Product Manager to Software Developer in One Year
A little over a year ago, I found myself working as a Product Manager for a small software company in the Healthcare field. Initially I was hired for sales and a kind of Subject Matter Expert but quickly found a knack for keeping the peace between the developers and SME’s so I was made PM for the project.
I have been in and around the software industry for the past several years but never really touched or had interest in the nitty gritty of development. It was as a Product Manager that I became more familiar with the development process and realized how much I loved it. Below are some details of how i made the transition from product manager to software developer.
It started with some Code Academy
I began with some light SQL training so I could look into a database and see what data we had to work with to better explain why we could or could not get information on certain pages. After a few months I still felt like I wasn’t giving our developers a fair shake with my expectations because I really didn’t KNOW everything it took to get a feature done. I started small looking at HTML/CSS tracks on Code Academy and trying to get a handle on the basics. Eventually I moved on to the Ruby track after receiving some advice from one of my co-workers who thought it may be the easiest language to learn for a beginner. I quickly began to realize that while the learning curve was steep, it was not impossible for me to learn this and maybe even transition my career into development full time.
My daily work began feeling a little stale, and I decided I was ready for a new challenge. I enjoyed the PM work but there were other aspects of my job I wasn’t so high on. My problem was that I didn’t really have a skill, at least not one that lands you a new job. The intangibles were there, ability to talk to people, ability to manage and willingness to learn new things. Unfortunately these things don’t necessarily get you employed anywhere, they just help you in whatever position you have. So this was my motivation: Grab a new skill to switch careers and use those intangibles that I already possessed.
It progressed to development boot camp
I decided to take the next leap and look into possibly getting a CS degree doing some night classes. The more I looked into it, I began to see that development boot camps were popping up everywhere and from everything I was reading, they were paying off. I applied to several and had a few interviews for admission. Some were tough, all had a fair amount of prerequisite work they expected you to complete before the interview process and even more upon acceptance.
After all was said and done I was accepted into Launch Academy in November of 2013 to begin in February of last year. Like I said, there was a whole lot of work to be done before I enrolled and as a Southerner I was not exactly excited about moving to Boston in the dead of winter. I chose instead to defer to the summer cohort in order complete all the prerequisites, save some money while working in the mean time, and to avoid the snow.
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I shipped off to Boston and enrolled in Launch Academy in May of last year. I don’t necessarily believe that everyone would need to attend a coding boot camp to jump into development. I can say that it worked well for me, because it was an intensive and fairly short program that got me doing the basics of what an everyday developer does. For me personally, it would have taken months and months if not years to get me where I ended up after just a 10 week program.
Through that 10 weeks there were a lot of ups and downs. Just to get acclimated and not feel like I was drowning in the material took all I had a first. One tip that I would give to anyone looking to do something like this would be: Don’t compare yourself to the others around you. This is one of the biggest hurdles I eventually overcame. There are people from all sorts of different backgrounds in the program, some were CS students and graduates, others had already been dabbling in coding for years. It can completely break a person’s confidence when they look around them and everyone seems to “get it” while they sit and struggle. I knew going in that it was imperative that I set realistic goals, soak in all the information that I could and only compare my present self with my past self. Even with that thought process from the beginning, it was very difficult to just shake off your surroundings seeing where the other students in the cohort stood.
Next: the job interviews.
Once Launch Academy was over it was time to see where this new path I was on would take me. It was a scary time, I had been gainfully employed for several years and all of the sudden I was unemployed and the only qualifications I had for this new career was a 3 month course, going against a pool of candidates with CS degrees and a much broader knowledge than what I had. Finding a job was basically a job in itself. I worked just as hard as I ever did when I was actually employed. My days were split into continuing my programming education, applying for jobs, following up on applications and a whole lot of phone interviews. It was more than an 8 to 5 work day, it was exhausting. I don’t really know that I expected to feel like I was on vacation while job searching but I definitely expected a little more downtime than I had.
Job interviews are like anything else, the more you do the better you become at them. It’s not fun, you don’t want to be there, whoever is interviewing probably doesn’t want to be there either. I fielded countless questions on algorithms, Ruby methods, and ActiveRecord tricks. In the beginning I tried to mask how new I was to this field. (Hint: It doesn’t work.) Eventually I just learned to be honest about my weaknesses (as well as my strengths). People were definitely more receptive to this approach. I didn’t get a job immediately and still fielded a lot of rejections, but for the most part they were honest with me during the interview, so I knew leaving the room or hanging up the phone that I wasn’t what they were looking for. But every single one of them encouraged me to continue the pursuit of becoming a developer.
In the end, all of the hard work and effort paid off. I was searching for work in several cities but I really wanted to be in New Orleans. It was in the South, a close enough to drive to my hometown, and it has been one of my favorite cities since I was a child. I randomly began emailing all of the tech companies in New Orleans basically begging for even an internship.
Revelry responded with a listing for their apprenticeship program. After a quick interview over Google Hangout and then a full-day tryout working on real-world code, I received an offer to become a full-time Junior Software Engineer in October. I had completed my journey from Product Manager to Engineer in 11 months.
Now that I’ve made the transition to this new career, I still get to do some of those things that I loved about being a PM, like scoping out new projects and talking high level about an idea. I know it was the best choice I could have made. The culture is great, it’s a very laid back feel but everyone is held accountable for the work they put in. I get to work on cool projects and face different challenges everyday.
If I can make the transition from product manager to software developer in such a short period of time, I think anyone can. It just takes effort and the right motivation. For anyone out there spinning their wheels and wondering what their next career move might be, I highly suggest at least looking into development. Even if you find it’s not a career for you, everyone should know a little more about the development process. It will probably be helpful in whatever you decide your next path may be.
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