Hi Amber! Thanks for catching up with us and sharing your story to inspire others 😃 Take the floor and introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background?
Hey, thank you so much for having me! I’m Amber, a Junior Software Engineer at American Express, an Advisory Board member at GirlDreamer, and an Instructor & Ambassador with Code First Girls! Coming from a non-technical degree in Economics and Accounting, I am passionate about getting more women to learn how to code and to break into tech.
Coming from a degree in economics and accounting, how did you first get interested in software development and learning the skill? ⚒️
I love this question - it all started in 2018 when I did a Mergers and Acquisitions internship in Madrid. I had big ambitions about working at the Big 4 (PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte) once I had graduated, but had an alarming wake up call when my mentor told me that I’d have to do financial exams while working and if I didn’t pass, then I would be fired! I had absolutely no idea, and to this day I’m so grateful that I sought out a mentor in the industry that helped me realise that this route definitely wasn’t for me. I’m one who likes to plan and work towards goals, so I started to look into the effects of automation of manual jobs and the best skills to learn to be marketable in the future and that’s when I became interested at looking at a role in tech and possibly learning how to code.
How did you first hear about Code First Girls? What courses did you do and how do you think they benefitted you starting your journey?
I don’t know for sure how I managed to find Code First Girls, but knowing me, I would have typed something like ‘free coding courses london’ into Google - I’m so grateful to have found them! This was back in 2018 where they had two levels - level one, which was their Introduction to Web Development course and level two which was their Web Application course where we used Python 2 and worked with APIs.. Both courses were one evening a week for 8 weeks and at the time were done in person. During the Introduction to Web Development course, they covered HTML, CSS, UX design, jQuery and Bootstrap. I really enjoyed the course, it was at PA Consulting in Victoria, the instructors were amazing and I felt so supported throughout. After the course, I started looking into Front End internships and was shocked at how much they wanted us to know and mostly that job adverts for the roles required applicants to have a Computer Science degree.
Nonetheless, I also went on to do their Web Application course and I found it so challenging. I was confused about working with Python and when doing extra coding outside of lessons, I wasn’t sure whether to do a Python 3 course or continue just learning Python 2. I was overthinking a lot, but also asking a lot of questions but couldn’t really shake off that feeling of being stuck. By the seventh week, I was doubting that we would be able to build anything! It felt like a very overwhelming time, but again, I had great instructors, a great teammate who lived super close to me and we created a great app by the end of it! Doing the courses helped me to stand out when applying for internships (even non-tech related ones) - they seemed to be impressed that I was stepping out of my comfort zone by learning a new skill. I would say it definitely gave me a great foundation and instilled so much confidence in pursuing the brand new direction that I wanted to take in terms of my career.
How did you initially decide what technologies to focus on learning? What do you want to learn next?
This was the hardest part - because I genuinely didn’t know what I was interested in. When I went back to university in 2019 to complete my final year, I thought I would have all the time in the world to do my studies and coding at the same time but I simply didn’t.
What other online tools, either paid for or free, do you use to keep up with your knowledge?
You get involved a lot outside of work in the community, including being an instructor yourself for Code Girls First and you’ve recently started a role as an advisory board member for GirlDreamer, could you tell us a bit about what they do as an organisation and your role there?
GirlDreamer is a non-profit organisation that supports the personal and professional development of young women of colour to tackle social inequality and pursue their dreams. Being an advisory board member, we are set with topics to discuss during the meeting based on a product (can’t say too much 👀) that GirlDreamer will be releasing soon! It’s been incredible connecting with the other women on the programme, and feeling like I’m making a positive impact on society!
What advice would you give other young aspiring software developers who potentially don’t know where to start or if they should give it a go?
- Do research into the kind of job you want to pursue e.g. Web Development, Product Management, Backend Engineer, Data Anaysis etc
- Have a look into job adverts and look at what skills/languages they are looking for
- Join a course/community to learn that language and see whether you can see yourself doing it as a career
- Reach out to people who are in the career that you’re looking for
- Get yourself a mentor!
- Engage in a community (the communities I’m heavily involved in are Coding Black Females and Code First Girls)
- Start applying for roles even if you don’t feel ready - the feedback you get will be super helpful in landing your first role
What do you think companies, schools, or society, in general, should do to encourage more young people, particularly women into fields like software development?
I believe two of the greatest problems are the tech job applications (ridiculously challenging coding tests) and lack of training! Similar to what Sky and PA Consulting have been doing, they are providing free coding courses for women to learn how to code and offer guidance on how to apply for their graduate roles. Also, Code First Girls offer a Nanodegree - it has a Data stream and a Software Engineering stream, it’s a 16 week evening course (Monday-Thursday evenings) where all positions on the course are sponsored by partner companies, several of whom are set to be offered jobs at the end of the course.
Software development can be seen as a “boys club”, especially with the gatekeeper tech bros on Twitter 😷. It’s important we introduce young girls and women to coding from a young age and show them that there’s women who look like them in the industry!