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Posted Date

August 9, 2021

Author

Alice

A completely unfiltered, untouched feature in our developer stories, from Charmaine, apprentice .Net Software Developer based in Manchester

Hi Charmaine 👋 Nice to meet you and thank you for joining us. Firstly, could you give us a little introduction and background about yourself?

It’s a pleasure, thank you for giving me the space to share! I’m currently working as an Apprentice .Net Software Developer at TalkTalk. I graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University Class of 2018, where I studied Business Management. Shortly after, I discovered my love for coding and haven’t looked back since.

My passions include DE&I, personal development and ‘paying it forward’ and as I build this amazing career in tech, I feel it’s only right for me to pass on what I’ve learnt. It’s important to me to help others come through and access opportunities in tech, just like I did. You can find me on LinkedIn where I’ve been working hard over the last 6 months to build my platform and what I think is an amazing network. I use LinkedIn to meet with like-minded people and create content for my audience.

How did you get into software development, and what interested you to pick it up as a skill?

I came across coding when I was younger but had the perception that it was too complex for me. I always thought “I’m not smart enough to do that”. It wouldn’t be until 2019 during my attempt at starting a business, that I began to open my mind to the world of code.

I came out of university in 2018 full of energy – I was bursting with ideas! I took the risk of starting a small business but unfortunately, a lack of experience and resources meant a rapid end to that adventure almost before it got started. I failed. But honestly, don’t regret trying because I really I learnt a lot about myself. Yes, it was an interesting journey of self-awareness and a learning experience I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

Code fascinated me. I’m a creative person who loves to build and solve problems, so the idea of learning how to create technical solutions was appealing. I love to be challenged, to try new things and to be out of my comfort zone – It makes me feel alive and I know that’s where the growth is. Something inside me yearned to conquer this challenge that always seemed out of my reach. I was intrigued and intimidated at the same time but I wanted to access and understand this new world, so I had to start believing that I could.

 

Starting is often the hardest part.. So where did you start!? What tools and resources did you use to start learning code?

It was a lot to take in at first, the information is quite overwhelming for a beginner! I knew I would benefit from extra support and guidance and decided some structured learning would be great for me. I went to Code Nation and the team there helped me to ‘kick-start’ my learning journey.

I started learning to code basic HTML and CSS, slowly but surely was exposed to Python and JavaScript – building along the way. I really struggled at first, like really! But I stuck with it, pushed through the course and managed to complete a website C.V. and contribute to a text-based game using Python, I was so proud! From there I tinkered with a couple of small Udemy projects using JavaScript. As I went through the boot-camp style course and exposed myself to other technologies, my curiosity grew.

Some resources I found helpful when getting started were:

  • Full-stack web development bootcamp – Angela Yu’s comprehensive full-stack web development bootcamp on Udemy. A reasonable price point, I bought and completed the 2020 version and found it very helpful and informative. A great starting point for exposure to various technologies and frameworks, building small projects and gaining confidence.
  • Harvard’s CS50 – The CS50 from Harvard is a FREE, self-paced certified course. Extremely well delivered, high-quality content which is great for beginners wanting to develop their learning by completing programming assignments.
  • Tutorials Point – One of the more easily digestible Software development documentation. I have found this website incredibly useful as a beginner and I still reference it regularly. I’m a C# girl! But you can search for whatever you like! 
  • W3 Schools – Plenty of tutorials and references to help you ease into learning about your chosen language or framework. The content is easy to read and take in. Developer documentation can be a little daunting when you’re starting to learn but this website is more on the ‘beginner friendly’ side. 
  • Mozilla More developer documentation! One of my favourites with many topics to chose from. Beginner-friendly too!
  • Tim Corey on YouTube –  Tim Corey is by far my favourite programming Youtuber. He covers various languages and frameworks in his clear, concise and easy to understand teaching style. Perfect for any beginner wanting to understand with examples and explanations of the ‘Why’s’. I love Tim he rocks! Great channel, check him out.

How did you find your first role in software engineering at TalkTalk? There will be lots of junior developers with little to no hands-on experience, so this information will be invaluable to them!

I was fortunate to gain my current role through Code Nation’s assessment centre, but another tried and tested approach to landing your first role in tech, is networking and building a profile/personal brand, doing so will make you stand out and be visible to the people you want to be seen by. LinkedIn is a powerful tool for anybody wanting to take this approach, another benefit is being able to introduce yourself to companies you’re interested in working for and get yourself noticed. Personal branding, networking and being active in the community can be hugely advantageous coming into tech.

Even better to engage in content and if you can, create. Creating quality content that is authentic to your skills, interests and aspirations can showcase your value and bring some incredible opportunities your way. Speak on topics you want to be known for and if you can help others in doing so, you will gain credibility and trust. Do these things consistently and you will see your network, reach and engagement grow.

 

What can companies do to encourage more young tech talent in your opinion?

Fostering partnerships with schools, colleges, and other careers support services would be a good way to expose younger people to tech. It’s important that children are aware of these opportunities and feel like they are within reach. Sometimes people just don’t realise these opportunities exist, or don’t feel the opportunity is available to them. Workshops and taster sessions for primary school children, work experience for high-school children and generally more encouragement and exposure to tech, where teenagers meet careers advice.

Exposure is particularly important in deprived areas with high rates of poverty. I think DE&I should always be at the forefront of any campaign, companies must keep this in mind and ensure there is representation for all people as we push for more diversity within tech.

 

What is important to you when working somewhere? Flexible working, benefits, working with new technologies, personal growth etc.?

Company culture and the freedom to be myself is so important to me. When I’m able to bring my full authentic self to work is when I produce my best work. The space to channel my passions and talents outside of my main role and have real career progression opportunities. Being a mum, flexibility is also high on my list, as is psychological safety.

Do you ever suffer from imposter syndrome? How do you combat those negative emotions that come with it?

I certainly have and more than once. It’s something I have spoken quite openly about on my platform. In fact, I had a recent bout of imposter syndrome when I agreed to take on a new challenge at work. It was something I had never looked at before and yes, I was quite intimidated – que the wave of self-doubt!

What I have learnt is that the brain responds to what we tell it, the saying “whether you tell yourself you can, or tell yourself you can’t, you’re right.” – is true. So I tell myself I can and replace those negative thoughts with positive ones. I have to believe that I can. Sure, I might get some things wrong, maybe I don’t yet have a full understanding and I’ll probably make mistakes along the way. But I’m working towards the finish line, I’m not giving in and I’m not believing the doubts. I reflect on the past when I’ve faced and overcome a challenge and reassure myself that I can overcome this too. Your mind really responds to that, as does your motivation.

When it’s difficult to push through it alone, I will reach out and talk with someone. One of two things usually happen; 1. As I talk through the problem I reveal creative ideas for a solution and feel more in control. And less self-doubt-y. 2. The other person will offer advice, help me to re-focus and gain perspective. Giving me confidence and less self-doubting feelings.

Everyone experiences imposter syndrome, it’s just a part of being out of your comfort zone I think. But I’ve found practicing emotional management and speaking up when needed has helped me to deal with the bouts.

What do you get involved in outside of your day job? How did you get into mentoring?

Yes, I’ve been enjoying flexing my mentoring muscles and I feel this is something I am good at and find hugely fulfilling. I got into mentoring through Empower Network at TalkTalk. The mentoring pilot is in partnership with The University of Salford and aims to support black students in entering into the world of work. I’m highly motivated for this and appreciate the opportunity to play my part.

I guess you could say I do some ‘unofficial mentoring’ for aspiring developers too. I feel that ‘paying it forward’ is something we should do for others if we can, I feel that I am creating value for people – simply because I’m passionate about this, I enjoy it and feel I’m good at it. And if I’ve learnt one thing, it’s to invest your time and energy into the things that make you happy. So, if your new to tech – feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, I’m always open to meeting and getting to know fellow devs.

I use my platform to create content, organise remote talks and sessions (confidence, personal branding, interview tips and techniques to name a few!) for new developers. I’m quite a creative person and I enjoy delivering content to inspire, motivate and inform others. 

A new challenge and adventure for me, is my new role as Chair of ‘Empower’, our company network. The network is a space for BAME and I’m excited about future plans, as we continue our mission to celebrate, educate and elevate. I had initially become a committee member after being noticed on LinkedIn by the right person. As I said, LinkedIn is a powerful tool when used correctly!

This year, I’ve been invited to various interviews and remote panel discussions, including TalkTalk’s very own ‘Walking the Walk’ Podcast, and an invitation to interview with BBC.

I have been invited to deliver a few talks more recently which I love to do, so I’m looking forward to that. Also, I’m humbled to have been asked to appear on the Digital Her ‘Wall of Inspiration’. Imagine… me, on a wall of inspiration! Of course, I am thrilled to bits! This and other opportunities have materialized from getting out there and pushing past comfort, learning and developing and investing in myself. Building my personal brand, creating valuable content and building relationships has been amazing for my career and in relatively short period of time. Worth considering for sure.

Are there any key skills you think are undervalued in software development?

Soft skills and Emotional Intelligence. More employers appreciate the value of soft skills even within technical roles and are requiring more of these skills from technical people. This is good news for new entrants with a lower technical ability, but other transferable skills to bring to the table. Leveraging your soft skills and EQ can take your career to another level. There are many more skills required in a coding role than coding.

Take communication and collaboration. The two main soft skills used in agile software teams. Your ability to communicate with developers, testers, solution designers, scrum masters, managers, and other stakeholders in a collaborative effort to deliver software outcomes – is something you will be developing every single day. Important skills for the role.

Likewise, time management, problem solving, and growth mindset. These are skills every developer is constantly practicing.

Emotional Intelligence will play a big part in your career and honestly, honing these abilities can elevate you into leadership. In a fast-paced environment working on complex solutions to tight deadlines, your ability to manage feelings, adapt and show resilience cannot be understated.

Empathy can go a long way in building trust with your colleagues. Leading with empathy can cultivate deeper connections, closer working relationships and build trust. Trust builds chemistry which increases team velocity. We love high velocity!

What one piece of advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Don’t put limitations on yourself and don’t let others put limitations on you either. Almost anything can be learnt by an open and curious mind. You can achieve great things, believe in yourself.

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