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?

The  most challenging part for me was learning my first programming  language: JavaScript.

I already knew HTML and CSS coming into the  program, but that was from years and years of tinkering at my own pace. Learning a language formally and within a time schedule forced me to  study hard while still leaving me with lots of “why” and “how” questions. It wasn’t until my first JavaScript project that I finally  felt like I understood.

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 started by building all of the game’s logic in Vanilla JavaScript and asking my friends to play the game, which let me iron out all the kinks. I thought that would be the hardest part, but really, it  was much more difficult to slice up the logic and rebuild it in a bunch  of separate functions, then organize those functions into game states.

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.

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