Lisa grew up in Eastern Ukraine before moving to Germany. At university in Leipzig, she studied Neuroscience for several years before making a change. We spoke to her about why she decided to make the leap from academia to full stack web development, and about how she enjoys life here in Berlin.
What were you like growing up?
I grew up in Eastern Ukraine. I was simultaneously an extremely curious troublemaker and an absolute overachiever/teacher’s pet. I did not have many friends so I compensated by reading A LOT (I got my hands on The Hunchback of Notre Dame when I was 11, which, in retrospect, might not have been very appropriate), studying and getting into obscure music (I was a hipster before it was cool).
How are some of those traits helping you learn to code?
The mindset of being an overachiever straight-A student certainly carried on throughout my career and — despite all the downsides that come with it — helped me a lot when learning and applying new stuff. I work hard and I don’t have a problem familiarising myself with new concepts in a short amount of time. I’m still very curious — so questioning everything and digging for the reasons behind things helps me create a fuller image of what’s going on and understand the connections between the dots easier.
Where were you and what were you doing before SPICED?
I am a trained neuroscientist and I was studying and researching brains for around 6 years before leaving academia. I did cool things such as manipulating a mouse brain with a laser and finding out how exactly brain areas are connected, but in the end the conditions of working in research were rather unsatisfactory to me, so I decided to leave.
What was your job? What was it about your situation that made you want to change?
Before leaving academia my job was to research changes in the white matter of the brain of people who have just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Exciting as it was, as I mentioned the framework conditions of working in academia (constant applying for stipends/grants, instability, long duration of obtaining a PhD) were not optimal, so I decided to leave this field. I still love neuroscience and stay connected to it by writing a blog in which I explain neuroscientific concepts in an understandable and fun way (shameless self-plug: http://overthebrainbow.com) and giving educational talks. After leaving research I worked in customer support in a Berlin startup for a bit while figuring out my next steps — and the rest is history.
When did you think about starting to learn to code?
Coding was present in my life for a long while, in one way or another. Already during my Bachelor studies I started learning Python in order to find better ways to analyze data I was working with; and so it continued throughout my career — I used my self-taught Python skills for different data analysis projects, learnt some Java for fun (yes, this is my idea of fun) and finally started playing around with web development. I was always fascinated by the ability to turn ideas into reality by just writing down some text in the editor — might sound cheesy, but it’s true.
What made you want to take the plunge and learn to code?
When thinking about my next step I realized that it is actually quite simple — I just have to take the common denominator that was there this whole time: coding. Given the endless possibilities to learn and grow, the market demand and my affinity to it, it seemed natural to turn it from a part-side hobby into a full-time job.
When did you move to Berlin?
I moved to Berlin in 2015 to do my Neuroscience Master at the HU. Even before that I frequented Berlin quite a bit as my home base was Leipzig, just 2 hours away.
What makes Berlin special for you?
I’ve been in Berlin 4 years and it does feel like home by now. I like that there is something for everyone and everyone can find a niche to thrive and be happy.
What piece of advice has helped you the most in life? And how would you apply it to your SPICED experience?
“Don’t forget to pee after sex” – my Mom. Just kidding, I think “Do no harm, but take no shit” was very helpful as a general approach to life. Unfortunately neither of those stay in direct relation to my SPICED experience.
Before starting SPICED, what were your biggest fears?
I was afraid of being overwhelmed and not being able to keep up with the program. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from projects and assignments and ended up building 90% of the first week project on Sunday before the course even started. Overachiever, I told you so.
How did you overcome them?
By exposure. Once I was in the thick of it there was no time to be afraid — only to complete what you’re working on. I realized that everything is doable and that calmed me down and allowed me to concentrate on the studies rather then on worrying.
What did being a “coder” mean to you before the course? What does it mean to you now?
A “coder” was a mythical creature — having only limited experience I imagined them as doing something incomprehensible and absolutely magical. Now that I’m working as one myself this concept is pretty much demystified for me — coders are just people who spend 90% of their time debugging and 10% resting from debugging.
What have you learnt about yourself during your time at SPICED?
That I am capable of much more than I give myself credit for and that skipping lunches is really contra-productive to my focus.
What was the biggest challenge for you in learning to code?
Training my brain to think in a different way — looking at a problem and visualizing data and code structure best suited for it. Should it be an array? An array of objects? Should those be separate components? Should I use state or hooks? It is still a big challenge and I’m learning to get better at it every day.
Now you’ve finished at SPICED, what are you up to?
After two excruciating job search months (which were quite a bootcamp in itself) I’ve found a job as a Junior Front-End Developer with Chatterbug — a platform helping people to learn languages in a smart and efficient way — and I am honestly over the moon.
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about making a career change and thinking about attending a coding bootcamp?
Be prepared to have no life for 3 months, have breakdowns because the stupid machine doesn’t do what you want and feel immense gratification when it does. It is really hard work, but it is very rewarding. Apart from that, I’d say have a look at some tutorials beforehand (even more than preparatory materials provided by the bootcamp) — it will help you a lot with keeping up and not feeling lost. Also take care of yourself — keep your sport, social and mindfulness routines, otherwise it can get very grating very quickly.