Picture of Tyler Gassman

Tyler Gassman

October 11, 2017

Changing Careers To Become A Software Engineer

My journey toward becoming a developer began all the way back when I was studying finance at Indiana University (IU). During this time, it quickly became clear that I didn’t fit in with most of my peers in the school of business. Did I feel this way because a single classroom at IU was often bigger than my entire graduating high school class? I even questioned whether I was smart enough to compete with my peers, and struggled with imposter syndrome.

The following semester, I enrolled in my business technology classes, and I noticed a change. I had initially felt like an awkward mess standing in front of my business classmates to deliver a speech about why this group of college students should purchase the cookbook I was holding (given to me as a random prop, not because I had any special interest in persuading my classmates to cook) — but now I felt relaxed and capable writing formulas and analyzing corporate financial metrics in Excel. I found that I enjoyed working with math and logic, and I began to wonder… How could I pursue more of these activities that felt instinctive to me rather than continuing to invest time in skills that didn’t compliment my natural strengths? This path of curiosity kept leading me back to technology. I started to learn the basics of coding in Python, and I solved puzzles on HackerRank and Codewars for fun when I wasn’t in class (…no, really).

The biggest barrier to entry with this newfound passion was that I was three years into a business degree. Rather than waste the time and money I’d already invested into my initial field of study, I sought higher-level finance courses and refined my math and technical skills.

I knew I couldn’t rush into a software engineering role right out of college because I simply had not acquired enough knowledge about application development or computer science to be effective. However, I did have more technical knowledge than most of my fellow business school grads, and I used that to move into role that straddled technical skills and client-facing business knowledge in consulting. In this position, I began implementing compensation management systems for large organizations.

While in this compensation role, I took time to focus on some of the skills that would eventually allow me to move into an engineering role. During the next year, I sought out every opportunity to work with code. I used SQL and JavaScript at my job and improved my understanding of enterprise application architecture. However, as time went on, I slowly arrived at the painful conclusion that I would not learn enough in this role or dabbling in my free time to become a software engineer.

This left me, yet again, with a difficult decision.

Should I give up on the idea of becoming a developer and choose another path?

I knew that whatever choice I made, I had to proceed with conviction. I refused to be aimless, or to continue holding onto the unrealistic expectation of “maybe one day.” I gave myself three options.

A) commit to the path I was on and create new professional goals for myself that I believed would be fulfilling;

B) research and choose a new professional endeavor entirely; then learn how to move in that direction;

C) make a new plan and take concrete, measurable action toward achieving my original goal — (become a developer).

The options ranged from A, the safest and lowest resistance path, all the way to C, in my mind, the scariest and most uncertain. While trying to find something new would have been full of uncertainty, at least I hadn’t already tried one plan to get there and failed.

In the end, my mind was made up that I would always wonder what it would be like to be an engineer if I didn’t pursue it with absolute resolve, so I started planning. Going back to college would take too long and be too expensive. There was simply no part of that idea that appealed to me, so I looked for alternatives. I discovered coding bootcamps. After conducting considerable research, I decided there were only two bootcamps that had sufficient outcome data and positive results that I would be willing to risk quitting my job to attend if I were admitted.

Now, there were two major obstacles:

  • Getting accepted;

  • Paying for tuition and living expenses in San Francisco, CA, for three to six months while unemployed.

I made a plan to do everything within my immediate means to make both of these possible (or at least more likely). I gave myself nine months to make it happen.

In chronological order, I took the following measured steps:

  • Began doing coding practice problems each night;

  • Terminated my lease and moved into an Airbnb at less than half the cost of my one-bedroom in Austin, Texas;

  • Coming off a big project success at work, I negotiated a significant raise and the privilege to work remotely;

  • Moved back to my parents’ house in southern Indiana while working remotely.

These actions drastically reduced my expenses, allowing me to save a higher percentage of my increased salary. I projected that by the end of nine months, I would have saved enough to not work for nine months if I took out a loan to pay for part of my tuition. Upon that realization I started applying to schools and was accepted to my top choice bootcamp shortly thereafter. I cut the ropes on all of my escape routes, quit my job, moved into a hostel in San Francisco, CA, and the most strenuous six months of my life to date ensued.

I could write an entire story about my bootcamp experience alone, but the short version is that mine had a happy ending. While I endured some of the most stressful and exhausting times of my life to attend and subsequently find a job, the outcome was worth it. Now, I’m a full-stack developer at Mimir, an #edtech startup based in Indianapolis, IN. I love my company, my co-workers, and my role, and I get to solve interesting problems every day.

From this experience, here were my three biggest takeaways:

ChangingCareers+Mimir

Before mustering up the courage to make these decisions about what I wanted to devote my time and energy to, I spent too much time floating in the sea of possibilities. The pain of indecision is slow and chronic, and I have found that I feel much more alive and driven when I have set clear goals to pursue.

ChangingCareers+Mimir2

Plan concretely and DO WHAT YOU SAID YOU WOULD DO. Only deviate if it comes to your attention that your plan is somehow flawed. Then adjust and continue. 

ChangingCareers+Mimir3

What I mean by this, is that you should take calculated risks, but sometimes, you need to purposely dismantle your escape routes so that the only path remaining is forward.