"Can I be a programmer if I'm not a math genius?"
This is a question we see and hear all the time. The assumption is that a successful coder should have a computer science degree or a lifelong love of math and sciences- not the case! Bootcamp students come from a wide range of past lives, with many having started with little or no technical expertise, and some having spent years in seemingly unrelated careers. In fact, the skills learned in Liberal Arts (critical thinking, creative problem solving etc) can often make for a stronger, more well-rounded developer! As Dev Bootcamp instructor Sherif Abushadi confirms, "someone with a humanities background can be just as effective, if not more effective because they have an intuitive sense of what it means to enjoy using an application. If I could draw a line around our strongest students, they would be students who have somehow already stretched their learning muscles- they’re graduates of a PhD program, doctors, lawyers."
From poets to copywriters to PR pros, we look at advice and reflections from bootcampers at top schools like Turing, Code Fellows, Dev Bootcamp, Launch Academy, and Coding Dojo who made the transition from the humanities to programming.
On Their Background Before Coding
David, Code Fellows “I came out of my undergrad with a background in humanities: I was an English and Spanish major, and I worked as a copywriter and copy editor for a couple of years after graduating.”
Miriam, Turing “I was an English major in college, and after school, I had a lot of different jobs; I was even a chef at one point. At my last company, I started as the executive assistant but I was interested in marketing so I ended up moving into the creative department and copywriting emails and social media for digital campaigns.”
Lance, Coding Dojo “I’ve been an artist and a writer for a long time. I spent most of my twenties travelling around the country doing spoken word poetry and I self-published a book. Then I was trying to reinvent myself as a futurist commentator and author and I was going to do a podcast for a while about technology and futurism. Eventually I found my way to the bootcamp and I thought learning how to program would be a really good fit for all the things I wanted to do.”
Julissa, Launch Academy “I went to Simmons College, a liberal arts school, and got my degree in Journalism. After graduating, I did Marketing, PR, and content at a university working for a nonprofit. I designed fliers, posters and marketing materials. After about a year and a half, I realized that I didn’t feel fulfilled working in a communications job.”
On How They Became Interested in Coding
David, Code Fellows “ I started dabbling in HTML on the side. Eventually I took a part-time internship with a startup here in Seattle (Zipper Computer), caught the code bug, and realized I’d like to make this career switch. When Zipper closed up, I was looking for a good next step. I’d been hearing about Code Fellows for the past year, and I was finally at the level to take that plunge.”
Laura, Dev Bootcamp “I started looking on iTunes at Harvard and Stanford’s free CS podcasts. In hindsight, I wasn’t actually building or developing anything very substantial, but at the time, I thought I was doing something cool. Even just setting up a virtual machine on my Mac was something I’d never done before. The fact that I was able to successfully do that and that I was loving it indicated to me that programming was something I should seriously consider.”
Lauren, Dev Bootcamp “I didn’t really have a technical background. I did come from a family which really valued computer science. My dad works in computer science and my mom was always trying to get me into the field. I’d been accepted to an MFA program and I was really considering going, but I felt like there wasn’t much financial support or many career prospects after graduation. I was just really looking for anything else that would allow me to have a job that I was interested in and passionate about.”
Lance, Coding Dojo “My basic feeling is that in the future people will mostly be replaced by robots so the only sensible thing to do is to learn how to program so that you can be one of the people that program the robots that replace other people – which is kind of a half-serious answer.
I wanted to be better able to talk about technology so I can further my interest in writing about technology. I also wanted to be able to make my own apps and programs. Other than that, I just wanted to develop a skillset that would take me places in the future; that I had room to grow.”
Miriam, Turing “My company needed somebody who could code mobile responsive emails so I taught myself how to do that and realized how much I enjoyed it. I began my journey learning to code from a variety of online platforms: Treehouse, Code School; I also started Tealeaf Academy which is an online bootcamp but that didn’t really work out.”
Julissa, Launch Academy “About six months into my job, my bosses decided we needed a website redesign. Our site was built on Wordpress and was pretty ugly; of course since it was a nonprofit, we did not have the money to hire someone outside.
On How Their Background Helped Them
Lance, Coding Dojo “I think people want more well rounded characters; you have a lot more different experiences to bring to it or communication skills. I’m a good writer and I’ve got good reading/ comprehension skills and doing development is a lot of research and documentation and sometimes it can be pretty thick so a lot of it is about reading, comprehension and communication.”
Laura, Dev Bootcamp “I think there’s a benefit to having an English degree. There’s no harm in being able to verbalize and communicate well. A lot of people don’t see the correlation between English and coding, but code is just another language. The parallel between sentence structure could be loosely correlated with lines of code.”
Lauren, Dev Bootcamp “You see the attention to detail; you’re trained in critical thinking. In a liberal arts education, you spend a lot of time making connections between different theories and texts- I think it’s very helpful for people to have that sort of training. In the case of programming, you’re making similar connections but with a different toolset. I think people who have an artistic background, particularly people who have been through things like workshopping, are able to self-edit and also listen to others and incorporate their feedback.”