How I Went From Product Owner to Front-End Engineer at Adidas in 15 Months

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 Serena Isone, a 35-year-old Software Developer at Adidas, living in South Holland, Netherlands. Read more stories from Codecademy learners here — and be sure to share your story here.

Why I chose to learn to code

“I was a Product Owner for 10 years, and that’s how I discovered how cool coding was. A Product Owner is the business side of an Agile team; they are responsible for prioritizing a backlog of features that will be developed and shipped onto the website, according to the priorities of the company and the preference of the consumer.

In August 2019, I subscribed to the ‘aspiring engineer’ program at Adidas, and I used Codecademy as a way for me to learn a little bit more JavaScript, because JavaScript was one of the languages that we needed to learn in order to apply for this program internally at Adidas.

Before the pandemic brought us all into a lockdown, my mind was set that I wanted to learn coding, and then the pandemic just happened to give me free time to actually focus on it.”

How I made time to learn

“In 2019, when we were working from the office 8 hours a day and also had our social lives, it was actually quite tough. I was studying in my free time on the weekends, because that’s just the way it is when you still have to work a full-time job.

If I wanted to do this, I needed to do it during my free time. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make time to learn at work because I worked in two different departments: I belonged to the business department, and I was trying to get ready to move into tech. Only studying on the weekends was not enough with the learning curve. I would study for a few hours in the evenings during the week, but there are also other things that you need to do — like going to the gym or meeting friends.”

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How I got in the door

“Adidas has an internal program that promotes job fluidity. People who want to try to do some other job can do a short-term assignment in a different department. If they like it, they can get prepared in what we call an ‘individual development plan.’ At the end of your development plan, if you are ready for it, then you can apply for the job.

So the ‘aspiring engineer’ program will give you an idea of what the life of a Software Developer is like on a daily basis. In your individual development plan, you set a goal saying, like, ‘I’m going to become a Software Developer within six months.’ A mentor will be assigned to you in order to guide you to what you have to learn in order to apply for a Software Engineer position.”

How I saved up money to switch careers

“Anytime that people talk about coding and software engineering jobs, they think that there is a salary bonus or a little benefit with it. In my case, it was the other way around. I was a Senior Product Owner and I had a very comfortable salary, but felt limited because I wasn’t learning that much anymore.

For me, investing in learning actually means investing money. I am getting a much lower salary, because now I’m a Junior Engineer, and I am also not getting as much in bonuses as before. It’s like I’m paying money for new skills, but the way I’m paying is with a salary cut. Overall, I am enjoying what I’m learning, so it was worth it. Ultimately, if you already are above a certain salary, earning more will not make you happier if your job doesn’t fulfill you.”

How long it took me to land a job

“I had a plan with my mentor, who was a Senior Software Engineer, to learn HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and React. After I learned all of that, I started to prepare for technical interviews. I studied data structure and algorithms, which are the questions where they ask you to solve a coding problem on the spot during the interview.

After doing that for five months, the Head of Software Engineering literally asked me, ‘When are you going to apply? Your mentor says that you’re ready.’ I still felt very frightened about being asked to solve a problem in an interview, and I wanted to be 100% sure that I was ready.

The Head of Software Engineering just said, ‘It’s better to go into an interview and find out if you’re ready for a job than wait a long time. Who cares if you fail? We’re going to tell you why you failed, how to fill the knowledge gaps you’re missing, and you’re going to take that feedback and incorporate it into the development plan.’”

How I nailed the interview

“From a human perspective, the interview process was actually really nice. They weren’t trying to make me fail; they were trying to give me a chance and they made me feel at home.

The interview process was very structured, and similar to how people would apply externally. They interviewed me on the theory, like, What is JavaScript? What is React? What’s the principle of React without React hooks? The second part of the interview was the coding challenge, where they give you a problem and you have to try to solve it with code. The third part was more about the soft skills.

The scariest part of the interview was the coding challenge, because it’s live, on the spot, and you need to take care of so many different things. I thought, Even if I cannot solve the challenge, I want them to know how I structured my way of solving it.

How I evaluated the offer

“Adidas is a great company. Our motto is, ‘Change is a team sport,’ and that reflects on everything. Moving from being a Product Owner in a business position to a Software Developer position in tech was a team effort, if you think about it: I had my mentor, there was a whole organization that was promoting this type of process, and together we achieved something.

The company overall has a very healthy culture, and that’s what I really appreciate about Adidas — they literally helped me to change my career path, and keep on learning, which is what I wanted to begin with.”

How day one & beyond went

“The first day was cool, and it felt really exciting. I finally got to see the code and everything that developers would talk about when I was a Product Owner, like all the limitations and opportunities that we had. Seeing firsthand what my developers were talking about really felt empowering, because now I had direct insights on our code base.

There was a period where I was really frustrated, because obviously when you’re new to a code base, there’s so many things that you need to take into account. I always say to the people who write to me on my Instagram page, ‘Be prepared, because this path is not easy.’ There are going to be times where you’re going to feel down and times where you’re going to wonder if you’re made for this job or not. You always need to remember, I’m enthusiastic about this. I really love this. I’m going to keep going.”

What I wish I knew before I started learning

“I wish that people would have warned me more about how difficult it would be from a psychological perspective. I had to start from scratch, and I thought it was going to be a lot easier to be good and have all the answers.

Even Software Engineers that have been doing this for years and years told me, ‘You are never going to feel like you know everything. You will always have to learn.’ Yet I overestimated myself. There’s a lot of expectations that I put on myself, and I thought I could do better with this feeling of failure that’s very common in this job. I had to learn how to cope with being a junior.”

Learn like Serena

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