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Changed profession twice and moved to Australia: the story of developer Aisa Matueva

Published in the Random EN group
With this text we are starting a new special series of materials about interesting representatives of the IT industry: developers, evangelists, bloggers, startup founders and many others. Our first heroine is developer Aisa Matueva from Kalmykia. The girl graduated from medical university and worked as a surgical intern, and then as a barista. She moved to Australia and, after turning 30, changed her profession: she took a programming course at a three-month bootcamp and got a job as a developer at Zendesk. Aisa spoke about training, working abroad and her programming blog in a text for JavaRush. She changed her profession twice and moved to Australia: the story of developer Aisa Matueva - 1

About internship in surgery and why I left there

I'm 33 and I'm from the Republic of Kalmykia (it's next to Astrakhan, Volgograd, Chechnya and Dagestan). At the age of 17, I entered the RUDN ( Russian Peoples' Friendship University - ed.) Faculty of Medicine and moved to Moscow, from where I moved to Australia at 28 (I'll talk about this a little later). I studied, like all doctors, for 6 years. Having received a diploma for specialization, she entered the general surgery department at City Clinical Hospital No. 64, where she worked as an intern surgeon for several months. Since there was a lot of workload at the hospital and since my second year I worked part-time in the restaurant business as a waiter, a bartender, or a barista - I did not finish my internship and plunged headlong into the restaurant business and traveling around the world. Judge for yourself - after an internship, a young doctor receives 25 thousand rubles, and working as a barista, I received 30-80 thousand rubles (at the beginning of my career I earned 30 thousand, and the more experience as a barista I received, the higher my salary became). Since the payment is hourly, you could work hard and for 300 hours a month you could get as much as doctors never dreamed of. Also, because of the flexible schedule, it was always possible to organize a mini-vacation and fly abroad for a week. In general, I enjoyed my work and lifestyle and did not think about medicine (and even more so, I did not think about programming, which for me was the lot of geniuses and “gods”).

About moving to Australia

I've traveled a lot. When I arrived in Australia in 2014, I met my future husband. She got married and moved here in 2016. We did not live long and divorced quite quickly: I was left alone without family and friends in a foreign country. As I continued to work as a barista here, I began to worry about the future; my thirtieth birthday was approaching, and I began to realize that I would not last long in the restaurant business. The reasons are a lot of physical activity and little creativity in the profession. And in general, I somehow began to feel awkward surrounded by twenty-year-olds. In addition, although the barista here earns much more than in Russia, there is no overtime. With a standard five-day and eight-hour work week, it is unrealistic to work 300 hours here - the salary is slightly above the minimum (you can still live normally, since you pay little taxes due to the progressive tax system). In general, if you compare this job with others, the barista profession loses quite a lot. And so I began to think...

How I got into programming

At first I thought of returning to medicine and applied to the University of People - a non-profit distance learning university in the USA for the specialty Health Science. The training is free, you only need to pay for exams (there are only 16 of them for 4 years of study) and for processing documents for 100 dollars - that turns out to be 1,700 dollars over 4 years, that is, almost for nothing. I finished the first preparatory “semester”, where they taught English, how to write an essay, how to correctly cite sources, how to avoid plagiarism, passed the exam and started thinking again... Then the series “ Mr. Robot ” had just come out and I became a big fan of it. And in general, I was always attracted to the topic of programming: I installed the software myself, figured out how to “crack” Word and other programs, web surfing always took up 50% of my time. And at work there were favorite regular clients - the cheerful devops of the Australian Post Office. They destroyed the stereotype of unsociable and brilliant programmers. I began to slowly learn everything about the profession: I started with a post on Facebook, where I asked for recommendations for resources about programming, then I started going to meetups for programmers, I didn’t understand anything, but I received a lot of valuable advice. I met a switch girl at one of these meetups. She drove trucks for a mining company and worked as a shift worker, then she got tired of this life, she completed a bootcamp in 3 months and successfully got a job in the largest accounting office in Australia and New Zealand. This girl (and other switchers) inspired me so much that I decided it was time! At first I wanted to transfer to the University of People to major in Computer Science, but they told me: “Why are you wasting your time, go to the bootcamp and then immediately get experience at work.” She changed her profession twice and moved to Australia: the story of developer Aisa Matueva - 2

What programming language did you choose and why?

I started, like everyone else, with HTML, CSS, JavaScript. Well, really, what would we do without them? Even if you intend to become a purely backend developer, you will still need some minimal frontend skill for side projects, otherwise how else can you show off in front of your friends :) In general, I probably have a commercial streak, and I cherish the idea of my application, so front-end was a must for me. But in general, I was more inclined towards the backend, because the tasks for it are more interesting, and you don’t need to adapt to different browsers and worry about accessibility ( accessibility - ed.). Therefore, I decided that I would concentrate on JavaScript, since in the frontend there is nowhere without it, and in the backend you can use it in the NodeJS guise. But when I went to bootcamp, I had to switch to Ruby, since most of the time was devoted to it. At work, the main language was Golang.

About how I studied: sources, courses, completing the bootcamp

About mentors - I had a friend who worked as a developer in the pre-Google era and then went into business. I could ask him general questions about networking, computer design, different protocols, etc. I couldn’t ask more language specific questions, but still it helped me incredibly. I asked language specific questions during meetups - I approached different people directly with a piece of paper and asked for help. If you don’t start by asking for help, but come up to chat and behave appropriately, then no one refused. Programmers generally turned out to be responsive and patient people. In addition, in Australia the Women in STEM movement is very powerful and everyone is trying to help women. I studied in periods:
  1. "Free swimming". At the very beginning, I didn’t limit myself in anything - I “floated” through the Internet and read the stories of other switchers, read articles about what’s inside a computer and how the Internet works, about startups and what professions there are in general in IT. I became familiar with the terms and wrote down useful resources. One of the articles said to go to meetups and talk to people, and I started going and talking. So I realized that I needed to go to a bootcamp, I found out what a good one is. They also pointed me to some good resources.

  2. FreeCodeCamp and Treehouse are two of my main resources while learning. There are a lot of tasks there that will last for a long time. I wrote mostly code in HTML, CSS, JS and had already started my first acquaintance with the API, bought my first domain, and after that some funny projects began. freeCodeCamp even holds its own meetups in some countries for those taking courses.

  3. Bootcamp. I ended up going to General Assembly . The duration of the bootcamp is 3 months, the cost is 15.5 thousand Australian dollars (or 12 thousand American dollars). Technology stack - JS, Ruby, Sinatra, Ruby on Rails, JQuery, Backbone, React, SQL. The bootcamp was completely offline: now such a luxury is even difficult to imagine. There were 25 of us and three instructors (one main and two assistants), plus a girl consultant on resumes and social networks (LinkedIn). Classes started at 9:00-9:30 and ended at 17:00-18:00 with a lunch break, of course. During the bootcamp we made 4 projects - two individual and two team. The first is Tic Tac Toe with JS, the second is a barista tip sharing platform with Sinatra (Ruby framework), the third is a real estate review website with Rails and Google API, the fourth is Bitcoin Arbitrage with React. You could offer your own ideas for the project, and for team projects you had to make a pitch, a presentation in order to recruit team members.

  4. Preparing for interviews, polishing your portfolio. I continued to work on these four projects and decided to build a small application for the Shopify platform to calculate the cost of goods ( cost of goods sold - ed.). It was a very good experience, as I had to deal with the serious and rich API of such a reputable platform as Shopify.

About the study schedule and systematic training

Since I worked as a barista, I had quite a training schedule - I worked from 8:00-16:30 and studied from 17:00-19:00, that is, there was still time to watch a TV series or run in the evening. On weekends, I could study all day and go somewhere to hang out when the cards fell. I didn’t push myself too hard with learning; I was told that learning programming is like eating an elephant: a little every day. I was afraid that with this approach I would never learn anything - the world of programming seems so endless (and to this day this fear remains). But looking back, I see huge progress, and even if you study for two hours a day, but consistently, progress will definitely not be long in coming. At first there was no system in my training. I just surfed the Internet and tried to understand what was what, talked a lot with people, wrote down my stupid questions and asked them to everyone I could catch at the meetup. When I already started doing assignments with freeCodeCamp and Team Treehouse, then some kind of system appeared: after all, these are quite orderly courses. The most systematic training was in the bootcamp. A clear program and a full day of study, but this, of course, is a very expensive pleasure.

About where I got a job after studying

I work for Zendesk, which is the largest company in the helpdesk software industry. Our clients include Uber, Netflix, Airbnb. In total, the company has more than a thousand engineers and more than 300 microservices. That is, this is a large company with a very specialized staff: we have our own compute, edge, foundation engineers, as well as a 24/7 “crisis” operational center that looks after its possessions. In theory, I was not supposed to launch transition processes, nor prepare new servers for operation, nor be an operations engineer, but nevertheless, life forced me. They hired me for the position of associate software engineer (junior software engineer - ed.) or Zen 1, by local standards. I thought that I would be under strict supervision and would not be allowed to work on the production code, but that was not the case: just two weeks after setting up the environment and onboarding lectures, I was allowed to select Jira cards from the sprint and work on the same tasks as other engineers. Of course, there was a lot of work in pairs with other developers, and the code had to go through at least two reviews from other engineers, plus unit and integration testing to the maximum. But I was thrilled to be working on the same tasks as the experienced engineers on my team. Basically, I worked in the backend with Golang, which over time I fell in love with as my own. I managed to work quite closely with Kafka and exotic databases - BigTable and DynamoDB. Most of all I like working with metrics and conducting investigations of all sorts of alerts and bugs, it’s just like a detective story, very interesting.
In our company we have our own gradation of developer levels (I’m not sure I remember everything correctly):
  • Zen 0 (intern),
  • Zen 1 (associate software engineer),
  • Zen 2 (software engineer),
  • Zen 3 (senior software engineer),
  • Zen 4 (staff engineer),
  • Zen 5 (senior staff engineer),
  • Zen 6 (principal engineer),
  • Zen 7 (architect).
I’ve been working for three years, started with Zen 1, and after a year they promoted me to Zen 2. Now I’m striving for senior, but it’s more difficult here: you need to not only be able to break complex tasks into small tasks, but also devote a lot of time to training junior engineers, sharing knowledge with the team. Since I have always been the most junior engineer on the team with the least amount of experience, this is difficult for me. Plus, I have severe impostor syndrome, but I’m trying to grow anyway!

About the features of corporate culture

The only strict rule regarding hiring employees in our office is we don't hire assholes. That is, if you behave like an asshole, then no matter how senior you are, they will never hire you, and if they hire you and people complain, they will easily fire you. We constantly conduct mandatory anti-harassment training and literacy on LGBTQIA issues and various national minorities. The coolest one is empathy circles - when almost the entire office gathers online and shares positive and negative experiences that certain minorities have experienced in everyday life. When you hear how your colleagues were hurt by certain statements that seemed quite innocent to you, you will definitely no longer make such mistakes, but will think about what you say. I know that many in the post-Soviet space consider such political correctness to be absurd and something beyond measure, but having lived as a representative of a national minority in Moscow, I can say for sure that in Russia such training and mandatory requirements would definitely not hurt. In general, I think it’s cool that people are trying to increase their level of social awareness and understand other people.

About changing profession

I am very pleased with my profession. It seems to me that this was the most difficult, but most successful decision in my life. I can’t say that I’m happy every day and that everything goes like clockwork for me, because sometimes there are long periods of nervousness and self-doubt. I’m a rather ambitious and proud person, and being constantly the most junior employee on a team when you have 3 years of experience, and the rest have from 5 to infinity (plus a degree in Computer Science) is quite difficult - it constantly takes a toll on self-esteem. Well, the constantly changing technology stack doesn’t let me get bored: I’m constantly learning something outside of working hours. This is categorically not encouraged in a company where work-life balance is put above all else, but otherwise my conscience will torment me that I’ve been sitting on a task for a week now and everything is moving slowly. Work takes up a lot of free time. There wasn't a single weekend when I didn't listen to at least some programming podcast. I try to devote at least half an hour every day to learning something new or repeating something old. And there is always a feeling that the more I learn something, the more I realize how much remains incomprehensible and unexplored. This sometimes sets off a real panic, but everything is resolved by conversations with other team members and the team lead. But you don’t get bored and you’re always working on something new and interesting.

About the level of English

Before moving to Australia, my plans were to study English to pass IELTS, but in the end IELTS was not needed for my visa and I did not go to study. But I took the preliminary test with the result - then I had an Upper intermediate level. I would like to believe that after 5 years in Australia I am now Advanced, but this is not certain. Due to the huge number of specialized English terms in IT, you still have to Google a lot of new words, so it was very difficult at first. In addition to technical terms, there is business English, specific terminology Agile, Kanban, and some kind of internal corporate slang. At first I sat in meetings and understood 10 percent of what was discussed. We encourage questions on any topic during meetings and no one will say a word to you (well, they will think: “You’re a teapot,” but this doesn’t bother me). On the contrary: they will always explain and paraphrase. I either asked something on the spot, or wrote it down somewhere, and when there were one-to-one meetings with the team lead (my cool immediate boss) or my managing engineer (a very cool woman), I asked them this: that she herself could not google and understand. In general, it was difficult, but since I had a great team, all difficulties were quickly resolved and there were no problems with communication. But at first I was, of course, very stressed.

What can I recommend to future switchers?

It seems to me that many people cannot understand whether programming will work or not for them. They are afraid to start, and they stagnate in one place in doubt. But I don’t understand such mental tossing: to start learning a profession you don’t need any investment other than free time. There are a lot of free resources on the Internet: at least in English. As they say, take it and do it. You don’t need to quit your job or cut money out of your budget - just a couple of hours in the evenings will be enough to understand over time whether you like it or not, whether there is progress or not. And even if at the beginning you cannot adequately assess the speed of progress, it is quite possible to understand whether you like this business. But this is the main thing: if you sit for a couple of hours and get up with a “cotton” head and a feeling of your own insignificance, but your eyes are burning and you want to continue tomorrow - this is an indicator of success in the profession. In extreme cases, if you don’t like it, you will be a more technically savvy person, and in our era of the Internet and technology, this is certainly not superfluous!

About my YouTube development blog

I have a blog on YouTube called “ Aisa. Just about programming ,” in which I talk about my experience: how I studied, how I looked for a job. I started with a beauty blog, I have two channels. There was an idea for a startup in the world of beauty, and I decided to build myself a test audience. Plus, Melbourne had one of the toughest and longest lockdowns in the world and had a lot of free time. I also posted a video about programming on the channel and received quite a big response to it, and I realized that many people were interested and liked that I was trying to explain everything in simple language.
I don’t have any goal of growing an audience and starting to sell training courses or advertising: I don’t think I have enough knowledge and teaching skills for that. But it warms my heart that I may have helped a couple of people learn something new or motivated them to move on.