Episode from the podcastThe freeCodeCamp Podcast

From high school English teacher to software engineer at a machine learning company

Released Monday, 14th October 2019
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On today's episode of the podcast, Abbey chats with software engineer Jackson Bates who lives and works in Melbourne, Australia.
Jackson used to be a high school English teacher, but gradually taught himself to code and landed a pretty sweet gig as a React dev, partly by chance. Today he works part time as a developer, part time as a stay at home dad, and volunteers his time with various open source projects.

Finding his way into tech

Jackson grew up in England, and studied English in school. Although going into education seemed a logical choice, he dabbled in other fields - like working at a prison cafeteria - for a while before landing a teaching job.
That first job had some unpleasant aspects, and he began to doubt if teaching was for him. After moving to Australia to be with his wife, he started dabbling in basic HTML and CSS. Even though he continued teaching high school English, Jackson couldn't tear himself away from coding completely.
We’ve all got computers, but being able to write code and make your computer do something – once you learn to do that it becomes quite an addictive thing. I just loved the problem solving aspect and how creative you could be.

Learning to code

After about six years of teaching without all the proper Australian certifications, he decided to go back to school and get his masters.
He budgeted a bit too much time for his studies, however, and ended up with six months before he was scheduled to go back to work. So he dove back into learning more about coding.
And those teaching skills? They came in quite handy when he was teaching himself to code.
As a teacher, you kind of understand what it really takes to learn something. When you’ve helped 11-18 year olds overcome really frustrating experiences in their own learning, you learn to give yourself a break when you hit roadblocks. You learn to put in the work that’s necessary, but you get a more realistic expectation of the timeframes involved to learn something.

And he was hooked. He got through one more year of teaching before deciding to try to get a job as a software engineer.

Getting that first tech job

But the job hunt sucked. While this was no surprise, it was particularly demoralizing when he was rejected for the most basic role for which he felt quite overqualified.
I always had it in the back of my mind that I was never really ready enough – and I know everyone always says oh I’ll just finish this certification and brush up my CV and do this course…we always give ourselves a million reasons not to do it, and really those reasons will always be there.

At that point, a friend encouraged him to try out a new meetup group, just for the heck of it. So he went. And ended up meeting his future boss.
You might get knocked back from things you’re overqualified for – but it only takes the right person to see you and decide you’d be a good fit for their team, and then all the rejections don’t matter anymore. You just have to keep putting yourself out there.

A tentative follow-up email, a quick round of interviews, and an onsite later, he had the job. It was an excellent cultural fit, and he's never looked back. He gets to work on fun internal projects, support the data scientists on his team, and pick up new skills constantly.
And he's even developed a refreshing perspective on debugging and facing challenges in his code:
I really like working with broken code. Because you know staring down a bug until you’ve fixed it really gives you a better understanding of the whole thing that you’re trying to do. Even though it’s a bit slow, it helps it sink in a bit more.

Now, 14 months later, he's learned a lot about different tech, Machine Learning, how to learn new skills, and what it takes to switch careers.
It really is a long game that you’re playing. It’s easy to be discouraged, but people have made the change you’re trying to make. It feels impossible but people do actually do it.

In this episode, Jackson offers valuable advice about job hunting, finding your learning style, dealing with imposter syndrome, and how to take chances - among many other things.
Find Jackson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jacksonbates
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