How I took my first step in tech
How I switched careers from biologist to software developer by starting as QA
Here I share my story: How I redefined my professional career, going from being a biology graduate to work as an Android developer.
In this article I explain why I decided to switch careers and how I applied to my first job in tech.
In the second part, I’ll explain how I’ve been learning Android development, the resources I used and the different options that there are.
In the third part, I'll explain how it is to work as a developer after these years of preparation, how I did the jump and what were the obstacles I found.
Five years ago, my husband got a job offer in Berlin and we moved there. I was recently graduated with a bachelors in biology and was uncertain about my employment possibilities, but I was sure that they might be better anywhere else than in Spain.
While we were getting used to living in another country, I focused on learning German full time. For 10 months I attended a language school where I took 3 hours of intensive German lessons for five days a week. I went from knowing nothing to a theoretical C1 level.
I have to say that my English was also pretty limited at that time, so I also tried to improve it by taking online Skype lessons.
During that year I also had my first contact with programming. I was curious about my husband’s job, and thanks to Coursera I took a bunch of lightweight programming courses in Python. It was fun but it never motivated me to continue studying past the course graduation.
Masters in Biotechnology
My recent interest in programming and my background in biology motivated me to reshape my career into a more technical path. After a bit of research I’ve decided to pursue a masters in biotechnology that was offered by an online university in Spain.
For two years I learned some of the tools data scientist use and also did a lot of statistics. These tools included: the R language, a bit of PHP, a bit of Linux command line tools and a bit of SQL databases.
But it wasn’t for me. I didn’t like studying statistics and I went through a lot of stress just to pass the last parts of the program. After graduation I didn’t feel job ready. Plus, most of the job offers I could find, required a PhD or even a Post-Doc. The few job interviews I was able to get didn’t go well.
In the last interview I had for a statistician position, I had to explain my master thesis. It consisted of a web application using the R language to display statistical analysis of proteomic data. I was excited to talk about how I built it and how it worked, but the hiring managers didn’t care about that, they only cared about the statistical part of it. That was when I realized that I like building things and wanted to continue learning programming.
Working from home on crowd-sourced testing
I knew I wanted to work in tech, just not in data science or biotechnology. And while I was getting ready for that, I needed some cash.
I learned about two crowd-testing companies. You work from home testing software products and you get paid depending on the amount of bugs you are able to find.
Here my German skills helped me. Almost all the products I was asked to test were in German. Being able to communicate in a different language was a big competitive advantage. I tested roughly 20 different products, from e-commerce websites to mobile video streaming apps.
There’s no need to say that the pay was bad. You cannot do a living from this and I am even sure it’s illegal to work under those conditions in Germany.
A full time position in QA
As the QA freelancing was not as fruitful as expected, I tried to find full time positions elsewhere. After applying to a dozen of tester positions, I got one as QA for the mobile apps at my current employer. Having worked as freelancer, even without a proper job contract, gave me the necessary skills to get the position.
It took me four years and a lot of trial and error, but I got a stable income and a job in tech. Still, I didn’t want to stop there, so I continued learning programming on the little free time I had left, because I knew testing was just a temporal job and I wanted to be a professional software developer.
How I did it and why Android is explained in the next article.
- Studying is never a waste of time. Even if I did not end working as biotechnologist, being in contact with the tools and being challenged helped me to become a better developer in the long run.
- Soft skills are very important. Knowing German helped me getting into a lot of job offers. Sounds obvious but a lot of people think that you don’t need German to get a job in Berlin, it is true to a certain level but only if you have a very demanded skill set.
- Testing is a good first step to become a developer. You will be part of the tech teams, you will get to know how the products work from the inside and what are the processes involved in product development. You can bring that experience to your first developer gig.