Vedika Dalmia: ‘Where Should I Start?’ - Carving a Career In Tech
1 April 2015
Photo: Vedika, right, at the Hacker Olympics 2014 in Shoreditch
I recently started volunteering with Ladies Who Code, a meet-up group for female coders. The group comprises professional software developers and beginners but it’s also very open about helping anyone with a general interest in coding. A lot of people reach out to us and ask questions on our website. Interestingly, the most common question we get asked is: “I really want to learn programming, where should I start?”
This question always brings home the uniqueness of the industry I work in. There is no single way in, no universal job description and no sole starting point for a career in software development.
Throughout my career, I have worked with people from a variety of academic backgrounds, from Mathematics and Astrophysics graduates to those who studied Chemistry and Geography, and some who never went to university. A recent survey conducted by Mortimer Spinks and ComputerWeekly showed that a third of the women currently working in tech in the UK have cross trained to technology from different business areas.
My own entry path to the industry is probably still the most conventional route. I enjoyed computing at school and went on to study for a degree in Computer Science at university. Now, I’m a software developer at Bloomberg – a financial information and technology company that employs more than 3500 developers globally. But there were many paths I could’ve taken and my tech education hasn’t ended there so here are my top tips for anyone starting out in the industry:er, I have worked with people from a variety of academic backgrounds, from Mathematics and Astrophysics graduates to those who studied Chemistry and Geography, and some who never went to university. A recent survey conducted by Mortimer Spinks and ComputerWeekly showed that a third of the women currently working in tech in the UK have cross trained to technology from different business areas.
IF YOU CAN, START YOUNG AND GET HANDS ON
Growing up in India, I was lucky enough to have access to excellent computer science teaching at a young age, with a focus on practical learning. My school had a few robotics kits that allowed you to build robots and program them to do a variety of tasks. These kits are now more widely available at a lower cost and are a great way for young students to engage and experiment, whether at home or at school. There are opportunities to do this as a team and show off your creations with groups like Robogals and the FIRST Robotics competition – an international, inter-school robotics competition Bloomberg supports globally. Of course, the UK’s new bolstered computing curriculum is now introducing programming to the classroom earlier but a number of excellent organisations, such as Code Club, are providing extra support for young students looking to find out more and are well worth exploring.
GET OUT OF THE CLASSROOM
At university level, there are a variety of computer science related degrees available, each with their own merits. Ironically though, the part of my degree I enjoyed the most was the time I spent away from university doing internships. It was the best way to actually get an idea of the career options out there, understand how technology is applied in a business context and pick things I wanted to focus on. Some companies also offer apprenticeships to school leavers which can be a good option for those wanting to learn through industry.
Demand for technologists is outstripping the supply of graduates coming through conventional education routes so there are more options than ever available to those looking to convert to the industry. Some institutions offer intensive one-year conversion courses that cover a large proportion of a typical computer science degree. Some really reputable universities have also started publishing courses online for free. You can watch recorded lecture videos, work on exercises and even sit exams in a virtual classroom. Alternatively, a lot of companies, including Bloomberg, hire graduates from a variety of backgrounds and train them up in programming which is a great way to learn (being paid to do it helps too!).
NEVER STOP LEARNING
New technologies are being developed all the time so don’t think the learning stops after you get a job. My company runs intensive training courses for all entry-level candidates, which I found really helpful. I also find it easier to learn with people so being part of local meet-up groups helps. This involves going to lectures and technical talks where I don’t understand a lot of what people are saying but still come back having learnt loads and with a long list of things to research. Even the old fashioned approach of getting a book and going through it works. I find having a ‘study buddy’ in that case helps but there are some really good series of books and the community is very vocal in pointing out the good ones in online reviews on websites. If you are stuck on something you can always get help on a community forum.
Hackathons are a great way to learn new technologies and meet new people, although I am yet to do a full all-nighter! When I first started going to them, I was nervous about being a beginner in the technology being used, but the energy is incredible and it is worth going along just for that! My first hackathon was also my first experience of contributing to open source. It felt scary at the start but I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has given programming a try. For anyone looking to do so, there are organisations such as OpenHatch that host events to help people get started and flag up beginner-friendly issues to try and fix.
I love working in the tech world. It is impossible to get bored; there is always something new to learn and try out, and lots of brilliant and passionate people to draw inspiration from. Statistics agree with me. Surveys have shown an overwhelming majority of those employed in tech fields are satisfied with the sector. Despite that, it is still an industry with more jobs than candidates, so I hope a lot more people - especially women - consider joining in and carving their careers in technology, whatever path they choose to get there.