I got my first job at 13, in the summer of grade eight. The legal age to work where I live is 14, but no one asked how old I was and by the time they looked at my paperwork I was already legal working age. For the next six years I worked part-time consistently. Often two jobs in the summer, one 8–4 and the next 5–9. I worked in restaurants, then retail, became a line cook for a few years, and even worked events at Schulich School of Business for a little while.
During this time, I could pay for my pay-as-you-go cell phone, buy whatever new video games I wanted, and eat out whenever I felt like it. I was very content. I liked working, it kept me busy and too tired to (over)think much. But part-time work is different than getting into the real-world of full time.
At 19, I was offered a full time salary position at a company, and was promoted shortly after which got me a little bit of a raise. I won’t go into detail about the job too much, but it was in a grey office and I had to dress nicely. The boss would often say “No, this is the way we’ve always done things”. Everyone else I worked with had kids my age and would ask me about the new trends, or say “why can’t my daughter/son be more like you?”. Until I reminded them I didn’t have a degree.
I commuted to the office one hour (if there was no traffic) every day, each way. I did this for 3 years. I thought that’s what we were supposed to do. You get a nice office job, make a decent salary, buy a house, settle down. That was my plan. Until I was so depressed I couldn’t take it anymore.
After three years I quit this job with no fall back (spoiler alert: this will happen many more times through my career). After working for so long, I had saved a nice chunk of money — what I thought would be a down payment for that house I mentioned earlier) — and decided to travel the world a bit on my own, and see as many rock concerts as I could.
I was still looking for jobs, but I wanted the exact opposite of everything that I had done before. No more grey walls, no more paperwork, no more dressing like someone I wasn’t. That’s when I discovered the tech startup scene, and applied to every single one I saw. While on an adventure in LA I got a call from a startup I had interviewed with and they asked me to start as soon as I got back. It was a huge salary cut from my last job, but I had decided to never do anything for the money again. I started the day after my plane touched down.
My first startup experience was a messy one, but this isn’t the place to get into that. All we need to know is that I was doing tech support, and I was completely in love with the tech scene. Everyone was young, I could wear whatever I wanted, and I could actually contribute to building something.
During my year at this company, I became good friends with the developers, and when I quit this job (again, no backup plan, I was just very unhappy) they convinced me that I should become a developer. I never would have thought I’d be capable of something like that, and it seemed like a dream job to me at the time. After their encouragement I decided to enrol in a coding bootcamp, and learn the hard skills I needed to become a developer. After two months, a lot of networking, and a couple interviews, I landed my first job as a developer.
I was officially employed as a developer. It said it on my contract. Someone was paying me money to use my brain. It was surreal. My new company was still a startup, but with people of all ages and backgrounds. It was a way healthier place, and I had so much support to learn how to become a good developer. I had never been happier, and never felt so confident in myself. I could come to work as my complete self. They cared about the work I did, and what was in my brain, not if I was wearing a blazer or had tattoos.
I’ve since moved on from my first dev role, but I truly can’t thank them enough. They welcomed me into the tech world. I got to go to conferences, and speak at some, and write about my experience as a woman in tech. I even won a Developer 30 under 30 award while working with them. They pushed me as a person and made me feel like I belonged here. Which all helped me move up in the tech world, as well as double my salary since I started.
Today I’m working at a cozy startup, with about 17 other people. We are working to help prevent food waste and its environmental impact on our planet. I can still bring my whole self to work, wear ridiculous t-shirts, and have a half-sleeve tattoo of a red panda drinking tea and still be taken seriously. I’ve finally found my version of settling down.
Written by Leigha Mitchell
Leigha is currently a Software Developer at Flashfood, where she helps in the fight to eliminate food waste. Named one of Canada’s Developer 30 Under 30, Leigha loves to write more than just code, and her articles advocating for women in tech have appeared in multiple prominent publications over her time in the tech industry. Through her writing and speaking engagements she has been a driving force towards empowering women and promoting a more inclusive community in tech. In her free time she can be found petting dogs she passes on the street, or singing along to Disney classics.