I’m sitting down under a blanket next to my Christmas tree in a bit of disbelief I’m six weeks into my new job. When I first floated the idea of this site to some close friends, they asked if I’d share some learning on switching careers, starting “from the bottom” again or moving from a large more traditional corporate job to a small tech startup. Well, the short answer is, absolutely yes. So here we go. What have I learned?
Ahead of my new job I had some experience coding. I had completed a web development course with Code First: Girls in 2016, built statistical models and machine learning tools in R for my MSc thesis in 2017 and dipped in and out of it in my previous job consulting. But really my only recent experience in SQL, Python, or any others were from YouTube classes, day boot-camps and playing around on Codeacademy this year when I realised I wanted to change careers. I say this not to boost or diminish my experience – but to be honest about my relative experience so you know where it started.
In the last six weeks, I’ve spent 5-8 hours a day coding. Most of my current work uses Python (🐼). I now understand why there’s so much hype about the language. It’s intuitive (certainly much more so than R ever was), it’s useful and because there’s so much hype, there’s SO much information on every idea, issue or error you might have. Someone has been there before.
For anyone new to coding or interested in working in data – I would highly recommend investing time in Python learning. I’ve enrolled myself in a Computer Science pathway in Codeacademy to boost my skill and understanding – but there’s loads of options out there including remote-learning (with humans!) and buckets of other sites, videos and practice projects.
I’ve decided I am going to be a Python advocate (once I can code with full confidence), and am sure you will too once you begin. And if you’re reading this wondering why, I urge you to read this very short post: We Love Python – And Why You Should Too.
A colleague recently said to me the key to a successful business is: communication, communication, communication. Starting a new job remotely in the middle of a pandemic certainly tested this. I’ve learned that it’s far better to over-communicate than to hold back. I asked a lot of questions in my first few weeks. About the company, about code, about our clients. I check-in with my team “formally” at 10.30am everyday, but we talk throughout it. Like many start-ups instant messaging and gifs reign supreme, but we also jump on video calls often – to talk through a task or have a coffee-break style chat.
In my previous role, I spoke to people everyday but it was different. Larger companies and teams face different challenges and, in my limited experience, operate more formally than (tech) startups do. I spoke to other friends who’ve made a similar transitions in their careers and all echoed the same thought: open, friendly communication is at the heart of successful team culture.
I’m only six weeks into mine, but I definitely feel that sentiment. It makes it easy for a new starter like me to “jump right in” when your team allows you to ask the “stupid” questions, when you post them on open forums so everyone can pitch in to help or learn from the response. We barely use email so responses are quick. And I don’t feel awkward popping a meeting in a colleague’s calendar just to see how they’re doing and chat over a (virtual) brew.
I’m still new and learning, and I definitely can’t speak for all corporate or startup experiences. But what I can say is I’ll be sticking with the words of my colleague: communication, communication, communication.
I have an on-and-off relationship with confidence. I’m an extrovert and I don’t get embarrassed very easily which often translates as loud or outgoing behaviour. I enjoy public speaking, writing, trying new things. However, my anxiety disorder and bouts of low self-esteem mean I often need reminding that I can be confident or, more often, that it doesn’t matter if I’m imperfect.
In my first six weeks as a data engineer my confidence has boomed. I have been given the freedom to undertake tasks from start to finish, I’ve had moments of doubt in my ability when something doesn’t work, but generally I’ve been very proud of what I’ve managed to pick up. I’ve also led an #AskMeAnything on Anxiety, a team social and weekly meditation sessions for my colleagues, and had 1:1s with almost everyone in the business.
I pin this boost in confidence to two things: finding purpose and finding my tribe.
In switching careers I did a lot of research and I followed my gut, but there was always a lingering “what if” in the back of my mind. What if I made the wrong choice? What if I don’t fit in? What if I’m rubbish at this?
Finding purpose. I could do a whole post (even series) on this – maybe I will – but 2020 showed me I need to follow my gut. Listen to my feelings. Find my passion. As I wrote in the post that launched this site:
“I realised […] what drove me. Technology. Data-driven decisions. Products.”
Six weeks in I feel re-affirmed in that purpose. I believe in a world driven by data. I know I can and will contribute to this space. It’s interesting, challenging and exciting. I am learning everyday and don’t see that stopping anytime soon.
Finding my tribe. Again, I’ll probably come back to this topic. But, 2020 has also been a year in understanding and developing my relationships with others. Personal and professional. By joining the tech community I’ve made friends with new people online who are supportive, intelligent and kind (big shout-out to the Twitter community). I opened up to my existing friends and family about my worries and my wins and know I have people I can count on. And, finally, I’ve found colleagues who are understanding, patient, and exciting to work with.
Moving jobs isn’t easy, switching careers isn’t easy, but without my tribe – personal and professional, online or not – the last six weeks (and months preceding) would’ve been a lot tougher. Thank you.
I’ll be returning to What I Learned on this site as I continue to navigate my personal and professional journey – but if there’s something you’d like to hear about please get in touch at email@example.com or hit the socials below.