As I reflect on all that I’ve learnt since walking in to 8th Light on 22nd October 2018 I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. Each project has been a stepping stone to helping me believe that I can do this, and as I continue this journey the hope is that others like me will be encouraged to take a chance on themselves too. It’s hard to adequately capture the past few weeks, but I’ll do my best to sum up the key themes below…
Being black, female and a non-coder doesn’t preclude you from having something to bring to the table.
Originally this opportunity was for one black woman to complete a 3 month full-time coding programme, which if I’m honest I was slightly nervous about. With already so many worries about whether or not I could get to grips with coding, being the lone scholar would have been an additional emotion on top of feeling out of my depth.
It turned out that we started as a cohort of four (3 female, 1 male) from the blackgirl.tech community. Our cohort has gotten me through this in a way that I might not have done without it. The shared experience has bonded us, and we can laugh and talk without having to explain or filter. Creating a cohort was a great decision and I’m unsure if those who made it realise how powerful it was.
I do however appreciate that this model might not always be possible, particularly for smaller companies endeavouring to increase their representation step-by-step. Also, there are various unseen ways in which someone is from an intersection not represented by those around them. Being conscious of this, I’d like to highlight the simple yet powerful ways that the 8th Light community has made me and I’m sure many others feel included:
- starting each day with connection — greeting everyone at the start of each day (physical connection), and hearing about their previous + current day in the morning stand up. Each day we were aware of everyone in the building. This removed some of the isolation which can happen when you just show up and start your day without having a moment to check-in
- having a deliberate lunch table — throughout the week we lunch with one another gathering around the table to talk about anything and everything (sometimes but actually rarely about code). It’s amazing to me that to sit and eat at my desk alone or to leave someone sitting alone at the table would actually feel alien. Generationally the magic of the lunch table has dwindled, but they are a great invitation for conversation
- regular cohort retrospectives — these gave opportunities to speak up safely about how we were feeling, be heard and collectively agree next steps with space to review, reshape and discard actions as necessary.
- engaged mentors who recognise when you might be struggling and step in to support you. 8th Light’s hiring model begins with every joiner regardless of experience completing an apprenticeship, which means that everyone has firsthand experience of the mentor/mentee relationship and how impactful that is in stretching you to reach your fullest potential.
- transparency and honesty — our mentors have often reassured us that there will always be times when you don’t know something by sharing their own experiences, and that being honest about this is imperative.
- being included in the decision-making — when everyone is the building is able to ask and answer how can we do this thing differently or better? there’s a magical opportunity to collectively create solutions
‘Not knowing’ is an invitation to stay curious, learn something new and strengthen your problem-solving muscles.
Working in software development is all about problem-solving. No matter how experienced you are, you’ll never have all the answers (or at least never be able to keep them all in your head)!
At first I felt anxious because I didn’t feel I had the right language to ask questions, worrying that I might use the wrong term or ask the wrong thing. I was also unsure of how to search for answers online, wondering what to type and how to find the right answers.
However, there have been endless opportunities to tackle that. I now say things the way that I understand them or when pairing write pseudo code to describe what I’m thinking. I’ve gotten a bit more comfortable with asking questions like “what happens if?”, “what does this line do?”, “how can I relate this to something else I did before?” which is all part of the developer journey. This creates space for conversation, and for someone more experienced to help me correct something I haven’t understood.
I’ve also gotten more comfortable with searching online. My key tips at the moment are:
- include the language you’re using in your search, and the thing you’re trying to implement or achieve.
- if you have an error message from a test, it’s usually a good idea to copy that into your search.
- good resources include Stack Overflow (try to look for the answer with a high rating or a green tick, hopefully one which includes examples), documentation for the software that you’re using, W3schools, and MDN.
It’s all about the “culture”
Your first developer role is your place to keep learning, build your confidence and to be stretched/supported in equal measure. Whilst it’s absolutely true that tech is a rapidly increasing industry full of exciting opportunities, as a new coder the key questions I’ve had when thinking about what I do following the past 3 months is:
- Is the company I’m looking at open to hiring those from a non Computer Science background?
- What is their technical stack and how do I demonstrate my competency? (i.e. what languages do they use, and how do they work)
- What’s their hiring process?
- Does this company have the infrastructure in place to adequately support, mentor and grow me?
The last of these questions for me is the really key one.
Don’t be afraid to take initiative — mix, mingle, try things out!
- Spending even half an hour pairing programming on something that you’re unfamiliar with is a great learning opportunity. You get used to seeing something new, or a new language and can begin to understand what a particular part is doing, then expand from there.
- There are many communities in London — meet-ups, events, talks or online communities, with new ones emerging all the time. If nothing else tapping into communities is a chance to meet people who are interested in or working in an area that you’re curious about. Those you meet could become peers, mentors, future colleagues, inspirations, champions, who knows?
Overall during the past 14 weeks I’ve had fun trying new things, finding things out, screaming when things don’t work and gasping when they finally do. For some reason I can’t get enough of it! ??