How I Went From Working in Food Service to Full-Stack Engineer at Ford Motors

7 minutes

Learning to code so that you can land a job in tech can feel daunting. That’s why we’re sharing inspiring stories from Codecademy’s community — to show how people like you (yes, you!) can embark on a learning journey and end up with a totally new career. We hope these stories serve as a reminder that there’s no single path to a more fulfilling work life.

Today’s story is from Andrew Polemeni, a 28-year-old Senior Software Engineer at Ford Motor Company, living in Ormond Beach, Florida. Read more stories from Codecademy learners here — and be sure to share your story here.

Why I chose to learn to code

“Before college, I worked in the food service industry, because it was the only job I could get. I did make a big transition in high school: I was a dishwasher, then made a jump to server.

When I was going to college at Daytona State College, I got an associate’s degree in Music Production Technology and wanted to become an Audio Engineer, which I no longer find a viable career option and is more of a hobby. I switched majors to IT, because I’ve always been a technical person and was good with computers.

I was inclined to go the cybersecurity route after college. I almost landed a job in cybersecurity, but my professor got me interested in learning coding. I had taken some coding classes, but I wasn’t too into it, so I put it on the sidelines. I had to take a data structures and algorithms course, but I didn’t know JavaScript, so I had to get up-to-date on that.

Learn something new for free

After a while, I wanted to do more of the coding stuff, and Codecademy really helped with that. I started doing the JavaScript course, and as it got easier, I did a bunch of courses. Anything I wanted to start learning, I just used Codecademy.

I liked the aspect of cybersecurity where you’re helping secure businesses. I felt like coding was the way to go, because if you don’t have bugs in your code, you’re not going to have security issues. I liked that, instead of just doing the defending side of things, I could build products better.”

How I made time to learn

“I still needed to spend extra time learning to code, since an IT degree doesn’t specialize in coding. It’s more of a smorgasbord of things, like security, project management, networking, and user experience. I just spent pretty much all my free time learning nothing but coding, so that way, I could be job-ready. I mostly learned to code after I was done with my classwork. I would shovel food in between, and then just go back to doing Codecademy.

You’ve got to be dedicated to it. Once you learn, it’s pretty much smooth sailing from there. What I figured out from Codecademy is that if you learn a couple languages, they’re all pretty much the same. It helps to know that if you can do one language, there’s just a different way of doing things in another.”

How I saved up enough money to switch careers

“I worked at a variety of service industry jobs at local restaurants, Dairy Queen, and Publix. After quitting Publix, I did have money saved. I went to my college and took a work-study job, which was paying like $8 an hour. I was able to pay for Codecademy this way, just by doing monthly payments.

When I was doing Codecademy, I just kind of saved money and just tried to put it aside, because I thought that was really important. And I thought I’d probably get paid back eventually for it.”

How long it took me to land a job

“My plan out of college was to get into cybersecurity, but after going through five job interviews and getting rejected, I was told that I’d make a better developer. I’m glad that happened though, because I soon found cybersecurity not as interesting as coding, where you create the tools. With the knowledge of both, I thought I could write secure tools, which is the future anyways.

It took me a few months out of graduating college in 2019 before I landed the job at Stetson University, which paved my way for future success. I applied for jobs at probably 50 places before applying to Stetson, and it was the only job I had lined up when I graduated. It’s definitely hard when you’re starting out with no experience, you’ve just got to get it any way you can.”

How I got in the door

“My professor was looking at job boards for students and told me to apply for this Web Developer job at Stetson University, but some of the requirements were PHP and jQuery, and I didn’t know those two languages. I was like, Okay, well, what do I need to study up on? I took the Codecademy jQuery course and PHP, and then I was pretty much up and running. Codecademy helped me pick it up quickly since the hands-on guided approach is the best way to learn for me.

From there, I landed a job at Oshkosh Corporation, the motor vehicle manufacturer that makes fire trucks, because I wanted to switch from doing PHP to doing mostly Java and Angular. That was the direction I wanted to go, since it’s more lucrative and future-proof than LAMP [Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python] stack jobs. I wanted to be fully back end because I prefer that side of things more. I worked there for about a year before moving to Ford Motors.

My LinkedIn is always fully updated, so it’s pretty much a direct copy of my resume. A recruiter reached out to me on LinkedIn about the job at Ford Motors. They told me that this job would be a 50% bump in pay, so it sounded like it was really great.”

How I nailed the interview

“I did have to do a slight technical interview, but it wasn’t anything crazy. It was just answering some coding questions, but they weren’t really that hard. I interviewed on two different teams and ended up getting picked up on this one team.

One of the questions that I was asked in the technical interview was, Do the Fibonacci sequence in Java. The other one was like, Can you solve this test case? Can you fix this code? But one thing I would say for other people who are interviewing is that you don’t have to be the best or most technically proficient. Your personality is where it really shines.”

How I evaluated the offer

“For me, it was the fact that I could have more mobility to eventually switch teams if I wanted to. Previously, when I was a Senior IT Analyst, I worked on this website that basically sells aftermarket parts to retailers. I would have to find the best way to optimize the lowest shipping cost — and that’s all I kind of would do.

Working at Ford Motors has an aspect of mobility. Say, if I wanted to do machine learning on cars or things like that, I probably could jump to doing that or I could move to another team to do back-end stuff eventually.

And then the pay bump that they offered me was great. Every job that I’ve taken for the last three years has given me a 50% bump in pay. When I first started I was making about $47,000, and then I’m all the way up to like $130,000.”

How day one & beyond went

“In my current role at Ford Motors, I mostly do front- and back-end development. So I’m designing the user interfaces and doing some data stuff.

Having a background in Java and Angular really helped me prepare for this job. I felt a little bit more confident coming from my IT job at Oshkosh. But it’s always difficult when you’re switching jobs to get adjusted, because it’s like learning a whole new codebase. It’s kind of like being a freshman again, and you’re like, Okay, where does this go? Which classroom do I go to?

What I wish I knew before I started learning

“I wish I knew to stick with one thing and just get really good at one language, rather than trying to follow all the tutorials.

My advice is to know what you want to do ahead of time. The hardest part when you’re starting out is deciding, do I want to do front-end or back-end? Do I want to be a Data Analyst? Do I want to be a Machine Learning Engineer? There are so many different careers and paths you could take. I’m still kind of deciding if I want to move more towards Big Data stuff.

Sometimes you just get put into places where you have to transition, and it takes longer than you would expect, but you just have to be patient. Be perseverant and don’t get your hopes down; you’ll get that job eventually, it will just happen.”  

Learn like Andrew

4 courses

Not sure where to start? Check out our personality quiz! We’ll help you find the best programming language to learn based on your strengths and interests.

Want to share your Codecademy learner story? Drop us a line here. And don’t forget to join the discussions in our community.

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