I managed to get into IT before it became mainstream. But even once in this huge, beautiful and multifaceted world, it is not so easy to find your place in it under the sun. I will share my story of transition from a product manager to developers. I will give advice to those who want to change their profession, but can not decide. Get comfortable!
The classic career path assumes that a person starts from the position of an executor, gains experience, and then moves on to leads and managers. Developers usually grow into team leads, CTOs, and technical products. Cases when a lead wants to downshift into a performer are rare, but still exist.
Hello! I am Alexey Solokhin, Python developer at Creonit, I am 29 years old. I recently earned the karmic right to call myself a developer, and before that I worked as a product manager for 5 years.
In the article I will tell:
how was my career metamorphosis;
what inspired me to do it;
how the experience of a product manager did NOT help me in my difficult journey.
I will also give advice to those who are thinking of taking a career leap of faith.
There was an explosion at the beginning…
The overall exposure is clear, so let’s get to know the character!
I have been spinning around development since my student days: there were attempts at science and startups, there was a harsh purely production experience. The icing on the cake is a year of managing a full-fledged product team in one of the largest Russian EdTech companies. For five years in the product, I have accumulated a good portfolio of interesting cases, so all the ways forward and up were open to me.
Why did I decide to become a developer?
I have always had a technical mind rather than a humanitarian one. I have already made attempts to take development courses, I knew SQL and HTML quite well. Yes, and close work with its developers and analysts left its mark. I constantly asked myself: “Damn, but how is this thing arranged under the hood?”
Somehow I was given a lecture on the topic “How the Internet works” (rather top-level, in fact). I then came to an indescribable delight and then sincerely did not understand how I lived without this knowledge.
Looking back, I’m surprised not so much that I ended up as a developer, but that I didn’t become one sooner. It’s as if the idea to go into development was thrown to me a long time ago by the character DiCaprio from Inception. For years it has been growing and maturing somewhere in the depths of my subconscious, all this time it has been spinning on my tongue, and just now it has bombed.
Any explosion, as you know, has its own trigger. And I had one. One fine day, sitting at my workplace, I just realized that I don’t care at all about things that literally just drove me, forced me to live and work. I didn’t give a damn about my product metrics, whether my customers and stakeholders were happy or not. I didn’t even care that the team might not release a delayed release on time, and the company would lose a lot of money.
Familiar symptoms? Yeaaaah… that’s it! Native! Burnout!
I will not name the reasons that brought me to this state. The only important thing is that it motivated me in the end to send everything to hell, leave the ship and dive into the abyss of the unknown in order to implement an old idea.
Many later told me that the spring of 2022 – the height of the storm in Russia and the world – is not the best time for such steps. Frankly, at that time I also had fears, but I just asked myself: “Kamon, when, if not now?”.
How I Learned
I wouldn’t be a product developer if I started a new business without testing hypotheses.
The hypotheses were the following:
I really like programming and that’s what I want to do.
I will be able to productively combine full-time work and study.
To test them, I bought a small self-learning course for symbolic money and went through it at a comfortable pace. As a result, the first hypothesis was fully confirmed. But the idea of combining work with study turned out to be, to put it mildly, so-so.
So I quit my job and bought a full-fledged Python developer course from a highly publicized educational platform.
Left without income, I wanted to get trained and get a job as soon as possible, so I set an internal deadline of 6 months for everything.
And then my studies became a new full-time job for me. No seriously. I got up and every weekday at 9:00 sat down for the course and finished in the evening.
Probably, someone is now waiting for a story about how much the competencies in the product helped me in learning. Well, they didn’t help at all. The internal product formulated the goal and vision, set the direction, transferred the project to production and dumped it on a well-deserved detox. But the internal project came off in full! I set deadlines and monitored their observance on the one hand, but also tried not to burn myself out on the other.
In fact, the whole benefit of my past experience was in two soft skills: self-discipline and the habit of planning everything that became professional. But programming was still a type of work atypical for my brain, so he worked with a characteristic creak that intensified as the material became more difficult. In pursuit of deadlines, I still periodically squeezed myself to zero. However, in the entire course of my training, I gave myself indulgence only two or three times.
Separately, I want to talk about the courses. When I told my acquaintances to developers, and then to potential leads at technical social services, that I was studying at IT courses, I met with a very different attitude. From strongly negative to positive.
It is widely believed that all these courses are not worth it and you can safely learn from free sources. My position is more pragmatic. It is certainly possible to learn from free sources. But on the Internet, the information is not structured, and on the course I put it in a well-organized pile. I still peek into some tutorial cheat sheets because it’s faster to find something there than online. Plus, the courses have all sorts of additional buns that speed up learning.
And now we consider: the cost of training is, in the worst case, 1.5 starting salaries of a junior developer. Can you learn on your own 1.5 months faster than in courses? Or does the duration of training not matter to you? Then the flag in hand! I myself am 100% satisfied with the purchase of the course. By the way, I didn’t finish it…
What is the path without trials?
Learning to code was a bit like driving a course for me: first you learn on a simulator and read theory. Then you ride on the autodrome, and in the final you go out onto the road and catch a completely different experience. Well, here it’s about the same: first we write code in the sandbox, then we move to a real IDE, create something already meaningful, and then – hello, framework!
Why am I? The Dunning-Kruger effect was observed in all its glory: at first, solving simple problems on the basic structures of the language, I thought that I was already very cool. But the more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew. Each next module, each next exercise was harder than the previous one and took more time. But I was counting on the linear speed of the course! And the accumulated money gradually ran out …
No, of course, there was a financial cushion, and it was enough. It’s more about morale – a feeling of race, rolling despair and a desire to quit everything. I was lucky with the environment: among the people close to me there were those who were skeptical and dismissive (play and quit), but the majority really supported and did not exert pressure, for which many thanks to them!
The lack of external pressure was more than compensated by the internal one. The already existing specialty was mentioned. Taking a break from work for 1-2 months is ok. But I understood that the more time passes, the more difficult it will be to explain to employers what I have been doing for so long, if suddenly the development does not work out. And here I smoothly approach the next wonderful topic – job search.
June in the job market
“Newborn” junas in the labor market are both a meme and a bitter truth. They are ready for any job for any money, just to gain experience, but no one wants to take them anyway.
“But I am strong and brave, dexterous, skillful! And I have a lot of experience in IT, albeit in a completely different specialty. Thanks to him, I will quickly find a job!” I thought then. As you can imagine, I thought wrong. Nevertheless, the product’s professional deformation still helped. A little. But first things first!
Specifically, I started looking for a job five months after the start of training, when I mastered the basics and one of the frameworks. There was only one graduation project in the portfolio and a couple of attempts at pet projects. The girls from the career center, of course, highlighted, which is not enough, but on the whole they helped me pack it all up and arrange it in the form of a resume.
I made a plan to apply to twenty jobs a day (yes, the internal project was still at the helm), built a funnel in Excel, and got to work.
Not everything went according to plan, of course. Firstly, twenty vacancies a day were not recruited. Even if you look not only at HH, even if you go to the second page of Google. I quickly responded to everything that more or less suited me, but new vacancies appeared much slower than my plans to fill the funnel.
Secondly, I can’t say that the funnel was generally sad, but I expected more. I was thrown test as a standard response to the response. And even given the size of the companies – and many were drawn to small projects – I barely had time to complete the tasks. I even gave up on some particularly complex and incomprehensible ones, since there was definitely not enough time. Full-time training gradually turned into a full-time job search.
Grocery habits helped streamline the process a bit and save time. For example, I originally wrote a custom cover letter for each job opening as recommended by career consultants. I tested what happens if I use one template text and only change the main details in it: company name, positions, and so on. Conversions to responses and test did not change, and I saved 1-2 hours a day.
I also changed the template of the cover letter in the resume, but I couldn’t see any insights here due to the small sample.
But back to the search process itself. At this pace, in October-November, I completed about a dozen tests, conducted a couple of social security sessions, and I even had two cases when I thought that everything was my job, but … In one case, the guys simply vanished into thin air without any feedback , in another HR told me that management had disbanded the entire department that I was supposed to be in. Mdya…
And then December came. Calm. Dead Season. The test ones continued to lazily come in, but there was no feedback on them. The two cases above seriously demoralized me, and December finished it off. In parallel, I started looking for vacancies for a product and almost ended up in a notorious Russian bank. They told me that the offer was about to be made, but at the last moment they wrote that the manager had chosen another candidate. Unprofessionalism is terrible, in my opinion, and therefore the good riddance.
January was also rotten. And in February, everyone started to wake up. And almost at once I received as many as 3 offers, one of which was from Creonit. On it I want to stop a little more in detail.
It’s a match
Firstly, I want to say that during the whole time of looking for a job, the selection process at Creonit was … one of the most humane, or what? At least I felt like I was being talked to by people and not HH templates.
After talking with HR and doing a few tests, I was invited for an interview with the CTO. In an interview, out of excitement, I clumsily answered a few basic REST questions and already decided that I had nothing to catch. But then I was offered a case, to which any developer even slightly familiar with the framework will give a quick, correct and completely unfriendly answer to the user. The internal product worked like lightning, and I quickly corrected my answer to be more user-friendly. My interviewer nodded respectfully and said that for him, user orientation is more important than hard skills that can be pumped. This view is close to me, including on the issue of hiring employees, for me it was a match.
In the shoes of a developer
Even six months after starting work on real projects in Creonit, I sometimes catch a feeling of unreality of what is happening. “I’ll finish the task and go do my usual production business, and I’ll give the project to REAL developers!” pops up in my head sometimes.
However, I feel that as a developer, I’m growing fast and fast. So, returning to the code, which a couple of months ago seemed cool and almost perfect to me, I can find its jambs and possible ways of optimization. Perhaps the notorious Dunning-Kruger effect is affecting, but still I hope that this is a good sign of my growth.
As for my previous experience, I would not say that now it gives me any tangible advantages compared to other developers. The work of the manager allowed me to upgrade the software well, it makes teamwork easier and more enjoyable. Other than that, I think I’m just looking at some things from a slightly different angle.
For example, we often discuss with the team how to make this or that feature more understandable to users. At this moment, I think what impact the feature will have on the product as a whole. What will it give the user? What metrics of the customer will be affected and will it be affected at all? However, without the ability to test your ideas or test them against real data, hypotheses remain nothing more than hypotheses.
And yet, professional deformation cannot be put anywhere. I like to think about the business side of projects. I often express my assumptions about what the user or customer may need in the future, or how new mechanics should work. In 9 out of 10 cases, I get a response from the project that everything has already been grasped and laid down in the plans.
The situation is similar with internal processes. I worked in product development, and there the processes are somewhat different from the studio ones. Therefore, I cannot offer any ready-made solutions. However, as a process user, I see their bottlenecks more clearly than when I was a manager. Perhaps because of this, I perceive them a little more painfully than I should, and I try to transfer the problem to the competent hands of managers.
One of my life’s core principles is, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” Now I have definitely chosen a very nice room! I feel that I am developing, but I understand how many blank spots there are on the map of my knowledge. To the best of my ability, I try to go beyond the framework of the stack used in the framework of pet projects.
As for management, I have not lost interest in it. I still enjoy working with people, sharing knowledge, improving business. We can say that if earlier the techie was locked inside the manager and periodically tried to break out, now it turned out the other way around. However, I plan to release an internal manager in a more organic and less extreme way – through growth in a team lead over the next few years.
Well, let’s see where the path will lead me!
What can I advise
The cult of IT, created by learning platforms and not only, is not going to subside at all. But you need to understand that a beautiful picture and reality are completely different things. There are many other areas where you can fulfill yourself and earn good money. But if you still want to “enter IT”, I can advise the following:
1. Remember that programming is not for everyone. No, course advertisements do not really lie – really anyone who has not been completely disabled mental abilities can learn. But the profession is really specific. If you don’t enjoy the process of coding, you most likely won’t graduate. And even if you finish – why do you need a job that instead of buzz brings a new headache?
Be sure to try the basics of programming before you dive into learning!
2. The developer is not the only profession in IT. In continuation of the previous paragraph. In addition to developers, IT really needs competent projects, products, testers, designers, analysts, marketers, and so on. Do you think one of these professions suits you better?
3. The sooner the better! Programming can be learned at any age. But still, the older we get, the more difficult it is for the brain to adjust to a new type of work for it. If you really want to become a developer, then the number of reasons “why not” and various obligations will only grow over time.
4. Get ready. Contrary to the previous advice, throwing your chest into the embrasure is also not worth it. As I wrote above, there will be many difficulties along the way, and training may take a year or longer. Gather a financial cushion, make sure that your loved ones support you, that you have the strength to go to the end, and only after that take the first step.
5. Tune in to fuck. It will take a lot of work. It will be hard work. There will be no person behind you who will drive you with a stick. Your success is your personal responsibility!
6. Any experience is useful! As you can see, my previous experience is close to development, but I practically did not use the hard skills of the previous profession, either during training or in the process of working in a new specialty. But soft skills helped me a lot. I understand that there are professions that are very far from IT, but try to find the strength that your professional deformation gives you. Discipline, purposefulness, creativity, diligence, attentiveness – any of these qualities can become your advantage. Small. But an advantage.
7. Finding a job is a battle. Seriously. I have been looking for a job for 5 months and I consider myself very lucky. The market is crowded with course graduates and junior developers. There are more of them than the offered vacancies, and many employers turn up their noses at them and brush aside even at resume screening. Therefore, use all means. Don’t neglect the advice of career consultants, use your strengths, pull out all your code that you can show, prepare for every social security. Separately, I will only note that I do not support the falsification of experience in the resume: if the team leader is experienced, he will burn you for a couple of questions. And if not, why would you want to work for this company?
Due to the decision to change my profession, the last year of my life was one of the most difficult, but also one of the most exciting. Retraining is always difficult, even if you start from a related field. But now I am doing what brings me great pleasure, and I get paid for it!
I think that the path I have traveled is a worthy reason for pride. I hope my story and my thoughts will help someone find and pass theirs!