A dose of inspiration: Anna McDougall

I am not a very social-media-posting person but when I started to learn coding, one of the first things I did was following professional developers on the social networks to get some inspiration, gather tech learnings, career tips and jokes ­čśë One of these dev influencers is Anna McDougall, whose social networks content is not only inspiring but also very interesting and hilarious.

I always feel very inspired when I see more and more women switching into tech roles, and Anna is one of those doses of inspiration. She stepped out of her comfort zone and switched her career completely from opera singer to professional developer. Her story catched my attention and that is why I didn't want to miss the opportunity to get to know a bit more about her career path and spread it out so that more people, who might be going through a similar transition moment, need some inspiration and career tips. So here we go.

Cristina┬┤s profile picture
Hey Anna, could you tell me about your career switch? Why did you decide to quit your job and move to the coding world?
Anna┬┤s profile picture
I didn't quit my job but had to leave because I was pregnant and my husband's (more permanent) job was on the other side of Germany. That meant I had to leave my position behind and face up to whether I wanted to continue singing opera forever (including with the changing schedules, lack of security, potentially constant travel, etc.) all while having a child, or if I wanted to look for other options. I knew that I wasn't being intellectually challenged or growing to the best of my capacity, and I wanted a career where I could make a more direct impact on the world.
Cristina┬┤s profile picture
How would you describe your ÔÇťgetting out of the comfort zone processÔÇŁ? Was there any moment that you looked back and thought ÔÇťI am crazy or why am I doing thisÔÇŁ?
Anna┬┤s profile picture
Not really! It made perfect sense for me to try to do this, since I had some programming experience from being a kid so I knew it was possible.
Cristina┬┤s profile picture
How did you learn to code? Which resources did you choose? Did you have a mentor?
Anna┬┤s profile picture
At first I learned via The Odin Project, which is a free web development curriculum with a focus on written content. I personally find that if I try learning through videos that the knowledge kind of passes over me, so I liked being challenged to really read and process information. They also had a Discord community which had someone in it I unofficially felt was my mentor, but it was never formalised. I then used what I learned there to help me in a real-world web development course, a 1-year, full-time (32 hours a week) course. Due to COVID it had to happen online only, but the head start from The Odin Project was extremely useful.
Cristina┬┤s profile picture
Is there anything that you missed during your learning time and wished you would have had or someone would have advised you?
Anna┬┤s profile picture
I think I would have liked to have learned more about the backend, but then again it was a web development course so it made sense that it was more frontend focused.
Cristina┬┤s profile picture
How did you feel when you started to learn? Have you ever faced imposter syndrome?
Anna┬┤s profile picture
Impostor Syndrome is something I speak about a lot because I dealt with it all the time in opera. I think working in that industry (where people are constantly pointing out every tiny thing you're doing wrong, all day everyday) really hardened me to take criticism in a way which not many people can. In particular, I view gaps in my knowledge (and people pointing them out) as a blessing, since that shows me where I need to put my time and helps me prioritise. We can't ever know everything in tech, so we all have gaps. Impostor syndrome is, to me, the feeling you get when you have to face that you don't know as much as you thought you did. That's a GOOD THING in this industry, because it forces you to keep learning, and you must always keep learning as a programmer.
Anna┬┤s profile picture
Never and always. I had a lot of professional experience outside of tech (and opera) from my early 20s, so I knew I could contribute a lot to the team and learn super quickly. I knew I could jump into a development job and I would paddle and eventually learn to swim. At the same time though, the level of technical experience required often scared me off job ads and so on that level I didn't ever feel qualified. That's why I always recommend people apply to any job when they are comfortable with 50% of the job criteria.
Cristina┬┤s profile picture
Are there any interview tips you could share?
Anna┬┤s profile picture
Accept that you're nervous and work out what your own personal 'nervous' habits are so that you can pre-empt them. For example, if you tend to rush to answer questions before fully thinking them through, you can keep a glass of water next to you and force yourself to take a sip whenever someone asks you a question: this actively slows you down.

The other major tip is to practice talking about yourself and answering common interview questions to camera, then watch it back and try to work on your 'performance'. It is hard to do and really uncomfortable, but a bit of practice goes a long way to easing nerves.

Cristina┬┤s profile picture
Which challenges did you face when looking for a job?
Anna┬┤s profile picture
Proving I would be good at programming without the pieces of paper German companies usually expect.
Anna┬┤s profile picture
So far, so good! My company has a 'training unit' where people like me (with no backend experience, for example) can be trained up to be full-stack engineers. That's a real blessing and has helped me a lot. I feel like the company is really investing in my success.
Cristina┬┤s profile picture
What is your current role? What do you like and dislike the most about it?
Anna┬┤s profile picture
I am a software engineer and trainee tech lead for our training unit (mentioned above). I love being able to help so many (30+) developers every day with their coding problems, and since I love bughunting it can be very satisfying. I'd say my least favourite thing is the code-switching that is involved. Since I'm helping others so much, I don't often get to dive deep on a coding problem.
Cristina┬┤s profile picture
What would you say/advice to someone who would like to switch careers?
Anna┬┤s profile picture
I'd say that you should play to your strengths: find what parts of tech excite you and focus on those. There are specialisations for every type of person, you just have to find your niche.
Cristina┬┤s profile picture
What would you say/advice to someone who starts to learn coding?
Anna┬┤s profile picture
Choose one programming language and stick to it. I see a lot of people trying to learn Python and JavaScript and C#, for example, all at the same time. If you can really focus on one language and learn it super well, the other languages will come a lot easier further down the line.
Cristina┬┤s profile picture
Have you ever regretted your career switch?
Anna┬┤s profile picture
Only in that I don't get to perform on a stage: I'm hoping that when conferences are held in-person again that I'll be able to help that desire by giving more talks, presentations, and workshops.
Cristina┬┤s profile picture
Your favourite tech meme
Anna┬┤s profile picture It is not a bug, it is a feature
Cristina┬┤s profile picture
Your favourite quote
Anna┬┤s profile picture You can┬┤t pour from an empty cup

If you would like to know more about Anna or need any software development career tip, you can┬┤t miss out her amazing content!