From politics to programming: how I changed careers during the pandemic

From politics to programming: how I changed careers during the pandemic

I knew 2020 would be different. Because unlike other years, this one started with a resignation. After almost three years working in politics and policy in London and Beijing, I decided to call it quits; say goodbye to a career I had been working towards for years. It wasn't an easy decision to make, to leave a job without another one lined up, or even a proper plan. But I felt relieved when I finally handed in that resignation. My goal? To transition to a career in tech.

Moving into tech had been in the back of my mind since living in Beijing three years ago and being surrounded by a vibrant tech community. There is just so much you can do, even without any coding skills. But back then, everything was still new and it felt too early to make a decision. Now that I had already worked at different organisations in politics before, in the public, private and non-profit sector, it was time to try something new.

So there I was a few weeks later: bags packed, unemployed and full of hope. I moved from London back home, to a small town in southern Germany. I wanted to take a break before embarking on my career changing venture. But what came next probably sounds all too familiar: more and more countries in Europe started closing their borders. People were urged to stay at home. Hospitals were overwhelmed. A pandemic was raging and taking lives around the world.

How I felt? Probably like much of the rest of the world: anxious, worried, and stuck. I mean, what do you do when you just quit your job and are confronted with news of a pandemic, a declining economy and mass unemployment? Well... first, you take a moment to acknowledge that you probably didn't choose the best time to make a 180 degree switch in your career. Second, you realise that timing is not a decisive factor. Third, you pull yourself together.

Where there's a will, there's a way

So here is what I did. The very first step I took was simply to get my day-night-rhythm back in order. Wake up at a reasonable hour, and go to bed around midnight. It sounds odd to even mention it, but I think a lot of people underestimate the importance of essentials like sleep and food. I also dressed properly, took regular walks and stopped watching the news. Because by then, corona was pretty much all you would hear. And you didn't need to be a fortune teller to know that things weren't going to change anytime soon.

Before quitting my job, I had done my fair share of research. I looked at possible roles, career paths, schooling options, and attended tech and startup-focused events. I did so to get a sense of the industry and the way it was heading. After researching the field and assessing my skills and interests, I narrowed it down to UX/UI design and software development. I wanted to work in teams to solve human-centred problems, acquire skills applicable to different domains, and write at least some code.

But I didn't know which one it was going to be. At the time, I had only touched HTML and CSS and just started to learn JavaScript. Throughout this period, I also read other people's career changing stories, which helped me to stay motivated. While reading those stories, I realised that there was also a lot of switching between roles in tech. And some unicorns did both code and design. So I decided to try both. After all, you won't know until you try.

The Art of Do-It-Yourself

What I did next is what lots of people do when they don't really know what to do: google my way through the internet. And googling I did. I started with freeCodeCamp and The Odin Project, but kept switching forth and back between different sources. From Codeacademy to Codewars to SoloLearn, Skillshare, Treehouse, the Interaction Design Foundation, Youtube and whatever other resource I could find. It's insane how much information is out there. But it can also be quite overwhelming.

After some time, I had read and seen so much that I thought I kinda knew what I was doing. I had experimented with Figma, Photoshop, Illustrator, learned about Git and Github, set up a development environment, solved some JavaScript problems. I was kinda heading in the right direction. Except that I felt stuck at the basics. I tried to create a curriculum for myself, but couldn't quite stick to it. So in the end, I narrowed down my main focus to three resources: The Odin Project, the Interaction Design Foundation and Skillshare.

While going through these resources, I somehow got hooked. I was building projects as part of The Odin Project when I found myself thinking more about coding problems than design questions. By then, I was no longer following a set schedule โ€“ I coded when I felt like it and took a break when I felt like I needed it. I also tried creative classes beyond product design. But I still finished one coding project after another until I had a handful to show on Github. They were simple, but presentable. And a way for me to measure my progress.

It's a People World

At the same time, I started talking to more and more people in tech. Since I didn't really know anyone in software development or UX/UI design before my career change, I started looking for online communities to join early on. I became part of whatever tech-related group I could find on Slack and Discord, reached out to people, and attended online events. I also found myself a pair programming buddy through the Odin community and joined a study group through a supportive and helpful fellow learner (thanks Ciaran!).

Those communities are also how I found out about my current job and other opportunities. A recruiter posted the ad in a Slack channel I was part of and I reached out to see if they would also consider self-taught people. There was an initial chat with this recruiter and other people and before I knew it, I was in the midst of several application processes. During this time I also received a scholarship for a new online coding bootcamp, the Coyotiv School of Engineering. Even though I managed to secure job offers before class started, I loved being part of the community.

Since joining Klarna as a software engineer, some people have reached out to me to ask about my career change. And a common question that I get is "how did you know you were ready to apply?". But truth is, I never really felt ready, and I still don't. If I had waited until I felt ready, I might never have applied. I just kept going until I felt like I had enough evidence to prove that I am serious about this career switch, and then I just talked to people. Because after all, we live in a people's world, and your attitude and willingness to learn matters. It's not all about your technical skills, but also about you as a potential colleague.

A New Beginning

And that's my story: how I went from political and security analyst to software engineer in 2020.

Now I can officially call myself a software engineer. But that's just the beginning. I still have a lot to learn and am grateful to Klarna for giving me the opportunity to grow as part of an amazing team. I hope that this story helps at least some people the way all those career changing stories out there helped me. Thanks for stopping by and happy new year! โœจ

Cover image by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

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