Transitioning into Tech: How I Became a Software Engineer

Hi y’all! I’m Jen. I’m an Instructional Manager at App Academy at our San Francisco campus. For most of the students and instructors at App Academy, software engineering wasn’t their first career, and sometimes not even their second. Transitioning careers can be intimidating. It was at first for me too, but I had help along the way. Here’s my story of how I changed careers and became a Software Engineer.

Where it all started

So, how did I get interested in coding?

It was actually not by choice, funnily enough.  I have an older brother who was interested in coding pretty early on.  He is two years older than me and I ended up having the same 10th grade math teacher he’d had.  Mr. Crosswell always pushed me, knowing how much natural talent my brother had and wasn’t shy about comparing us.  It was a great motivation tactic for me. I always aspired to be as good at things as my brother.  

Mr. Crosswell had suggested I sign up for his AP Java class for my Junior year.  I did a bit of a nod and wave but wasn’t really interested. This class happened before normal school hours and wasn’t required for my Engineering track focus for my diploma.  …before school? What teenager wants to wake up early?

So, I didn’t sign up.  

When I picked up my schedule for the semester, I was enrolled in the class.  I figured Mr. Crosswell just enrolled me anyway. So, I went to the office and dropped it.  

Well, come to find out, I had been added back before the school year started.  I gave in, not wanting to confront Mr. Crosswell about not wanting to take the class.  

Turns out, I loved it.  

We laid a great foundation for coding and progressed into Object Oriented Programming principles.  Eventually, we made a pac-man game of our own.  

I enjoyed the class and did quite well on the AP Exam at the end of the school year.  But, it wasn’t enough to make me want to leave behind becoming a Mechanical Engineer. I didn’t know any Software Engineers so my perception of the industry was what I saw from Hollywood. I wasn’t interested in spending my life coding in a dark hole or with coworkers with no social skills…

My first career

Fast forward a few years and I had a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Clemson University and was working as a Quality Planning Engineer at an Automotive Manufacturing company.  I was the Quality Lead for new driveshaft program launches.  

It didn’t take me very long to start feeling like it wasn’t a good fit for me.  I was pretty good at my job, made a big impact on our customer relationships, and always pushed the team hard to get our driveshaft specifications to align with measurability and customer requirements. 

But, I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing.  It was a daily grind. It was not uncommon for me to come home to my boyfriend (now husband) and cry when talking about work.  

Something was wrong and I knew it.  My boyfriend knew it too. He kept encouraging me to reach out and start networking, attending events, anything to help me start figuring out what I wanted to do next.  I knew I wasn’t interested in another manufacturing job. 

A chance for something new

An opportunity came up to attend SXSW in Austin (a music, film, and tech festival).  I jumped on it, talked to my boss, and booked a flight. I crammed every talk I could into my schedule. Going to talks on ethics in voice services like Alexa, photography abilities in space at different distances away from earth, evolution of wearable technology, the list goes on and on.  

Way more quickly than I could have expected, I realized how interested I was in all of the conversations about modern technology and how it is shaping our lives.  The speakers were so diverse and were people I could see myself having a great conversation with. My interest in pursuing software development was growing rapidly with each talk I attended.

I made a goal of networking with people every day while at SXSW. I attended small discussion groups and meetups, hungry to get some ideas of the best way to transition.  I ended up learning about coding bootcamps from someone waiting in line to get into one of the SXSW talks.  

I was researching bootcamps before even leaving Austin.  I saw the great reviews for App Academy and loved how the alumni spoke of its intensity, and how much they had grown over the course.  I was sold! 

Becoming a software engineer

Fast forward a couple months and I was attending the program in San Francisco! The program is definitely intense.  In a fun way, if you ask me. I love learning and everyone that comes through App Academy has a similar desire to learn and change their life.  It is such a dedicated and energetic learning environment. Unlike any I had ever been in.  

Fast forward again and I was offered a TA position at App Academy.  I have moved my way up in the instructional team and am now an Instructional Manager.  In short, I lead a team of TAs teaching in person cohorts.  

Teaching at App Academy has been a life changing experience.  The culture is the first I have encountered where I feel like I can bring my true self to work. Having an opportunity to teach and help others change their lives is so rewarding and so fun.  I also contribute to our internal web application that we use for classroom management.  

I never realized how social coding really is.  Good communication skills are crucial when pair programming with teammates. Collaborating with my coworkers and diving into a codebase that I didn’t create from scratch is an awesome adventure.  Basically, I get to solve puzzles, create things, and fix problems (bugs) regularly. I really enjoy the almost instant gratification involved with coding.  

What helped me make the switch

Transitioning careers is really intimidating and can feel unattainable. I was lucky to have mentors during my time in the Automotive Industry.  A few key people always had my back, encouraged me to expand my interests and take training courses that could help me grow, and regularly gave me feedback both positive and constructive.  I was lucky that my manager was a mentor and we regularly talked about career opportunities and what I might want to do with my career long term. He encouraged me to go to SXSW and pursue my passions in tech. 

It was very helpful to have a manager that saw past my contributions to the company I was currently working for and was genuinely interested in understanding what motivated me and helped me think through what I might want to do with my career.  

I’m really excited for the opportunities that lie ahead for me as a Software Engineer.  There are endless amazing projects that people are working on that are changing the way we all live our lives.

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Written by Jen von Moltke

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