9 to 5 to Code: Quitting Your Day Job to Pursue A Career in Software

Experiences from Femi, an ex-banker and Marcela, an ex-physical therapist.

Nadine Okoeguale
January 13, 2021

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🔊: Applications for Co.Lab’s Winter 2021 cohort are open!  You can join us as a Product Manager, UX/UI Designer or Software Developer.

It is a difficult decision to leave something that you are familiar with. The choice is hard when that thing gives you stability, even harder when what you’re going for is unpredictable, and arguably the hardest when you’re deliberating whether or not to make a full career change. Before you hand in that notice, there might be a few points to note from the experiences of now-developers Femi Oluwatola and Marcela Gomez. That’s not the only common factor between them; they are both Co.Labbies!

So, Femi and Marcela, before you got into software development, what kind of work did you do?

Femi: I worked as a banker.

Marcela: I worked as a physical therapist.

What motivated you to quit your job and switch to a career in dev?

Femi: During my time as a banker, I worked with two of the biggest banks in Nigeria. Still, at some point, I felt like I wasn’t putting in my best and that I was underutilized. Before and during banking, I loved to build things. It’s always been a part of me. Before my switch, I knew basic HTML and CSS and I helped friends and family to build websites for their businesses.  Then it hit me one day: This is what you love to do. So, in 2019,  I decided to quit my job and go into software full time.

I applied to Lambda School. It was their Africa Pilot Program. I feel lucky to have been one of the 53 Africans accepted from the hundreds of applications. Among us, there were people from Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Cote d’ivoire and South Africa. With Lambda School, I got involved with different tech stacks and upon the completion of the course, I got a role with Lambda School as Section Lead for Europe and Africa. I was responsible for three teams in both continents working on projects from ideation stage to deployment.

Marcela: I took some tests online to figure out my work style and I tested very high in learning which meant I stay engaged in work when I’m learning. From the test, I learned that I need to continue learning and maintain some curiosity. I’d spent 16 years working as a physical therapist and the novelty of learning and curiosity had worn away. Everyday, I would go and sit at the same desk for eight hours and say the same thing to patients over and over again because the injuries were similar. For patient care, I kept on recommending the same exercises with only a few modifications. The repetition was not feeding my sense of curiosity. I was ready for something exciting.

I kept hearing my friends who are software engineers talk about how they are constantly learning. I thought of trying coding online and I made a clock. I got excited seeing that coding was a logical process so I mulled it over and over and I signed up for some prerequisites. Going forward, I found it really fed into my love of science and passion for learning and was amazed at how it could be applied in  various areas. Seeing how it could be useful in so many different things, I felt I could still help people and impact their lives but with a different skill set.

So, I went back to school for 3 years and got a Bachelor’s in Computer Science from the University of Washington. I graduated last June.

There must have been mixed reactions from friends and family. How did you respond to their concerns?

Femi: My parents were not on board at all. They did not understand why I had a job in one of Nigeria’s biggest banks and yet, I wanted to move to an entirely different industry. They advised that passion wasn’t enough and I had to consider other factors. It was hard because I had no one to guide me. I asked myself if coding was something I really loved to do and if I would be happy without earning from it for a few months.  After answering those two questions in the affirmative, I went for it. Before my leap though, I prepared a safety net for myself by saving up more than a year’s worth of rent.

Marcela: One of my colleagues at my day job actually said that she could see me doing it. My parents were less than enthusiastic about the idea. They didn’t like it one bit. I expressed that I only wanted to receive positive words of encouragement so anything different from that should not be communicated to me. I didn’t want to hear any doubt. Eventually, when they saw me doing it, they told me they were very proud of me. I realise now that it was their fear and not mine.

You both were in Co.Lab’s December 2020 Cohort. What got you interested in the program?

Femi: The idea of building products that could actually be utilized by real end-users. Co.Lab didn’t promise just an “interest rehearsal.” It offered something real. For me, that was a huge attraction. I worked on an application for teachers. It was tested by real teachers who provided us with feedback on how to make it better. We grew their thoughts into ideas and implemented them. Many of the teachers even offered to test it out during their online teaching sessions. It was truly gratifying. Another factor that got me interested in Co.Lab was that I had never worked in an organised setting. All the projects I had been involved in were either individual projects or projects with people. Now, the projects I had done with others had developers working as product managers, designers and developers all at the same time. It was all muddled and there were no distinct roles so this always hindered the experience of true collaboration. Co.Lab offered me the experience I sought. I wanted to push myself and put all I’d learned into practice too. The final thing for me, I believe, was the opportunity to network.

Marcela: I had a job lined up for me after graduation but I lost it due to the pandemic. I decided to use this time to keep myself engaged to ensure my mind was occupied and creative. I’m in a couple of  female coders Facebook groups. In one of those, someone posted about Co.Lab. I got interested and filled out the form and sent an email making enquiries. Sefunmi, the co-founder, responded to my questions and after he described the whole experience, it became clear to me that Co.Lab was a worthwhile undertaking.

Upcoming Live Info Session

Join Sefunmi and Helen, co-founders of Co.Lab, for a Live Info Session and AMA. Come along with your questions as you learn more about the upcoming Winter 2021 cohort and hear Co.Lab alumni success stories.

How was your Co.Lab experience?

Femi: It was fun. I networked with a few people. There were introductory sessions and workshops where participants really got to bounce off one another and interact. I enjoyed them. I wish I could have attended all though but the time difference didn’t make it easy. I mixed the times up a lot. In my team, I worked with Ilan and Rochelle, both of whom I view as very smart individuals.  Our mentor, Tyler, was so great. We built Teachr, an application that assists teachers to assess students fairly in real-time. The goal of Teachr is to make teachers feel that they have provided a fair mark without having to spend hours relistening to each student or transcribing marks into another tool.

I really enjoyed our ideation sessions. It was like a family meeting, but without the drama. We worked so well together and even when we had disagreements, we always resolved things unanimously. Our communication was very open and easy so whenever I faced a challenge, I just messaged them to share the problem and I was supported through its solution. I relish the opportunity to work on a project as the only developer. I got to fully understand my role as a developer on a project. On Demo Day, we received good comments and were selected by the judges to do a second presentation to the greater audience.

Marcela: Starting off, two of us were accustomed to waiting for direction and not actively engaging  as we did not understand that our role was beyond waiting to be told what to do. Once we learned more about our different personality types and our expectations in our different roles, we  came together and got closer. I enjoyed my teammates, Emma and Heather, very much.

Getting to meet new people and learning how to work with them was quite enlightening. I learned more things about myself. I never knew I could be the person who waits for instructions. I’ve learned to speak up when I need to. Also, I only knew how to build with HTML and CSS but with Co.Lab, I built a React website, something I’d never done before but I made it a challenge. The Co.Lab experience really caused me to trust in myself and my abilities. I’ve learned how to be more resourceful in looking for things.

My team built Kiddie’s Helper, a platform that parents can use to connect their children to virtual mentors who take on the role of homeschooling them. With Kiddie’s Helper, parents are able to have undivided focus on their job between the regular working hours.

At Co.Lab, I enjoyed the workshops and seminars but getting a real-life feeling of how it is to work in a team and see first-hand what that entails is really valuable. Also, I met some super cool people who I never would have known if I didn’t join Co.Lab so it’s a treasure for me.

Kiddie’s Helper

Now that Co.Lab is over, what are you up to lately?

Femi: Applying for jobs now, I get asked a lot: What have you applied your skills to? That’s something Co.Lab has added to me. I had a few references in my portfolio to show before Lambda School but with Co.Lab, I have something more and it’s not just another application, it’s an application built in a real-life work setting. Co.Lab has also given me a family. Ilan, Rochelle and I decided to continue with Teachr. It’s a side project we are all actively working on now.

Marcela: I’ll be starting a new job with General Motors at the end of February. In the meantime, I’m preparing for it by learning about frameworks for enterprise software. I’m excited at the prospects of working on a new line of electric vehicles for the company. My Co.Lab team and I agreed to move forward with Kiddie’s Helper and we will meet soon to discuss plans.  From Co.Lab, I learned a lot about myself and what I am capable of. I’m glad to be carrying this confidence into my new role.

Femi and Marcela were part of the December 2020 cohort of Co.Lab.

Many thanks to Femi and Marcela for sharing! Are you looking to be involved in a real collaboration experience just like they’ve described? Come participate in Co.Lab! Applications for Co.Lab’s Winter 2021 cohort are open!  You can join us as a Product Manager, UX/UI Designer or Software Developer.

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