How I Learned to Code With ADHD & Got Hired As a Trainee Software Engineer

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 Susanna Chapman, a 28-year-old Trainee Software Engineer at an energy tech startup called Zoa, living in Brighton, England. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, we’re highlighting the techniques and strategies that helped Susanna learn to code as a neurodivergent person. Read more stories from Codecademy learners here — and be sure to share your story here.

Why I chose to learn to code

“I went to university for a long time, and I have two master’s degrees in marine planning and management and urban regeneration and development. In my first master’s degree, I wrote one line of R and I hated it. Clearly, R was not my language. My academic background led me to renewable energy, and I got a job in energy customer services for just over a year. Then I moved up the job title Product Specialist, which was slightly below Product Manager

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When I got hired to that Product Specialist role in August 2022, one of the ‘nice to haves’ was SQL. And it was like the whole universe conspired to help me learn to code. My former manager who used to mentor me knew about my neurodiversity*, and how logical and stubborn I am. When I told him about SQL, he just looked at me and was like, ‘Hang on a minute — have you ever tried coding? Because I think you’d be really good at it.’ 

After that conversation, the guy whose job I was replacing said, ‘Have you tried Codecademy?’ I came in on the weekend on August 6, just for one hour, and started a SQL course on Codecademy. I was the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I felt so calm, serene, and peaceful. A lady literally remarked on it on the bus home that evening, she was like, ‘You just seem so calm and peaceful.’ I was like, ‘I’ve been coding.’”

* Neurodiversity” is a concept that refers to the uniquely different ways that people interact with and experience the world. The term “neurodivergent” is typically used to describe people whose brains function differently than the majority of “neurotypical” individuals. It’s also a non-medical umbrella term that categorizes certain developmental or mental health conditions like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and dyspraxia.

How I made time to learn

“I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was 22. ADHD comes in many forms and often overlaps with autism. For that reason, due to my particular type of ADHD, I am very comfortable with patterns, logic, and numbers. I like to get very familiar with one topic. Becoming an expert and deep-diving into one thing is much better suited to me and many other people. 

Programming, for me, is the only time when life makes sense. Coding literally calms me down and helps me regulate my emotions.

Susanna Chapman
Trainee Software Engineer

I have a natural aptitude for coding, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Codecademy. I feel and believe that, as a neurodivergent person, coding comes to me very naturally. Programming, for me, is the only time when life makes sense. Coding literally calms me down and helps me regulate my emotions. I don’t feel like my ADHD has slowed me down with coding, but it would have had I used a resource that asked me to sit still, watch a video, take notes, and then code. That’s not possible for me. 

Codecademy has been the most ADHD-friendly learning resource I have ever seen in my life. ADHD needs interactivity. I am constantly generating ideas and new information; I always want to be doing something. I started with the SQL course, and on the very first page it says: Let’s begin by entering a SQL command. It’s just so satisfying and gratifying. Codecademy allows you to code from line one. There’s that constant feeling of progress, because you move on from one lesson to another. And you have the checklist — who doesn’t love a check?

I love the structure, and I write out a whole syllabus for myself every week, along with sharing an updates document with my boss. One thing I struggle with sometimes is when there is an informational article. When I read, I have to write things down, build my own examples, and take more breaks just to process what I have read. I like to sit down, stay focused for as long as I’m focused, and then take a break when I need to. I just had a conversation about this with my boss, he said, ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s okay to take breaks.’”

How long it took me to land a job

“After two months of coding, I knew I loved it so much and I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. On October 15, 2022, I committed to becoming a Software Engineer. 

I found ways to give it my all: I was attending every tech event I could; reaching out to anyone that I could to network; keeping a blog, and posting on LinkedIn. There are lots of other things you can do, like GitHub and Twitter, but find what works for you, and do everything you can.

I would not be a Software Engineer today — I’m a Trainee Software Engineer, but still a Software Engineer — without Codecademy. It just would have been impossible.”

How I got in the door

“In November 2022, I started a coding blog, which really helped me. I start each blog with a creative title, I quote an indie song or poem, and I usually put a picture of album artwork or nature. The rest of the blog is just a revision tool for extra coding practice where I make a note of thoughts I don’t want to forget. If I’ve learned a new syntax on Codecademy, like a for loop or whatever, I will write down examples in there. I’ll make up random, fun, made-up examples of my own. 

I shared my blog on LinkedIn and an Engineering Manager at work read it, and that got me noticed and put my work on the company’s radar. In February, the company decided to make me a Trainee Engineer within our own internal framework.”

How day one and beyond went

“I have the most amazing manager in the world. Before I started with him, he asked me to make a document about my neurodiversity and how other managers have supported me in the past. It ended up being a 12-page document, and he read it and implemented it.

When my manager introduced me on the first day, he started off saying that I had all these superpowers. I know that not everybody is comfortable with that kind of terminology, but I love that language. I do see it as a superpower. Normally I would not be comfortable with someone else talking about my neurodiversity on my behalf, but he was so kind and said it beautifully. He got me to share a two-page document about my neurodiversity with the whole team. 

My working hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and I have an agreement with my boss that I will spend 50-70% of my working hours doing self-study, usually with Codecademy. During a typical day, I might have a few hours of team meetings, one-to-one meetings, mentoring, pair programming, or company-wide meetings. The team I’m in is payments and finances, and I love it. My dream is definitely to go into fintech. Anytime I’m not in sprint and scrum ceremonies, I am literally learning on Codecademy.

Every week I provide my manager with an update of what I’ve learned, what blockers I had, and what percentage of the course I’ve completed. We also have a one-to-one document just for updates and any ongoing issues. It’s always there on paper and I can come back to it when I need it.”  

What I wish I knew before I started learning

“Don’t try to do this alone. As a neurodivergent person learning to code, you need people to support you*. Find mentors — there are Slack groups, local meetups, charities, groups online, Meet-a-Mentor programs, etc.

For a lot of us neurodivergent individuals, the coding will not be the hard part. The hard part will be the journey. Having someone to support you on that journey will make all the difference.”

* Want to connect with other people who are learning how to code? Be sure to check out our community chapters, meetups, and virtual events.

Learn like Susanna

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