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By Sarah June Fischer May 10, 2018

Meet Amanda: From Visual Content Developer to Software Development Engineer

Meet Amanda Koster! She was ready for new challenges in her career and fascinated by coding. After realizing the need for a hybrid of creative and code, and that teams of diverse developers can build better products for more people, she decided to pursue a new career in programming. Read about her career transition, and her advice for others who are considering the same path.

What were you doing before Code Fellows?

Before Code Fellows, I was working at Amazon as a Sr. Visual Content Developer on a Kindle innovation team and helped launch the Kindle In Motion inaugural product. What that means is that I would identify titles (books or manuscripts), cast the creative vision for the book, and then direct and produce the titles visual content. I also led a monthly think-tank that reimaged the ebook and field 7 pre-patent ideas.

My career began as a female photographer in a male-dominated space. While building my own career, I mentored women entering the field and led projects that built creative, empathetic projects mobilizing digital storytellers in many communities around the world.

I swiftly worked my way up from a photo assistant to an internationally recognized photojournalist. In 2007, I founded a startup called SalaamGarage that led content creators around the world to build storytelling projects for NGOs. Our mission was to feed social media outlets with content that will impact people’s lives. It resulted in thousands of dollars for fistula operations in Ethiopia school fees, and a bull for an orphanage in India; NPR articles about landmines in Vietnam; and projects about kids who aged out of foster care—projects that made their way to legislators in Olympia. I was invited to speak at TEDx and Ignite twice, Web 2.0, and other high-profile events. You can read even more on my website!

That’s quite the career journey! What was it about software development that piqued your interested after such success in your previous career?

Professionally, I was kind of bored. I wanted to learn more, keep building things and not step into management quite yet. For years, I was working alongside developers because the content I was producing had to live somewhere, and 90% of the time it was within code. I started coding on the side for fun. Coding fascinates me. It feels like magic. Every day I get to create something new.

I met with a few friends of mine who had gone through the Code Fellows program. They took the time to thoughtfully tell me about their experience, which sounded constructive, relevant, and positive. Several of them had jobs in the field and offered support. When I toured the Seattle campus I saw strong teams and lots of collaboration. I was struck by the sense of community Code Fellows had created. Students weren’t isolated, coding alone with headphones on. I also saw a diverse student body and knew this was my school.

How did you decide to study JavaScript over other programming languages?

I wanted to be a UX engineer/UI developer for the web. In addition to my love for building things, I care a lot about the design of products and their usability. Plus, JavaScript rules the web, so that was that.

What was your favorite part of your time on campus?

Software development is a team sport and working collaboratively is my jam. My favorite times were the pair programming assignments and project weeks. It’s so much fun for me to build something from scratch with an awesome team and a shared vision, then taking that vision from whiteboard chicken scratch to a fully functional product.

What did your job search look like?

Fascinating. I was hired by LookFitFeel before graduation. The transition from school to work was smooth as I had already been in the tech industry for years. I was excited to find out that my bet paid off, and there is a real need for visual, creative thinkers who also code. My experience has been appetizing to many companies. Also, it is a great time to be a female developer. Many companies are working to balance their gender equations, and though being a woman does not guarantee an offer, it is refreshing that companies are really looking to diversify their teams and volunteer demographic information about their teams. It is also exciting so see how many programs and events there are to seek diverse talent. The truth is, diverse teams can contribute to a deeper understanding of customers’ needs and build products and services that reach larger demographics. If nothing else, that’s just good business.

Tell us about your new job! What’s a typical day?

I’ve recently joined a Microsoft Azure Blockchain team as a contractor. I LOVE this team and I LOVE this culture. I had to hit the ground running writing React, Redux and Node for a Azure Blockchain team. We just launched!

A typical day consists of about 65% coding and the rest is meetings, lunch, general conversations, and laughter.

What’s your favorite part about working with the team at Microsoft?

What I love about my team is the way our team leads have fostered a culture of collaboration. When anyone needs help, we just ask and pair programming can happen on the fly. We don’t have formal pair programming sessions, though the team is incredibly supportive. The environment is one of learning and everyone is up for learning or teaching something new so the team as a whole grows stronger.

I also love the company’s mission to support people to reach their potential, and its innovative spirit. Microsoft really is an awesome company.

What was the most helpful skill that you learned on campus that you are now using in your career?

I have learned to untangle nearly anything and found a niche that satisfies my eternal curiosity to understand how things work. I am at my best when building and am motivated by the constraints of design and wizardry of code. Coding satisfies my relentless passion to create, contribute, mobilize people, and solve puzzles with shape-shifting tools.

How did your previous work experience help you learn to code and start your new career?

I’ve worked with visual content extensively. On a Kindle innovation team at Amazon, I owned creative visions, wrote creative briefs, and worked with a team of designers and artists to create visual content that could be consumed and look great on any device. I also worked side by side with UX and devs to help inform and troubleshoot the layout without compromising visual quality. I created visual experiences, leveraging my startup chops and relentless focus on user needs.

Throughout my career I have noticed a disconnect between producers, designers, and developers. I began to learn to code on the side to speak both languages. It was in that role I decided to pursue software engineering, left Amazon, and went to Code Fellows to learn full-stack JavaScript.

If someone was considering learning to code at Code Fellows, what would you tell them?

I would recommend taking a campus tour, meeting with a few instructors and asking about the teaching and learning style. Everyone learns differently and it is important to learn in an environment where you will thrive. I would look around and see if you would feel comfortable with the fellow students, watch how the instructors and TAs set the stage for learning, listen to how they communicate with one and other, and watch how they collaborate. I would highly recommend attending some project presentations so you can see they types of things you will learn, and then ask students and instructors questions.

Also regarding tuition, set up a meeting with the staff to talk about ways to pay for your courses. There are creative ways to piece together funding (diversity scholarships, Worker Retraining Programs, GI Bill, etc.) and the staff is extremely supportive and knowledgeable.

Any advice for someone else starting to learn to code?

I’d say start with some free online tutorials and courses like Codecademy or FreeCodeCamp.com to get a feel for coding. Attend some meetups and events that interest you, get to know a few people and ask questions. It can feel very intimidating at first, but if you have ever learned another language, it is a similar experience . At first nothing makes sense, but it will, and then it becomes addicting! Clearly there is a market for coders, and we really need more women. If you are at all interested, jump in—the water’s warm!


Want to learn more about a new career in coding? Get started in an upcoming Code 101 near you!