Nurse Turned Software Engineer: How I Changed Careers in Less Than a Year
“How in the world did I get here?!” - Me, everyday.
I always envisioned myself becoming a Software Engineer but I didn’t know when that would happen. When 2020 came around, I did what most people do at the start of a new year, I set a goal. I thought to myself: “it’s a new decade, no better time than now!” So I made the scary decision to change careers and jump into the world of tech. Fast forward to today and I’m actually doing it. I’m a Software Engineer!
In this article, I’ll reflect on my journey on how I left my job as a Registered Nurse in the Intensive Care Unit to become a Software Engineer in a Fortune 500 company.
I’ll discuss what I did and give helpful tips along the way. I’ll also share what I think I could’ve done better. I’d also like to point out that this was my own personal journey. There are many other successful career changers whose pathways are totally different but equally challenging (or not) than mine.
For a bulleted summary, scroll down to “TLDR Version” :)
Getting ready to make the jump
“… the timing felt right.”
Working as a nurse came with its challenges. I was working overtime with a sporadic schedule and had the night shift from 7 pm to 7 am. It was definitely taking a toll on my physical and mental health. When 2020 came around I felt fired up to do something about it and that’s when I made the decision.
The talk of COVID-19 spreading was also happening. The first case reported in the United States happened on Jan. 21, 2020, and it was found in my residential state! I live with someone who is immunocompromised and I couldn’t risk the possibility of it reaching my home since I was working in the frontline. So this pushed my decision even further. I’m still shocked at the huge bullet I dodged since I had no clue it would later become a global pandemic.
I had to set myself up for success. My financial situation was a barrier to entry for me. I’ve only been working as a nurse for 2.5 years and even then I had a considerable amount of debt that my income was going towards. I was already planning to save 3–6 months of monthly expenses and I’ve been working closely with a financial trainer since 2019 to achieve that goal.
I didn’t quite save the amount I wanted but the timing felt right. So I decided to leverage my resources and got into a little more debt. I purchased a Macbook Pro in January and later applied for a private student loan when I enrolled in a coding bootcamp. The money that I was able to save would go towards monthly expenses while I was unemployed.
After doing research, I decided to enroll in Flatiron School. I enjoyed their free Bootcamp prep online and the curriculum was just what I was looking for. I was also looking forward to the career support they offer after graduation. At the time, they had a money-back guarantee if I didn’t find a job within one year. It was the right fit for me.
👉 TIP: ask your admission counselor if they offer any free grants or scholarships to help bring tuition costs down.
In March, I officially left my nursing job. The country also just went into lockdown so my choice became a bit unnerving not knowing if I could secure a job afterward. But I already made the decision so I had to stick through it. I spent the entire month prepping for Flatiron’s technical interview for admission. Looking back, the interview seems simple, but at the time I was pretty stressed out about it and fumbled through my solution. I passed and was scheduled to join the April 20, 2020 cohort.
Bootcamp and the learning mindset
“My biggest takeaway was learning how-to-learn…”
Flatiron School was a great experience. All my instructors were knowledgeable and my cohort had a great energy to them so it made the experience a fun one. We originally signed up to learn on-campus but since the country was in lockdown, learning was changed to “online until further notice” (we actually never got to experience on-campus, sigh).
Projects were my favorite part because I enjoyed building them in a team-setting. I didn’t know it then but I was learning a big part of software development — team building and project management. It was also really fun watching other teams present what they created.
The last mod was self-directed. We had three weeks to create a solo “passion project” where we implemented the new skills we learned. I created a health-productivity app called Simple Care (you can watch a video demo of it here). I also had the pleasure of collaborating with one of the Flatiron UX designers to help with the look and feel of the app. I was happy with my final project.
👉 TIP: Use Google and Stack Overflow. ANY problem I had was already addressed there. Just copy and paste any coding errors to Google and you’ll find something. Learn how to find solutions online before asking instructors or other cohort-mates for help. Googling is an important skill to have nowadays.
I did my best to make sure I got all my assignments and projects done within bootcamp hours. But there were times I spent extra hours into the night or on the weekend just to make sure my projects were up to par.
Here are a few tools I used in adjunct to Flatiron School resources:
- Google and Stack Overflow for debugging and solutions to errors
- YouTube for guided tutorials
- Trello for project management and collaboration
- Screen Castify or Zoom to record video walkthroughs of my projects
- Notion for note-taking
👉 TIP: If I could do one thing differently it would be to practice coding challenges for future technical interviews. We were also required to write five blog posts before we graduated. I probably should’ve used my blog posts to write out solution walk-throughs to coding challenges I did on Leetcode. That way I’d practice writing and talking about my thought process on technical questions for later interviews.
Going through a bootcamp was a tremendous help. My biggest takeaway was learning how-to-learn and building a momentum that propelled me during the job hunt. This momentum gave me the confidence to apply to any job I wanted to and network with as many people as I could.
Post-grad: networking, interviews, and more learning
“Every connection I made was an opportunity to be grateful.”
I graduated on July 30, 2020. I was now able to utilize career support and I went straight to work. Career support included access to a career coach, resume review, a mock behavioral interview, a mock technical interview, and access to Flatiron School resources on how to job search and network.
👉 TIP: For those going the bootcamp route, I would suggest taking only a few days, one week max, to take a small break after graduating. Of course, if you need to, take as long a break as you need. But I believe going straight to work kept my momentum and drive up to land a job.
LinkedIn was my best friend.
I spent every day on LinkedIn connecting with strangers who were willing to give me any advice they can give. One thing I wasn’t expecting was how supportive and responsive people were. One person would even send me messages to cheer me on. I believe, if you are approaching people with kindness and authenticity, you’ll be well-received and they’ll be more willing to help. Every connection I made was an opportunity to be grateful since I know peope were taking time out of their day to help a stranger like me. I made sure to say “thank you” with every connection I made.
I joined any networking event, webinar, and community I could. A few of my favorites were:
- Junior Developer Happy Hour. A meet-up that held Ask-Me-Anything events with successful bootcamp grads. You also get access to their Slack channel where people post new job listings and opportunities.
- 1000Hires. A project created to give more visibility to people who are looking for a job during the pandemic. You can see my 7-min interview with them here. You also get access to their Slack channel.
- Flatiron Alumni. After graduating, you get added to the Flatiron School Alumni Slack channel. I kept in touch with cohort-mates and we gave each other tips and shared helpful opportunities with each other.
- Flatiron’s Employer Partnerships. Flatiron School also has an Employee Partnerships program where the team emails you job opportunities.
- Wonsulting. A community turning ‘underdogs into winners.’ They hold live events where professionals come and share their stories and had great tips on how to navigate job-seeking.
- LinkedIn Influencers. People on LinkedIn who post motivating and helpful content during the job hunt. Austin Belcak, Mariam Jameel, and Reno Perry are a few of my favorites.
👉 TIP: You can start networking WHILE you’re learning or in a bootcamp. Post your progress on LinkedIn or Twitter and let people know what you are up to and what interests you. That way you’ll have a track record on how far you’ve progressed and can show that to recruiters and employers.
As for applying to jobs, I used every method suggested to me.
I tried the “machine-gun” or “spray-and-pray” method where I went to job boards and applied to every application posted — some I was totally underqualified for; I got one interview out of this method. I applied to the jobs Employer Partnerships emailed me; I got one interview through this method. I connected with people on LinkedIn who shared some job events; I got one interview this way. A past colleague was able to refer me and I landed one interview at their company. I landed one more interview which I’ll share down below.
👉 TIP: If I was more confident, I would have attended hackathons. You get to directly work with and learn from other engineers. It’s a great networking event and potential employers can actually see how you work in a team.
In between networking and applying to jobs, I made sure to follow the “ABC: Always Be Coding” principle.
I participated in the #100daysofcode challenge where I posted online what I learned regarding coding every single day. I even landed one job interview this way! A past colleague saw how hard I was working and decided to give me an interview. However, I advise to take caution as I was burnt out from being on the computer every day. I had to step away for a week to reset. I also did as many coding challenges as I could to prepare for the dreaded technical interview. If you’d like, here is an article I wrote on how to approach problems in a technical interview. In addition to all this, I took a couple Udemy courses online to anything I felt was relevant.
Now for the exciting part
In October, three months after graduating from bootcamp, I received an offer! I was thrilled because I was starting to lose hope. I was burning through my savings and was at the end of my resources. I even called my old job to see if they would be willing to take me back — which they were. That same week I was finishing up onboarding back to my old job, I received a job offer to be a Software Engineer! And at a Fortune 500 company! I was shocked at the timing of it all.
Here are the numbers:
- Over 120 job applications
- 5 first-round interviews
- 3 technical interviews
- 2 take-home coding challenges
- 1 job offer 🎉
I celebrated by taking a much-needed break away from the computer (and to a nice dinner and drinks of course). The position didn’t start until a month after I got the offer so I decided to use that time to relax and do absolutely nothing. That way I would be re-energized when I started.
I have a lot of things to be grateful for. Other than landing this job during a time I was beginning to feel hopeless, I was also able to stay safe and healthy throughout this global pandemic. This experience was definitely a roller coaster ride and challenged me mentally and emotionally. I want to make sure I can be a helping hand to others going through this same process by sharing my experience.
Happy coding 😄
- Pre-Jan: started working on my 3–6 month savings, in case I was serious about changing careers.
- Jan: committed to changing careers and invested in a new Macbook Pro.
- Mar: officially quit my job and prepared for coding bootcamp.
- April: started the 15–week bootcamp, spent Mon-Fri coding all day, sometimes into the night and on weekends.
- July: graduated and officially on the job hunt. I utilized Flatiron’s career support, networking on LinkedIn, and joined any event or community I could.
- Aug-Oct: Interviews, coding challenges, more networking, and applying to jobs
- Oct: Landed a job offer! Took a much-needed month long break.
- Nov: Started working as a Software Engineer
- Leverage your resources
- Work hard, network, and always be learning
- Practice gratitude and believe in yourself :)