My Journey to Becoming a 19-Year-Old Full Stack Engineer
A year ago I would have never guessed that today I would be working at a start up in downtown Denver as a software developer.
With my twentieth birthday coming up, I have a lot to reflect on. I mostly have a lot of thank you’s.
I decided to write about my journey launching into the tech world and the decisions that got me to where I am today.
If you are looking to learn about how I got my job, I plan on writing an article on that soon, stay tuned. This is purely my journey into tech and how things have changed in my life.
So here we go:
I’m Bekah. I’m from Minnesota. After graduating high school, I had the opportunity to work as an intern at a graphic design/marketing company in St.Paul. This was my summer job. Throughout my time there, I picked up small tasks that involved graphic design work using the Adobe Creative suite. This was entertaining enough for me, but I was normally more interested in what one of my co workers was doing. He was a software developer. He told me about a bot that his friend had made that allowed him to win any twitter contest he joined. He would tell me about all of the things you can do as a developer and how accomplished he would feel at the end of the day. Sometimes I would stop doing my work and sit with him to see what he was doing. It was fascinating. He seemed to have access and control to a completely different part of the computer than I had ever been able to see or understand. Even though this was one of my biggest interests at the time, becoming a software developer was never a real career option in my head. Looking back, it could have been because of the way my high school (and society) pushed boys into these types of fields, not girls. So for a while I kept on the graphic design route.
When I got to college, I continued studying graphic design. I didn’t like college. It was slow. I had only a couple of classes each day and every assignment was about memorizing facts and numbers or writing papers. These things were alright, but it was extremely hard for me to think about doing this for the next four years of my life. The graphic design classes were fine, and I still love to use my creative side, but even those were not challenging me enough. I was bored. Fortunately, one of the required courses for that year was a web development class, and I remembered how much fun it was watching my co worker build sites, and I became excited again.
On the first day of my web development class, we went over a little bit of HTML and CSS. I was absolutely hooked. I can literally build something that I design? Just using this code? A whole new world opened up to me. I couldn’t wait to get home and learn more. I jumped on codecademy and went through the HTML and CSS lessons. When the next week’s class came around, I was disappointed to learn that we were going to be using DreamWeaver to build our sites. I had wanted to build everything from scratch! That was what I was looking forward to. After dreaming about creating the designs in my head using only the words I typed, I began to reconsider the college I was attending.
While looking into different colleges with better design/computer science degrees, I came across coding bootcamps. With the help of a friend, I found Turing School of Software and Design. This school stood out to me for many reasons. First, they were offering a Front End developer program, which aligned perfectly with what I wanted to do. Their values were outstanding, the school was non-profit, it was an immersive 7 month program with project-based curriculum, and unbelievably good student success rates. They were also offering a diversity scholarship. It seemed to my younger self that this was a school only for those with exceptional intelligence, and that there was a slim chance I would get in with my lack of experience and their low acceptance rates. I figured that I should at least apply and see if I make it.
It felt like there were a million steps to go through, but after all of the applications and interviews, I was accepted. This was both exciting and absolutely terrifying. Because now I had a decision to make. Was I really about to drop out of college and move across the country for a coding school?
I was very nervous to start school at Turing. I felt as if they had only let me in accidentally. Everyone in my class was older than me, with college degrees, real world job experience, and a higher level of certainty in what they were doing . This was intimidating to say the least. I began Turing with some pretty low confidence in myself, and throughout the first module believed that the administrators had made some sort of mistake by letting me in. Fortunately, this all changed by the end of the program.
Turing was an unfamiliar world to live in. They have very calculated way of teaching. The professors will show you just enough to get you started, assign you a project that is due in three days, and slowly teach you the things that you need to know in order for you to actually complete the project over the three days. This method taught me how to research, how to ask questions, and how to work as part of a team to figure out the seemingly impossible.
Turing was the most fun thing I have done in a long time. I lived for the nights that my group would stay extra late to finish up projects. The feelings of pressure followed by accomplishment after finishing a project in three days was incredible. I met friends for life there. I loved every second of my time there and would do it all over again.
Turing is split into four modules. Each are six weeks long with a week long break in between. With each module I felt myself grow. I feel as though I learned just as much about myself as I did about coding throughout this program, and for that I am forever grateful.
Some events that happened throughout the mods that stand out to me:
I think back to mod one and how insecure and scared I was. I remember taking the final evaluation in that mod in a state of panic because I was sure I would fail (I passed). At this time I still felt clueless and that I was under-qualified to be there.
In mod two I cried during my portfolio review (the final “yes you passed, you move on” or “you fail, repeat this module”) in front of my teachers when they passed me, I was so relieved that all of these thoughts of failure and self-doubt were just in my head, and were not a part of my reality. They assured me that I had never been a concern to them and they knew I was doing just fine.
The last week of mod three was where everything changed. We were given much more material than usual for our final assessment. Part one of three was learning six tough code challenges, and the teachers told us that they would choose one at random for the assessment. Learning all six was my biggest concern. When I looked at them I felt clueless. I made it my mission to learn those problems inside and out and understand what each of them did. At the end of the week, I was teaching my classmates how to solve these code problems on the whiteboard. My confidence skyrocketed. After this I felt a lot better about my ability to be successful, and passed mod 3 without a problem.
Ah mod four, where everything starts to come together. This was the time that things really started to make sense to me. Code, career, and life. In mod four, my teacher chose me to represent Turing when a software company wanted to check out students and talent at Turing, student life, and what we learn. I was a featured graduate on Turing’s website, picked out of all of the successful graduates. I was reached out to by a developer in Finland, who said that after looking through every graduate’s profile he was the most impressed and excited by my story and background and wanted me to join his team. I had an interview with a small startup that went an hour longer than it should have because the developer and I got along so well. At the same time, another company was looking into hiring me, and after having interviews with them, everything looked very promising. During this last module I also built a complete CRUD web app with a node/express API from scratch in under 10 hours for our final assessment. I spoke in front of a crowd of 60+ about my group’s capstone project and felt strong.
On graduation night I was told by my teacher that I graduated at the top of the class. My classmates surrounded me with positivity. Any doubts I had in myself got repeatedly stomped out by my peers, teachers, and friends. It was impossible to doubt myself at this point. I was surrounded by people who were impressed with my work ethic and knew I was going to succeed. When everyone around you believes in you that strongly, it’s easy to believe in yourself. And I knew that I deserved to succeed, I had worked so hard at this school. I stayed until 7 or 8 almost every night for seven months, (these were 10–12 hour days every weekday) with projects consuming the weekends. I poured all my energy into learning and hustled when it came to my job search.
I left Turing with an entirely different outlook on myself. I am good at this. I am smart and talented, I am passionate and hard-working, and good at this! I am a programmer, I write and breathe code and this is what I am supposed to do. I can’t thank everyone who has helped me through this enough. Turing is absolutely the best decision I have ever made.
Things happened very quickly after graduation night. That same weekend, I got my first final offer. The following weekend I got my second.
I remember that day really well. It was a Saturday, and I was sitting (and smiling) in awe while trying to fully understand what was happening. I was a nineteen year old kid who dropped out of college, and had two companies competing for me. I had two very competitive offers from two fantastic places.
I ended up choosing to work for Apto, a company that creates commercial real estate software. I am currently working as a Full Stack Engineer on their engineering team. Every day in the office is awesome, and I love going to work. Everyday is full of learning, great conversations, coding, and dogs (dog friendly office, woo!). I have fallen in love with the community here. It is right downtown and has a young start-up style culture. I have made new friends and created wonderful relationships. My team is incredible and I feel extremely lucky to have landed this job.
Outside of work, I have taken great pleasure in becoming a mentor at Turing. As the front end program is still quite new, there are not many front end graduates who have come back to become mentors. Often, I am reached out to by students, and usually meet with them a couple times a week. Sometimes it is just lunch and chatting, and sometimes it is teaching and looking at code. Either way the meeting goes, it is a blast and a pleasure to help these students out. I was in their shoes only eight months ago, so I am happy to give them all the information and help they need.
I have also volunteered at Girl Develop It meetups, helping TA for rockstars like Cara Jo, the Founder of GDI Boulder.
Another thing I have been doing with my time is training for a half marathon. I signed up for one in October with some awesome co-workers.
Right now, I am happy to be exactly where I am. I am truly at an all time high. I feel right at home at my new company and love that I am able to help current Turing students get through their classes as well. There were so many incredible people along the way during this journey. To everyone who has supported me along the way, thank you, and I will always remember what you have done to help me.
I can’t wait for what’s next. My next goal is to give a tech conference talk, so look for that in the future.
I couldn’t have done this without my awesome family. They supported me all the way from MN. I’m pretty sure my mom’s greatest fear was for one of her kids to drop out of college and move very far away, so she is one strong lady. Her trust and support have meant the world and I am fortunate to have a mother who was okay with me doing this. She is very proud of me for my new job. My little sister always has an open ear to listen when I need a hand, and my little brother reminds me not to take things too seriously. They are my biggest supporters and fans.
Again, a huge thank you to everyone who has helped me on this journey.
Look for my next article explaining exactly how I landed a job (and had multiple offers) within a week and a half of graduating from Turing!