Development | Opinion

A year of code

Tanya Rafinski outlines her journey to becoming a web developer without any prior experience of coding.

26 January 2017 ( words)
Tanya Rafinski Tanya Rafinski

According to the International Business Times, only 14.4% of the STEM workforce are women.

Women continue to be under-represented in STEM fields. This is a trend that begins in school. There are numerous studies showing that girls aren't choosing to study STEM subjects for GCSEs, A Levels, undergraduate or postgraduate degrees. With an increasing need for STEM-based workforces, there has been greater emphasis on encouraging women to get into these fields.

However, just because you didn't study the subject at school doesn't mean it's too late to learn something new. There are many ways into a new field.

Fresh out of university, I started a job in a warehouse office working on Excel and thought I had made it. The 9-5 job was a dream and the idea of receiving paid holiday was awesome. I felt very lucky to be given the opportunity, especially as I had not had much experience in an office like most other students.

Being brought up in an Excel geek environment at home due to my father’s fondness for his financial spreadsheets, I picked up the job very fast. Very soon I was finding ways to increase productivity and bring things out of the slate and chalk era and into the world of tech. It was there and then that I realised I wanted to work in IT. I was lucky enough to be sent on an introductory database course through work. I started creating small databases for the company to handle their invoices and I soon realised that I wanted more. I didn't just want to be sat in the same job forever and I wanted to keep progressing into the world of developing software.

Success finally came when after 2 years of constantly nagging the IT department to take me under their wing they finally said yes. I was so happy! Me - a web developer. I couldn't wait to get started, but little did I know what was to come.

I moved into the IT office to find my computer sat idly on the desk, wires slatted on top and a few sneaky smiles around the room. All of a sudden one of those smiles piped up and said if I wanted to make it in IT, the first thing I needed to learn was that I could no longer expect IT to fix things for me. I had to do them myself. In those first few days, I not only had to learn how to set up my own computer but I also had to learn that I needed to lock it! Leaving it unlocked meant I would end up with replies to emails I had not sent - usually declaring some kind of desease or my undying love for everyone. But this kind of friendly banter made me feel right at home and I settled in very quickly.

With no prior knowledge of programming in Visual Studio or C#, I panicked a little. I quickly began combing through books, websites and tutorials including CodecademyW3schools and Sololearn. What I soon discovered was that I should have panicked more! It wasn't just Visual Studio and C#, but also HTML, CSS, Razor and a whole bunch of technical babble I needed to inject into my (already exploding!) brain and remember. I felt like a robot getting a reboot. All of a sudden I was learning foreign languages and thinking in a different way.

After a few months, I finally felt like I was getting a handle on things. I had started my first major project and fixed a few other bugs on old projects in between. It was as if the outer edges of a puzzle were starting to fit together. Then I was thrown another piece and told it needed to fit around the edge... dependency injection! Again, I was bewildered by this foreign word and soon felt overwhelmed with the technical lingo that awaited me. What was I thinking by trying to start a career in programming with no Computer Science degree or any experience of coding?

Tanya's skills spread to computer codes

Dependency injection, for those bewildered by the foreign language of code, is like a CD player. Your CD player is useless without a CD with music on it; it's dependent on the CD. If CD players were built with the CD already in it, they would get boring very quickly... so they are built so that you can "inject" the CD, (on which it is dependent) into the player. That way you can inject a different one each time, and get "different" behaviour (music) dependent on which one you inject. The only requirement is that the CD must be compatible with the interface defined by the player. To avoid anything too technical, the same applies to dependency injection. Injecting a CD is the same as injecting a piece of code. After the first couple of days of trying to wrap my head around the dependency injection pattern, it finally clicked. It's now something I feel a little lost without (unlike my CD player, which I sold for 50p at a car boot about 5 years ago).

The next couple of months were a blur. Somehow I managed to build a website that worked. My knowledge and confidence were increasing every day and I finally felt like the puzzle was fitting together nicely. However, like my previous position, I realised I wanted more. I wanted to learn more and advance more, something I didn't feel I could do at my current job. In my insanity, I started looking online at junior web developer positions.

After applying for a few, I was surprised to get an interview straight away. This is where the impostor syndrome began to set in, feeling like a fraud in the industry of code. That feeling like there was a big sign above my head saying "I don't know what I'm doing". It was my first ever developer interview. I had no clue what to expect. How technical would it be? How much would they expect me to know?

Surprisingly I was made an offer! I was a little reluctant at this point as I had another interview lined up with a company that seemed to fit me a lot better. It was a digital agency and they offered a budget for books and courses to further develop yourself. I was really looking forward to this as I loved to keep learning new things and as a developer I realised this was essential, so I decided to wait until I’d had this interview to make a decision.

After what I thought was a disastrous interview on my part technically, a few days later I was delighted to find out I was offered the job. I couldn't wait. Now, sitting at my desk at Distinction, I realise I cannot believe how far I have come. With no prior experience of coding, in just over a year I managed to secure a job as a junior back-end developer. It is a job I love, at a great family-run company with people who make it worthwhile. Everyday I learn something new and have finally started to believe that I made the right decision to become a web developer. Don't get me wrong, I still occasionally stress about foreign concepts I don't know and the impostor syndrome kicks in again. Then I look at where I was last year and feel a sense of achievement at how far I have come in such a short space of time.

If you would like any pointers on getting started on coding, then don't hesitate to get in touch!

Tanya Rafinski

Author: Tanya Rafinski