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My tech story: Joanna Cholewa

“The more women who work in the sector, the less the stereotypes will be able to hold.”

Joanna’s path to becoming a coder wasn’t a straightforward or conventional one. An English Literature graduate, she eventually found herself getting drawn into coding because she enjoyed developing her learning and skills. After completing an intensive training course, she got a job as a software engineer.

Tell me a little about your path to working as a software engineer – what subjects did you study at university and how did you then switch to getting where you are now?

“I got a BA in English Literature, and a few years later an MSc in Environmental Management.  Despite these qualifications, I struggled to figure out what I wanted to do and how to have the confidence to apply for jobs that seemed out of my reach. All I was doing was short admin roles and I felt bored and like I may as well have not gone to university at all.

“At some point after I’d finished my MSc, my partner sent me a link to an online coding course (with Udacity) as he thought I might be interested. Although I struggled a little to start with  – being from a non-technical background it took me a while to “get” coding  – I kept coming back to it and enjoying it.

“Then we moved abroad for a year in June 2017, and I really started getting into coding more. With the help of a career coach, I decided this was something I’d like to do at work because it was something that kept me interested and engaged.

Coding was like nothing else I’d tried before because I was always learning something. So, I applied to and got accepted into a coding bootcamp in Manchester. I studied there for three months when we moved back to the UK in September 2018.

“For me, this was the right option because I felt that I needed some intensive instruction and feedback on my code. Less than a month after graduating from the bootcamp I got my first job as a software engineer in January 2019.”

Tell me a little about your job and what attracted you to the work or role?

“I was a software engineer for a small consultancy company in Sheffield. I mainly coded in Ruby on Rails, which I was brand new to, so it was an intensive few months.”

“I was attracted to the role because I wanted to continue my learning journey and thought that working for a small company would allow me to learn a lot about the projects and how the sector works.

What did you enjoy most about your job?

“I enjoyed seeing how my coding skills were progressing and the that that I could tackle tasks more and more confidently as time went on. I also loved having a job that kept me interested and learning.”

What would you say to other women who are thinking about starting a coding-related career in the tech sector, but may feel intimidated or put off by the idea that it’s male-dominated or only for ‘geeks’?

“Give it a go by yourself to see if you like it first. Investigate groups and meetups for women in tech and try to attend tech meetups in your area in general, so you can meet people working in the field. Reach out to other women in tech to learn about their experiences if you want to.

“Ultimately, if you enjoy coding and want to make it a career, then try to push through your fears and make it happen.

“I knew nothing at all about coding when I left school. I did think it was a career mainly for men and now I have experience as an engineer. The more women who work in the sector, the less the stereotypes will be able to hold.”

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