A Portal to a New Career

March 13, 2020 | Employment, Graduate Profile | Dev Academy

Words by Alina Siegfried | Photos © mxbialostocki

When Anna Ulyanova first walked into the Auckland Enspiral Dev Academy campus, she had no idea she was entering “a portal that would open so many doors.”

She had completed a degree in Computer Science about five years earlier and having studied hardware, software, coding papers and networking, she thought she had a pretty good sense of what it meant to be a developer.

After graduating from Auckland University of Technology (AUT), she took on a number of non-technical roles within the IT industry — in service delivery, systems integration, and sales support. Her last role in sales support was both technical and customer-facing, and while she enjoyed interacting with people, she was drawn to the technical aspects of the industry. Feeling like it was time for a new challenge, she began doing some free online web development courses at home in her spare time.

Anna loved what she was learning and upon realising that it was time to get serious about her next career move, she got in touch with Enspiral Dev Academy (EDA). A chat with Auckland lead teacher Don Smith sealed the deal and she quit her job to do EDA’s 15 week online course and in-person, intensive coding bootcamp.

“It was the right stage in life for me. Although it was scary, I was ready for a new challenge and change.”

Anna talks about the work she’s doing in the team stand up
Anna talks about the work she’s doing in the team stand up

Contrasting with the coding study she had done at university, which had been mostly lectures and theory-heavy, Anna found the collaborative learning environment at EDA really helped her to pick up skills quickly. The students coded in pairs, applying two brains to any given problem, learning together, and providing feedback to each other – a skill that is highly valued by the industry. Contact time and coding adds up to 60-80 hour weeks during the bootcamp. The course also focused a lot on the development of soft skills, as the reality of being a good web developer means being comfortable talking to customers, project managers and other stakeholders, as well as programming. Anna considers the honing of soft skills the most important thing she learned:

“The message that we got from bootcamp was that your human skills are as important as your technical skills. If you’re really good at one, but not the other, you won’t get as far in your career. Also, everyone can learn anything by putting in time and effort.”

It was an intense time of study, with a lot of information acquired in a short space of time, but the nurturing learning environment and time for self-care and mental health support that EDA emphasises helped Anna to get through.

Her advice for others: “You can do it! But only if you’re hungry for skills, for knowledge, for challenges. If you’re still not sure… [Dev Academy] is not the kind of thing you just try out, you have to know if you want to do it.”

Seeking some familiarity, she returned to the corporate IT environment that she was comfortable with, and took a job as a front end software developer at Spark working with their Lightbox team. It took awhile for the personal realisation to hit that she was now one of the developers that she used to refer to as “the dev guys”, and she was pleasantly surprised by the good gender balance at Spark, thanks to their progressive diversity and inclusion policies.

Anna has since moved on to HR technology startup Joyous, which has been a whole new challenge. At Spark, she was a junior dev focused on small features and bug fixes, and working in tandem with a designer to upgrade the look and feel of the product. In her new role however, she found herself in the midst of a small startup team with a fast growing software product, and was tasked with building new features from scratch.

“You learn a lot more when you’re working on a small product and you’re building things that have never existed. It’s more challenging because you’re starting with nothing – you have to create it.”

Anna at Joyous HQ in Britomart, Auckland
Anna at Joyous HQ in Britomart, Auckland

Since leaving EDA, Anna has mostly used what she learned on bootcamp (JavaScript and React), complemented by other technologies such as Typescript, GraphQL, and MongoDB. All of the tech she is using is an extension of what she learned on her course. She is inspired daily by the different people she gets to meet and work with. From the guy on her team who always asks how they can best optimise a solution to a problem, to the colleague who applies careful attention to detail to find edge cases that others might have missed, Anna feels she has something to learn from everyone.

With the rate of change in technology, Anna points out that there are always opportunities to accumulate skills and excel in different areas, building on what you’ve previously learned:

“It’s never boring! Everything is always changing, you can change your path if you want to. Let’s say you start as a front end developer, you can always try more full stack or back end, or even move toward creating mobile apps. In tech, your opportunities are unlimited.”

Something that also appeals to her is that with software development, you can work for pretty much any industry. If you care a lot about improving healthcare, for example, you don’t have to have a medical degree to contribute and have an impact. Working in tech provides the flexibility to pursue other interests in both existing fields and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual or augmented reality. For Anna, she sees doing EDA’s course as an investment in future proofing her career:

“Getting a job is one thing, but finding a career is a completely different story. EDA is the place that helps you find a career… It’s not just a school or bootcamp, it’s like a portal that opens so many doors for you.”

Looking to the future Anna remains focused on people, with a view of paying it forward once she has built up enough experience, by mentoring new graduates or developing internship programmes. She wants to help people who are new to tech to realise just how much is possible:

“People think that in software development, you just stare at the black screen all day, just looking at code, but in reality, you might be working with designers, helping create beautiful pictures and animation, and turning data into something people can understand. It’s not rocket science — of course, it can be — but you can choose where you take it.”