From Journalist to Developer: Taking the Plunge into Tech

A bit of context

I encountered some pretty interesting things during my ten years as an online journalist and producer. But the one thing I never solved during my time in newsrooms was the webby stuff. I was the social media guy, good at working with people and communities online. And I was decent at using third-party apps like Infogram or Google Fusion Tables to illustrate stories. At one stage my editor was insisting on calling me a data journalist, which felt pretty cool at the time. But in truth I wasn’t an expert, more a jack of all trades. I was just pasting-in spreadsheets and making them look pretty, not manipulating data or doing any big data stuff.

Basically I was like a lot of people, floating along in a career. Working hard but with no certainty of what it was going towards.

Meanwhile the web developers in our office were making cool new apps and content management systems from scratch. I heard them planning their work out using the Agile methodology and taught myself about that. I wanted to be in their gang, but I didn’t know how to code. My role sometimes involved helping explain to them what we in the editorial department needed. Then they would make the feature. What they did seemed magical because, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t teach myself to code. I tried various online tutorials but nothing stuck.

Winning the scholarship

With no degree behind me and no real fall-back career options, I quit my job and freelanced so that I could be available the very second the ‘right thing’ came along. Amazingly, CodeClan came along at the perfect time.

I applied and was lucky enough to win a scholarship from Scotland IS (thank you thank you thank you) and joined the second cohort in November. This course stands out from online tutorials due to its immersive aspect and human touch. We work normal working hours, in a modern working environment led by a team of approachable and relatable instructors.

Before starting the course, I wondered whether our teachers would be talking to us in gobbledegook, or that we’d have to bring our own computers and it would be a nightmare of them having to constantly fix problems on different types of machines. In fact, we were all given brand new Apple MacBooks and the tutors are amazing. We even go to karaoke and the pub with them after class sometimes. They’re particularly patient with me, as I’m new to coding.

First time coder

If you’ve never written a line of code before, it doesn’t matter. They’ll help you understand via some key learning methods: error messages are your friend (because they tell you what to fix) and googling solutions is actively encouraged. They’ve also introduced us to sites like Stack Overflow, where people help one another with coding questions and answers. There’s a spirit of sharing and helping that I rarely encountered in my previous working life. Now I see myself working in an environment where there’s support all around, as well as good-natured banter of course.

In the first month we’ve covered the basics of web programming using Ruby, Sinatra and Rails, all while focusing on test driven development and object oriented programming. We’re even learning to make our web apps look nice, using CSS.

Go for it!

On day one I had little idea what any of that was. Now as we approach our first projects, there are still some areas I’m not confident in actually doing, but – and this is the key thing – I understand them. With the support of our instructors and the immersive nature of this course I’m confident that it’s going to ‘click’ just like learning a foreign language does. Much of it already has.

Another thing that sets this course apart from other courses is time. It lasts 16 weeks rather than the standard 12. In that extra time, usually every Friday, we get time to consolidate what we’ve learned and get help with parts we didn’t understand first time around. The fact there are four instructors in our class means help is never far away.

Life at CodeClan is a lot more friendly than I expected. If you want a career change and are prepared to work hard – both in class and on homework – then go for it. The most dangerous thing you can do in your career is nothing, to play it safe. Scotland is bursting with new jobs in the digital sector, and who knows where in the world those jobs could springboard you to?

Written by Michael, Student at CodeClan