Interview With Ben Manning, engineer at ‘The Information’

Ben was able to transition from being a Preschool Teacher to a Software Engineer. Here is the interview:

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

“I come from an education/psychology background. For roughly five years out of college I taught preschool and worked with children with special needs. I also taught music lessons on the side and ran the music program for the preschool.”

What made you want to become a Software Engineer?

“Two things really lead me to want to become a software engineer. The first was a moment when my school transitioned to using iPads/iPods exclusively for all kinds of structural needs. I took charge of setting up the infrastructure and really enjoyed the challenge that came with that. As time would go on, while I was teaching at the school, I would volunteer to work with the technology and learn more about how it was all interconnected.
The second thing was a little more selfish. I recognized that most of the parents at the school that I taught at were affiliated with tech in one way or another. I knew at some point that I wanted to have kids. My partner and I are very enamored with the Bay Area so I felt like it was a good time for me to learn web development and have a more sustainable income to support a family. This was also happening at a time when I felt like I had hit a ceiling with working in early childhood education, and I felt this transition would really help me challenge myself.”

Can you tell us about the obstacles that you had to overcome to be where you are today?

“Certainly. I would say that I did not have a lot of external obstacles in my journey in getting to where I am today. I joined a web development program that really helped me learn a lot of best practices and was very supportive of me from day one. The bigger obstacles were much more internal. I was not a disciplined person and that continues to be a thing that I work with as I evolve as a developer. The other thing that is something I had to overcome was shyness. I typically do not reach out for assistance when it comes to things I don’t know and that simply doesn’t work in this field. It took a lot of time to get over that hump and realize it’s okay to reach out for help/advice.”

What advice do you have for people who are looking to become software engineers?

“I would say to create a plan for learning and stick to it. A lot of web development (in my eyes) is being methodical about how you approach things and recording the results. This is also the case with learning it too. Be fearless with how you approach development. Mistakes are made all the time. It seems like a cliché but you can’t learn from mistakes if you don’t make them. So really take deep dives and go down rabbit holes. Those are the moments where you really learn a lot about development and yourself. Go to meetups and use free tutorials to see what aspects of software engineering you may be most interested in.”

If you could have done something differently to be where you are at, what would it be?

“I think I would have taken more time to ease into the web development sphere, but take more web tutorials before joining a development bootcamp. I’m really happy with my experience in that regard but I think having more space and self-learning up front would have really enhanced my experience in the program.”

Did you have any mentors along the way? If so, how did they help you? If not, would you have wanted a mentor and what would they have done?

“I had a few classmates that were extremely helpful in my progress in the web development program. They were extremely gracious with their time and really helped me develop my problem solving process. As a direct result of their influence and my respect for them, I got into mentoring other students as well. They really helped me be patient with problem solving and emphasized process over speed when it came to development and debugging.”

Can you tell us about your support group and how they kept you going during tough times?

“Totally! My spouse was extremely supportive during the whole process of beginning to learn. She gave me a lot of space to do the deep dives into certain projects. As she had just finished a master’s degree, she was also pretty adept at telling me when to take a break and recharge. My classmates were also a huge source of support. They were great at being competitive and providing a lot of energy on late nights. I still have that core group to help with questions and ideas even though we’ve all moved to different companies.”

Any last thoughts/advice for people who are trying to become software engineers?

“Patience and perseverance. This is a very complex field with a lot of talented and driven people in it. It can become easy to compare yourself (unfairly) to others and get discouraged. Find the aspects of web development you think you’d be most interested in and really go for that. That kind of passion speaks volumes to people looking for developers. Surround yourself with talented and driven developers and learn from them as well. Usually they want to pass off the knowledge they’ve learned to others. Before you know it, you will be one of those developers too.”

What are the best free resources for developers/people in tech?

“I have always enjoyed using Codecademy as an introductory course on any language I want to learn. FreeCodeCamp is a resource that I enjoy as well. They are always updating the curriculum so it’s great to come back and see what they have going. I tend to enjoy watching the video tutorials by TheNewBoston if there are more advanced concepts that I want to learn. Eloquent Javascript is a free ebook that I enjoy reading. Those have been the go-to resources as of late.”