A Look Back

My first year as a professional developer has been a fantastic one for me, and as I’ve been meaning to blog more now for a while, I thought I’d start with a look back at the journey that got me here.

In April 2014 I joined the General Assembly 3 month intensive bootcamp Web Development Immersive and entered into the most intense educational period of my life. It was very tough, but I got through it and came out the other end with a foundation in Ruby and Rails, a tenuous grasp of JavaScript, and a renewed hatred of giving presentations. I discovered that I can learn anything I put my mind to, and that even dauntingly large tasks can become manageable if you break them down into smaller pieces, and don’t hesitate to get stuck in.

The knowledge and skills gained at GA were enough to secure me interviews with all of the companies I initially applied to (4 in total), and I ultimately accepted an offer of a 3 month internship at software consultancy Red Badger. The first couple of months there were tough (a colleague recently described my general look at that time as ‘rabbit in headlights’!), working on an internal project with a couple of other interns. I struggled to get my head round lots of new concepts and new software, and we all realised that the weekly support from senior devs (sometimes less than that due to client project needs) on a project as complex as the one we were attempting, wasn’t really enough. Things slowly started to make a bit more sense though, and I was surprised and delighted to be invited to stay on as a permanent member of staff.

I moved on to updating our own website, which was a good introduction to working in a proper team, closely collaborating with designers and testers, as well as getting more input from senior developers who I could turn to for help when I got stuck.

Following on from that I got placed on my first ever client project — at Lloyds bank — which was very exciting but also daunting. We were working closely with the client as part of a larger team made up of people from various other agencies and companies, to build something from scratch. It was interesting for me to see how a large project gets started, and the massive importance of communication. My confidence in programming came along in leaps and bounds (albeit with the odd blip here and there!), becoming proficient in React.js, JS & ES6, and getting more and more familiar with the quirks of CSS. We did a lot of pair programming, which I really enjoyed, and I learnt a lot about the design and architecture of code and the importance of small reusable components.

After the Lloyds project came to an end I returned to Badger HQ and spent some time on the ‘bench’, doing some self-studying as well as working on a couple of small website projects. A few weeks ago I was placed on my second client project — Tesco. This time I am working on a very well established project with an enormous codebase, which is bringing new challenges. Before, I needed to work out the best way to build something, and consider the impact that decisions we made now might have on the shape of the project in future. Now I spend a lot of time trying to find out whether the solution to what I’m trying to do, has already been done (the answer is nearly always yes!), work out how it works and then try to implement it correctly. It’s a very different type of development, but I’m enjoying the change and the different type of learning that this brings. Being able to come in on an already established project, and quickly begin to grasp how the different pieces fit together and start adding value has been a huge confidence boost and shown me how far I’ve come since I started GA and barely knew anything about coding.

It’s been an amazing year for me. My confidence has grown. I’ve spoken on a panel in front of 100 women at Twitter, to try to encourage more to get involved in development. I’ve spoken to a classroom of 14 yr-olds about the different types of roles available in the digital industry for BIMA Digital Day. As part of my training budget, Red Badger paid for me to attend a couple of inspiring conferences — FullStackConf and BeyondConf. I also got to attend some epic Badger parties, including a weekend on a private island, and even try my hand at dodgeball. None of which I would have foreseen a year ago!

I love working at Red Badger. My colleagues are all very smart people, who do excellent work but are also incredibly supportive, as well as fun to work with. I’ve learnt so much working there, and can’t quite believe how well my gamble to embark on yet another new career (my third), has paid off.

I’m looking forward to the surprises and challenges that will come in 2016 — maybe this will be the year I finally get this regular blogging malarkey nailed. Stranger things have happened…