Starting Again in Software

May 25, 2018 Edie Beer

In this week’s Pivotal Voices, Edie Beer, Software Engineering Manager at Pivotal New York, details her journey coming back to software after a decade away

I grew up in a tiny town in West Virginia that was fortunate enough to have an awesome technology room, especially for the 80s. So, in my small town, I began programming at a fairly young age doing Basic and became instantly hooked. When I got to college, I majored in Cognitive Science, which was a cross disciplinary combination of Psychology, Linguistics, Philosophy, and Computer Science, so I did a lot of work modeling how humans acquire language and how computers can model that. I then started doing business consulting and systems integration right out of college.

The consulting pace was intense, so I bounced some from internal corporate to software product development before returning to consulting again. I moved to New York in 1998 and was a software engineer at an internet consulting firm. It was a very crazy time. I joined when the company was small, and during the three years I was there, we went from 200 people to 2,000 — in addition to going public.

I was pregnant with my first child as the dot com bubble was bursting and things were on the downward trend. Initially, the plan had been to have my husband be the one at home, but with this instability it made more sense for me to be the one to take time off. It was a big adjustment, but I enjoyed it and ended up being out longer than I thought I would.

During my time out, I had three children and did not do a single line of coding. Ten solid years, zero. I did volunteer work with my kids’ schools and our synagogue, but nothing more technical than tweaking a WordPress site. It was a complete 180-degree shift.

Coming back to software development after all that time was a process. In order to remind myself of fundamentals, I did a lot of studying on my own. I started with MIT OpenCourseWare and revisited classes I’d done from when I was in college. I reached out to my network from before my break and dove into learning the current development landscape. I also did some training and classes followed by a Returnship and a retreat at Recurse Center which were fantastic learning experiences and confidence boost for my next step.

“Starting again is a bit of a mind game — the first person to convince is yourself.”

When I finally was back full time it was like starting over; I was initially perceived as junior but quickly proved myself and moved up. A lot of people think “oh everything’s different, it’s so different that after all this time you can’t do this,” but fundamentals of good software haven’t changed. Technology changing quickly in some ways worked to my advantage. Things I needed to learn were being learned by plenty of other people in the industry; it effectively made my time gap matter less.

The number one piece of advice I give to people returning to engineering after time off is don’t be afraid to reach out to your network and when you want to learn things, you don’t have to go it alone. Starting again is a bit of a mind game — the first person to convince is yourself.

Change is the only constant, so individuals, institutions, and businesses must be Built to Adapt. At Pivotal, we believe change should be expected, embraced, and incorporated continuously through development and innovation, because good software is never finished.

Starting Again in Software was originally published in Built to Adapt on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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