A Career in Tech?.
Former Lawyer, Alicia Barczak, shared her journey of leaving law to enter a career in tech.
- Alicia Barczak
- 14 mins
Tom: Hello and welcome to episode 23 of the Make Things Better podcast. Today, I'm joined by Alicia from Global Logic. Thank you for coming on the podcast. How are you doing today?
Alicia: I'm good, thank you. As I just said to you, I've been soaked three times today, on the way to the office at lunchtime and on the way back home. So, yeah, it's been a long day.
Tom: That's Manchester for you. This is our first podcast coming from Manchester and yeah this is just a usual day here really other than in summer.
Alicia: Manchester weather is just the gift that keeps on giving.
Tom: Literally, so do you want to start off by telling us how you came about coming on the podcast? Like how we had that conversation and I was telling you about the podcast and then how you were interested in possibly coming on it.
Alicia: Yeah. So I think we met on a running social.
Tom: Yeah a running club social.
Alicia: So we got chatting about what is it that we do for a living. And you mentioned that you run this podcast and I'm a big fan of podcasts.
I listen to them all the time, so it's something that I've thought about doing for quite a long time, but it's not an opportunity that you get everyday. So when you threw the idea around, yeah, I jumped on it straight away and we had to reschedule three times finally we are here.
Tom: Yeah, I'm glad you did come on. I think you're the first person who's actually been quite enthusiastic about coming on without me, even like asking so that's been great. And it was really weird how you told me that you were like training to be a software developer at the time, because obviously that's what we do at Hive IT.
So do you want to tell us about what you were doing before you got into software development and how you went about deciding to become a software developer?
Alicia: Yeah, so I've only been working as a software developer, if you can even call it working, I've been training more like it for the past three to five months. I did a North Coders Boot camp and graduated in July and just started my first role as a developer a week ago and before I went into software development, I worked in law and so I went through the traditional training of being in law school for five years, and then I practiced law for two years before realizing that it wasn't the right career path for me.
I think one of the main reasons for my decision was the thought that there just aren't many opportunities in law. I found that a career in law is very inflexible.
So when you qualify as a solicitor, you become a newly qualified solicitor, you then become an associate, then you become a senior associate and you become a partner. There's very little flexibility to pivot into different areas of the business.
If you decide that you do not want to practice law anymore or you don't want to specialize within the area of law that you end up specializing in. And I found that quite difficult to deal with because even at the very junior level, I already knew that I wasn't enjoying my role.
And I looked at the things that my more senior colleagues were doing, and I realized that this is just not what I want to do for the next 40 odd years of my life. And one of the main reasons I chose tech is because tech is very different to that, as corny it may sound - the world really is your oyster in the tech industry.
I'm doing software development now, but one day I might decide to take my coding skills and applying them in a DevOps role or in testing or become an ethical hacker or upskill into AI or machine learning or start my own business.
There's really no bureaucratic process that will prevent me from doing any of this, and what really matters is my own capability and how hard I'm willing to work. And that is very exciting about working in tech.
Tom: Yes, the possibilities are endless in a way.
Is that something that attracted you to tech in particular?
Alicia: Yeah, definitely. Like I said, the legal industry that I'm very used to is extremely bureaucratic. There's a very specific process in which things are done in the way they were before, but in tech it is the opposite.
It's a modern industry that is constantly evolving and the opportunities are endless. And like I say, if you're capable and work hard - you will succeed. So yeah, it's a very exciting place to be.
Tom: Yeah, definitely. And what skills do you think are useful as a software developer?
Alici: I think that there are many skills that you need to be a great developer. And one of the key ones for me is probably problem solving. Being a software developer is basically being someone who solves business problems through the use of code.
You do need to be very analytical and have good attention to detail and have the ability to learn new tech because tech is constantly evolving. Also because, like I say, being a developer is being someone who solves problems and usually in a business setting - having a business mindset and being able to learn and understand problems that you're trying to solve from a business perspective as well as from the tech perspective, is very beneficial because it then means that you can make sure that what you are building actually adds value to whatever business you are working for.
And ideally you are able to predict and solve problems that the business people in the room may not be even aware of. And I think that's what makes them exceptional developers.
Tom: Yeah, it's a great answer and I know I've not prepared for you for this question, but I have to ask it now but how much do you think problem solving is part of being a developer?
Because I feel like in general we hear a lot about the coding side and you have this idea that it's just going to be like someone in a room just coding all the time, like in The Matrix or something.
But in reality, how much of a skill do you think problem solving is when it comes to being a developer? Like how important is it?
Alicia: Well, my understanding of software development is that you are predominantly someone who solves problems and it just so happens that you are using code to solve them.
So it's similar to as a gardener, what do you do? You look after plants. The way you do it is through your gardening skills. So in this context, your gardening skills, in my context, the gardening skills will be the code and obviously you can do that in many different languages.
And the question really is and which tech stack applies the most to the problem at hand? There is no superior language to solve. Every single problem is all based on context. So yeah, I think being a developer is being a problem solver and it just so happens to be code that you use to do that.
Alicia: Oh yeah. So when I decided I wanted to get into software development, I had the typical debate between wanting to learn it myself versus doing the bootcamp, and I ended up going for the boot camp option, mainly because I was just overwhelmed with amount of information out there. And when you do get into software development, it can be so hard to know where to start.
If you go into a boot camp, you already have a curriculum that you can follow that has already been taught successfully to other people. So you know that you will be able to learn and succeed through the completion of the boot camp.
And like I said, I did North Coders. And it has been an absolutely fantastic course taking me from someone who has done absolutely no coding whatsoever to being able to build my own apps. It's been a fantastic experience.
Tom: Yeah, that's amazing that you can transition so quickly and learn the skills so quickly because on the boot camps, like don't they only take like a few months?
Alicia: Yeah. 13 weeks.
Tom: Did you find anything challenging about doing the bootcamp?
Alicia: Yeah, definitely. I am a bit of a perfectionist and I like understanding things straight away. So when I was in law school, for example, I would always make sure that if I'm coming across a very difficult legal principle, I will learn it very well before moving on.
In software development, that is impossible because of the complexity of what you are learning so I developed a rule of thumb that if I understand whatever concept I'm faced with to about 70%, I'm happy with it. And I know that the remaining 30% will come over time as I gain more experience and more knowledge in whatever language I'm learning.
But getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is something that I found personally very, very challenging because like I said, it is just not something I'm used to.
Tom: Yeah. So now you just try and get to like 70% what like confident in it then?
Alicia: So understanding something 70%. So if someone's explaining something very, very complex to me for the first time, if I'm understanding 70% of what they are saying to me, I'm happy with that. And then probably in three or four weeks time I'm going to come back to the concept and understand it 100%.
Tom: Yeah, that's a great approach because I guess it can be hard to not feel like a perfectionist sometimes. And then since you've completed that bootcamp, how have you found going about getting a job?
Alicia: Yeah, I was really very worried about that when I left law and suddenly faced the prospect of entering a new industry and the pressure of finding a job after finishing the bootcamp but getting the job itself wasn't the difficult part. What I found difficult is trying to figure out what is it that I actually want to do.
I don't know if I want to be a front end developer or backend developer, so I wanted a role that would expose me to both the backend and the front end.
But equally, as much as I love coding, I don't know if I want to be developer at all. I might want to work in DevOps or do some testing or become an ethical hacker. I don't know what I want to do yet.
So getting the role that would allow me to gain exposure to very different areas of tech is something that I really wanted. But it hasn't been easy to find. That kind of role is very specific, but I did find that luckily and the role that I'm currently doing is very varied and the company that I work for invest a lot of money and time into my development. So that is my ideal role. And yeah, it hasn't been easy to find it.
Tom: Yeah I feel like sometimes it's easy think it would be really easy to find a job in software development, but then if you do want a role which is going to like open opportunities in various different ways in life, then maybe that's going to be a bit more difficult.
So what advice would you give to anyone who is considering a career change into becoming like a developer or getting into like the world of coding?
Alicia: Go for it. I think software development is such a good starting point when trying to find a career in tech because with that technical experience, like I said, you can go into very many different areas of technology and it's inevitable that eventually you will find things, you will find something that you love.
And because of how many opportunities there are in tech at the moment, I don't think you can really go wrong. So yeah, if you're not enjoying your career and you're thinking about what to do next, tech is a good opportunity.
And in particular, I would encourage women to get into technology because I do feel quite lonely at the moment. There really aren't many female developers, so hopefully it's something that is going to improve going forward. But yeah, we definitely need to encourage more women to do it.
Tom: Yeah. Have you found many female developers in your job so far?
Alicia: No, no. I am the only female in the company's Manchester office. I think there are a couple of women around, but not in the technical roles.
Tom: Do you think there's like a reason why women aren't getting into tech as much?
Alicia: I don't know. I have been asked this before and I genuinely don't know. But then equally, I think my journey to tech has been very much encouraged by my family who are already in tech, and so they've pushed me onto that path.
And if it weren't for that, I'm not sure if I would have ended up working in tech, and so maybe there just needs to be more influence or more encouragement of some sort. But yeah, I really don't know the answer.
But now that I'm here, I'm really glad I made the switch.
Tom: Yeah I'm not sure maybe that's a podcast topic for another day.
So my final question for you Alicia and thank you so much for coming on again is what can people do to make things better and you can interpret this however you like?
Alicia: I'm going to interpret this as What can people do to make the world better? Just because things is a bit too abstract for me. And one thing that I feel strongly about and the social cause that I feel strongly about is homelessness.
And there's only so much me and you can do to help every single homeless person in Manchester. But a lot of the time we can do things that don't cost us anything, like even smiling or saying 'No, sorry, I don't have any change' to someone who's begging on the street.
I think that can make a massive difference and it's no effort to do it. And so, yeah, I would say do not ignore people in need and smile and respond and treat them like human beings and not like they're invisible.
Tom: Yeah, that's a brilliant answer. I think sometimes homeless people can almost be like just completely ignored and I imagine that's really hard. So thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Alicia: Well, pleasure. Thank you for having me. So.
Tom: All right. Thank you for watching, listening or reading and I hope you have an amazing rest of your day.
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