So, you've decided on a career in IT. Congrats! There’s just one problem: your only experience with the tech industry is pretty much limited to buying the latest iPhone and replacing your old laptop. Not to worry, though; you still can build an amazing career in this sphere. Take Jenna Toff, for example. She tried her hand at retail, customer service, and even pool inspection before trying to build a website back in her college days. She became so engrossed by the project that she decided to enroll in Practicum's Software Engineer program and ended up getting a tech-adjacent role. She told Practicum how the company’s community-focused environment helped her find her vocation and nurture a new skill set.
Seeking her forte
Jenna set her eyes on the IT field after numerous attempts at finding her forte elsewhere. Having only been acquainted with technology as a consumer, Jenna describes her entry into the tech industry as, well, "all over the place". "I did pool inspection with my family, got into retail, studied English, got into customer service, and kind of started massage therapy," Jenna recalls. "[In my life] I've done a lot of 'Oh, I really enjoy this, let's see where it goes', and have fallen into that pattern a few times."
At some point, while working on a business degree, she decided to make a website for a potential business idea. "I started looking into 'Okay, how do you code a website instead of just using a builder?' And found I enjoyed [the process]." At first, Jenna just googled different functions and tried to replicate the code she saw. But no matter how much she tried, she couldn't bring the site she envisioned to life. Plus, the things she learned didn't quite stick. "I kept finding myself in the same place where I started and realized that I needed something else." At the same time, she knew that a systemized approach to learning always worked well for her.
Jenna first found some video-based resources but had a hard time understanding the logic behind many of the actions. "I went through some of their videos and [could] imitate what they did, but I didn't understand what I was doing." She realized she needed something that would show her not only the how, but the why. "I was also looking for something that had actual people I [could] communicate with, and not just something that I [couldn't] respond to." Jenna sought change, so when she spotted an ad for the Practicum Software Engineer program, she decided it was worth a shot.
Teaching to learn
It was, indeed, worth the shot. Jenna's cohort was very active. They constantly communicated with her, each other, and the program tutors in a special Slack channel. "People [were always] asking questions, and a few of us were just rushing to respond to them." Aside from helping others, the ongoing communication within the student community helped Jenna retain more knowledge as well. "Whenever I saw someone asking a question about something, I was like, 'I kind of know what that is. And I think I can explain it.' Then I would try explaining it and look up additional resources. Between talking with [my peers] and trying to get them to understand it to the extent that I did, I learned more about it in the process."
Jenna had a vast base of both resources and practice to draw information from. All of the programs at Practicum consist of a number of two- or three-week sprints, each of which had to be finished on time in order to unlock the next. Every sprint, in turn, included reading, coding practice, and project assignments. Jenna could read and practice writing code at her own pace, but she had to submit projects by the deadlines. It was quite easy to find time for studying at first. "My cohort started pretty much right when the quarantine hit. And I suddenly couldn't work because of the job that I had at the time. I generally spent the first week [of every sprint] going through course material and doing my first draft for the project of that week. I usually didn't have too many [corrections] and would wind up having most of the second week of the sprint [free]."
Another major advantage of the program were the professional code reviewers who checked her code and gave her suggestions for improvements. Jenna admits she was a bit terrified of getting things wrong at her first review but enjoyed the feedback nevertheless. "It was always constructive and authentic, like, 'Oh, I didn't think of it that way.' And it was nice to be able to improve things."
Despite the unfamiliar material, she mastered time management so well that she even started feeling like she had too much free time. So, Jenna picked up a job at a call center. Aside from supporting her, it helped her be less hyper focused on her studies. "My mind was pretty much always on whatever I was working on. And if I had a problem, I would sometimes get up in the middle of the night [with] an answer and would go and try to implement it because I didn't want to [forget]."
Still, she enjoyed herself all throughout her journey. "I was like, 'This is cool!' [...] My favorite part of web development is making things happen."
A new profession
Once Jenna graduated from the program, a friend sent her a link to an open role at their job at a tech company. "It's a tech-adjacent job," she explains. "I'm testing the software and leaving feedback." Despite not having the exact training for this specific task, Jenna is leveraging the skills she learned at Practicum to better understand the rest of the tech crew. "The main thing that I have is that I'm able to talk with the engineers in their language." She plans to grow into a more technical role at her company in the future and do some freelance web dev projects in the meantime.
In her spare time, she stays curious and open for whatever opportunities emerge on her path. "One thing I really like about web development is that there's always more to learn," she shares. "I don't have any specific plans; there are other languages I'm interested in. I want to learn those and make cool, interesting things. I think I have like 10 things that I've been planning on trying to develop and see how that works."
We're rooting for you, Jenna! Does website building spark your interest? Check out our Software Engineer program today.