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My Journey to a Career in Development

By Rachel Cooke 20th January 2021
Rachel in the meeting room at the Ipswich office

“Hi, my name’s Rachel and I’m a web developer.” - Introducing myself to new people I can now say this easily but getting here, for me at least, was not exactly simple. My career path has most definitely been a journey, with some ups and downs but I’ve grown so much for it and am decidedly much happier than if I had simply stuck to my original “plan”.

Casting my mind back to my 18 year old self, I’d never have thought I’d end up in a career in web development. I was determined to be an animator and thought - like every naive 18 year old - that I was destined to work at Walt Disney or Pixar. Why wouldn’t I think that? I had the grades and enjoyed art, what more did I need? So bright-eyed, I started looking for the best universities in the field, and I found  Bournemouth University. Perfect I thought, a great university and it’s on the beach (bonus!), I met the requirements so the application was sent, accepted, and then I was off!

It was at Bournemouth University that I had my first brush with programming. I was here for art. Why did we have to code? It was something that I secretly dreaded - back in school the extent of our IT lessons was a bit of Excel, as I’m sure many people will also confirm. So I sat down in front of the computer in my first “Computing for Graphics” class and typed those historic first words “Hello World”. As much as I had feared the classes before, I soon began to look forward to them, I found I enjoyed the pure logic, the maths behind it and how everything just made sense - it’s a computer it cannot do anything you don’t tell it to.

Rachel graduatingLet’s jump to graduation, 3 years of hard work and it was time to start looking for my first animation job. I graduated with a 2:1, not bad, how hard could it be? Well. Let me tell you, the animation and games industry at that time was saturated with hundreds of people in just my situation. The only jobs I was able to find were in central London and wanted to pay next to nothing or in some cases literally nothing, and additionally wanted 2-3 years experience. The longer this process took the more disillusioned I became. The less appealing a job in central London sounded, and the stress levels I heard about from my peers didn’t seem to be worth it. I decided it was time for a switch in tactic, a reassessment of things, and time to change.

So what was that change? Well, I looked at my path up to now and thought I wanted a job that challenged me, that I enjoyed, that didn’t require me to work in central London and also perhaps wouldn’t have hundreds of applicants flooding the industry. It was at this point that the government did a big move to get computing added to the national curriculum and had done a big teaching drive - so naturally, I thought that a career in teaching was my new way forward. I signed up for a PGCE course in Computer Science and got started. In the beginning, it was very much the same as before, I was passionate, I thought I could mould the minds of young people and was driven to be the absolute best I could be.

best computing teacher underway badgeNow don’t get me wrong, I loved being in the classroom teaching and working with the kids, but as any teacher will attest there is a lot of hidden work that you just don’t see. I was waking up at 6am and working until 9pm, planning, marking, assignments, and answering a plethora of emails just to name a few. I was very quickly getting exhausted and burnt out and by the end of the spring term I had everyone asking had I got a job yet? - I hadn’t even finished the training year yet and now I was being forced to take a hard look at whether I would continue. I decided that it was too much, sorry kids but my mental health comes first, so I finished the year, and whilst I am still a qualified teacher my days in a classroom were done.

So what now? My foray into teaching was over, I had no job and no idea what I was going to do. I gave myself a deadline, 3 months and at the end of it if I was no closer to a career I’d go back to a retail job whilst waiting for inspiration to strike. The hours of 9am - 5pm were for working towards getting a job and attempting to better myself. I spent a lot of time thinking about the path I was on and where I had come from. What had I enjoyed and what did I fancy trying? Eventually, I decided I would use my experience to continue down this computing path I had started. I was enjoying that so why not continue? I started doing a couple of online courses, simple ones like “how to code a one page website”, and eventually built up enough confidence to apply for a “Website Assistant” job. I landed an interview and confessed that I knew nothing but I was willing to learn. Thankfully my honesty didn’t kill my chances and they gave me my first “real” job. I was at that company for 2 years and learned a lot having worked my way up from changing texts and colours, to coding full web pages and emails from scratch. I had decided firmly that I wanted to code, it was challenging and I enjoyed it (most of the time). I had also, just as importantly, decided what I didn’t want to do - most of which was telling people “to turn it off and on again”.

Now every developer will tell you that the “imposter syndrome” is very very real. Making that jump from an “Assistant” to a real “Developer” was terrifying, but I knew it was necessary to continue on my new found path. Thankfully SimpleClick took me on, built my confidence and skill-set up, and in just over a year I’d managed to knock that “Junior” out of my job title.

Rachel working at her desk in the SimpleClick officeFast forward to sitting here now writing this blog post, I feel that I finally have a “career” that I want to be in, I’m not in central London (in fact right now it’s working from home), I’m working 9am - 5:30pm, I’m not continually burnt out and I’m not bored. In fact, I’m very happy, I feel continually challenged, I feel appreciated by my company and I can still see more room for improvement and growth - exactly what you want from a career, which is probably why I am still with SimpleClick today.

So whilst I may not be where I thought I would be, I'm grateful for the journey and am 100% happy with where it has got me.