Just three years ago, Charlotte was studying for her Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies at King’s College London, researching academic practice in Latin America.
So how - and why - did she go from there to being a Consultant Developer at ThoughtWorks?
How did you decide to move into coding?Despite spending the last five years in academia, I was unsure what I wanted to do for a career until I was given the excellent advice to focus on skills you enjoy rather than job titles. I realised transferable skills could be easily matched to job descriptions. Researching in this way gave me exposure to the different jobs available to me. While volunteering at an EdTech startup, I worked alongside developers who introduced me to the world of coding. As a linguist, code fascinated me, so I started seeking out projects within different organisations, and came across Code First: Girls, a social enterprise on a mission to get more underrepresented groups into technology. In the technology industry currently, just 19% of the workforce (Tech Nation 2018, Information Age) is comprised of female and non-binary people; I wanted to be a part of changing that statistic. Lack of diversity in technology roles means we not only exclude a large part of our population from in-demand, self-fulfilling, and well-paid jobs, but we also stifle economic growth and remove diversity from decision makers in key global industries.
In 2017, ThoughtWorks ran a scholarship program and generously sponsored me to learn to code at Makers Boot Camp. I loved getting to build stuff, something I had enjoyed the most from my time in research, being innovative and creative, coming up with new research questions. Once my scholarship was complete, I joined ThoughtWorks as a Graduate Software Developer.
What was the biggest challenge in taking a new career path?For me, the biggest challenge was to build my confidence. In the beginning, I was constantly questioning myself and my ability - I felt like an imposter. The amazing ThoughtWorkers I have worked with on client projects and who have supported me on my learning journey have helped me to overcome that. I’ve also really benefited from the training courses I’ve attended using my personal development budget from ThoughtWorks. Specific to the technology industry, I think the biggest challenge is figuring out how you manage your learning, as technology and best practices change all the time.
What does the typical day of a Consultant Developer look like?My typical day starts with a couple of hours pairing with another developer on a story, which is the term we use for a piece of work. At ThoughtWorks, we always work in pairs, following XP practices. Mid-morning, we usually have a stand-up with the broader team, this is a 10-minute update on what everyone is working on and an opportunity to highlight any potential issues.
Other typical activities - besides coding in my pair - include sessions where all the developers get together to share learnings, as well as retrospectives with the team. We discuss what went well, and what could have gone better. The aim is to continually improve on how we work, and learn from one another.
Seek out people whose career you admire and ask them questions to learn more about how they got to where they are today, and what job titles translate to in terms of day to day work. The technology industry is one which really welcomes people who are keen to learn: no question is a stupid question! Understand what skills you enjoy and want to grow and aim to map that to a career. In the end, no one can tell you what you should do, but they can help you get the information you need to know enough to make a decision. Feel empowered by the fact only you can own your career development; make yourself accountable, and most importantly love what you do!
What advice would you give to others considering a career change?
If you’re not sure what you want to do, list out the skills you enjoy, then map them against job descriptions. If you’re not sure what skills you’re good at or enjoy, ask people who know you well for their input.
Finally, trust your instincts, and don’t be scared to make a career move, people do it all the time, and trial and error is a part of life. In the words of Thomas Jefferson: “If you want something you've never had, you must be willing to do something you've never done.”
If you’re interested in learning to code, check out this open source project I started, Coder Newbie Advice, with information on free resources and Meetups to get started with. Please do share and contribute if you can!