Coding has always been a hobby for Kara. It wasn’t until she started working in digital journalism that she realized how much she enjoyed it.
Fast forward to now: Kara is working for a Fortune 200 company as a Software Engineer after taking our Software Engineering course.
We sat down to find out why she decided to take the leap, and how she turned her coding skills into a career.
What did you do before Thinkful?
I graduated with a degree in journalism and mass media with an emphasis on visual communication and design. I put all of my skills to work in the newspaper industry.
In addition to working on the print product, I got to do a lot of web work as well, like updating the newspaper’s website, creating social media marketing plans, and building websites for advertising clients.
Coding had always been a hobby of mine since I was young, but my degree program only focused on print, broadcast, and radio, so I wasn’t technically trained for digital journalism and had to learn a lot on the job. I was lucky to have managers who put their faith in me and let me step into those roles, which gave me many opportunities to succeed.
However, when I realized that I loved coding just as much as I loved journalism, and when paying off my student loans became almost impossible on a newspaper salary, I knew it was time to make a career change.
What compelled you to learn how to code?
Since I kind of got to grow up learning how to code on my own time, I’m not sure what compelled me other than being naturally drawn to it and enjoying every bit of it.
As an adult, however, I was compelled to enroll because I was ready for a much deeper understanding. Having been self-taught for so many years, I specifically wanted formal training because I was curious to find out all the things I didn’t know that I didn’t know, if that makes sense.
What was your favorite part of the curriculum?
My favorite thing about the curriculum is that it covered both the frontend and the backend. I like to think of myself as equally artistic and analytical, so I wanted to exercise both of those skill sets. I was already familiar with web design, but I wanted to know how to better create user experiences on the frontend while also seeing how everything connects to the backend.
What’s the most challenging part of the Software Engineering curriculum?
Walk me through your favorite project. What was it and what was your process?
My favorite project was definitely my capstone! I chose to build the Oregon Trail game as an Alexa skill, and because there were no templates quite like what I needed, I ended up building the game from scratch. I had only used templates before, which were pretty simple, so I didn’t realize how difficult my capstone project was until I was in the thick of it.
I had to get really creative in transforming a visual game into a voice-only experience, like figuring out ways for users to hunt along the trail or navigate the Columbia River. Building a user experience for voice is so much different than building for the visual web, and this project really expanded my understanding of how people might interact with different kinds of technology.
What are you most excited about in your new role?
As a Software Developer, I get to code every day, which is really all I wanted! I still get to use a lot of my newspaper skills, too, like layout design, information organization, typography and copy editing.
It feels amazing to finally put all of my skills together in one place and use them for building projects that could possibly affect millions of people and make life easier and more convenient.
Oh, and it feels pretty good to no longer worry about how I’ll ever pay off my student loans.
Did you find that Thinkful offered a good amount of support throughout your program?
Yes, there was a lot of support from students, alumni and mentors alike. Throughout the year I was a student, Thinkful steadily added even more avenues of support for when you get stuck on a project, when you don’t understand a concept, when you’re not sure where you want to focus your skillset, etc.
I found the most support through my mentors, especially when I was struggling with having confidence in myself or wondering how to network most efficiently as an introvert. Sometimes you just need to talk through it!
How was your experience with Career Services?
The people in Career Services were great! Thinkful really wants you to find the right job for you, and they helped me tailor my resume accordingly while also finding ways to tie in my previous skills. They’ll also look at job offers and ensure your skills are being properly valued.
Looking back, is there anything you’d do differently during your time at Thinkful?
I can’t say that I would. I took advantage of all of Thinkful's resources, and I made the very most of my mentor meetings.
What were your mentor sessions like?
Typically, I’d keep a list of questions for my mentor, so I was always prepared to pick their brain. If I didn’t have any questions, or if there was still time left in the meeting, my mentors usually had resources to share with me, coding challenges that we could tackle together, motivational talks that applied to making a career change, the list goes on!
It depends on the mentor, which is why it’s important to choose your mentor wisely and switch if it doesn’t seem like a good match.
When did you know you wanted to learn how to code?
I’ve loved computers ever since I was a kid in the MS-DOS days. I helped my dad build computers, and when we finally got dial-up, he let me have one. I would spend hours building my website on GeoCities and figuring out how to style little things, like making the text bold and green with inline CSS.
Eventually, I learned a lot more HTML and CSS through customizing MySpace, DeadJournal, and Blogger as a teen. In college, my journalism degree program offered a class in Dreamweaver and making table-based websites, which was as close as I got to formally learning to code before Thinkful.
With just enough knowledge to be dangerous, I also jumped into Wordpress development, and that was my first experience with databases and backend programming. Everything I knew about coding was through doing it as a hobby.
It might sound weird, but I didn’t know coding could be an actual full-time job until it got added to my job responsibilities at the newspaper. As soon as I realized that, yes, web development is a real career, and it’s not only legit but also has a strong future, I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to do.