The Honey Pot

A honey bee will search up to 5 miles for food, which is about 4.9 miles longer than I'm willing to look.

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How I became a software developer

22nd October 2023

This post was inspired by Frills' developer story.

When I was very young I had a PlayStation and a GameBoy Colour, so I've always had an interest in gaming but not necessarily computers. That changed when I was ten years old and my aunt and cousin came around to visit. My cousin showed me a game called RuneScape. Without sounding too dramatic, this changed everything.

Suddenly the computer was not only for drawing scribbles in paint and then colouring them in. He was just walking around a city called Falador but I had never seen anything like it before. He asked if I knew what an imp was, and I lied and said yes. We killed an imp. Sorry imp. I played RuneScape for years and it opened the portal into PC gaming. From there I launched into Guild Wars, and World of Warcraft. That brought me to Steam, which brought me to a whole boat load of more games. They brought me to Minecraft, to online communities and beyond. I made friends from all of these places, some I still talk to, but all of them I still think about. I became "the computer whiz" of the family and would occasionally be asked to fix relatives' PCs. I knew sweet FA about computers, but you know how families are.

Fast-forward to the age of 18 and choosing a university course. I didn't do well in college because I never studied so my options were limited. The only things I could think of was a law degree with a foundation year in London or a foundation degree (2 year course instead of 3) in computing at the local university. Realistically I could not afford to (or really wanted to) move to London, so I took the computing course at the local university on the basis of "hey, I like gaming, so I'll probably like this".

On the first day we had a really simple lesson on Java, I think we probably made it say "Hello world" and nothing else. I fell in love, it was wonderful - I was making the computer do something. It felt so natural to me, of all the modules I did in university programming was probably the only one I thoroughly enjoyed, looked forward to, did the extra homework for. I found something I was actually good at. The only one that I never struggled with.

Because I did struggle. Databases, networking, security, it was all quite difficult. Being a foundation student I also felt like we were treated second-class compared to the Bachelor's students. We shared lectures, literally learning the same material, but the teachers (mostly accidentally, I hope) really knocked the confidence out of me and I finished the course swearing that I would never work as a software developer. It put me off the IT industry completely. I felt like I didn't know enough to succeed, that I was woefully unprepared and stood no chance, so I didn't want to try.

I started looking for work after university and that was also pretty difficult. Unemployment was high at the time, and I found myself on Job Seeker's Allowance (unemployment benefits) before long. To their credit they did help me find a job and for all of two weeks I was a waiter before I was fired for being shit. It's quite fair to be honest, I didn't enjoy speaking to the customers. I am definitely not customer service material. I wanted to be a chef for a while, then I wanted to be a lorry driver until I realised that I struggle to reverse a hatchback never mind a lorry.

So back on Job Seeker's Allowance I went. They had an opportunity to work in a local business for a month as work experience. It was as the business' web administrator/general IT person. They asked if I wanted to apply, but you should know that when they ask a question like that what they mean is "You're going to do this or we stop your benefits", and since I quite like to indulge in luxuries such as food and water I agreed and applied. I am pretty sure I was the only person the boss interviewed, he offered it to me and I begrudgingly accepted - I didn't want to be in IT, but here I was, being the IT. After the month was over he offered me a permanent job.

I have one positive thing to say about this job, and a lot negative, so let's just say the positive: It taught me to be confident in my abilities and after a year and a half I found myself wanting to work in IT, so I thank the boss and the company for that. I applied to an IT Support job in a nearby city and I actually got it. This was a huge turning point in my career that ultimately brings me to software development.

I worked in IT Support for around three years, and in the same company, in the same building even, literally two rows of desks away, was a software development team. Working in IT Support I had started to write some powershell scripts to help me in my day job and that helped rekindle my love of programming. I got to talking with the team leader and I asked if I could shadow the team so I could see what kinds of things I should learn to get a career in software development. I had a meeting with a senior developer and then he set me a challenge so he could gauge how much I know at the moment so he could tailor the learning experience to my needs. I know now that he was not doing that at all, he was actually interviewing me for a job. I succeeded. I became the team's junior software developer.

I genuinely had no idea a job was on the table and it came as a huge shock to me. I worked in that team for a further three years and unfortunately only left because the company was making a lot of cuts and almost axed my team completely. I moved to another, much smaller local company, but didn't enjoy it and left after a month. I took a long career break (that's another story), then came back and worked my way up to a senior developer position in my last company before being made redundant and am now a senior developer in *current company*.

So that's me. A computer enthusiast who tried very hard to get away from software development who ends up becoming a senior software developer. There's probably something in that about how you can't run away from your destiny, if you believe in destiny.

My advice to anyone interested in a career in software development who doesn't know where to begin: Start with some lessons on Pluralsight or LinkedIn Learning, even YouTube if you can't or don't want to pay for a subscription. Don't worry about what language to pick, they've all got jobs - I work in C# / .NET and there are plenty out there, so learn that if you don't have any preference at all. Being a good software developer is not about what you know already, it's about your willingness to keep learning. Do not be put off by job posts asking for lots of different things. Apply anyway, maybe they'll take on a junior. You will never know everything you need to know in a development job, and anyone who says they do know it all is lying. There are no masters in this field, just a hell of a lot of students.

Final footnote: I know I went to university to study computing, but I genuinely do not think a university degree is required. If you want to do it, by all means do - The (social) networking of universities is still very valuable. All the knowledge you acquire, however, can be acquired elsewhere. Most of what I was taught I had forgotten by the time I actually started looking at a career in software development, and I started to do self-learning. Not one single interview I've had has ever cared about my time at university. They've all asked technical questions, but never cared where the knowledge comes from. So don't be put off by that.

~ Honey