My Software Developer Journey

Candy, mostly known as RealToughCandy (RTC), is a software developer and educator based in the US, Minnesota. She is the author of numerous books, has a thriving YouTube channel and she also started her own software business last year. Her mission is to help and empower others in finding careers in software developing path. She talks about her journey in this field, the challenges she has to face and how to change the perception of female developers in the software industry

How did you get into the web and software development field? How did it start?

I got into this field out of sheer frustration. Although I consider myself to be fairly well-educated (multiple undergraduate degrees, Master of Public Policy, etc.) for most of my adult life I’ve been in a low income bracket. And I just got really frustrated after years of being broke! One night in 2014 I was reading an article in the New York Times about coding bootcamps. It featured success stories of some of the graduates, and how they were making six figures while at the same time building some really impressive things. I said to myself, “This is ridiculous. Why am I here, poor and desperate reading about other peoples’ success, when I could be doing what they’re doing?”. That same night I enrolled in a free online Python course. Nothing really made sense to me, but it was fun coding a few lines and seeing results on the screen. The idea of coding as a career, however abstract, was planted in my brain that night. But it wasn’t until 2015 when I started getting more serious about it. That was the year I went to my first open source conference, bought my first beginner JavaScript book, started going to code Meetups. Things just kept getting bigger and more significant from there. Although I took a lot of detours and went down numerous tech-related rabbit holes (I pursued IT security for about a year), it was finally in 2018 when I landed my first enterprise role in the software industry as a developer.

What is the situation of women in this career? Is it harder for them than for their male counterparts? Do we need (and if so why) more women in software development?

I think we’ve made a lot of strides when it comes to women in the field. Especially with peer support and education. For example, when I was learning how to code, my first tech-related social event was a Women Who Code Meetup. It was fantastic. Everybody was really friendly and willing to help a code newbie like myself. And that group continues to play a role in my career to this day. That being said, I do see and experience behaviours that need improvement, especially with some attitudes people have towards women in tech. How do we improve that? It’s really hard to change the perception, especially if it’s negative. Comments such as “Well, what do you expect? She only got here because of Affirmative Action.” Or the boss who acknowledges men’s contributions while in a meeting, but not the women’s. These things are still common and it’s something that needs to be addressed. I definitely think we need more women in the field. This is a high-paying career field with a relative low barrier to entry, but a lot of women just haven’t been exposed to the possibilities. Or they were discouraged from pursuing them. This is a really flexible and creative career field. I’ve never thought I’d be running my own software business, but here I am. I think women need to be made more aware of the financial freedom this career field offers, especially because so many of us are struggling economically. And you don’t need an expensive college degree or fancy credential to earn a six figure salary in software development.

“My main goal is to simply help onboard new developers into the field. To be the welcoming and encouraging voice, to offer the helping hand”

You have a blog, YouTube channel, you also wrote a book… How do you want to help software developers, what is the main goal in your career?

The RealToughCandy YouTube channel is basically my ‘home base’ for everything else I do. That’s where I meet so many aspiring and motivated developers from around the world. That’s where I share my most important ideas, and that’s also where I go to measure the pulse of the self-taught developer community. But I also have other avenues for getting the message out. Whether it’s through books, my blog, my music and now my learning platform, the message is the same: this career field is worth it. And I share that message in hundreds ways so that it can reach more people. And although I do work outside of RealToughCandy, my life’s flame is there because that’s where I can connect with people who are in the same shoes I once was. When I get messages from people saying that they got a job in the field because of my help, I feel so honored. I just love being a part of their coding journeys. My main goal is to simply help onboard new developers into the field. To be the welcoming and encouraging voice, to offer the helping hand.

What are the biggest challenges of your job?

Two years ago, I would have said reading PHP documentation and refactoring enterprise code! Today that’s completely different. Although I’m active with coding nearly every day, my responsibilities have really expanded as a business owner and educator. It sounds abstract, but my biggest challenge is learning to work in the moment. I’m always thinking of new things that will further my reach, things that will level up my presence, and so it can be hard for me to focus on the things that are right in front of me.

“Whether it’s through books, my blog, my music and my learning platform, the message is the same: this career field is worth it”

What advice would you give to those who are starting or considering to start their career in web and software development?

Number one, it’s OK to feel overwhelmed. There are literally millions of resources out there and it can be really hard to know where to start. But discovering what educational materials work for you is an education itself. One benefit is that you’ll get really good at using Google! Number two, it’s OK to quit… Just don’t stay quit. There’s a lot to learn, and it can quickly become very difficult. Just take a break and come back when you’re feeling ready to tackle the problem. Stepping away can give your brain some time to recharge. Finally, number three: This is YOUR coding journey. Not anybody else’s. So when you see blog posts and videos talking about how so-and-so became a developer in four weeks try not to feel discouraged or anxious. So what if it takes you X months, or even years? For comparison, an undergraduate degree in computer science takes four years. There’s always going to be somebody faster than you, or better than you, or know code better than you. That’s OK. Just focus on your journey, keep an eye on the prize and you’ll be just fine.

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