From Flight Attendant to Aspiring Coder: An Unlikely Career Change

My journey in the tech world started a mere two months ago, and it feels like a combination of trying to drink water from a firehouse and being Alice in Wonderland. Everything is strange and foreign and wonderful, and then the amount of information and resources that exist are overwhelming, confusing and could probably take a lifetime just to sort through, let alone learn. However, when you’re as new to it all as I am, it almost doesn’t even matter where you start, because as soon as you do, you’ve launched yourself down the proverbial “rabbit hole” of coding, where the only way to get out is to join the madness — To try and fail, to experiment and succeed, to get lost and then re-oriented and to develop this addiction to solving problems that seems inherent in every developer.

When I got the 60-day warning that I was going to be furloughed from my newly acquired airline job, I felt utterly defeated. It wasn’t easy going through the three-step, competitive interview process, or completing the rigorous two-months of unpaid, full-time training. Not to mention the six months of probation where a single mess-up could result in immediate release from the company. Having just made it through all of that, I couldn’t fathom having to give it all up, let alone how to find the motivation to start all over again in something new.

I spent a couple weeks in a pretty hopeless, self-pitying state. Then something in me switched and I found that when faced with losing “everything” (I know, I’m a little dramatic), I was able to consider anything. I started dreaming about careers that I had formerly written off as impossible and realized I needed to view my impending furlough as an opportunity – a blank canvas on which I could paint any idea I chose.  Sometimes we are truly victims of our circumstances, but most times we just allow our circumstances to rule our mentality, and that sort of victimization is just a dark road to a dead-end. 

As the storm clouds in my mind began to dissipate, I thought back to my college days, and how in my senior year I had been so intrigued by the burgeoning world of technology and the idea of creating through code. I had ruled it out, however, since I was almost done with my major and couldn’t imagine starting over in a new one. How ironic that now, almost five years later, I am facing the exact same dilemma — just in a different context. I wished I had listened to those inklings back then, rather than feeling like I might have missed the boat to the brave, new world of technology. However, as I write this now, those feelings have already disappeared. There is so much opportunity and support out there and, since you’re reading this, you’ve already found one of my greatest resources here with Wahine Coder.

So, a month before my impending job loss, I began my deep dive into the world of technology. My first task was just to learn about the many different career paths within the sphere of technology (that I didn’t even realize existed), figure out which one would be the right fit for me, and then try to see how much I could learn for free.

Step One: Discovery 

Until I began my research, I thought coding encompassed all careers in technology. What I learned is that code is a core part of many tech jobs, but not only are there many different coding languages that all do different things, but jobs in tech can vary as much as in any career field (maybe even more so). There are even several where you don’t even need to use code, such as User Experience Design (UX Design) and User Interface Design (UI Design). 

UX Design is a blend of technology, psychology and research and aims to seamlessly connect creations in technology to the consumers of that technology. It involves a lot of interviewing and problem solving as well as empathy and understanding for the people you are designing for. UI Design involves making the interface (the screen that you interact with) beautiful and intuitive. Then a Web Developer or Software Developer takes their designs and implements them, using code, into a fully functional end product.

To simplify, if all three were working on building a house together, the UX Designer is like the architect, the UI Designer is like the interior designer and the Web Developer or Software Developer is like the construction engineer. A simple distinction between a Web Developer and a Software Developer is that a Web Developer creates a product to be used via a web browser, and a Software Developer creates a product to be used on an application often across multiple devices.

Then there are jobs on the opposite end of the spectrum that are all about black-and-white data collection with a heavy emphasis on mathematics such as a Data Analyst or Computer and Information Research Scientist. I’ll be honest, once I got to those careers my interest fizzled out. I know my future doesn’t lie in that direction, and I didnt want to spend too much time doing a deep dive into something I didn’t need to focus on. For a surface-level summary, just know that those careers require knowledge of complex mathematics and very complex coding languages (which is probably why they often pay the most).

Step Two: Tech Career Aptitude

If you’re like me and are into taking insightful quizzes, check out these short ones I found fun and informative:

Wondering if Tech is Right for You?

What's Your Programming Personality?

Discover Your Tech Personality Type

A note of caution: I think you can use quizzes to help you learn more about what is out there and about how you might lean toward a particular course of action, but remember they’re not the end-all-be-all when it comes to determining your future. You know your own self the best, and you probably just need to do a little research and try a couple different things before you figure out what direction you want to go.

When I happened upon UX Design, I thought it would be the best option for me because of how directly it related to my prior experience in customer service and the people skills I had garnered. However, It didn’t involve enough coding for me. I realized I didn’t want to just conduct research and create wireframes (prototypes of design layouts), I wanted to implement the research and actually build the designs. My desire to create through code was greater than my reliance on utilizing the skills I already had at my disposal. I decided I wanted to focus on Web Development because of my desire to create and build, as well as wanting to have something I could do remotely and with the option of both freelance or full time work.

What is Web Development?

As a surface-level overview, a Web Developer’s primary abilities should consist of being able to read and understand code (including code not written by them) and being able to identify and fix malfunctions in code. There are basically three different kinds of Web Developers —  Frontend, Backend, or Full-Stack. 
A Frontend Developer has everything to do with the user-facing pieces of the webpage. They use HTML, CSS and JavaScript to make it look pretty, make sure it works across multiple devices, and that the forms and buttons work. A Backend Developer works on the framework of the webpage and all the technical aspects that make it functional. They code the instructions for what happens behind the scenes of the website using languages like Python and Ruby. A Full-Stack Developer is well-versed in both Frontend and Backend development and is able to wear either hat interchangeably. There are many other specializations that fall under the umbrella of these roles, but for now, this will lay a foundation. 
With a basic grasp of what a Web Developer is, the next step is figuring out how to become one. Don’t worry, I’ll be unpacking more details about Web Development and it’s three core languages in a later post, so stay tuned.

At this point I halted my deep dive exploration into all tech careers, but on the side I am still learning as whatever I can about them. I also know that as I go deeper into the subject, I could experience a new revelation into the industry, or a desire to branch off, or the doubt of wondering if there’s something else that would be a better fit for me (everyone with a FOMO disorder knows exactly what I mean). Continuing to learn about what else is out there will help me feel more aware, and ideally, more assured that I am on the right trajectory. 

That landing point led me to my current dilemma: how to learn web development in the most time-efficient and cost-effective way while also prioritizing my learning preferences and “unique” (a.k.a. nonexistent) tech background.

Step Three: Navigating a Flooded Market

This is the part I was talking about where the amount of information you encounter feels like you’re drinking water from a firehose. If you’ve tried looking into it, you know exactly what I mean. There are SO MANY programs and bootcamps and courses and tutorials out there, and all of them claim to be the best. They try to give the impression that they’re some sort of fairy godmother, with job guarantees and promises of riches, fame and a happily-ever-after if you complete their program. I’m not trying to say they’re not capable of fulfilling those promises, but to take it with a grain of salt and be choosy. I think if you want to learn something as complex as computer languages, true success will come from a place of genuine curiosity and enjoyment of coding, not from other shallower motivators. 

As an experiential learner, for me to get a good idea of which program could be the right fit, I know I just have to try them. But just picking one to try can also be a daunting process, so my criteria is that it has to have some sort of free trial so I can get a feel for the overall program before I commit. At this point, I’ve been utilizing my social media advertising algorithm (once you google “free coding bootcamps” a couple times, it’s the only ads you’ll get), and good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth. If you’ve tried a really great one recently, let us know!

This is the best method I’ve determined for figuring out what would work best for me and I’ll be “keeping score” of each program I sample, based on specific success criteria, to share with you at the end of this exploration. I hope sharing my journey helps you figure yours out a little faster and makes your vision a little clearer. I also welcome any suggestions or feedback you might have — please send us a message in the contact section of our website.

Check out our blog series on Demystifying Web Development and our website Tools page for free resources, a gift from us to you.