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From Psychologist to Software Developer

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By Daniela Carvalho

If a few years ago, I was asked where I saw myself in the future, none of my plans included working as a software developer. I would have explored my psychology career: working with severe mental illness, criminals considered not guilty by reason of insanity, my afternoons in a prison facility, or my interventions with suicidal patients. I would say my predominant interest was research on psychopathy and other criminal behaviors, not software development.

Acknowledging the need for a change

Psychology provided many incredible moments and the opportunity to work with diverse people who shared their stories with me. But it was shrouded in years of precarious work, exploitation, and unemployment.

I required a change. I felt like I had no professional future and I was being dragged from the field that I enjoyed in psychology to work on others that were important but didn’t make me feel accomplished.

Many people ask why I decided on a career in technology and if I had any previous experience in this field. The answer is no. My experience with computers was common usage and gaming. While growing up, I wanted to be an Air Force Pilot, a Judiciary Police officer, or a forensic pathologist. Neither of these options is remotely close to software development. But IT offered high employability and an actual career path. I wasn’t certain if I was going to like it, but I decided to take a leap of faith.

It’s time for a SWitCH()

SWitCH() is a post-graduation from Porto Tech Hub Association and ISEP. It presents itself as a requalification program, for those who want to acquire competencies and skills for full and fast integration into the job market as an IT professional. That was exactly what I was looking for. It was the trigger I needed to start this adventure.

SWitCH() was an intensive and immersive experience. How can someone become a software developer over a period of 9 months? To this day, I don’t believe it’s possible. But it can give you knowledge on fundamentals, teach you how to learn and research for yourself. With dedicated teachers who pushed our limits, each day we learned something new from a universe that keeps reconstructing itself at every moment.

Onboarding at a new “home”

When you have such a different background as I do and zero experience in this field, you question what is going to happen once you are in. Are you going to be capable of keeping up with your peers? Are you going to be accepted? Or is everyone going to look at you as the psychologist that decided to play with computers?

From the moment I set foot on Blip, I never felt lost or alone. The first day was onboarding, full of inductions and activities. I was assigned a Buddy that showed me the company and its culture, the team, Esco.jar, and its usual activities.

On the team, they appointed another Buddy for me, who had the herculean task of helping a psychologist become a backend developer. Even though all the team was involved, he was the one that was always there for me, to share my pains and help me through my nonsense questions. No matter how much accepted you feel, it can still be intimidating to start in a new company/new field/new everything. Having a buddy made it easier.

My technical journey started by learning about technologies that are used on the team. They challenged me not just to understand them, but to question why they were using those among so many. Many times I just wanted an answer, but they let me look for it, “bang my head against the wall” for a bit, teaching me something so present on them – the spirit of “don’t just follow the herd”.

Soon enough I was being challenged not just to learn but to work with technologies I never heard of. Quickly, my short knowledge of Java and Spring evolved to things like Scala, Kafka, Akka, Chef, Zookeeper, concepts like concurrency, distributed systems, and complex design patterns.

My manager made sure I was comfortable – if I was enjoying what I was doing if I felt that I was learning and if our goals matched. He gave me the option to change from the backend to other areas in case I ended up realizing this was not what I expected. He even cared about my integration as a woman in what it still is, a predominantly male field. In the age of fighting for equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal salaries, I never felt this was an issue on Blip.

The team took the time to know me, on a personal and professional level. They never made me feel different. Against all my fears, I felt accepted.

Time passed, and for each completed challenge, others were waiting, preparing me to ultimately work side-by-side with the team, contributing towards the development of components in production.

Looking Back and peeking into the future

It has been almost two years since the last time I set foot in my psychology clinic. I miss many of the people I worked with, but there hasn’t been a single moment that I desired to go back.

This has not been the easiest path to take, but until now it has been the most rewarding one. I found a place where I feel challenged every single day. Where I’m part of a team that trusts each other, supports and challenges its members so they can improve. After the internship, I was offered a position on the team that I happily and proudly accepted.

Psychology is part of who I am. It taught me so much, but now I’m proud to present myself as a “developer on the making”, and hope this stands for many years to come.

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