If you want to do some good in your current role, but the distance between an idea and its implementation is too long, there’s still a way for you to make a difference. With software engineering, you can build your own world-changing tech project, and see the results way faster than in many other industries. That was the case of Practicum graduate Rebecca Burch. After stepping away from medicine, she found what she was looking for in tech, and several months later, became a software engineer at an EdTech startup for K-12. Here is her story.
A 180-degree turn
To many people, becoming a doctor is one of the best ways to serve the world. However, we know good things take time. In the case of medicine, it could take years, decades even, for innovative methods or discoveries to become common practice. This is something Rebecca realized after graduating with her B.S in Biomedical Science. “While I was applying to medical schools, I worked in a hospital. I realized that everything they do in the medical field is like two or three years behind the newest stuff. I wanted to find something that I could create or invent right away, and that people could use right away. I still wanted to help people.”
Since Rebecca’s family members were working in tech, she started scanning the industry for a potential career. At first, she had no idea she would like software engineering, but after doing some research, she realized it could be a great entry point into the field. “I heard that when companies look for candidates, they like seeing things that are pretty. It's a lot easier to show someone a website than it is to show them lines of code, right? So, I wanted to make something pretty. That’s where coding and [software engineering] seemed to fit really well.” Much like the medical field, software engineering uses data from various tests to diagnose problems and find optimal solutions. This was a similarity that Rebecca couldn’t ignore. In addition, a career in software engineering offered a lot more flexibility than the medical field. “I like to travel a lot. Being able to work from a laptop was a really, really attractive idea for me,” she recalls.
So, Rebecca began searching for programs. Still, it certainly wasn’t easy. She knew she needed structure and a classroom-like environment. “I've taken an online course where it was just the lessons, and then you do the problems afterwards. And there is a forum where you can ask questions, but it's just very isolated.” Her ideal program had to have clear building blocks and a guide, as these components would “make [learning] more efficient than just trying to, like, Google stuff without knowing where you're going to end up.” So, when she saw an ad for Practicum’s Software Engineering course on Facebook, she decided to try it out.
Getting more than she expected
Instantly, Rebecca discovered that Practicum came with a community of tutors and students. The curriculum included webinars or live coding sessions, where she could communicate with her peers and discuss her code, so it was a great alternative to her previous learning experience.
The Practicum Software Developer program consisted of a number of two- to three-week-long sprints. Each sprint included theory, coding practice, and project assignments that had to be submitted on time to unlock the next one. So, Rebecca could read and practice at her own pace, but projects needed to be completed by deadlines. Fortunately, she mastered her schedule so well that she finished the projects early and could take breaks until the next sprint began.
“Since [each sprint] was spread across two weeks, you could finish [everything] early. And then, you could have like five days to do the rest of your life, or go on vacation or work… That was really convenient.”
The composition of the program also made it easy to grasp the material. The course started with the basics, then gradually became more complex. Each skill was polished with an interesting project, such as building an Instagram-like website with photos. “I think that went really well. I think the progression of the lessons really made sense, with the way they did a lot of CSS first, and then started bringing coding in towards the middle.”
Initially, she struggled with starting projects from a blank page, but that’s where the live coding sessions proved invaluable. “Live coding really helped. It was just like, ‘Hey, so this is the general direction you're going to go’ and [I felt like] ‘Okay, so I have the introduction, and I can work from this.’ After I started watching the live coding, [software engineering] became a lot easier.”
Doing meaningful work
Rebecca didn’t wait for the end of the course to start working. Instead, she tried to produce a product during her studies! She had some friends who were at the initial stage of building a wellness app. They suggested that she complete it and bring it to the market. While she agreed to develop it into a full product, it was a demanding job as the only developer. She ultimately decided to step down from the project. She admits that she underestimated the time needed to build a functional app, but even so, she “learned a lot.”
“I hadn’t worked on apps before. So, it was good, because I learned a lot of patterns on development that I wouldn't have learned [otherwise]… In terms of learning, that project taught me a more formalized way to write code, because I felt like I had to hand it off eventually to a company… I had Scrum meetings where I showed my work and clicked through the app, like, ‘This is what I did this week. That's fine. That’s what we're gonna do next week.’”
After that, she started looking for a full-time role. That’s where this experience came in handy. Rebecca didn’t reach out to companies with cold applications. Instead, she put all of her Practicum projects and skills on her LinkedIn profile.
“I’d have phone calls with a lot of recruiters. I got used to telling my story, like, where I was from, what I did, how I got into programming. So, by the time I talked with the particular recruiter [that led to my current job], I already had it all figured out. The phone call went really well, so I got scheduled for a meeting. This company is really small, so two days later, I had a phone call with the COO of the company.”
And she succeeded. Rebecca got hired as a software engineer at Wayfinder, a company that combines social emotional learning and future-ready skills to help school kids build lifelong success. Now, they are migrating their services online, and Rebecca’s job is to help facilitate this transition.
Practicum prepared her both for the interview and the work itself because it gave her the necessary soft skills and taught her how to work in an IT environment. “[In the interview,] I talked about problem solving with other students, learning together, and teaching each other. Not being afraid to ask questions is very important, especially in tech, where no one knows everything. So, you have to be okay with asking people for help. Also, we used a lot of Trello, a project management app, Slack, and GitHub for our code… Those are the three technologies that are the most used in my company right now.”
Now, Rebecca wants to grow at her company and hopes to step into the role of CTO one day. But making a difference is still her priority, regardless of the industry she may eventually find herself in. “[My work] would have to have some meaning outside of money. The company I [currently] work at is a designated [hybrid] nonprofit.” She prefers to work for smaller companies that “have some vision and want to change the world in some way.”
Good luck on your journey, Rebecca! Interested in making the switch to software engineering? Check out our top-rated program here.