How Learning to Code Made My Master’s Thesis Possible

5 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 Barbara Perez de Araujo, a 27-year-old PhD candidate researching alpine ecology, living in Bavaria, Germany. Read more stories from Codecademy learners here — and be sure to share your story here.

Why I chose to learn to code

“I started coding because my friends suggested it and I wouldn’t lose anything by doing it. Secondly, it was just a personal interest. I knew a lot of people who are in the IT branch, and they kept telling me about what they do and how coding is something that can be used outside of IT. They were the ones who encouraged me to try it. Coding interested me. I’ve always been interested in languages in general, and coding is nothing more than a computer language, or rather, many computer languages.

I did this in my free time just because it sounded fun, and it also complements my curriculum. I studied environmental protection and landscape planning at the Technical University of Munich. I mainly work with remote sensing in the context of nature protection and perform data processing and analyses with Python and R. In university, I had a notion that Python and its packages existed, but I never really delved into it. I also brushed up on R, and did some SQL, but Python and R are the most important languages for me.”

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How I made time to learn

“I was fortunate to be in the middle of my internship semester, so I had a fixed schedule. When I was home, I’d learn pretty much every day just because it interested me. I would always learn after I finished my actual tasks, so it was often at night. It was never a problem for me because it always felt like some sort of puzzle game to keep the mind busy. I’m also a workaholic, so I guess that helps.”

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How I saved up money to switch careers

“I had a student membership, which provided a discount. Honestly, I didn’t have to save up much. I still see this as a very worthy investment, and for an entire year, it wasn’t a big hit on my bank account.”

How I nailed the interview

“I’ll be starting my PhD this year in alpine ecology. When I did my interview for the PhD program, they laid a lot of weight on me knowing coding. I had to say, ‘Hey, I know coding. I can do this and that, here’s how I use Python. This is how I use R.’ But it’s always like in the back of my mind, like, You don’t know coding like this. You’re not an IT professional. I have friends in IT who actually code and have spent their entire lives learning. There’s always this little voice saying, Why are you saying you know how to code? But then again, I finished my master’s thesis, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t know how to program.

Just because one is not like a coding mastermind or in the IT industry, doesn’t mean that you don’t code. Don’t gatekeep yourself is the most important advice that I can give like people. There are many levels of coding and knowledge, and all of them [count as] coding.”

Do you ever feel like you’re not a “real” programmer?

Read these tips for coping with impostor syndrome from folks in the Codecademy community.

How coding helped me complete my master’s

“For my master’s thesis, I had to work with satellite products. These involved JavaScript, because Google works with JavaScript, and I used Google satellites. I used Python because some workflows required an API. Python also just generally helps with automatizing workflows. If I were to do this myself — and I did try, because I wasn’t very confident in my coding abilities — it would take days for something that the API or the script could do automatically. Coding just basically made my master’s thesis possible. There’s no way around it.”

What I wish I knew before I started learning

“What I wish I knew was that you can’t only get confident with the theory, you have to try and do your own exercises. If I see something that I’m doing, even in my daily routine, that can be automatized or coded, it’s a nice way to also train what you know. Try to create exercises for yourself or look for something to apply that what you learn. Codecademy was a very good base to know what I’m talking about, what to look for in a code, how to debug code. But a huge part of my learning was also just doing my master’s thesis.

I think it’s important to know that everyone asks questions. Throughout my journey I went to Reddit a lot, to Stack Exchange, to Discord communities — I’ve found people of all skill levels and careers engaging just as much. No one has the answers to everything they need. Forums are there for that.”

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