Life is a journey with moments where you think you have the map all figured out, only to learn that the map was the wrong way around.
One of these moments happened recently. I was approaching the final year of my Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree at Stellenbosch University, when I was confronted by the reality that I had reached the end of my tenure as a student.
There was the natural option of going on and doing a masters, but I had decided that it wasn't on the cards for me anytime soon. I realised, with no small amount of trepidation, that in order for the next phase of life to begin, I would need to find a job. And so began the frantic process of emailing any and every company I could dream of in the hopes that I would find a position.
Life-Changing Encounters On The Road
Midway through this process I had a conversation with a friend who had graduated the previous year. He found himself snatched up by a software development house and seemed to be thriving.
This was strange to me. My logic had always been, what you study is what you become. In this respect, I was very naive. He convinced me that perhaps the map I had been looking at wasn't even the wrong way around, but maybe it was the wrong map entirely.
Taking Another Route
What followed was another stream of emails being sent to a software development house I had recently heard about. In short order, I found myself in an internship position at Appstrax. To put it plainly, I was very far out of my depth.
In engineering, one is regularly exposed to programming in one form or another. As such, I was under the impression that I knew roughly what I was doing when it came to this field.
And whilst I did benefit from the experience I had from engineering, I rapidly learnt that software development is an entirely different ball game.
Though engineering is fun and challenging and all those glorious things, it seemed to lack a certain punch to it. So although I was out of my depth, I was excited to learn and was prepared to put in whatever it took in order to make this work.
A New Journey Begins
The shift to software development was not as difficult as I had initially feared. Yes I knew next to nothing when I started, but what I initially didn't realize is that we live in the information age. A time when just about anything we could hope to learn is at the tips of our fingers.
Sites like YouTube and Udemy have loads of fascinating and informative tutorials to guide you through the learning process, and sites such as the web development practical guide help you pick your learning path.
But even with access to these I found myself in need of advice from those who have experience. To this end, the team that I have come to work with has been amazing. They have been patient and eager to share their knowledge, have put up with any number of mistakes, and have continued to encourage and anticipate a certain level of excellency. This may sound strange but it has been immensely beneficial.
Continuing the Peer-Help Circle
The same guidance that I received from my colleagues, I would like to share with you. However, it won't be about how to program or anything related to coding, but about career change.
As I have changed careers myself, I found these six tips worth sharing. They might help you if you are thinking about changing careers, or if you are willing to take on the software development challenge.
Six Tips To Help You Transitioning To A Career In Software Development.
1. Be Diligent.
Diligence is so much more than just working hard. It is a matter of going beyond what is expected. Set a standard for yourself, and continue to strive for that standard. Never let it decrease or diminish. Always seek to go beyond what is asked of you.
2. Get Context.
For me it is always important to understand the relevance of what I am doing. To be able to picture and see where exactly this is going or how it may be used. To this end I consistently Google the uses of what it is that I am learning or ask my boss how it is applied.
3. Be Prepared To Fail.
Failure is not the endpoint, it is merely a pit-stop. A point of reference where you can pause, learn, and move on. It does not mean you won't get it or cannot figure it out, it just means you have not got it yet.
The more you fail, the more you learn, and the better you will become. These were some of the most consistent words I heard through my first month of software development. It was fine to fail, as long as I learnt from it and did not make those same mistakes.
4. Ask Questions.
Everyone has been where you are at some point. It is vital to have the humility to ask questions when you are stuck. That being said, it is equally important to learn to struggle with something first. To first spend time trying to figure it out, and only after you have exhausted this avenue, do you ask for help.
5. Take Notes.
Though this may seem pointless, it is to your benefit and to the benefit of those around you. From my perspective it was a major help to have a notepad that I could read through each morning as a refresher.
As much as I wish I had perfect recall, I know the truth is that often by the end of the day your brain is so tired that a lot less information is stored. In the case of learning how to code, keeping notes helps you remember, and saves you having to ask the same questions again and again.
6. First In, Last Out.
This is a lot more of a personal trait. I prefer to have time on my hands to settle in and prepare for the day. If ever given the opportunity, I find it most beneficial to arrive ahead of schedule. It gives me time to review the previous day and get ready, so that when I actually clock in, I can really start working hard. At the end of my day I prefer not to leave as soon as my hours are done, but rather, take a while to recap the day, browse for articles and all round just have a bit of time to cool off.
There is a lot more to changing career paths and shifting how you pictured yourself working, but from my side these were some of the important factors. At the end of the day, very little is impossible if you set your mind to it.
I can safely say that I am seriously enjoying software development. It provides some crazy challenges whilst also allowing you to consistently have small victories. And I think that is what has me hooked. You can always see what you are working towards.
Good luck on whichever map you choose to follow, hopefully I will see some of you in development one day.
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