By Sarah June FischerJuly 21, 2017

Meet Rae: Yogi Turned Software Developer

Rae Helsel is a yoga instructor who decided to make a career switch to mobile development. She shares how her background made her the perfect fit for a New York startup, what she loved most about her learning experience, and her advice for anyone considering a similar transition.

Rae Helsel

Thanks for taking some time to share about your new job, Rae! How did you hear about the opening at hOM?

I hadn’t started my job search yet because I was trying to go back and review everything that I had learned in such a short time. I was also working full-time as a TA at Code Fellows and still teaching five yoga classes a week in Queen Anne. I debated whether or not to keep “Yoga Instructor” on my LinkedIn profile next to “iOS Developer,” and a few people advised me not to, because it could make me seem “flaky or unprofessional.” But I kept it anyway.

A few weeks into assisting Code 201, I received a message on LinkedIn that said, “Hey Rae! This is a random reach out for a position we’re seeking in NYC that combines teaching yoga and app development. As it is a very rare skill combination to find, we figured we’d take our chances with a cold reach out. Can we schedule a time to chat?”

I told my roommate that it was probably a scam and not real because it was totally too good to actually be true… but that I was going to talk with them because maybe it would at least be a good story. Turned out, they were a legitimate company called hOM Inc that brings community fitness to luxury condos around New York, DC, and Toronto. My dream job.

What was the interview process like?

We had four Skype interviews: the “first date” where we got to know more about each other and how we work and relate, the second to go over details of the position they were looking to fill and what I was looking for in a company, the third to teach them a yoga class from my living room and then chat with their HR, and the last was to talk to their senior developer about my experience in iOS with Swift and Objective-C. After that, they flew me out to NYC for a week to meet their team in person, teach some of their classes around the city, and work with their lead developer to get an ad hoc provisional profile set up for the testing phase of their app. On my way to JFK to fly back to Seattle, they emailed me a job offer.

As you make a cross-country move, what are you most excited about in your new career?

I’m still looking for an apartment, but I’ve officially landed here in lower Manhattan! I’m looking forward to learning more and seeing how the foundational concepts that I studied get applied in real life. I’m also really excited because they gave me the reins on giving their current UI/UX a facelift while I get trained up in the backend of their project in Xamarin/C#.

What made you decide to learn to code, and why Code Fellows?

My first class in HTML/CSS/Javascript was in my graduate program for design and photography at Florence University of the Arts, and I thought I was going to hate it. But I was actually pretty good at it and loved how it felt like learning Italian—no big deal. I pursued photography and yoga for a few years after that, but when I moved to Seattle and was trying to figure out my next step in life, one of my girlfriends told me about how she did Code 201 at Code Fellows and then got hired by a startup in Pioneer Square within a month of finishing. I was intrigued after that, obviously, and signed up for Code 101 soon after.

What was your favorite part of your program?

The teachers are amazing, and the curriculum is on point and well-organized, but the best part of the program for me was the sense of community at Code Fellows. That’s everything. They hold a safe space to learn, encourage you when you feel like you’re failing, and are there for you at every step of the way. The teachers invest in you and make sure that you get one-on-one meetings with them (mine always turned into much needed pep talks that were very appreciated), how to build a pitch/resume, how to interview, how to negotiate job offers, and—if you excel in your classes—the opportunity to TA, which has the added benefit of more review and experience, which gives you more confidence in your interviews.

If you could go back and do anything different in your career change, what would it be?

I wish I would have started a blog to chronicle my progress, process, and challenges throughout the program and my career change. I think having that, next to “the little green squares” on GitHub, is a valuable way to show the increase in technical learning. Some of the best developers that I know are always taking on a new language/tweaking/asking questions, and I think writing about it is a great way to show yourself (and potential employers) how far you’ve come. I’m hoping to start a blog at www.theyogrammer.com, so stay tuned!

Any advice for others who are considering a career in tech?

I was a music major, yoga instructor, and full-time nanny before Code Fellows. I definitely don’t have the perfect background, insane IQ, or the innate talent of picking up everything quickly—you just need grit.

I watched a TED talk recently about it. Angela Duckworth says, “Grit is passion and perseverance towards long-term goals.” I was ready several times to throw up my hands and just accept that I wasn’t ever going to be an amazing developer or get hired by anyone ever. I cried in the bathroom about it at least five times. But I’ll never forget what one of my TAs told me in Code 201: “Hey, if you want to be a developer, you just have to keep going. That’s it. You don’t need a computer science degree, you just need to not give up.” I think he was talking about grit. And I think he was right.


Ready to set your career on an upward track? Get started in Code 101 »