After seven years in finance and a three-month self-discovery biking trip, Elishka decided to pursue a career in software development. She chose Makers Academy’s 12-week coding bootcamp in London on the recommendation of a fellow female developer and has now landed a developer role at Deloitte Digital! Elishka tells us about how she saved up to pay for the Makers bootcamp, how her finance background has influenced her new career, and why she is passionate about seeing more women in the development industry!
What’s your background and how did your path lead to Makers Academy?
I studied modern languages at university and the final position I landed after my graduate program was in finance. I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to stay in finance, but figured it was a good start. Seven years later, I was still in finance. After changing companies, and trying a couple of more strategic roles, I knew I needed to do something different.
I took a sabbatical in the autumn of 2017 with no plan. I bought a bike, and cycled from Canada to Mexico over four months. It was an incredible experience and gave me time to think about what I enjoyed doing and what I wanted in a career.
When I returned to England, I worked for a local newspaper, thinking I’d pursue journalism. I interviewed a woman about how she had set up a business helping local moms find activities for their kids. She mentioned she had done the coding bootcamp at Makers Academy in London and learned to code while on maternity leave. After talking to her, I knew that coding was what I wanted to do. It ticked all the boxes of what I wanted in a job. The next day, I started learning some Ruby on Codecademy for my Makers application.
Meeting that woman was a huge turning point and forged a new trail for me. I’d never met a developer before – never mind a female one – so it had never been on my radar before and was a lightning bolt moment. This is why I’m really passionate about having more women in tech. Sometimes you have to see it to believe it, and then to be it.
Did you consider any other education options like other bootcamps, going to university, or teaching yourself?
Hearing how much the woman I talked to got out of Makers was a huge driver. I did a few evening courses with General Assembly, but what I liked about Makers was they were focused on one course and were dedicated to making you a really good developer in four months. I went to a Q&A session at Makers where you can chat with current and former students, and there was a lovely sense of community and atmosphere. From that evening, it just felt really holistic – the chief education officer spoke with us about the soft skills you learn, and explained that there’s optional meditation and yoga for students. I was forging a new career and it was important to know there would be support beyond the coding.
How did you pay for your Makers Academy bootcamp?
I had some savings from my previous job. Since the day I started working, I started putting aside money into my “Freedom Fund” bank account, especially since I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. Over seven years, it added up and I could do whatever I wanted with it. I was lucky to have that savings pot to use for Makers Academy.
What was the application and interview process like for Makers?
You had to write a short summary of your motivations for doing the course – nothing too lengthy. There were no questions about previous degrees or grades, they just wanted to screen for potential. The interview was a 40-minute pairing session doing simple Ruby coding with a Makers coach. I was nervous about it and prepared for two weeks, but it was a really fun session! The goal was to see how you approach problems and whether you were able to teach yourself a bit beforehand.
Who were the other students in your code bootcamp cohort?
Normally Makers cohorts are 30 to 40 people but because of the summer, there were only 13 of us (we were thankful for the air conditioning!). The group was super diverse in terms of age, race, nationalities, and previous experience. We had a 19-year-old student from Hong Kong, a 42-year-old product manager, and everyone in between. It was three girls and 10 guys, but Makers has just recently had a cohort with more women than men so that’s great!
What was the learning experience and the teaching style at Makers?
I’ve had a formal education where I was used to learning something, doing some exercises, and then taking an exam, so the teaching style was quite different. At Makers, you don’t have teachers, you have coaches, and you’re called developers from Day One. We had five or six coaches throughout the 12-week course and they would rotate so you could interact with different people. Some of them were experienced developers and some had been former Makers students who got industry experience and then came back to teach.
A typical day would include a 40-minute morning workshop introducing you to a concept, then you’re paired with a classmate to work on exercises together. You’re teaching and supporting each other, breaking down the problems together, and finding solutions. In the afternoons, you’re working on a longer-term project. You might be building a clone of a website like Airbnb or Twitter and putting fundamental concepts into practice.
The coaches are there if you have questions, but the curriculum is focused on students working things out, because you won’t have a coach in a real job giving you answers. You learn how to break down problems, debug, find solutions, and unblock yourself when something seems impossible. If you asked a question, they would ask a question back which was super frustrating in the moment but helpful in the long-run. In my new job, I’m thankful that I’m used to going to battle, instead of being overwhelmed and looking for answers.
What was your favorite project you worked on in the bootcamp?
How did Makers prepare you for the job search?
The first few weeks you just work on coding, but around week 5 or 6, they introduced weekly career workshops like how to network, how to interview, how technical interviews differ from regular interviews, and how to prepare your resume. It helped you focus on what was coming after the bootcamp was over. There was a tech test week in the middle of the bootcamp where, after doing lots of team and pairing work, you had a week on your own to work through a bunch of tech tests. The coaches review your work, help you through some iterations, and award you a “job” if you passed. It’s a great way to get feedback, and practicing a tech test was useful for after the course. We also had one-on-one sessions with career coaches and there was a career fair to meet potential employers.
Congrats on landing a role at Deloitte Digital! How did you land the job and what was the interview process like?
Deloitte Digital is a Makers hiring partner. I think they’ve hired the most grads out of all the hiring partners – they believe in Makers’ mission and the quality of the engineers produced. I applied through that route, had a technical interview, and then a conversation with the head of engineering. I didn’t have to do a tech test and the technical interview was quite informal. The senior engineer brought a problem he was currently working on and we talked through it and looked at different angles.
What is your role at Deloitte and what team are you working on?
I’m a consultant developer – I’m based with a client so I work at the Home Office, part of the UK government. I can’t say a lot about the project due for security reasons but I’m a backend engineer and I work with Java, as well as DevOps tools like Docker and Kubernetes. It’s basically web-based, backend engineering. I’m on a team of 10 which includes five developers (two of us are Makers grads), testers, business analysts, and a scrum master.
What is it like being a woman working in tech?
We have two women on my team which is nice. The industry is a bit male-dominated, so there’s definitely room for growth. There have been challenges – occasionally I have felt I’m being spoken to differently compared to the way a junior male developer might be spoken to. But on the whole, my team is really supportive, and as I said earlier, the more women we have in tech, the more women will see it as a career option and the imbalance will hopefully correct over time.
We women were at the forefront of software engineering back in the 1950s, before home computing was popular and dads started doing it with their sons. Software development is well suited towards more traditionally female characteristics like diligence, seeing the whole picture, and communicating well. Women can really excel and thrive in this career!
Which skills from Makers are you using in your new role? Have you learned new tech skills with Deloitte?
I’m actually not using any technology I learned at Makers in my role at Deloitte. Other than some tools like Git, it’s all been brand new skills! But the underlying concepts are the same as what I learned at Makers – the team did a great job preparing us to pick up new skills. We can jump into a job, read a whole new language, and be effective pretty quickly. Makers teaches you to think about the concepts in the languages you know and then research how those concepts translate to the new languages. When I wanted to know how concepts like encapsulation or dependency injection worked, I researched them a bit, then tried to rebuild my Makers projects in Java – it was a great way to learn. I knew the outline of how to do it, it was just about working out the solution to the problem in another language.
How has your background in finance been useful in your new coding career?
It’s given me a holistic understanding beyond the code into the business decisions that are being made. I have a wider appreciation for the commercial aspects of a product, and can understand the problems management might be seeing and how that affects prioritization. I’m also pragmatic about getting things done rather than being absolutely perfect. Also, I worked a lot with Excel, which is like programming because you’re building little programs to analyze numbers, so that gave me a good start into how formulas, methods, and functions can be useful.
What’s been the biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to becoming a software developer?
Probably good old Imposter Syndrome. When you’re a junior developer, you’re surrounded by intensely smart people all the time, especially in senior roles, and that can be a challenge. You have to have strong confidence.
I think being a little older was also a challenge. I changed careers in my early 30s and I’m now surrounded by people who are a lot younger than me, who have been working as developers for a few years, and are great at what they do. I feel a bit behind and am putting pressure on myself to catch up and learn things faster. It’s definitely been the right decision for me, I’m really excited to go to work, but I hadn’t anticipated those challenges when I was making my career change.
Are you staying in touch with people from Makers?
I get regular drinks with my cohort to catch up and see how everyone’s doing. Maker hosts regular alumni events to stay in touch, like monthly talk nights with a speaker on a specific topic who you can talk with after.
We also have a Slack channel where we can stay in touch with the school and what’s going on. Since Makers has been around for five years, there’s a really strong alumni community. There are around 1,000 developers on the alumni Slack channel asking for advice and work challenges, and there’s a constant flow of dialogue surrounding different aspects of programming.
What advice do you have for someone considering making a career change with a coding bootcamp?
I’d first emphasize that bootcamps are very intense, there’s a lot going on and a lot of information to digest. You should think of it as a marathon, not a sprint – take breaks, take weekends off, go at your own pace. Also, there’s always a mix of different types of people in bootcamps – some have experience, some have never written a line of code. It’s important that you swim in your own lane, go at your own pace, and don’t worry about comparing yourself to others around you. Focus on your own progress, irrespective of what others are doing because it’s an intense experience. Do your thing and enjoy it!