Meet Ted: Mechanical Engineer Turned Software Developer
Meet Ted Callahan! His six-year career as a mechanical engineer was moving slow, and he decided he needed a change. He shares what he loves about the tech industry, why Code Fellows’ program was the right fit for him, and what he would say to anyone else considering the same path.
Thanks for being willing to share your experience with us! How did you first hear about Code Fellows?
I’d been considering a career change into software for a while and had been talking with friends about it. One of my friends mentioned that Tyler Morgan, who was a friend from high school, worked at Code Fellows. I talked to him about the school and got really excited. The fast pace, supportive teaching style, and challenging curriculum were all right up my alley and I knew it would be the best way to make a fast transition between careers.
What were you doing before Code Fellows?
I was a Mechanical Engineer for six years. At the time, I was working in Mukilteo designing assembly lines for commercial aircraft. After four years, I felt stagnant in my career. Project after project, I was designing largely the same tools and had stopped learning new things.
What course(s) did you take?
So you started in Code 301! What experience did you have in coding that prepared you to test directly into Code 301?
I earned my programming merit badge as a boy scout… at summer camp! No joke, we literally learned visual basic in a dusty old cabin on donated IBMs. After that, throughout high school and college I took an occasional programming class touching on C++, Java, and eventually Python. I always enjoyed it, but due to recovering from medical issues, transitioning out of the military, and the “safe bet” of a diversely applicable engineering degree, I never took the time to really consider a career in software. When I started pondering a career change, I took the Python For Everyone Coursera class to test my commitment to learning a new trade. Once I decided to apply, I used a combination of Codecademy, the r/learnprogramming subreddit, personal projects, and help from mentors to prepare for Code Fellows.
How does your new career compare to mechanical engineering?
It’s everything I love about engineering: being challenged, solving complex problems, and working closely with smart and passionate people. The cherry on top is a culture born of open source collaboration and the fun of learning new things every day. The best thing about the industry is a constant drive to improve and innovate and a universal willingness to share knowledge and educate. Finally, the barriers to developing new products or executing on ideas are miniscule compared to the mechanical world. Instead of millions of dollars of capital and production infrastructure to support projects that are by necessity years long, all I need to start working on an application that could serve the entire world is a laptop and an internet connection.
Has a career in software development lived up to your expectations so far?
It’s completely surpassed anything I could hope for. And I can bring my dog to work.
That is a great perk! What else caught you by surprise, both during and after your time on campus?
The willingness to collaborate and knowledge share within the software community. In the mechanical world, any innovation is ruthlessly guarded by companies because they’re so dependent on any technological advantage for a competitive edge. Anything new and exciting is hidden within volumes of patents. In the software industry my weekend personal project can be built on the same Django framework as a billion dollar international company.
Why did you decide to attend Code Fellows over other programs?
After speaking with my friend and teacher, Tyler, I researched various programs, reviewed their curriculum, and read student reviews. Code Fellows stood out in both the challenge it offered and the community it fostered.
What was your favorite part of your time on campus?
My favorite part was spending time in classes with such a huge variety of students. I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with such a diverse group — veterans like myself, reformed lawyers, medical professionals, and even people straight out of high school. I thought it was amazing that, given the breadth of professional and life experiences, we were able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time.
How did this experience compare to your experience in a university setting?
The education I received from Code Fellows was much more pragmatic and immediately usable. We learned technologies currently used in industry, in projects that approximated workplace practices (on a very compressed schedule), and were immediately able to apply what we learned to create usable applications. In my engineering education at university, we very rarely had the opportunity to apply the theory we learned to a project. Many graduates lacked an understanding of practical engineering and how the theory that we’d studied for four to five years could be applied in the real world.
What are you doing now?
I am a Software Development Engineer on the API team at TUNE. I work on applications written in multiple languages at a scale that handles billions of events daily.
How did you find the job at TUNE?
I found the position during my job hunt and worked my network. Turns out my wife’s childhood friend is dating an engineer there. I got his email and invited him out to coffee to ask about TUNE, his work and experience, and the open position.
During your job search, what strategies helped you the most in landing interviews and your job?
Meeting people and being interested in their work helped me the most in my job search. While I did manage to get an interview and offer from an online application, I had way more success networking. If I could introduce myself to someone, shake their hand, and tell them that I thought their work was interesting, I was far more likely to get an interview.
In what ways did your education at Code Fellows (technical or soft skills) help you in your current job?
The most important thing to learn is how to learn (quickly). My education at Code Fellows, particularly the Python class, gave me a strong foundation of knowledge from which to build the technical skills I need today. Beyond that, it taught me strategies for learning technical material (quickly).
In soft skills, devoting time to updating LinkedIn profiles, preparing my resume, and building a narrative helped me present a polished and professional image to potential employers. I think it contributed a great deal to my success in interviews.
How did your previous work experience help you as you learned to code, and now as you start your new role?
Software Development is another form of engineering. As a Mechanical Engineer, I’d learned how to work closely with teams to break down and solve complex technical problems. I also know from my experience that the hardest thing to teach a new employee is how to work effectively within a team. The technical knowledge and skills are relatively (emphasis on relatively) easy to learn. But knowing how to apply that knowledge in collaboration with other people on large and complex projects — that’s the hard part.
What advice do you have for someone else starting to learn to code?
Two things: never stop learning, and be active in the community.
The main reason I switched careers is that there is always something new to learn in the software industry. Find something that captures your interest, learn about it, meet other people who are interested in it, then build something awesome with it. Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t feel disheartened if you don’t understand something right away. Everything you’re learning, you’re learning for the first time — and this stuff is hard! (But the challenge is half the fun!)
The greatest surprise after making the very intimidating decision to switch careers was just how supportive the software communities can be and how much they value their members, whether it’s alumni organizations with Code Fellows, Puget Sound Python, Seattle JS meetups, or even online communities like the r/learnprogramming subreddit. I believe the open-source principles that much of the modern software industry is built on has created an incredibly supportive community for learners. If you get involved and ask for help, you will often find people willing to teach or mentor. So get involved!
If someone was considering attending Code Fellows, what would you tell them?
I would tell them to think really hard about what they want out of a career in software development and how they think Code Fellows will help them achieve that. Code Fellows is hard. It NEEDS to be hard, because that challenge is the only way to ensure students’ success in such a short period of time. Once they understand the difficulty and know how Code Fellows will fit into the larger picture of their career change, commit to it 100%. You will get out of these classes exactly as much as you put into them and if you devote yourself to it completely, you will get a rewarding career out of it. Embrace the challenge and reap the rewards.
Thanks for your insight, Ted!
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