5 min read

From Sunlight to Software: The Story of a Successful Career Change

The author of this article is EPAM Software Engineer Roberto Sanchez.

Software Engineer Roberto Sanchez

Formative years: shaping the mind of an engineer

At 22, I graduated from university with a degree in Environmental Engineering. When choosing what to study, I looked for something that would allow me to make an impact on society, while also aligning with my interest in the exact sciences. I liked their intrinsic quality; that there is a logical and calculable path to any solution. During my studies, I remember taking a C++ programming class where I mostly learned about flowcharts and logic. As a teenager, I enjoyed solving programming problems that my uncle gave me during the summers. Despite this early exposure to programming, I didn’t engage with it again until I was 37.

After graduating, I spent five years working in municipal water treatment, a field that involves a great deal of engineering. I also needed to navigate the social and political aspects of the job, which were less enticing for me. Eventually, I sought new job opportunities, which led me to renewable energy. For more than a decade, I specialized in the sales and installation of photovoltaic systems, shifting progressively towards sales and away from engineering. I grew tired of this work because in Mexico, these products appealed mostly to affluent families — a limited market.

The power of networking: a career crossroads in tech

The arrival of the 2020 pandemic brought a halt to investments in the renewable energy sector, just as I was growing weary of the sales process. I started to reflect on my career trajectory. Two potential paths floated to mind: pursuing music composition, which had been a hobby for years, or learning software development, a field in which I had close friends already working. One of them suggested that I consider this option.

I sought advice from three close friends. The first one owned a software development company for SMEs in Mexico, and he advised me that it was a highly competitive field dominated by younger generation employees who began programming in their early years. He recommended that I stick to sales, which was my specialty. My second friend, who held a position as a Delivery Manager at a small international consultancy, told me that there was a high demand for technically skilled personnel. These candidates, however, often lacked soft skills, such as communication and people management. He said that if I could combine these qualities, I would succeed. My third friend worked at EPAM. He informed me that there were vacancies at his company as part of the Resource Development program for junior JavaScript developers. He urged me to apply immediately. It was May 2021 and I had been self-studying for a month, but I was nowhere near ready to apply at that stage. It was simply too soon! The position required either six months of experience, a related degree, or completion of a bootcamp.

The leap of faith: my entry into software development

My university education provided a solid foundation. It enhanced my competencies in study methods, logical reasoning, mathematical problem-solving skills, and English language proficiency (I had learned English since high school). Despite these skills, choosing which study materials to use was quite challenging, since the internet is full of information. 

After reviewing a couple of bootcamp syllabi with my friend from EPAM, evaluating the pros and cons of each, and assessing what I needed to bolster my knowledge, I decided to focus my efforts on two main resources. I enrolled in a seven-month Full Stack Python Bootcamp where I would study JavaScript for front-end development and Python for back-end development. Simultaneously, I joined Platzi for a year, immersing myself in what they referred to as their JavaScript school.  

With the decision made to enroll in a bootcamp, I was racing against the clock. I reduced the time I spent on my sales work by 70% and fully committed myself to learning programming. With these steps, I embarked on the mission to prepare and land my first job in the tech industry.

A steep learning curve: the path with many stones

Although the bootcamp was intense, having access to platforms like Platzi was an absolute lifesaver for self-paced learning. My foray into software development felt like opening a Pandora's box of endless learning, from mastering the terminal, to understanding data structures, deployment pipelines, and databases. I struggled to comprehend how these technologies functioned behind the scenes, and felt frustrated when I couldn't grasp some of the seemingly metaphysical concepts such as virtuality, protocols, connections, and ports.

In late 2021, my EPAM friend informed me of a new round of the junior developer program. Despite a whirlwind of doubts inside my head, I decided to apply. I knew it was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up. Following three intense rounds of interviews, I was elated to receive an offer starting in January 2022. From that point onward, my only aim was to graduate from the program, succeed in securing a client interview, and land a position in a production environment project.

Embracing flight: the excitement of professional growth

The excitement of seeing the fruits of my study, and overcoming mental barriers, was overwhelming. The thrill of seeing your hard work materialize, overcoming your self-doubts, opening doors at a big company, and exploring the possibility of a solid career trajectory is simply indescribable. I would unquestionably embark on this journey all over again. The experience of transitioning from trainee to junior and then to mid developer is material for another article.

So, if you're reading this and considering a career change, believe me when I say that it is possible. While we might think we are starting from zero, the skills that we've learned in other areas, and the soft skills we develop daily, lay the foundation for becoming a skilled tech professional. When opportunity meets preparation, the only limits are the ones that we impose on ourselves.


Finally, here are a few tips:

  • Start with a clear and structured learning plan. Stick to one or two primary learning sources to avoid information overload. Be wary of enrolling in, or buying, too many courses that you might never finish.
  • Connect with people who are already in roles similar to those you're aiming for. These connections can be a valuable source of advice, first-hand knowledge, and potentially even job opportunities.
  • Consider applying to training or junior programs. They can be a solid steppingstone into the tech industry. Even if you're not successful on your first attempt, it's essential to remember that each interview is a learning experience. Use the feedback that you receive to guide your next steps and refine your approach for future interviews.

Transitioning to a new career is an exciting journey as much as it is a commitment. I hope that you find the process as fulfilling and transformative as I did. Always remember, success in this journey hinges on your persistence, eagerness to learn, and adaptability. Embrace the change and enjoy the ride!

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