My 12 month transition from police cells to coding cookbooks.

Rianne McCartney
Jun 3, 2020 · 6 min read

This time last year I had just quit my job as a solicitor in order to start a coding bootcamp. All of my lunch breaks for the previous couple of months had involved me learning Ruby and HTML on codecademy in order to get a base level of knowledge before the bootcamp started. After lunch, I’d go back to my actual job of advising clients as to whether they’d likely be going to prison for their various indiscretions.

I studied Law at A-level, then at University before following the standard path to become a solicitor which involves another 3 years of training; eventually qualifying in 2012. By this time I was working predominantly in criminal law and spending most of my days visiting London’s finest police cells or hanging out at HMP Belmarsh.

I loved the work but unfortunately it was quite a bad time to be working at a high street legal aid firm. Huge government cuts to the criminal justice system had been announced which affected the efficiency of criminal prosecutions and provided a bleak outlook as to solicitor salaries and whether small firms would even survive. I went on various protests with my fellow crime buddies to try and prevent the cuts (which amounted to almost £1billion over 5 years), even becoming involved in a mass strike at one point which left the courts in chaos, but eventually in order to avoid the inevitable I left my firm and spent a year in Sydney.

I returned to criminal law in various different guises after this (freelancing, private client firms), until I finally decided that it was time to move on. Due to the cuts, swathes of criminal lawyers, especially younger ones, have done the same as me. This has left ‘advice deserts’ where there simply aren’t any duty solicitors available for those that need them. Ironically, I’d probably become more in demand as a duty solicitor than a software developer in a few years!

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It was all well and good deciding to leave the industry, but that begged the question — what next? I started brainstorming different ideas based on my interests and strengths, and even dabbled in a few online quizzes for inspiration. By this point my boyfriend had been a software developer for around 3 years; I had no clue what this even entailed, but he seemed to love it and all of his colleagues exuded a job satisfaction that I didn’t often see in Law. Coincidentally, one of my extremely reliable online tests had suggested software engineering as a career — so I thought it must be the way forward! Cue the lunchtime coding sessions.

Once I had decided that yes, I liked coding and yes, I could probably do it in a work environment, I decided to take the plunge and apply for Makers which is a 12 week software development bootcamp. The Makers application process involves a written application form and then an interview during which you take part in a coding exercise with someone from the admissions team, followed by a chat to ensure you’re suited to the course. It is an intense 16 weeks (including 4 weeks working remotely on the pre-course) so it’s important that you’re willing to work hard and fully immerse yourself in the course, as well as having a rudimentary understanding of coding languages.

The course was great. It was tough at times and quite often I felt like I had no idea what was going on, but I got through it, presented a fabulous (IMHO😏) final group project which you can read more about here if you so wish and met some lovely people.

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Final project team — meet in the midl

However, the real challenge then began; the job hunting. Makers have a careers team who arrange for a bunch of hiring partners to come into the school once a month to present their companies and offer one or more junior developer roles. The only problem is, you’re generally one of around 70 graduates applying for the same jobs.

As a result, most people apply for external companies at the same time. One of the external companies I applied for was Gousto. Thankfully I was offered an interview which consisted of a pairing session, a whiteboarding session and the standard ̶i̶n̶t̶e̶r̶r̶o̶g̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ culture-fit interview.

The pairing session involved me pairing on a small task with another candidate (I was assured that it was not a competition and if all went well, we would both be hired 😅) and a junior software engineer for an hour. We were tasked to make a letter counter using JavaScript, HTML and CSS; an app which takes in a name/word and counts the occurrence of each letter as the user types it. We then had to design it to a particular specification. I’ve since recreated the app at home and it looks like this…

Screenshot of pairing test project
Screenshot of pairing test project

Surprisingly the pairing session wasn’t all that stressful and sounds like a much nicer experience than some of the technical challenges I’ve heard other companies ask for.

The whiteboarding session involved talking through the app and our approach to the app with a more senior engineer. It was nice at this point to meet another member of the team to gain a wider understanding of how the company operates.

Finally, the culture fit interview involved meeting two of the engineering managers and answering questions around Gousto’s core values.

Gousto is a company which is rapidly expanding, the tech team is due to double in size over the next 12 months, and as a result they’re very aware that they need to foster junior talent, and develop them in order to create the senior developers, tech leads and CTOs of the future.

Happily, I was offered the job at Gousto, as was Kira, who I had my pairing session with, and joined the Radishes squad as a front end engineer shortly thereafter (all the squads are named after veggies). My squad is responsible for all things menu related on the web app. For example, one of the first things I worked on was creating a new version of a shortlist button which we were rolling out as an experiment to customers.

Once I started at Gousto I was assigned a tech buddy who sits next to me and was responsible for teaching me everything I needed to know during onboarding. I was also assigned a non-tech company buddy to get a different perspective from someone else in the business and to have someone to ask any generic questions. In addition I had some 1-to-1s with various people in the tech team to get a wider idea of the various streams of work. On the whole, everyone is very helpful and I find that there’s always someone there to answer questions.

Gousto are very big on learning and have a dedicated ‘tech 10%’ day every fortnight which allows developers to work on anything they choose which they think would directly help the company or helps their own learning. You’re also free to request any learning materials you might need, whether that’s books, courses or conferences.

I’m now a year out of being a lawyer and haven’t regretted a day so far!

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Some of our junior engineers :)

Gousto Engineering & Data

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