About that Transition

Inevitably interviewers ask me, How and why did that happen?  – career track shift from environmental science to software development. This question and related blog post by Eric Jacobsen,  You’re a Tester.  How’d that Happen? are fodder for this introspection and retrospection. The Why:  I wanted to be in perpetual state of intellectual challenges, where interpersonal interaction was essential to making tangible positive results happen, and where I could make a better salary.

Nutshell

I chalk the ease and naturalness of this shift up to these things: aptitude, educational foundation in science and engineering, my varied and solid work experience since the age of 14.  The How is below.  Disclaimer: It is entirely possible and likely I would have eventually found what I wanted in the environmental science and civil engineering field as my perspective broadened over time with experience and exposure.

Restlessness  

I began to recognize what I wanted a few months out of college and into my role as an environmental microbiologist in a full-service laboratory. I found lab work dull, repetitive and isolating.  My 1st clue that I would eventually love looking for potential problems was when an angry project manager visited me with a complaint; a client was unhappy about their lab results for coliform, biological dissolved oxygen, or cyanide.  The test details escape me, but I keenly remember I felt excited that there was a problem, something to investigate – my lab records. This intrigue was greater than the anxiety which accompanied being yelled at.  I wanted to get answers and help her make the client happy.  My boss, the lab owner, was not excited.  He saw me as unorganized.  There was a bug with the test results on their bugs in a surface water sample.

Persistence

A college study buddy with the same GPA and degree had gone to work for the technology branch of what was then Anderson Consulting in “Knowledge Management”. When I described what I wanted she said I should look into the company. I decided that if they hired her, then they would hire me.  The corporate office responded to my resume and application with “Thanks, don’t call us. We will call you.” I was undeterred.

As an Auburn Alumni, within 2 years post-graduation, I still had access to campus recruitment events, so I made the drive from Orlando and from Atlanta to Auburn, Alabama, campus for several career events to shake hands with recruiters to make sure they knew my name.  I landed a screening interview followed by 3 more intense behavioral interviews.  Over a year after I had initially submitted my application, I was hired as a “Business Analyst” and spent 1 month in training on C++.  My only prior experience with programming:  1 college Fortran class.  It was no fun.  I felt lost the entire time. Programming became more enjoyable for me in Anderson’s collaborative learning environment and now that I had built a GUI, something with which I could interact!

Sink or Swim

Project 1: I worked night shift, monitored batched script results of database conversion test cycles, followed runbook procedures, and hoped I would not have to call someone if something terrible happened.  Project 2: I used VI in UNIX to write and test conversion scripts for the next phase of the database conversion project.  I had a great team lead and detailed specifications to help me with this.  Project 3: I moved on to a web-based application effort.  I was with a much larger team, and had detailed specifications and guidelines for all phases of testing (V- Model) and also began to test other people’s code.  Magical Project 4: J2EE pilot project at the client site with an architect, a manager and me, the junior developer! Relationships formed, job well done and longer term multiple application contract won. I was always responsible for testing my own code. For the 1st time, I got to work directly with the customer for requirements gathering and elaboration over various UML documents, wireframes, test coverage, and user acceptance testing. Over those 4 years I learned I loved the nature of testing and exploring value with customers and teammates more than I enjoyed coding.  I am grateful for the deliciously diverse approaches, models, and operational processes I continue to learn.

This was and still is wonderful.

Have you ever made a delightful or tough yet satisfying career transition which elicited doubtful questions and puzzled looks from others?  I would like to hear about it!

 

 

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