From Unemployed Mother to Software Developer in Seven Months

If I can inspire you to break free and start a new career, my purpose with this article will be fulfilled.

Me Watching the Horizon

Preface

I am aware that I am in a highly privileged position. I am white. I am born in one of the richest countries in the world. I live in a big city with endless job opportunities in tech. I have two academic degrees. I have financial and emotional support. I am no single parent. My cisgender meets the societal expectations of the heteronormative mainstream. I am healthy. I have time.

However, I am also a middle-aged woman. I am mother of a child with special needs. I am unemployed. I have no degree in computer science. I am certainly not the top candidate for a software developer position. Therefore, I think this text can be an inspiration. It is for those of you who seek new perspectives for their lives.

Three Takeaways

I will start with the takeaways of my text as I know your time is precious. In this way you can decide early on if this article will be of interest for you.

  1. Before I changed my career, I had no perspective for a long time. I wasn’t happy with what I was doing but I couldn’t see where else to go. Then motherhood made me work less and less until I was unemployed for more than a year. After all, I managed to change this situation just within seven months. I have a full-time role as software developer starting in a couple of weeks. If you are in a hurry you can scroll down to the end of the article in order to see the steps that I took to finally reach that goal.
  2. I was always thinking about my financial dependencies. During the past five years these thoughts freaked me out most of the time. I will show you why in two charts below. What can happen if my spouse would suddenly die or if we’d split up? Could I take care of myself and my child? I think those questions are essential in order to make the right decisions.
  3. As a parent I think there is a danger to fall into the overall absorbing hole of parenthood by forgetting that we must take care of ourselves, too. This is especially true for women. For me this meant to never forget about my wish to find my way back into working life. I always wanted to contribute something valuable but never knew what that could be. I am very greatful that this is going to change soon.

The Wisdom of Two Charts

Charts give insights into facts that have been only gut feeling before. I like that. The first one compares my salary to my spouses throughout my previous “career”. Between 2011 and 2018, I earned around 36% of my spouse’s salary. Scary, right?

However, the reason for this is NOT the gender pay gap. It is the fact that I did much less paid (!) work than him. There is a massive collapse in summer 2013. Guess what happened…

Salary ratio between me and my spouse throughout my career

Correct! Our child was born. This is also very well visible in the next chart. It shows my working hours per week compared to my spouse. Sure, you could argue that this is all a voluntary choice and a matter of negotiation.

If you read the findings of gender research, you will soon notice that this is not true. Especially when you have a child with special needs it is even harder to balance the tasks as parents and to continue career development.

Comparison of weekly paid (!) working hours between me and my spouse

There is no direct reason why I chose to reduce my work. It is rather a highly complex bundle of factors that led to my decision. For sure one main reason was that I felt stuck in a niche with a lack of alternatives. I had no idea in which direction I could go. Hence, I stepped back from career development.

Breaking into Tech

There are moments in life when it needs just one question in order to change everything. This is when my spouse asked me one day:

“Why don’t you start learning how to code? You don’t have anything to lose.”

During my first job I already had some experiences with writing scripts. I always wanted to learn programming properly. Somehow, I never did.

I was extremely excited about the idea and started with a two-week Java introduction. I was hooked immediately. After completion, I started the next course and after that I did a Nanodegree.

I was unemployed. This gave me the opportunity and time to intensify my study. When I started with coding, I felt an enormous energy boost and motivation. It originated from the new perspective I got for my future life.

Networking, Networking, Networking

For the first two months I concentrated on studying. The following chart summarizes what I did soon after that. It displays the number of days I spent at events between July and November 2018. In total, I left my house at least 25 times for networking and absorbing all the information I could get.

Days I spent on various events whithin five months

Timing of the Job Application

This isn’t easy. Most of us never feel ready for a job. Neither did I. Instead of nourishing my doubts I told myself that my job applications are just an experiment. I wanted to know my market value. At least this is how I tricked my mind.

I polished my CV. I spent days until it looked amazing. I can’t stress this enough because I received very good feedback. I am sure that I got several interviews because of the design of my application. This is the easiest way to prove your motivation and to stand out.

My experiment went like this:

  1. I sent my first application in the end of September, five months after I started my learning process.
  2. Four applications later I had my first telephone interview.
  3. Four applications later I had my first on site interview.
  4. Four applications later I had my second on site interview.
  5. In total, I have written only a dozen applications.
  6. In the end, I had to cancel four invitations and got two job offers. I was very happy with the best of these two and took it.

I am still overwhelmed by the speed and success of this development and never thought that my “experiment” would end so quickly.

Six Steps

  1. Starting with one programming language and going deep into it worked well for me. Understanding the concept of object-oriented programming seemed to be very important. I started with Java but you can choose whatever feels right for you and where you can be best supported.
  2. I went to events, meetups, conferences, hackathons, study groups and every event I could get. Conferences often have free diversity tickets that you can apply for. I went to three conferences and got three tickets for free. Unbelievable!
  3. I soon realized that there are highly supportive communities out there. You only must find them. In my case it was the open minded and highly engaged ❤ RailsGirls* Community ❤ and the Women Who Code, just to name a few. It is important to find people who value diverse teams and who refrain from gate-keeping. I really hope I can give something back in the future… [* they recently changed their name to “Code Curious”]
  4. I knew that I had to be visible. Hence, I created accounts on Twitter , Github and LinkedIn. I published a portfolio, too.
  5. I listened to countless supportive and technical podcasts. I am a huge fan of the CodeNewbie Podcast and the Base.CS Podcast. The community is amazingly supportive for beginners.
  6. As a mother I needed to find an agreement with my spouse regarding my new job. Admittedly, this is a tough subject. I guess this is never easy even in very progressive relationships. Our society is still not very progressive when it comes to career development and parenting. However, I think there is always a way when both partners value shared responsibilities and gender equality.

Thank you for reading my article :) Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if you feel like sharing your experience. I would love to read about your thoughts on this.

Good luck on your journey!