I firmly believe that we don't need to file ourselves into one category, no matter how disparate those categories might appear at first glance. We all contain multitudes. I used to write and translate for a living, now I build software for a living, but in no way does that mean I'm now exclusively a developer. In no way have I given up writing, nor do I no longer identify as a writer. In fact, I believe my continuing writing practice enriches what I've chosen to do as a career.
I've been interested in language and languages ever since I was a kid. I did my Bachelor's in French & German and always knew, on some level, that I'd live in a place where I could use those skills every day. At first, translation seemed like the obvious choice, so I did that for a while, with lofty ambitions of even becoming a literary translator. After a few years, I was getting jaded about trying to flog my my passion to clients. Surely there was something profitable I could do that built upon my existing skills?
Once I started considering other possibilities, I began to realise that having fluent foreign language skills was a springboard for anything else I wanted to do. I could overcome those limitations I'd set myself and that others had set me, just by immersing myself into a place and having the courage to speak.
Let's rewind to 2014, which is when I moved to Berlin. It had been known as a startup hub or whatever for a few years, though I cared very little about that; I loved the city for its cultural scene. Yet most of the jobs available were in software! While browsing postings, I saw things like "Ruby on Rails" being mentioned a lot and I kept laughing at "backend/frontend". A few people I ran into while networking implied that since I knew foreign languages, I could learn a programming language, no problem. Except there was a problem: I thought coding sounded boring and that I wasn't scientific enough. Besides, it wasn't really a thing women did, was it...?
Fast-forward to 2018, when I took part in the annual Django Girls workshop in Berlin. It was on a total whim, just to try something new, though I did state in my application that I knew quite a bit about HTML and CSS through maintaining blogs since my teens.
It's safe to say that that day in June changed the trajectory of my life, though at the time, I wouldn't have guessed this at all. I didn't even finish the project and had a massive headache, so I went home early, and concluded I wasn't cut out for it. All the same, it had been a total revelation, thanks to the mostly-women professional developers helping us out, and the yummy vegan lunch. Most of all, though, the ability to learn in a safe, non-snooty environment had been unspeakably important.
And since I happened to be looking for a new job, I reached out to one of the event's sponsors. They ended up hiring me as a Content & Quality Manager, a position I held for nigh on two years. It was part-time, so I continued doing my freelance editorial work on the side.
What's more, it was actually a colleague who'd given a talk at Django Girls who gently urged me to take a look at the tutorial again and give it another shot. Don't get me wrong; I went through hours and hours of frustration. But with each tiny win, I felt more excited. Each thing that worked, I thought, I did that, and felt proud. As I completed the tutorial, the Python/Django world had already worked its magic on me and I was sucked in. I wanted to learn the next steps, I wanted to learn how to get better.
The same colleague, now a friend, encouraged me to apply as a coach at Django Girls the following year. I was sceptical at first — me, teaching people to code? LMAO — but it was a wonderful experience. Helping people out, seeing them play out concepts that had been totally foreign to me once, was incredibly rewarding and gave me a lot of confidence. In October 2019, I sent my last freelance invoice, figured out ways to get by on my reduced income, and spent every spare moment devouring coding tutorials and poring over documentation so I could add my own touches. This was the point of no return.
Having a humanities degree isn't exactly a traditional route into becoming a software developer, so I conducted a lot of research into how I could expedite my path into that sort of career. Bootcamps were prohibitively expensive, and anyway, I'm pretty sure that kind of learning environment wouldn't be my cup of tea. Teaching myself was okay, as I was used to working independently and puzzling over things on my own, but I wasn't quite out of the "bashing my head against the keyboard and wasting whole weekends on Stack Overflow" stage and wanted some extra guidance. Since the German job market is hyper-focused on qualifications, I also wanted something to show for my skills.
My employer covered some of the costs of a Python course at a local further education college, based on an internationally recognised exam. This ended up being really useful and it was good to have a tutor to turn to, though it was also very intense: virtually attending class, followed by work, followed by completing assignments or studying in the evenings. Oh yeah, and all this during a pandemic.
A lot of things came up between finishing the course and getting offered my first dev job, but it happened. As of September 2020, I am a Junior Software Developer!
I'm still not entirely convinced that speaking a handful of natural languages fluently has anything to do with an inherent aptitude for programming. What I do know, however, is that I am someone who loves projects and loves being cocooned inside them for hours. I've been working on books for sooo long, and I can say that this experience — and this dedication to working on something that can be so frustrating for free — has only helped when it comes to designing and executing my own code projects.
On the resources page (coming soon!), you can find some of my favourite media about learning to code and the tech scene in general. Some of it may be especially useful for people from underrepresented groups (marginalised genders, BIPOC, and those who are taking non-conventional paths into tech).