I’m Melissa, a software development consultant at Columbia Road, but that hasn’t always been my career path. My journey into code had a few other stops on the way, from tourism to content management, but at Columbia Road a varied work history is seen as an asset. Here’s my story; I hope it inspires someone else who’s dreaming of a new career!
Where it all began
My professional career started when I moved to Finland from Texas in 2009. I love travel and culture so I decided to study tourism and went on to work in event management for corporates and non-profits in Texas, and marketing for Finnish entrepreneurs. I decided to continue studying, this time business administration, to widen my job opportunities. Although I first applied for a marketing role, I ended up working as a content manager for a mobile learning company.
My first steps into code
In 2018 I went to Slush, a start-up event in Finland. There were two side-events that sparked my interest in learning to code – a peace tech event, where I learned how technology can help solve many pressing global issues, and an event about education where I first heard about Hive Helsinki. Hive’s founders believe that one way to address the shortage of coders in Finland is to give students challenging, hands-on projects to work on and let them learn to code together, rather than offering traditional education. After Slush, I wondered why I had never considered coding before. There were plenty of moments when I understood that work could be more efficient and enjoyable with the help of technical solutions – maybe I could unlock this with the power of code! I was also curious to see how the pedagogy at Hive worked, so I decided to apply for the new school.
Hive starts with a one-month “entry exam” called the Piscine. For many, it can be quite an intense experience, but I like to think of it as a two-way test: you are being evaluated but also evaluating if the pedagogy works for you. It’s up to you when you turn up and work – the campus is open 24/7, so it’s very flexible. During the Piscine, you quickly figure out that your peers are a massive asset, so working on projects at the campus and asking for help is, in my opinion, the key to success. If you pass, the curriculum has a map of projects to work on that branch into different paths. You select the path you’re most interested in, which for me was algorithms. You can’t use existing libraries or frameworks at the start; you have to build everything from scratch, which can be challenging but teaches you how to solve problems without relying too much on existing solutions. Hive has a strong community feel and the learning environment was perfect for me – I’m a social learner and I learn by doing, ideally with a concrete problem to solve or by feeling like what I’m doing really matters. I would recommend it to anyone that wants to get started in coding.
A place to learn new things
Learning to code meant I could start improving the tools I’d previously been using as a content manager. Taking this on was so surreal - my dream had come full circle! But after a while I noticed I still had a lot of room to grow as a coder. Columbia Road seemed like the perfect place to learn a broader set of coding skills and work on projects in different domains – and it truly is!
Since being here I’ve learned new hard skills and had the freedom to challenge myself, with lots of feedback from experienced colleagues. That’s an addictive loop if you’re curious and eager to improve. I’m never afraid to talk openly about my mistakes or ask for advice because I always get helpful feedback and a nudge in the right direction. It’s easy to grow here as we’re very much involved in deciding what kinds of projects we want to work on. I know I’ll be learning for the rest of my life as a coder – I keep a list of any skill gaps I notice and address them one by one between projects.
Being a Roadie feels really good
Columbia Road is very community-driven, with everyone doing their best to achieve success for clients, colleagues and themselves. People reach out, there’s excellent communication and you’re encouraged to highlight areas for improvement in the company. It feels very safe to speak up as you are surrounded by people who care, trust and support you. There’s a great team spirit and people regularly praise each other for a job well done. You can’t help but smile when you see your teammates get lifted up.
The onboarding process was another real win for me – on day three I already felt like I had hit the ground running and knew what to do. It was amazing! People were checking in with me regularly and I almost felt bad because I couldn’t think of anything I needed help with – I just felt comfortable, confident and at home.
Know why you are doing this
If you’re thinking of changing careers, perhaps to become a coder like me, a former boss of mine had some great advice: always start by asking “why?” Knowing why you want to take a particular journey gives you a goal that can be divided into individual steps. There are so many ways to code, things you can solve with code and coding languages to learn; figuring out your “why”, narrowing your scope and breaking your journey up into manageable steps helps you to get further, faster. Moving into tech opened so many doors for me – the things we can achieve with tech these days are incredible. Today, I’m riding the right wave for me, surrounded by great professionals I can learn from and feeling very content!