According to the 2017 Stack Overflow Developer Survey, less than a quarter of professional developers have non-computer related majors – but what’s it like to be one of them, really?
“Coding is one of the skills that can be self-taught,” says Xi Li, the first and only female software engineer at Agoda Singapore who taught herself Java and Scala. “But it’s definitely not for everyone, just like not everyone can be a doctor or a lawyer.” Once a mechanical engineer, Xi shares how she landed her first software engineer job in Singapore after 6 months of self-learning and what it means for her to join Agoda’s Technology team as the second chapter of her developer career.
Start with the right motivation
While media coverage of xx-turned-developer is almost always inspiring, the hype shouldn’t be the only motivation for switching careers. Xi stresses the importance of having a valid motivation as the key success factor of self-taught, career-changing engineers. “The beginning is the hardest, just like everything else. If you don’t have enough drive, you won’t get through the steep learning curve.”
“I studied Mechanical Engineering in the university, so not surprisingly my first job after graduation was a mechanical engineer. However, halfway through my second year, the mechanical industry began to decline due to the oil price rout. That’s when I got interested in growing industries like tech and started learning Java from time to time after work.”
Read, practice, and most importantly, get a job
Xi spent the very first few weeks reading books like Java Basics to digest the syntax. “There is no magic elixir for learning because everyone has a different starting point. I already had basic knowledge in computer programming from undergraduate courses like “Basic Knowledge of C++” and “Computer Organization”, so my first and foremost priority before diving into writing actual code was refreshing the knowledge I learned from long ago.”
Xi also says that joining a digital agency as the first job after six months of self-learning was crucial for turning her interest into career. “70 percent of learning is done on the job. When you’re searching for your first job but all you have is knowledge, it’s a good starting point to take coding tests and attend technical interviews to experience the real world and ultimately refine your skills.”
Staying competitive as a software engineer
Although Xi, with over a year of professional experience, now feels comfortable working as a software engineer, she aspires to keep evolving her skills. “With the tech industry growing faster than ever, there are new frameworks and technologies almost everyday. It’s important to stay up-to-date with new techniques and approaches.”
Xi describes her colleagues as the best source of learning and inspiration, apart from others like news, books, and communities. “I joined Agoda largely because of its advanced technology, not only the stack but also the team. Everyone in my team is somewhat self-taught, and this is what makes me keep challenging myself and absorbing new things.”