In this episode, I Interview the amazing Bonnie Hanks, a junior frontend developer. After listening to this podcast, Bonnie ended up choosing a path she didn’t think she was capable of doing. Listen in as we chat all about her journey from science teacher to software engineering.
Listen to the episode in the podcast player below, or find it on Apple Podcast or Spotify.
Bonnie Hanks: From Teacher to Junior Frontend Developer
Hi, Bonnie. How are you doing today?
I’m doing well. Thank you.
I am so excited to have you on here today. You will be the second Teacher Career Coach Podcast interview that I’ve done with someone who has become a software engineer, but I’d love to get started and know a little bit more about what got you into teaching and your history in education in general.
Bonnie’s Journey to Education & Teaching
I kind of, truthfully, fell into teaching. It wasn’t something that I had thought growing up that I would do. I know that I wanted to help people when I was little. I thought doctor is the way to go. My mom is Chinese, so she was very encouraging of that, right? Then I took my first health course in middle school and I was like, “Ooh, I don’t think I could handle medical school.” I didn’t know what to do at that point so I just kept on doing the best I could in my classes. I knew I was pretty good at science and math. I’m like, “Let’s be an engineer. I don’t know what they do. Let’s try it.”
I went to a school that was good for engineering, ended up not being good at that. I was like, “Okay, so what am I going to do? I’m good at math and science. Well, I’ll probably go to grad school for science, for bio, that’s what I was majoring in.” Then it turned out that I didn’t enjoy doing research. I went to a school where I had the opportunity to actually work in research labs as an undergraduate, for which I am so grateful. So I didn’t have to spend a bunch of money and go to grad school and find out I didn’t like it there.
I tried to look back at the things that I enjoyed doing. Like tutoring math in high school, which to me was like, “I like tutoring. I’m going to like teaching.” Now as a former teacher, I’m like, “Those are not at all the same,” but that’s what made sense to me at the time. There were aspects of teaching that I liked, but that’s how I ended up getting there was by a lot of meandering routes. This didn’t end up working out. Let’s try something else. See what happens.
The Decision to Leave the Classroom
When did you start to make the actual decision that you wanted to exit the teaching profession?
Maybe about halfway through. I taught eight years in high school and middle school. I remember when I was first starting, people told me, “It’ll get easier after a few years. You’ll hit your stride.” They had told me third year was what did it for them. Third year came and went, still wasn’t getting easier. All right, I got to keep on trying. I didn’t want to be one of the people who drop out in the first five years statistic – I became the other half of that statistic.
After your five passed, I’m like, “I’m still not getting this. I’m still having trouble. I’m still really not having energy. I am not really enjoying most of what is involved in that.” I didn’t know what else to do. I kind of just tried little things at a time to see what kind of path I might end up liking outside of teaching. But I knew, I guess, from the get go, I wasn’t going to be able to continue through until retirement.
The First Five Years in the Classroom
Gosh, that’s such an interesting point that you made about that statistic that everybody kind of dangles over your head as a first-year teacher. In your first few years they say, “Oh, people always drop out within the first five years.” Everybody wears that like a badge of honor, “Oh, well I got through my first five years of teaching or I have to make it.”
They tell themselves, “I have to make it to the end of five years so that I don’t become that statistic.” But how many times in our lives prior to taking this profession did you actually trust your gut and your intuition before five years popped up? Five years is a long time to go with something that if you already know in your heart, “Oh, I don’t think that this is a good long-term fit,” Why would you push yourself three more years or three and a half more years?
That’s a really good point.
Because in new positions, it takes a good, I will say for anybody who’s just starting their new position outside of the classroom, you are going to have imposter syndrome. You are going to struggle with the same feeling of unease for a good six months or one year. But five years is a very long time for somebody to tell you, “Wait this period of time to figure out if this is the right path for you.”
Absolutely. I think that for some people, I know my sister is kind of in a similar situation where she’s like, “I just got to get this many more years so I can pay off my student loans.” For some people, that’s a good reason to stay in. It was good for me to stay in those few years. I don’t know that I had to do five or even eight to get to where I was, but I did learn and grow in ways that are benefiting me now.
Instead of dwelling on the, “What could have happened if I hadn’t stayed in something I didn’t like for that long,” right now I’m trying to focus on I gained these soft skills that I can use in presentations here. I’m a lot more comfortable talking to people than a lot of my peers at my current job and things like that. There are good things that I gained from teaching as well.
I always think that the stars align for all of us in our own unique path at the exact same right time. Even if it is a yucky path that got us there and it sounds like the stars really aligned for you and put the right position for you at the right time. Which if you would’ve taken a position a year and a half prior to that, it may have not been something where you were truly happy. Or you wouldn’t have been prepared for it or it may have just been a for-now position. I love your perspective on that.
Getting into actually what it is that you do now, how did you start to discover what types of careers you were the most interested in?
Finding a New Career in Frontend Development
Within the course, we had a book club where designing your life was mentioned. I really took that to heart. I was, “I’m going to design my life.” I think it was my late 20s, just turning 30. I’m like, “Okay, everything’s going to change. I’m going to be a real adult now.” I had tried to plan out for a few different paths.
I know that I really got into a state of flow when I was creating curriculum. That’s what I really ended up liking with teaching, just making these lessons that were really engaging, that I knew were polished. I was ready to present them. That didn’t bother me, but the creation was what I really liked. That was one aspect that I was going to go ahead and pursue.
Another one was having to do with audiobook narration. And another one was with coding because that was brought up in the community as well. When I had heard the previous podcast of software engineer, I was like, “There’s no way I can do that.” Because I had taken a computer science course in college, I felt so incredibly stupid. I did not understand what was going on. I had just completely written off coding.
It was wasn’t even on my map until people kind of repeatedly brought it up. “Oh, I hadn’t thought of this before. That episode was really mind-opening.” I’m like, “Maybe I’m missing something here. Maybe I should check it out.” It turned out, I went to a free webinar, to see if you would enjoy beginning coding, just front-end development. I really liked the puzzle solving that it entailed.
The Desire to Build & Optimize
I think one thing that I’m hearing you say right now is you were focusing on curriculum writing because on paper, as a teacher, you were like, “I like the entire process of this project. I like putting something together with the beginning, the middle, the end.” Really what’s truly speaking is you are a builder. You like to build things. You like to see things come to life.
It’s easy to niche yourself into that how do I build as an educator? That’s curriculum development. Which that could be the right fit for so many people here who might have a stronger love for the English language or might have a strong love for history. They want to just continue to research and just do that. But you just like to see things be built, does that sound accurate?
Partially. I think another aspect that really worked well with the front-end development I’m doing now is making sure everything was optimized. Things that looked well, not just were eye-catching, but made it so the students knew what they were supposed to do and what they were supposed to pay attention to and wasn’t distracting. That’s something that’s actually helpful in my job now.
With our lead UX designer, he’s trying to come up with things that are going to direct the user to what they’re supposed to do. Like, “Oh, that’s kind of what I was trying to do as a teacher.” Yeah, I hadn’t thought about being a builder before, but that makes sense.
Yeah, I’ve been listening to, there’s another career coach, her name’s Ashley Stahl. She has a book called You Turn. She lays out all of these, I think she calls them core skills. Some people, words is their passion. Words is their passion? I don’t know if that’s how I’m supposed to say that, but words are their passion.
That means spoken word, written word. As she was going through all the different ones, I was really reflecting on myself. I heard her say the word builder and I started to think about all the different things that that could fall into. That could be a user experience designer, that could be a software engineer, that could be a curriculum writer. There are so many things that fall into that same category. I feel like it’s so easy in our first few steps of picking our new career to back ourselves into a corner of what we think we like. We’re usually on the right track, but we have to be a lot more open to these other opportunities as well because we would potentially be happy there.
Steps to Becoming a Junior Frontend Developer
Once you started to explore software engineering and give it more thought, what were your next steps there? Did you start to take more online courses? Did you find yourself going to any boot camps?
I had researched a few different boot camps. I went with the people who had provided the webinar that I attended. It was a cheaper set of workshops where it was all self-directed. I was still teaching at the time so I didn’t want to have a live comp opponent. Where it’s like I had to be at class at a certain time. I wanted to be able to go when I had time and take some time to work slower, if that’s what I really needed.
I went with those workshops. A bit less comprehensive, but it gave me a good understanding of what I needed. Then once I finished those, I started applying and then also used LinkedIn Premium to kind of further my standing and deepen my knowledge about these different topics. I tried different other websites, their free versions, and just tried to build up as much as I could while I started to apply.
You just kept updating your resume to reflect all of the learning that you had been doing, probably using the Teacher Career Coach Course resume support or were you just kind of taking them and moving along?
I don’t have a good answer for this. It’s kind of in between. I had used the course to develop those other career paths, really ATS-friendly resumes and everything and use the right verbiage. That was for the curriculum developer that I thought I might be. Then on the coding side, I was like, “I don’t really know how to translate all these things. I’m going to use a really lame template actually,” which probably wasn’t ATS-friendly, but I was like, “I’m just starting. As I continue, I will update this.” Then the stars aligned and I got a job before I actually had to revamp that.
Bonnie’s Experience Interviewing for Junior Frontend Developer
Oh, wow. Tell me a little bit about your interviewing process for a position like this, if you don’t mind sharing. How many interviews did you have to do?
I think it was three or four. Some of them were informational. I don’t know if you would count that as an actual interview. Truth be told, I was very fortunate to get hired at the first company that interviewed me. I don’t have an extensive amount of experience for what interviewing looks like for this particular job.
But for this particular company, they had been wanting someone to kind of mentor and train up who didn’t have experience yet in this field, but had a solid understanding. I was like, “Oh, I happen to be a really good candidate for this.” They’re an ed tech company. They liked that I was a former teacher.
The first interview was, I guess, it was kind of a personality assessment. “Here’s what your second interview will kind of be.” They sent me home with a project, “Try to recreate this thing. We give you a picture, recreate it using code. This is what it should be able to do. You have a week.”
It was not using the framework that I learned in my workshops, actually. It was using a completely different framework. I used Google and Stack Overflow a lot – I lived on there. I took a couple of personal days from work to be able to just really research – I was determined to wow them with my determination and resilience.
Apparently, they were wowed. When they came back, I emailed them my project. I was like, “I know I didn’t do X, Y, Z that was required. I know that these are some of the steps that I need – I just don’t know how to do that yet. Here are the things that I did do.” I actually thought I hadn’t done well enough. I emailed them saying, “Please keep me in mind for future positions.” Then they were responded with, “Actually, you did well enough where we want to interview you again.” I’m really grateful I actually sent that email instead of just saying, “I’m sorry I didn’t finish, sad face.”
Showing Growth Awareness
Yeah, I think that there are a couple different frames of thoughts of when you have one of those projects and being asked to produce something, you start to panic and you think I’m just going to bluff and say, “This is great as-is. I don’t want to point out my flaws,” but I think that showing the awareness of, “I can bullet point where I am lacking in this,” actually showed them, especially in this particular position, that you had the awareness of, “This is what I need to research next.”
It also showed that you understood, as an educator, what other people may potentially need to know because you’re going to be in charge of training other people in the same capacity. I think you did the exact perfect thing here when it came to following up with a detailed, “This is where I know that I need to grow, but I’m capable of growing here. I just did not have the time to do it.”
Yeah, I wish that’s the frame of mind that I had at the time. I think it was very much imposter syndrome. “I don’t belong here, but you know what? You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. I’m just going to email them. Then it’s in their court. I’ve done what I can.” I’m glad that I did.
They did see it how you framed it. They were like, “Yeah, it’s really good to notice that you realize that you’re missing these things. That awareness is really important. You actually did really well on these other things.” I hadn’t been expecting positive feedback at that point. “We’re still interviewing you and you’re telling me I’m doing a really good job on this? Well, thank you.”
Learning & Receiving Feedback throughout the Interview Process
The interview after that, they talked a little bit about what things would need to be fixed. I think that was mostly an email, but then the people that I would actually be working with on the team, the team manager and the person that was going to be acting as my mentor, were the people in the next interview.
They asked me some basic questions about how the internet works. What does HTML mean? What is HTTP? How does the internet know what to render? Honestly, I had very basic understandings of that. My explanations may not have been very technical, but they could tell I had the right idea. I had the big picture. Then I got to do a little bit of pair programming with a person who would be my mentor. He’s like, “Here’s this little problem. How would you do this?” I wrote the code with him. He’s like, “Yes, that’s one way to do that. Another way would’ve been this.”
Again, even while interviewing me, they were also giving me feedback and I was learning at the same time. I still wasn’t expecting it to go anywhere, but I was like, “I am learning a lot. This is great. I feel so much better than I did when I first started interviewing with all this imposter syndrome.”
Then after that, it was kind of like, “Hey, we have another candidate we’re also interviewing. We’re not sure where things are going to go, but you are one of the final two. We’ll keep you updated.” Any of the interviews that I had after that were mostly informational, what kind of negotiations, I guess, keeping me apprised of what the situation was with the other candidate as well. That was it for this particular company.
Looking at Company Culture
I am shook that it only took you one interviewing process to be able to find such a great fit. Also, it’s so apparent that the culture of this company is one that is compassionate, one that is nurturing to new hires, new employees. It’s welcoming. That’s something to look for. Not all hiring managers, not all people on the interviewing team are going to have the time to give that much clear feedback.
If you’re listening and you haven’t gotten that, don’t get salty. They still might be wonderful people on the other end. They are just scrambling to fill a position and busy in their own world. But when you do have someone who takes the time to actually give you that feedback, that shows that that would be a company, even if you were turned down for an opportunity, to potentially reach back out to and say, “I loved this interviewing process. I loved getting to know your company. If there is something in the future, please me in mind because it’s clearly a company that supports and values and helps people grow.”
Day to Day Responsibilities as a Junior Frontend Developer
Once you started working at this company, what were your day-to-day duties and responsibilities as a junior frontend developer?
Generally, I kind of write code to help improve or build or redesign features according to a design that the UX designer comes up with. It’s like, “Here’s a picture. Here’s a prototype. Get things to look this way.” Now, if I have to build a new feature, then I also have to make sure everything lines up right, the data is saved correctly and things like that.
But most of my day is writing code or researching how I’m supposed to write the code, which that was something completely different. I was encouraged and paid to learn my first couple of weeks. They were like, “Yeah, just work through this course so you can get a better understanding.” I’m like, “Oh, I’m getting paid to learn on company time instead of having to do after hours PD.” That was novel.
Onboarding for a Junior Frontend Developer Position
So many companies I find that former teachers who get these types of positions, once they see actual onboarding process at a different company, they’re always kind of floored of, “Yeah, everything was really easy. They let us know all of their protocols. There’s a full week of everybody showing all the different procedures. There’s all of these guidebooks and all these different resources to help us learn how to transition into this role.”
Where it’s so funny coming from the classroom, and maybe some schools, I hope that there are schools and districts that do this better, but really as teachers who are professional trainers, there are not a lot of great getting started onboarding resources at the schools for us.
There are so many, “Go in that corner and here’s a bunch of books and you figure it out yourself.” Then you are locked in a room on your own. “When we have this one-hour-a-week meeting, we’re going to talk about something that’s kind of disjointed from what you’re really trying to focus on learning for that week.” I feel like people are really shocked when they find out that other companies sometimes do teaching better than teachers do.
Absolutely. The converse is also true, I think. Sometimes with the PDs that I would have as a teacher, it felt like, “Why are we spending this long on team building? I know these people. I’ve worked with them. You don’t know us. Why are you wasting my time?” Whereas with this new company, it’s like I was trusted to take the time that I needed, not more and not less. They weren’t scrutinizing my every move. They weren’t forcing me to stay in really long meetings that were just kind of meant to check a box or anything like that. Just given that flexibility and that autonomy and that kind of respect and trust was really nice.
The smallest things, even the first time that you asked to go to the dentist on a workday or anything like that feels huge. It absolutely feels huge.
Remote Work as a Junior Frontend Developer
When you came into the office, I think timeline-wise, it probably was potentially in the middle of the pandemic. Are you a remote-based position long-term or are you in-person? Is it flexible, hybrid? I think a lot of people who are looking into coding are under the assumption that many of these opportunities would potentially be remote. I’m just interested in learning a little bit more about what you’ve seen in that field.
I know that even before the pandemic, the tech team for our company was remote. We had some other people that were in charge of, I don’t know, the main people, the leadership team all was based in Central Illinois, but now it’s everyone is remote after the pandemic. It’s going to be that way indefinitely.
I think that, depending on the company, it may be different for the tech team versus the other parts of the company or companies might be fully remote. Some might still all be in-person within different states. They might have a few different headquarters. It really just depends.
But for me, it’s really nice having things be remote. Everyone’s remote, so everyone understands the same kind of challenges for bonding compared to being in-person, but then we also have this extra flexibility. Also, because we’re all across the country, we’re all in different time zones. It’s, “Get eight hours in, in the day. Whenever that happens, it doesn’t matter to us.” It’s really nice to have that flexibility.
The Demands of a Junior Frontend Developer
There’s an expression that I feel like a lot of people use, there’s no fires in blank, whatever field it is. There’s no fires in corporate training or there are no fires in software engineering. You have work that you need to do. There are going to be deadlines that pop up, but it’s not as urgent as, “Here’s six parents who are emailing you and they demand a response by 6:00 PM,” fire.
Yeah, for sure. I think that there are some fires that could potentially come up. I know that yesterday I was trying to take care of a ticket where it’s like, “Hey, this was pushed to production and I wasn’t expecting that. We need to do something to kind of roll that back.” I was working under a deadline.
But typically, the only fires you have to put out are if you’re really higher in the organization, in which case you have other stakeholders to respond to. Versus a junior frontend developer, typically you’re not under as much deadline pressure, which has been really nice.
Software Engineering Titles & Being a Junior Frontend Developer
You said there are a couple different buzzwords or just the job titles. I heard you say junior right now. Junior, potentially, always means entry level or less experience as far as software engineering goes, but you also said frontend developer. I’d love to hear if you could kind of explain what’s the difference between, just on paper, a front-end developer or potentially a software engineer?
Software engineer sounds a lot more fancy, but it’s kind of a broader term. I am dealing with software. I am engineering it, sure. But typically the stuff that I’m working on, is what’s called the frontend. That’s what a user would directly interact with. If you’re on a website, the parts that you’re clicking with, the things that you’re seeing, were all made by, or coded by, a frontend engineer or frontend developer.
The back-end person is the one who kind of connects everything to the database, writes the programs that actually store the information and things like that.
I like being in the front end, because I like the visual nature of that. Like you had mentioned earlier, being that builder, making sure that users know where to go and what to do and getting that immediate feedback. “Did I write this code correctly? Let’s look at the page. Oh, that doesn’t look right.” It’s really nice to have that immediate feedback too. That’s kind of what a junior frontend developer does. It’s the things that the user would actually see.
Differences between Frontend Developer & UX Design
Yeah, in episode 55 of the podcast, I actually interview someone who is a user-experience designer, which would be a position that you probably work with a lot on many of your projects. Do you mind clarifying the difference between, because you also are a visual person, at least how your company’s organized, what would the user designer do? Then what would you potentially do, as far as visuals and layouts and feedback loops on how something actually is built or looks?
Gotcha. I’m the one that kind of implements what the UX person actually designs. He comes up with the prototypes. He comes up with the wire frame saying, “This is the color that we want to use for this item. This is how big it should be.” He does all that research for what the common patterns are in the industry, what kind of things are best for users? That’s his area of expertise.
Then for me, I kind of just write the code that makes that happen. I know that it’s supposed to be this color, this size, this area. I write the code to put it where it goes and do what it’s supposed to.
Growing in a Software Engineering Career
Have you started any of the training of new hires or is that further down the line for you in this career?
That’s further down the line, but they have already, the people at my company are enjoying that I am okay talking with people and presenting to people because that’s not something that apparently is very common for people in this profession.
With software engineers, I will say that working at a couple of the technology companies, there was the, I worked at a tech company that’s one of the biggest names in technology. When I was there as an instructional designer, I was on the bottom floor. I was working around the marketing team. I was working with sales enablement team creating the teacher training programs for that specific company. All the teacher certification programs I was building, the digital courses and all of that.
Then up on the top tier of this two-story, beautiful technology building, it looked like something out of a movie, this tech office of people. If you could think of someone riding a skateboard through the middle of the office, it looked like that.
But up on the second floor were all the software engineers, all of them drinking kombucha, playing board games all day and hanging out with each other. But I definitely get the vibe that many of them probably were not comfortable with presenting and training to other people.
Increasing Diversity in Tech
Also, very mixed, depending on the company. I know that there’s a lot of emphasis on trying to have more equity in their hiring, but do you find that it’s a male-dominated role as far as your perception of it or the companies that you’ve worked at?
Yes. I’ve had the opportunity to be part of a group of people that is trying to increase diversity in the tech department within our company. Because coming from teaching, I didn’t see that kind of gender disparity. I happened to be teaching science. It was actually evenly split between male and female, right? In teaching, you typically don’t run into as much, I guess, sexism or discrimination based on gender.
With this place, I haven’t felt any of that, but a lot of my colleagues have. It’s been helpful to have me who hasn’t had to face that, they’re willing to kind of speak their concerns. Because some of them are like, “Oh, in past companies, I’ve been burned for speaking my mind. They thought I was being too aggressive.” I’m like, “I don’t get that feel from this company. I’ll say it for you.” It’s been really nice.
In these meetings, they have talked about how a typical, I think on average within tech in the United States, it’s about 30-ish percent women, about a third women, compared to two-thirds men.
Standing Your Ground in a Male-Dominated Industry
Yeah, and the company, once again, the culture at the company that you work for, sounds amazing. I did not anticipate there being problems with that, but even that 30%, it can feel intimidating coming from a women-dominated space to go into something that’s, on paper, people think it’s a “men’s industry”.
That is also for anyone who is a little squirmish and already feeling a lot of imposter syndrome, I think that these types of roles are great fits for every single one of you, but it is something to take into consideration that you might have to stand your ground. You might have to say, “Hey, that was actually my idea that I just said five minutes ago that now you guys are pitching as your idea.”
Because I have seen that happen time and time again at companies where, like you said, there are examples of sexism in the workplace of people listening to men’s ideas a little bit with more intention than the women’s ideas. It definitely shows.
Work-life Balance as a Junior Frontend Developer
When it comes to work-life balance, I think a lot of people looking into this type of position might be afraid that it would be a position, “You’re just sitting at your computer and coding all day? That sounds miserable, Bonnie.” That’s just how I know people might think about it. How does your day-to-day look with work-life balance?
I feel a lot more energized and rested than I did as a teacher. Though, I will admit, it’s a lot harder to get steps in the day because as a teacher, you have that built in. You don’t have to carve out extra time to just walk around. I do find myself sitting at the desk a lot because I get into that state of flow and I don’t notice how much time has passed.
I’ve actually set alarms for myself to be like, “Okay, now it’s time to go do some crunches,” or, “Hey, go walk to pick your daughter up from school,” because I can do that. I can take a later lunch to pick up my daughter? That’s that’s really cool, right?
Differences in Remote & Desk Work as Compared to Teaching
I’ve seen on some of my co-workers calendars, they actually have carved out a half-hour block to just go for a walk. Things like that are highly encouraged. They’re like “Take brain breaks. Make sure you’re getting in exercise.” You’re allowed to do that whenever. As long as you end up getting eight hours of work in, you’re good.
I love that. It also speaks to your enthusiasm and your passion for this role because the same thing happens for me where I get trapped loving a project that I’m working on and not realizing that four hours has passed that I’m just working on it. I also have to take similar brain breaks.
It is important, especially with a remote position, to recognize whether or not you are getting up and moving from the desk. Some people who are listening might realize that this might not be the right role for them. They might be focused more on something that, “I’d rather do something where I’m standing all day or walking a little bit more.” Everybody has their own personal preference.
Getting Started with Coding: Find Support
Before we end the podcast, I know that you did mention a couple of different places where you found, even just free and cheap support for those who are getting started coding. I know you said that you Googled a couple things. Do you have any websites or places that you would go for inspiration when you were just getting started that helped you learn and do more of a deep dive into the acronyms, the terminology that was used for coding?
Yeah, beyond the workshops that I took, I found that some of the web development career paths that are on LinkedIn Premium were really helpful. I just binged those during my trial, right? Similarly, when I was just starting at this position, we were using a different language than what I had learned. I used the trial for CodeAcademy for that. I felt like I understood it way better than I would have before.
Something that I hadn’t considered, at first, is YouTube is actually really helpful for learning a lot of these things. Where it’s I was expecting to just kind of read posts online, but then, no. YouTube has a lot of walkthroughs. You get to see people’s screens as they’re coding. Those are free, at first, versus also free options on YouTube. Those were really helpful for me.
With something that’s such, it’s such a deep knowledge that you’re going to have to have. I don’t want to sugarcoat this for anybody who’s listening. You should not piecemeal. I know a little bit of it from this YouTube video, a little bit of this from YouTube video. You may end up wanting to do one of those longer boot camps to get it all in one location because it is a lot of information. It’s going to fast track you in a career that probably has a lot of ins and outs that you need to learn, but there are free resources to help you dip your toes in the water to see if it’s even the right fit for you before you commit fully.
Because that’s one of the biggest things is you have to actually try something before you understand if you really like it or don’t like it. I also, I played around with Khan Academy has free, I think college-level coding. I got through, I would say four of 30 lessons before I realized I’m just going to outsource this and pay someone else to do it for me. But, I think that also is for anyone who is listening to this and interested.
What Did You Learn About Yourself Through the Career Change Process?
Bonnie, I wanted to ask you a question that I ask all of the former teachers who come on the podcast, which is what did you learn about yourself throughout this entire process?
I learned I can dazzle with my determination and resilience. Something that I really hadn’t thought of as one of my character strengths actually ended up getting me the job that I have now, right? That imposter syndrome does not define me. My career does define me, even though it is what I spend most of my days on. It’s where I spend a lot of my time and my energy, but I am so much more than that title. Having a job where it really feels that way has been so empowering. I can still teach without having to be a teacher, you know?
I think that that’s such an important lesson for so many people to learn is that teaching often becomes everybody’s identity. Finding that next career is scary. I don’t want to say that it’s not scary or not a big decision, but we often put so much emphasis on making sure that it is the perfect career so that it aligns with our new identity. It’s not even necessarily for our own self-worth. It’s because we want to be perceived a certain way from others because we were always celebrated.
When you walk into the grocery store and they say, “What do you do?” You say, “A teacher,” everyone falls over and says, “Oh, my goodness. What a noble career.” Everyone at Thanksgiving says, “Wow, you work with children. You’re the best. You’re in the best position.” Then after that, you’re like, “Well, I don’t want to tell people that I’m an accountant.”
We struggle so much with that, but our careers are a way to make money for us to be alive. It’s important to find something that you truly enjoy. You enjoy building, you enjoy doing, but you have a life outside of that. That is what’s truly the most important. Being able to be there for your friends, for your family, make memories and continue to live. We are not meant to be 100% our careers at all times. Teaching is one of those professions that it’s very, very hard to actually remove ourselves from that position on our off time.
Exploring Something New
Fair enough. One thing that you mentioned also is, I don’t know, some of the titles that you mentioned are things that we’ve heard of before. There are so many other jobs out there where it’s I don’t think I’m ever going to run into a kid that says, “I want to be a program manager when I grow up,” but you hear about that when you’re an adult.
How are you going to know what kind of things you enjoy unless you try those things out? Just being willing to kind of dip your toes into some things, try some free courses, try asking your friends that are in industries that you’re interested in, what do they like about their job? What kind of things would they change if they could? Getting that kind of feel, just exploring, learning what these other options are, what these titles are that you’ve never heard anywhere else are, is so, I don’t know. It’s mind-opening. It’s crazy.
Yeah, just to add to that too, teaching, like you said, no one as a child, nobody goes into it and is like, “I want to become a junior frontend developer,” unless one of their parents are, but teaching is one of those, teaching, doctor. I want to be a veterinarian. These are the oldest careers out there.
Yes, you may have wanted to be a teacher since you were a child because it’s one of those careers that has been around for so long, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s who you are when you are 30 years old, who you are when you are 40 years old. Just because it’s the first career that you went into and one of the things that’s been changing in the last 100 years since teaching has been a profession, 1,000 years since teaching has been a profession, is careers are no longer linear. It doesn’t have to be you’re a teacher and then you’re a principal and those are the only things.
Non-linear Career Paths
You can be a teacher, and then you can be a product manager. Then you can go from product management into sales. Or if you want to go from product management into user design, or if you want to become a manager director of sales or director of all of the sales enablement team. There are so many different directions that you can go and so many opportunities out there, but we’ve boxed ourselves into one because it’s the one that’s so commonly said. We feel like it aligns to who we are, but it actually isn’t, I think, hitting it on the nose.
We want to serve, we want to be of service to people, we want to do things. Potentially, we love learning. Potentially, we love building. All of us are unique in our own skill sets, but that was not necessarily the one thing that we could do, but it was the one thing we were told for so long that it’s hard to open our eyes to the rest of the world.
Sorry I went on a tangent at the very end there, but you have been a delight to talk to. I am so excited. Every time we get to connect and see one another, it brings joy to my face because you are always one of the most active members in the Teacher Career Coach Course community. I always see you hopping in there and helping all the teachers who are looking for this type of direction. Just thank you so much for coming on, taking the time to share your story, Bonnie. You have been a real pleasure to talk to.
Thank you. I’ve enjoyed it. Thank you for the resources that you provide to people like me who know they don’t want to teach, but don’t really know what to do. You helped open my mind to other possibilities, which I would never have considered otherwise.
Thank you so much. I look forward to connecting again in the future and seeing where you go.
Below are resources that Bonnie mentioned in this episode that she used to get started as a junior frontend developer and affiliate links to explore for your own career transition, learning to code, and more info about software engineering as a career.
Ashley Stahl’s book You Turn
Related Podcast: Teacher to UX Designer, Episode 55
If you’re thinking of leaving teaching…
Not sure if junior frontend developer is for you? If you’re just beginning to think about leaving teaching, brainstorming other options is a great place to start. But if you’re like many others, teaching was your only plan – there never was a Plan B. You might feel at a loss when it comes to figuring out what alternatives are out there.
Start with our free quiz, below, to get alternative job options for careers that really do hire teachers!
Taking the First Steps to a New Career
If you’ve already taken our quiz, it may be time for the next steps. I want to help you get some clarity in the options available to you. To know EXACTLY what you need to do (and not do) in order to get your foot in the door. This knowledge may help quell some of the anxiety you feel about the big changes that come with a new job.
One of the biggest mistakes that I see teachers make is that they try to navigate this process alone. Often, they put off “researching” until the very last minute. Which sets them up for a very stressful application season – trying to juggle teaching, figuring out a resume, researching jobs, and hoping to nail down some interviews before signing next year’s contract.
You don’t have to do this on your own.
If you are considering a career change from teaching, I have a resource that can help you today. With the help of an HR expert with over 10 years of experience, I’ve created a guide to support you in the early stages of your transition out of the classroom.
In the Career Transition Guide, I’ll walk you through the factors to consider and answer those first-step planning questions including:
- A compiled list of over 40 careers that teachers can transition into
- An overview of how to read job descriptions
- How to evaluate the risk of leaving a full-time teaching job for the unknown
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- A checklist of everything you’ll need to do for your career transition (so you know you aren’t missing anything!)
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