How do you change careers after 15 years? According to CareerFoundry graduate Mark, who segued into web development following a decade and a half tenure as a youth worker, it all boils down to motivation. Timing plays a big part too: as the pandemic gave way for some extra time to focus on making the switch.
Mark is now working full-time as a developer in England, but how did he get there?
To find out more about his journey from youth work to programming, we sat down with Mark to talk time management, coding communities, and learning while you sleep…
Hi Mark, thanks for joining us! Can you start by talking us through your educational and professional background before doing the CareerFoundry Web Development Program?
I still managed to keep up some of the tech stuff alongside my job—I’ve always been the go-to person when a colleague wants to know about gadgets or tech. I started running a youth work resource website to share some of the resources I was creating with others, and also found myself occasionally creating WordPress sites for charities. Though this was often more hacking about existing themes rather than developing from scratch.
About four years ago, I had an idea for a youth work app and thought, “How awesome would it be to make this from scratch?” I stumbled across an iOS Development coding course on Udemy and felt the same spark I felt for web development that I felt in sixth form. It got me thinking about where web development could take me. I started doing more research and came across CareerFoundry. I wanted to make sure I could study alongside my job, so when I saw the flexibility of the Full-Stack Web Development Program, it just seemed to click.
What was it about web development that really drew you in?
On the one hand, it was a practical thing. I often found myself working evenings and weekends in my youth work role, and I wanted a career that would give me more of a social life. It was also a lot to do with motivation; the more I started dabbling in web development, the more I realized that this was something I genuinely enjoyed doing. Even on weekends sometimes, I’ll still sit and mess around with web development stuff.
The timing has also worked out great. I was put on furlough for a few months in 2020, which allowed me to learn more about web development and even dive into a few freelance projects alongside working through a Udemy course on WordPress development.
How did you find studying while maintaining your full-time job?
Alongside being able to work around my old schedule, a lot of youth work also revolves around school terms—so I knew I would have set chunks of time where I could really buckle down and get ahead with some of the coursework. Again, I think it comes back to motivation; if you’re studying something you’re genuinely interested in, you just find the time.
How did you approach the program material? Did you enjoy studying remotely?
I broke everything down into one module at a time, which for me felt like manageable chunks. Having the breaks in between the modules gave me a chance to digest the material properly. One thing I discovered is that my brain seems to process new material the best when I’m asleep—so I know I’ve really absorbed a complex coding problem if I’ve woken up the next morning having dreamt about it!
What were the next steps after completing the program?
I started applying for jobs in the last 2-3 months of the program at my mentor’s advice. When the pandemic hit, I took the opportunity to slow down a bit to see how things would pan out. I fired off a few resumes but still focused on the Job Preparation Course. It was so interesting to see how different it is to write resumes specifically for tech jobs.
When I was starting to get interviews, my career advisor helped me build confidence with mock interviews. All in all, applying for five jobs a week felt really reasonable, and it meant I could put energy into applying for jobs that felt suited to me.
Can you tell us how you got your first job in the industry?
During the pandemic last year, agencies were on the hunt for developers because everything was moving online. I sent my resumes off for this job via LinkedIn and ended up having a few interviews via Zoom—one of which involved a technical task.
I landed the job and was working as a web developer at Squarestar Digital, a marketing agency based in Essex. The web development team was quite new when I joined, which means there were lots of opportunities to grow. For example, I learned Magento 2, which is a super complex e-commerce system.
Do you feel the program prepared you for your everyday work as a web developer?
Yes, at Squarestar we were solidifying processes with clients, and it allowed me to flex some of what I learned with the course—like advocating for the user. Of course, I did have the moments of thinking, “am I good enough to be doing this work?” but luckily, I had a fantastic team and manager who always assured me I was on the right track. I think impostor syndrome arises whenever you learn something new, but fades away when you get the hang of it.
What advice would you give for people looking to embark on a career change into web development?
Start with some of the more bite-sized free coding courses and online tutorials before diving into a full career change program, just to find your feet. There are also some handy social media accounts out there to follow and communities to join, like @CodeNewbies on Twitter and the hashtag #100daysofcode. I also spend a lot of time Googling, so that’s always a good place to start!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
What I love about web development is that the thing you’ll be working on in five years probably doesn’t even exist yet. The field is constantly evolving, so there’s always a sense of adventure. Who knows what I’ll be developing down the line. Right now, I just want to keep pushing myself and learning new things. Let’s see where it takes me!
What You Should Do Now
If you’d like a step-by-step intro to find out if a career in development is right for you, sign up for this free short course. If you’d like to find out how you can get a new job in tech like Mark did, we recommend speaking to an expert program advisor for free.
Looking for more career change stories? Check out these success stories from CareerFoundry graduates who made an exciting switch into tech later in life:
- Graphic Design to UI: Here’s Why (and How) I Forged a New Career from Scratch
- From Gastronomy to UX/UI: How I Retrained as a Designer for Free
- How I Retrained And Became A UX Designer After Turning 30