Meet Kevin: From Commercial Photographer to Software Engineer

Meet Kevin Miller! He started his career as a commercial photographer, and as tech advancements started to influence his work, he was intrigued by the possibilities for a creator who knew how to code. Here’s how he went from photography to code, what he loved about his learning experience, and what his work looks like as a developer at Nordstrom.

Hi Kevin! Thanks for talking with us today, and sharing about your career change. Can you tell us about your background and why you decided to pursue a career change?

My background is in commercial photography and as a creator, I am also involved in design, and working with wood and metal. My involvement with digital photography segued into a freelance career in retouching, studio workflow automation, and digital asset management with REI. There seemed to be a natural shift happening in my career so I would have to say that it felt more like a career change pursued me.

How so?

My artistic endeavors became more personal and my career became more cerebral. I went from using my traditional artistic skills as a way to support myself, to using my artistic skills in conjunction with technology to support my personal art. It actually freed me to follow my passions as a creator. No longer was I creating with just my hands, but I was creating with my intellect using a new medium. Teaching myself to code came with a lot of bad habits and, worst of all, uncertainty. For me, going back to school for a computer science degree did not seem like the best way to learn to code. I was seeking a way to capitalize on my self-taught skills and experience while learning to code as a professional. This is what I found in Code Fellows—the belief that not everyone who has a passion for coding must have a CS degree, and that diversity in thought and backgrounds amongst developers is a good thing. After researching the options available in Seattle by going to informational sessions, talking with alumni and staff of coding bootcamps, and reading what I could online, I realized that Code Fellows offered me what I wanted.

How did you decide which programming language you wanted to specialize in?

Studying full-stack JavaScript enabled me to see the big picture. Learning the back end gave me a better understanding of how to architect an application, allowing me to leverage my visual skills on the front end in conjunction with that holistic approach. After talking with people in the industry, I felt that learning JavaScript was going to provide me with the most opportunities to get started in software development.

What was your favorite part of your program?

As an experiencer, I learn by doing. As a student at Code Fellows, doing starts on day one. I gave myself 20 weeks to change my life and I put every bit of effort into making that happen. Every day, I came in a little early and stayed late. One of the funniest moments was the first time I experienced the lights turning off. Code Fellows is available to students 24/7 but the lights are on a timer. One of the first things I learned was the location of the light switch! When I get engaged with what I’m doing, I can’t stop. My time was spent writing code and taking my assignments to the next level. I pulled them apart and broke them on purpose to better understand what made them tick.

Which part of the program was the hardest?

Immersive learning is intense and goes at a fast pace. You have to be really dedicated to yourself in order to keep up with what is going on. Sure, you can get by with doing the bare minimum, but how does that help you? Where does that get you at the end of the day? I can honestly say that I was the hardest part. No one is harder on me than myself, and I pushed myself to go beyond what was required in order to satisfy my own expectations and curiosities.

Tell us about your new job as a Software Engineer at Nordstrom! What does a typical day look like?

I have recently joined Nordstrom Technology’s Checkout Services team as a software engineer. Currently, the team is in the process of updating the back end and front end processes for the customer checkout experience on Nordstrom.com. Our team is subdivided into two eight-person teams for the front end and back end, which changes on a per-project basis. Since I learned React and Redux from my studies at Code Fellows, I am working with the front-end team for this project to start. Every morning we have a standup meeting to give a quick overview of what was accomplished the day before and what we hope to accomplish that day. There are meetings each week to plan stories for the next sprint, review code, and discuss what has been working well and what needs change. Some days involve lots of planning and some days you get to spend more time coding, which involves a mixture of solo and pair programming. All merges to master branches require code approval, so everyone gets to help each other write better code and grow as developers.

What do you think helped you the most in becoming the right person for the role at Nordstrom?

In the role I was hired for, knowing React, Redux and JavaScript played a big part. I could have taught myself these things but at Code Fellows I also learned about working with version control, professional standards, and testing. As in most large companies, being able to work with others on a team is an important aspect of the job, so soft skills came into play as well. There is more than one way to write code, so knowing how to read code and understanding concepts of code writing is more important than knowing cookie-cutter techniques. Code Fellows encourages students to write from scratch, which requires them to understand the concepts, not just the code.

What is your favorite part about your new job and team?

I really like how diverse the people and talents are that make up our team. Everyone has been helpful and supportive and every day I learn from their experiences and what they have to offer. Because I am in a new environment, there is so much that I can dive into and explore, so there is never a shortage of ways to stay engaged and productive. When it feels like the days just fly by, that is usually a good sign that you are enjoying your work. My uncle once told me, “If you do something you enjoy, you will never work a day in your life.”

What has been the most surprising thing about your new career?

Having come from an artistic background, my viewpoint of writing code was that it would be very dry, but would be steady and pay the bills. The most surprising aspect of writing code to me was learning how much more creative it is than I would have thought. What I have come to realize is that I’m just working with a new medium, I am still creating something from nothing. Also, I’m surprised at the number of artists that I crossed paths with at Code Fellows.

You successfully made a pretty big career pivot—any advice for someone else who is considering becoming a software developer?

Like anything in life, you have to find something satisfying about what you are doing, or you will become uninterested really fast. Immersive learning isn’t for everyone and the most successful students at Code Fellows were the ones who couldn’t stop their own curiosity from taking them on a wild ride or wouldn’t let themselves give up. When I was first considering Code Fellows, I thought about trying to test into Code 301 and skip Code 201. I thought that I had taught myself enough and didn’t need to take the first class. Looking back, I think that taking all three class was the best thing I could have done for myself. I didn’t realize what I didn’t know. Having a solid foundation turned out to be well worth the few extra weeks. The students you share classes with are the people you share your life with for 20 weeks. Having gone through all three classes with the same people was an amazing experience and the connections I made are invaluable. These are the people who are going through the same things you are and the support you give each other becomes a very important part of becoming successful.

Anything else you’d like to share today?

Only you can change your life, but you don’t have to do it alone. I am grateful for the people who helped make all this possible and I am grateful to those I have met on this journey. I’d also like to thank my instructors and staff for giving it their all. I asked a lot from them. I can honestly say they take student feedback very seriously. No one can know everything about software development and once you realize your instructors are human, you understand the sincerity and dedication behind a simple statement of “I don’t know the answer to that right now, but I will find out for you.”

Thanks for sharing your story, Kevin!

If you’d like to find out if software development is for you, join us at an upcoming Happy Hour or Code 101!

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