second child. On 16th August 2017 after a competitive application process I was offered a place on the Founders & Coders full-stack JavaScript bootcamp October 2017 cohort. It has been a crazy time trying to learn to code around having a job, baby and pre-schooler but it has also been really fun and rewarding.

I really enjoyed the first lesson of my intro course but had absolutely no idea that exactly a year later I would have quit my job and be about to start a coding bootcamp. In the second week, June Angelides, the founder of Mums in Tech shared “How I learnt to code in a scarily short space of time” on our Slack which was my first introduction to the Founders & Coders bootcamp. The post really resonated with me even though I had no idea what JavaScript was and I was just doing the course for fun and to learn a new skill. A month later at our ‘graduation’ class, a Founders & Coders and Mums in Tech alum came to talk to us, and she spoke so positively of the experience that I thought it was a real shame I would never get a chance to try to apply. With a seven-month old baby and a four year old and the fact I was returning to my job in 5 months, it just seemed so completely unrealistic that I put it out of my mind.

I went back to work and thought I would try to combine my new interest in tech, with my job as a senior research fellow in human rights by researching tech innovations related to my field of interest. However, I kept coming back to the idea of actually being able to code and build the things I had ideas for. So from March of this year, I started to seriously learn how to code with the aim of applying at the end of July for the Founders & Coders bootcamp. In order to do so, I needed to complete the Basic Algorithms section on Free Code Camp, get to level 5 on Codewars and build my own website (with no frameworks) hosted on GitHub.

These are the most important things I have learnt from the experience, which are hopefully useful for anyone trying to make the move to tech around a full-time job as well as people with children:

Work out what time you have and maximise it

On weekdays, the time I had to code was the baby’s naptime on a Monday and Friday, an hour commuting to/from work on Tues-Thurs and 2 blocks of 30 minutes waiting during my eldest’s after-school clubs.

  • I used Mimo for when I was travelling on the tube. It is an app designed for learning how to code on the go. It is well designed and easy to use but I would mainly recommend it for revising or getting introduced to topics. It is great because it doesn’t need wifi so good when underground. It is a monthly subscription, so do remember to cancel once you are past the beginner stage.
  • During naptime and in the waiting room for clubs I would try to do a FreeCodeCamp or Codeacademy lesson on HTML, CSS or JavaScript and when I was at a higher level, a Codewars JavaScript challenge. I actually paid to upgrade to the Codeacademy pro account because I liked having extra quizzes and projects to do that fit into these short timeframes.
  • I found the Best Self Journal really helpful in keeping me accountable everyday with smaller steps and keeping my overall goal in mind. You can start it at any point in the year and it covers a three-month block, which kick-starts your new routine. It enabled me to plan really well and to see what I had accomplished that day even if it was small. My daughter would shout every morning at breakfast, “Mummy, you don’t need to write everything down!” But unfortunately for her, I found that this did motivate me, especially at the beginning when I was still working out exactly what I wanted to do.
  • Remember to leave some time for self-care even if you are scheduling away all the rest of your time. In the weeks immediately leading up to application submission my evenings followed the same pattern: children to bed at 7pm, quick dinner, a couple of hours of coding and then, I’m not ashamed to say, Love Island to finish the evening. However, this meant that I had to let some things go, which in my case was having a tidy house, getting to the gym and for the first time ever having to work on my birthday!

Do your research about the tech field

Your knowledge and experience in your career so far counts for a lot. Don’t think of being a career-changer as a negative. Find out as much as you can about different aspects of the tech industry to help find your path to transition in. It might not necessarily be a bootcamp or even coding.

Join Meetup or Eventbrite and find meetups that interest you. Since most of these events are in the evening this means that you will have to arrange childcare in advance. A lot of people are going straight from work and the starting times reflect this (around 6.30pm), however with two children that need to be picked up from two different nurseries, it meant I could never get to anything before 7pm at the very earliest in central London. Get used to walking in late and standing at the back.

Attending meetups related to my interests meant that I could come up with ideas of what I could ultimately work on. Due to my background I am particularly committed to using tech to achieve social good and by attending relevant meetups on this topic I could see that I definitely had ideas and something to contribute to the field, which gave me the drive to continue and something to work towards. If you are interested in exploring tech for good there are great meetups in London or UK wide events.

Learning on your own is great, but nothing can replace working with experienced developers or other learners

There are a number of amazing groups that aim to get more women into coding and you really should try to take advantage of these if you can. As with the meetups, this does mean really organising childcare in advance.

  • I cannot sing the praises of Codebar enough. Codebar aims to increase the growth of a diverse tech community by running weekly workshops where two students are paired with a coach (an experienced developer) to work on tutorials or their own projects. This format works really well to ensure individual attention. I live for my coach telling me that a problem I was struggling with was “not trivial”! The workshops really gave my confidence a boost and were essential for me to develop and deepen my learning. As with the Meetups timings above, I was able to just about get there in time to get assigned to a coach, but missed the food and hanging out beforehand.
  • There are numerous other coding groups for women, check out this blog post for a great roundup.
  • If you are able to get the babysitting on the weekend, there are a number of all-day workshops. I went to Node Girls, which has a beginner JavaScript tutorial or introduction to Node for people familiar with JS. It was a great way to meet people and learn about their experience, and reaffirmed my commitment to doing Founders & Coders, since a number of coaches had done the bootcamp. The talks also gave a broad perspective on women working in tech and it was amazing to learn from so many women developers. If you are at the beginning stage and interested in other languages, applications are currently open for RailsGirls London and for Django girls for their December workshops. It would be great if some of these weekend workshops could have creche facilities to help mothers make their first steps in coding.

Make the most of online communities

Since you are restricted to your house more than other people, make the most of online communities and networks. I am really thankful for the invaluable help I received from experts like Jo on the Codebar Slack channel. There is also a CodeNewbie Slack channel. There are Gitter channels for Codewars and Founders & Coders and forums for FreeCodeCamp and Codeacademy. If you are not already on Twitter, join and explore the active developer community. Follow groups near you to hear about workshops and Meetups and then start following people who are active with these groups to learn what it’s like to work in the field. I did my first ever pull request on GitHub through connecting with We Rock Tech on Twitter! Make sure you have filled in your interests properly in your Medium profile and save relevant articles for your commute. Join Ada’s list to understand what is going on with women in tech and be in a community of supportive women.

Apply for things even if you don’t feel ready!

I applied for two jobs during this period to test the water and see whether there would be any interest despite my non-technical background. One was for a programme manager role at a start-up and the other for a web developer internship. I got to the interview stage for both, which I was really pleased and surprised about. There are companies out there keen on recruiting diverse candidates, so just go for it and see what happens. Draft a really good cover letter about why you are interested in career-changing to tech.

And now…

…for the really hard part as I start in two weeks. Although a bootcamp may not be for everyone, (please see fellow Codebar student Linh’s article on teaching herself and getting her first job), I felt that committing 10–6pm for 16 weeks was the best way for me to transition out of my old career into (fingers crossed) something new. I didn’t have enough time around my job and the kids to take my learning to the next stage and I am really looking forward to having a long block of time to just work on coding.

(If you want to learn how to code, but don’t feel you have time to do the amount of self-learning I did, a bootcamp like Makers Academy, General Assembly or Le Wagon might be better for you since they take complete beginners. These do however cost a significant amount, whereas Founders & Coders is free.)

It would be great to hear ideas from people about to start a bootcamp or anyone having just finished with ways to manage the intense process. I would also love any advice from any mums with young children who have done the same about what to expect from this next stage in my coding journey! Also, please follow me on Instagram @algirlrithm as I try to document what’s going on day-by-day! Or contact me @visionsremain on Twitter.