My first encounter with programming was in university. I had to learn Fortran90 as part of my Theoretical Physics degree and I hated it! It might have been the instructor, the lack of beginner’s tutorials online or just my complete lack of interest in writing computer simulations for particles and waves, but I couldn’t get the hang of it. I remember staring at the line “3 = x” for ages and wondering why my code wouldn’t compile. (It turned out that, as in many other languages, the order of assignment was wrong and I should have been writing “x = 3” instead.) I couldn’t get my head around the core concepts of programming in this language. I scraped through the module with the minimum needed to pass and swore I’d never code again!
My principles soon went out the window as I graduated into a recession, and I ended up working with SAS in my first graduate job. SAS is a programming language, similar to MySQL, used for data analysis. I found SAS much easier to pick up, but didn’t enjoy my job. I was working in finance and found it really dull. But I noticed some Python and Bash scripts that colleagues in other teams were writing and was intrigued. These languages could do much more than generate boring graphs and reports. I set about learning more in the quiet moments in my job (and there were a lot of them!). Thanks to dozens of free tutorials, I learnt how to write rudimentary Python and Bash, and also wrote some HTML for the first time. HTML amazed me: I could create something that appeared on a web browser, a piece of software that millions of people used every day, just with a few tags!
The realisation that I enjoyed building experiences on the web, rather than querying databases, or generating graphs, or building APIs, took me a few years and a few different jobs to discover. It was difficult to work out without a mentor or role-model, male or female, of whom to ask advice. This was discouraging at times. Instead, I had to rely on my own confidence and belief in myself and remember that I enjoyed coding and was (and still am!) good at it. The problem was that I hadn’t yet found an application of coding that suited my interests.
Early in my career, I remember being disheartened because I hardly ever read a technical blog post or tutorial written by a woman. One of the first things that appealed to me when I started learning web development was that I was reading more and more tutorials written by women. I always read the About Me page of a blog, and was often able to find and follow the authors on Twitter. Even if you don’t work with any female developers in real-life, there are hundreds of amazing women on Twitter, Instagram and other social media who share their experiences and can inspire you every day.
I’m glad that I wasn’t put off by my initial bad experience of software development, and persevered to end up with the career I have today. I love that my job requires me to problem-solve and continue to learn new technologies. The tech sector is still so new with so many interesting challenges in different areas. There will be jobs available to you in ten years that don’t even exist right now! Finding your niche takes time but can be done with perseverance and confidence. And if you can’t find your niche, don’t wait for anyone’s permission to invent your own!
To learn more about Claire’s journey, check out her Instagram here!!