How I got from biology to web development during the lockdown

How I got from biology to web development during the lockdown

“Gosh, it has been a year and a half already since this all started.“

“What? The covid-19 pandemic?"

“Nope! My NEW tomorrow” 🤩 🤩 🤩



A brief preface: this is Claudia, 35 years old, Italian, with a Ph.D. in Marine Biology👩🏻‍🎓 , who recently started a job position as a …. Junior Web Developer. 👩‍💻

I know, you are probably thinking………WHAT???? What do fishes have to do with computers?



Well, let’s put it this way. Marine scientists spend about 90% of their time on their computers performing different tasks, from statistical analysis to building graphs and presentations, while only 10% working with dolphins 🐬 🐠 (or other still exciting but less picturesque practical parts 😁 ).

When this whole new chapter of my life started (about 1.5 years ago) the laptop was already my best friend and I was doing all sorts of things with it, including some programming in R, a software for statistical analysis. But bear in mind, if you are reading this post because you somehow are thinking to get into this world but you have no experience in programming, keep reading! This might still make your case!

In fact, let me add that I only learned how to program at the young age of 30 😆 . Before that, I use to see it as some crazy computer thing for engineers only. 👨🏻‍💻 🥸

I can now pretty much say that programming is among my most surprising discoveries and it is SO MUCH FUN! 🕺🏼

while(alive) { eat(); sleep(); code(); }



It is hard to explain exactly what it is when you have never done it…let’s say it is a superpowerful methodology that makes your computer do anything you want. Hehe,🤪 this is an overexcited meaningless explanation, I know. 📚 Wikipedia defines it as ‘the process of creating a set of instructions that tell a computer how to perform a task’. So, if you want to draw something on your screen, or run a complex analysis, or even just remove all the capital letters from the over 2000 rows of your Excel file without checking them one by one, you can simply write a command and explain your machine how to do so.

It is a bit like one of those cooking robots (ex.: Bimbi) my friends love to brag about (I refuse to have one, which is a bit contradictory 🤪 ).  You give them a set of instructions and voila... you have 'made' a mango and potato mousse!🥮.

So, for a start, drop all these misconceptions about programming and don’t be afraid of those dark screens with fluorescent words on top. It is at everyone’s reach if you are a bit into math, puzzles and you love being challenged!

‘How did you choose what to be next?’ DECISION MAKING

Answers to this question came to life after a few readings, TED talks listenings, and…. gut-feeling.

But the final answer somehow only got together and became concrete when I wrote down on a piece of paper: what I like doing, what I am good at doing, and what are my new job expectations (from it being located close to home to salary expectations, work hours…everything!).

A breakdown of the informationI put together to identify what I wanted to be next

💡 Here is a breakdown of the information I put together to identify what I wanted to be next. It combines what I like doing (you have to work for your entire life, you better like your job!😉 ), what are my strengths, and dream job expectations. Once you define these points you are already able to narrow down the long list of opportunities!

Sounds silly, I know! I was also skeptical about doing this. But it turns out that this is actually an excellent technique to solve many problems! Writing things down is like spitting a problem out of your body, and just by looking at it, it looks smaller. 👾 There is some concrete psychology behind this method which I came across during my readings, but I will leave its technical explanation to the experts in this sector 🤓.

For a start, what I mainly wanted was a balance between work and personal life. Scientific research in many countries is like a limbo of job instability, with, most of the time, no way out.

When I started considering a change, I was writing my Ph.D. thesis, and, at the same time, I was also working on another short-term contract. 🤯 I was literally exhausted. 🥺 And the more I looked forward, the less I would see things getting better. And here we go, the first spec my new job needed to have was stability (in other words, the potential for a permanent job position, even better if with the possibility of growing a career, and with reasonable working hours).

I already knew a bit about how to program, and I REALLY enjoyed it. Plus, I always had a strong interest in design, never giving up the chance for some drawing, painting, and creating!✏️ 👩🏻‍🎨 So, there was something shy there that I wanted somehow to grow bigger.

Suddenly, these specs just got together, and the following equation simply made sense:

Programming + Design + Stability + Career Development = WEB DEVELOPMENT here I come!!! 🏃🏽‍♀️💫⭐️

Once it was clear what I wanted to do, I started talking to people working in the sector. Lucky enough, I have two dear friends, Luigi and Luca, who both own successful digital companies, and who spent hours on the phone giving me precious advice on how to put my plan into place. 🙏🏻 🤗

Most importantly, they both told me it was an excellent and safe idea giving the current job market.

Ideal decision

💡 Web Dev may not be your ideal job position, but if you identify your pros, cons, and expectations I am sure you can come up with an ideal decision... there are unimaginable roles out there! I even discovered that there are websites that based on your skills and personality can help you identify your best matches! Here is a blog where you can find a list of them.

I made the whole story brief in this post, but I have to admit that I have thoroughly considered this among other possibilities before getting to a conclusion. I did not want to fall into an impulsive decision.

So, don't rush, consider the different aspects of the profession you are aiming at, and talk to someone who works already in your area of interest. A well-thought decision will make you stand on stable grounds. You will already know the pros of your choice and you will be are ready to defeat or accept the cons. 😉

I heard you wanted to learn web dev

‘PANDEMIC LOCKDOWN’ ===  ‘PRECIOUS TIME’

(March 2020, Italy) I guess we have it clear in our mind the day when the news announced that we could not get out of the house unless it was to go to the supermarket or to the pharmacy........My reaction was similar to this:

What!?



Truth is, it could not have happened with better timing. My Ph.D. thesis was delivered, 👩🏻‍🎓 and I had much more spare time to fill in. I now have time to start preparing my new tomorrow. Let’s do it! 🥳

‘Woooo. So much to do. Where am I gonna start?’

Completely overwhelmed

First of all, I created a list of goals, and feasible deadlines according to my expectations and savings. Desperation was not allowed until these dates were reached.😆

Following my friends' advice, I started learning how to use WordPress, one of the most popular websites builder which allows you to simply drag and drop blocks of pre-formatted content into a webpage. It was easy to learn and it is broadly used, hence there were good chances to find customers and projects that would need its use. There are many other Content Management Systems, with WordPress and Wix being by large the most used.

Since I needed to practice real-life examples, I started creating websites for my dear ones, including my mum's flower shop website. 🌸 🛍 While practicing my new skills I kept dedicating part of my time to learning how to use new tools.

💡 Web development is a dynamic world, so learning will be part of every day! 📖 Do not worry too much about getting a list of things to learn together before starting because the whole flow comes together a bit naturally. The more you read and the more you get into this world, the more the next steps start appearing in front of you.

Just to mention, I laterward shifted my learnings to actual coding languages, starting from the basics: HTML (HyperText Markup Language), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), and Javascript, which are, respectively, needed for creating, styling, and interacting with your webpage blocks.

HTML, CSS, and JSHere it is a nice explanation of what do what. Obtained from https://html-css-js.com/

WordPress provides pre-made blocks (which styles can be tweaked), but I wanted to create my own personalized ones and get fully into the backstage. ➫ 𝌖

There are all sorts of platforms sharing their knowledge. And many of them are free. I have listed here some of them:

Udemy | Udacity | Coursera | Freecodecamp | YouTube 📚

THE BRIGHT SIDE OF THE PANDEMIC: everyday life

Looking back in time, I noticed that this whole lockdown, despite lengthy and tiring, somehow also brought something good into my life. ✨ But I haven't really noticed this until when I stopped to think about it. Have you? Here are some things that unexpectedly got better in everyday life due to the lockdown...

A lockdown has been demanding for many families. Some of them had to be parenting and working at the same time, perhaps in small apartments, with little breathing space. But for many of those and others, being confined led to greater and more genuine family-time. 👨‍👩‍👦. 🏡

For many individuals the outdoors is part of the new line: people started exercising, walking, riding. 🚴🏻‍♂️ 🏋️‍♀️ 🏃🏻‍♂️ I bet many of you now find the time and have the need to even just go for a walk regularly despite we got back to a less restricted everyday life.

I started baking again! 🍰 I cannot remember when was the last time I made a tiramisú (and I am Italian, so it is pretty 💔 !). I am confident that cuisine was among the top 10 hobbies during the lockdown. I saw some super yummy pics on Instagram being posted every day and despite a few jeans buttons cannot close anymore, I am sure that the cuisine culture has gained a lot of new fans in the past year 👩‍🍳

My house had never been so cleaned and organized. I finally found the time to organize that disaster of a garage! 🧹 🧽

I rested more. A good dinner, a bit of a tv series 📺 , movie, or chess game ♟, and…the day was mostly over early, leading to longer sleeping times and hence more energy for the following day. Gosh, I needed it. ⚡️

I started learning French. I can now practice it and communicate with my adorable, 3 years old niece Isabel, who lives in Brussels. She pulled out a weird face 😳 though when I told her I was a horse who eats oranges under the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, that is the vocabulary I had available at that time. I think she now thinks I am crazy. 🤪

THE BRIGHT SIDE OF THE PANDEMIC: a global perspective

Some things have have unexpectedly, but positively, changed while the world has stopped.

Correction:  The world did not stop. It found the way to move any way but with minimum inter-personal contact.

Empty streets and clear skies, inevitably, gave the environment some respite. And it NEEDED it. Some of the largest carbon emissions declines on record occurred during the pandemic. Air pollution overall dropped markedly in China and in Europe, leading to fewer respiratory and lung diseases and hence reduced numbers of covid-related deaths. Also, about 2500 premature deaths were avoided due to a healthier environment. And I am sure there is much more to list.

Overall, a better awareness of climate change and its consequences for the planet and our health has emerged.

Overall, a better awareness of sanitary systems faults emerged as well, leading to an increase in the investment in hospital facilities and personal.

In Colombia, several bank accounts have been opened since the start of the outbreak for people to receive cash transfers. The crisis has also pushed banks to compete with free services for citizens with lower incomes.

And the list goes on….

Please note that this does not intend, in any way, to diminish the sadness and gravity associated with the consequences of the current pandemic. It is more like a sugar pill for a bitter throat. My deepest condolences go to those families who have lost someone, and my greatest gratitude to those who have worked restlessly to ensure the safety and ongoing of our society.

MAKE YOUR FIRST STEPS OUT THERE

Once I had built some projects I started building my own website so I could show my work to potential employees and customers. 🎨

If you are aiming at web development it is good to have a portfolio to present your work.

In the meantime, I also subscribed to websites for freelancing (Freelancer, Monster, Upwork) to get some real-world practicing and perhaps even some earnings. 💸 But be prepared, getting your first job assignment will take a while since competition is high, and at the start, you will be competing with people with many reviews. But be faithful, eventually, someone will trust and your first step will be done! 🤩

Stay strong

Don't expect to find gold in these platforms, though, since they are crowded with customers who want to pay almost nothing to get the job done. So take the good side of it: it will help you build confidence, practice your developing skills, and your customer relationships, which are essential for a start.😊

LEARN FROM THE EXPERIENCED

I got to a point during my learning and freelancing that I felt something crucial was missing: feedback. I mean, how can you know if what you are doing is good enough or it could have been done better? And in which way?

There is a lot that can be done as a self-taught (and you most likely will need some basis to be able to get on an internship or junior position), but working for a company specialized in this market is, in my opinion, a must. First, because you will have experienced professionals evaluating your work and you will have an objective opinion of your product's quality. Secondly, you will end up learning loads of new technologies and even how to use many of them in conjunction. Finally, you will be taught how to have a method, whereas what to do and how to behave during the different phases of project development, from customer service to planning and final testing.

Therefore, I prepared a good resume and cover letter to introduce myself to the job market. 📄 💪🏻

💡 Remember, your resume and cover letter are like your 'business cards'. You only have one shot to convince a recruiter to select your paperwork among a pile of applications, so you better put the best of your efforts into them! 🙇🏽‍♀️

Wrong cover letter. Oops!

I was totally aware that I was lacking experience in IT but I knew I could compensate with what I have the best to offer: enthusiasm and will to learn. And that is how I introduced myself. No bul* about fake experiences. I was new to this world but was ready to face it!

I am a warrior!

and after a few attempts…

COLETIV HERE I COME !!! 🤩

You cannot imagine the happiness and relief you feel when you find someone who, despite your non-related background, still believes in you and gives you that chance you have been dreaming about for so long!

Excited

And do not get frustrated with refused applications. It's part of the process, there is a lot of competition out there but also a lot of open positions, especially after this pandemic where the role of technology has clearly emerged. So keep going, your lucky day will come 😉

MY EXPERIENCE @ COLETIV

It has been 3 months since I started my internship at Coletiv, and I can firmly say I could not have been given a better second chance! 🙏🏻

In addition to the enormous amount of things I have learned while working here, I have been lucky enough to be included in a working environment that is simply splendid. The ethics and culture of this company are based on mutual respect, cooperation, and open-mindedness.

Employers and employees are mixed together, in a friendly and respectful relationship, helping each other, building together with strong enthusiasm. Definitely, a place where you want to be!

All my gratitude to this team, which I am honoured to be part of, for having trusted me! 🙏🏻

Thank you

… It is perhaps maybe too soon to declare victory into this new career, but I can say that I have made the first solid step into it. So, do not lose faith, the world is full of opportunities, and who knows, you could be next!? 😉

TIPS

To wrap up the article, here are some things that I always kept (and keep) in mind

  • Time is precious: make good use of it!
  • Everybody before knowing how-to-do did not know how-to-do.
  • If you are not sure where to start from, ask someone who already started and is successful in its path
  • Set objectives and deadlines: splitting your path into smaller decisions will help you focus and be goal-oriented
  • Be honest. Don’t be afraid to show your downsides if the good sides you have can compensate it. If you think you can do it, say that you can do it!
  • Results won’t come straight away. That is not because you are incapable. It is just the way it is. Accept it, embrace it, move forward!

Thank you for reading!

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