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 😉 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.
Hey Anna, could you tell me about your career switch? Why did
you decide to quit your job and move to the coding world?
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
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
child, or if I wanted to look for other options. I knew that I wasn't being intellectually challenged or growing to
best of my capacity, and I wanted a career where I could make a more direct impact on the world.
How would you describe your
“getting out of the comfort zone process”? Was there any moment that you looked back and
thought “I am crazy or why am I doing this”?
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.
How did you learn to code? Which
resources did you choose? Did you have a mentor?
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
only, but the head start from The Odin Project was extremely useful.
Is there anything that you missed during your learning time and wished you would have
had or someone would have advised you?
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.
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)
hardened me to take criticism in a way which not many people can. In particular, I view gaps in my knowledge (and
pointing them out) as a blessing, since that shows me where I need to put my time and helps me prioritise. We can't
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
learning, and you must always keep learning as a programmer.
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
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.
Are there any interview tips you could share?
Accept that you're nervous and work out what your own personal 'nervous' habits are so that you can pre-empt them.
example, if you tend to rush to answer questions before fully thinking them through, you can keep a glass of water
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,
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.
So far, so good! My company has a 'training unit' where people like me (with no backend experience, for example) can
trained up to be full-stack engineers. That's a real blessing and has helped me a lot. I feel like the company is
investing in my success.
What is your current role? What do you like and dislike the most about it?
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.
say my least favourite thing is the code-switching that is involved. Since I'm helping others so much, I don't often
to dive deep on a coding problem.
What would you say/advice to someone who would like to switch careers?
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.
What would you say/advice to someone who starts to learn coding?
example, all at the same time. If you can really focus on one language and learn it super well, the other languages
come a lot easier further down the line.
Have you ever regretted your career switch?
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
able to help that desire by giving more talks, presentations, and workshops.
Your favourite tech meme
Your favourite quote
If you would like to know more about Anna or need any software development career tip, you can´t miss out her amazing content!