Participant Perspective: Tips from a Career Changer
By Mital Gajjar, Arlington Talent Pilot Program Participant I came from two different industries before jumping into software development: healthcare and education. Making this big career change was challenging but certainly not impossible. My past technical exposure and transferable workplace skills helped me tremendously while training for real client projects under the guidance of […]
By Mital Gajjar, Arlington Talent Pilot Program Participant
I came from two different industries before jumping into software development: healthcare and education. Making this big career change was challenging but certainly not impossible. My past technical exposure and transferable workplace skills helped me tremendously while training for real client projects under the guidance of Exelaration’s mentors. The most important advice I can give: do not be afraid of change! Transferable skills help a lot, so learn to utilize them.
Here are some previous workplace skills I found most meaningful during the Arlington Talent Pilot Program:
Teamwork. In any industry, it is imperative to be comfortable working with different professionals and team members with different opinions and perspectives than you. I have learned to be patient, humble, and cooperative (thanks to my teaching experience) in order to hear other perspectives and confirm mutual understanding. I also learned to be accountable for my actions and express my thoughts as clearly as possible to avoid confusion with fellow team members. This leads to my next point:
Professional workplace habits Oftentimes, I needed to remind myself to be respectful of my team members’ respective work time and commitments. In a cross-functional team, you are expected to take initiative, be punctual and professional in the workplace, ask relevant questions, and stay organized. One of the hardest skills I learned in the Arlington Talent Pilot program is to take constructive feedback in stride. Even though criticism can be challenging, it was necessary for me to take a step back, reflect on my actions, then improve on my work for next time. This took personal courage.
Time management. Time management is critical to staying organized. Managing my time effectively helped me stay grounded and sane throughout the program. Google and Outlook calendars with reminder notifications helped keep up with the demanding workload and personal duties. They also helped me stay on track to meet each deadline in the sprint cycle.
Open-mindedness and transparency. As I mentioned earlier, being open to both positive and negative feedback is essential for growth. We are all human and prone to error, but be mindful of your mistakes. Learning to be as transparent as possible when something goes wrong makes everyone’s life easier, especially when there is a big deadline around the corner. Say “no” if needed. I also found that being flexible in an increasingly diverse professional environment was a huge help! I learned so much just by observing and being open-minded when working alongside different personalities on my team, including my peer participants.
Communication skills: Lastly, even if we, as software developers, might sit all day behind the computer, communication is still one of the main ingredients for success. Even developers are expected to attend virtual or onsite meetings with fellow team members, mentors, or clients. I learned to be concise but effective when getting my point across in order to respect meeting timeframes. Knowing my audience for each meeting helped craft my questions and comments more effectively. Moreover, I had to learn various technical terms to help my team members and mentors understand what I was struggling with. These are the technical terms I never used in my previous careers, so imagine reading from a computer science vocabulary book.
Now, did my past experience help during my time with the Arlington Talent Pilot Program and Exelaration? Of course they did!
Even as a teacher, I will always be a student for life. Similar to the healthcare industry, information technology requires constant learning to keep up with the rapid changes and trends in tech. Throughout my training period at Exelaration, I realized some of my study habits worked very well while others did not. For example, learning abstract concepts was very confusing, especially for someone who heavily relies on visuals to understand how different parts of a software contribute to the bigger picture. Reiterating what I learned on Codecademy helped to problem solve and troubleshoot.
Learning takes time and patience; try not to get discouraged. If one method does not help you understand a particular concept, try another. For example, it often helped me to watch a simple YouTube video or manually try out a practical application of a sample code.
I always try to focus on my strengths and abilities rather than dwelling on my mistakes and failures. Often we are tested not to show our weaknesses, but to discover our strengths. Be positive. Take a deep breath and revisit your motivation for getting into software engineering in the first place.
I am truly grateful for being part of Arlington Talent Pilot Program’s first cohort and working with a kind-hearted team that fostered a positive work culture with a growth mindset. Upon the completion of this rigorous apprenticeship program, the greatest lesson I have learned is that I still have more to learn and grow.
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