How I Went from Touring ​​Musician to Software Engineer in 2 Years

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 Connor Baker, a 30-year-old Software Engineer at Codecademy living in Brooklyn, New York. Read more stories from Codecademy learners here — and be sure to share your story here.

Why I chose to learn to code

“It was an autumn day in 2017, and I had this thought that maybe my life could be different. I was doing a couple of different odd jobs: I had tour dates here and there, but it was unpredictable; I taught drums; and I worked at a bakery. I had people in my life that worked in tech, and told me, You might like this. You could be good at it.

I will say, I was a bit of a luddite — I didn’t have a computer, so my sister gave me her old computer. I would type some commands into the terminal and be afraid that I was gonna just blow up the computer. Finding Codecademy made it very approachable to be a beginner. It helps just having a clean sandbox environment where you can learn, and somebody to kind of hold your hand and be like, It’s not so bad, the water’s fine.”

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How I made time to learn

“Coming from music, especially coming from a pretty academic background in a conservatory,  I have been very accustomed to organizing my practice time. I told myself that I would dedicate an hour every day to try to learn how to code* for a month, and if I didn’t like it after a month, then we’ll see.

I would work early in the morning, get off around 1 o’clock, try to take a little nap, and then do some programming. Sometimes I would teach music in the evenings. I stuck to my schedule and at a certain point I started to really enjoy it, and was spending more time coding little projects. I would seek out as many resources as I could, and go through different Python books.

Being an instrumentalist, I spend a lot of time practicing very specific things, and it’s easy to fall into the mentality of, I should have been practicing something else; that was a waste of time. But it’s all just part of the process in the end. One of the important things that I realized much later is that all of the failures and all the false starts contributed to the process.”

*Curious how much time you really need to learn how to code? Check out this blog to see how other Codecademy learners made time to code in their busy schedules.

How I got in the door

“From my days in music, I would really seek out every possible resource, like look for all the bootlegs, the PDFs, and all this other stuff. I kind of did the same at the start with programming. I was like, Whoa, there’s so much. Where do I even start?

I spent a long time trying to get myself into a place where I felt like I could do this. It’s difficult, especially for people who are used to being critical of themselves. I eventually spoke to somebody who encouraged me to go to a boot camp to socialize and get my foot in the door somewhat.

I had the opportunity to TA at the boot camp after finishing the program, which was incredibly helpful. I wasn’t working, and was nearly completely broke, so that gave me a chance to prepare for the job search without worrying about how I was going to stay afloat. I’m very grateful for being given that opportunity.

I applied for many, many jobs before I got my first interview. The interview for my first software engineer job came through a co-worker at the boot camp who had interviewed at the company, but accepted another offer. She was super kind to recommend me to their HR department (thank you, Simcha!).”

How long it took me to land a job

“I really over-prepared for the boot camp experience — I spent 2 years learning by myself before I felt like I could do it. I think it was way too late in my learning to have this kind of confidence. I wrote a program that would solve a Sudoku puzzle. And that made me think, Maybe there’s something for me here?

So I went to the boot camp and then I taught at a boot camp. Honestly, seeing a bunch of people with way less prep than I had, starting from scratch and learning fundamentals, got me accustomed to the attitude of continuous learning in programming. I worked at another company for a few years before Codecademy.”

How I nailed the interview

“The interview process was pretty standard, but I really appreciated how practical, fair, and personal the experience was here at Codecademy. I had a take-home project and I was like, Oh man, I really want to work here. I put a lot of thought into it.

We had a few different rounds of different practical assessments. There was a front-end portion where I totally failed at writing CSS because I’m not good at it. And there was an architectural design portion with some people who are on my team now. I was really nervous and scared, but everybody was really supportive and personable. I didn’t leave the interview thinking I got the job — no way.”  

How I evaluated the offer

“I had another option at this point at a much bigger company, but the compensation, benefits, and work-from-home policies were all far superior at Codecademy. To be honest, I really wanted to work at Codecademy because of the mission and product — plus, I’m terrible at negotiating so this made the decision even easier.”

How day one & beyond went

“I never had an office job before becoming an engineer, so I didn’t know how to act — I still don’t know how to act. I was super socially awkward all the time. At the office, I would walk past people and say hello at the wrong time; I was just doing badly. Then because of Covid, we ended up working remotely. I’m really into working from home, I won’t lie about that.

At the very beginning of my first job, every new thing I ended up having to do, and deploy, and use felt empowering. I felt like I had made a decision to try to learn this stuff, and I made progress. But I would say to anybody who’s starting a new role, your first engineering job is intimidating. There’s a lot of information at the beginning, just take it as it comes and relax.”

What I wish I knew before I started learning

“I spent a lot of time in isolation, just doing this by myself, and you can convince yourself of anything when you’re staring at code for hours a day for no money. If you can try to establish some sense of community, whether that’s online or in person, I think that’s really helpful.

There’s this notion today that things need to be faster, like you need to learn X in Y days. It takes a long time to learn coding in any capacity, and you’re never done. It’s about appreciating the process, being consistent, knowing that it will take time, and being okay with that. Like, if you told me, I’ve become an expert at the guitar in 3 months, I’d be like, No you didn’t. Appreciating that learning to code isn’t just like baking a cake, it’s a process that continues as long as you want to, is helpful.”

Learn like Connor

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