So it’s been over a year since I changed careers from Visual Designer to Data Engineer and I thought I would finally sit down and share my story and how I’m doing!
Just before covid, I decided I wanted to change careers from a Visual Designer to a “Software Engineer”. I envisioned an amazing new job in ‘tech’ as all the adverts glamorise that would be challenging, exciting, cure my boredom, stimulate my soul and be something I couldn’t wait to do… I envisioned the perfect job. Boy… was I in for a surprise….
I was excited about changing careers but I didn’t expect after a few months in I would start getting a dreaded feeling in my gut that I had made the wrong choice.
I worked as a Designer for 8 years, I tried a bit of everything from brand design, marketing, web, UI/UX, and motion and I wanted to explore something new. It was always my dream growing up to be a programmer since I was heavily into computers.
I didn’t want to live life with any regrets. I had loved computers since I first got my windows 95 and hooked on the Earth Worm Jim game my mum bought me. I was an only child and from then on my computer became my fun, my teacher and my friend (loser I know 🤣)
This post is super long so here are is a contents page to skip to specific sections:
- First Steps to Changing Career
- Getting a Part Time Job
- What is a Data Engineer?
- The Interview
- Which Path In Tech?
- My Hardcore Struggles
- What I do day-to-day as a Data Engineer
- Did I Make the Right Decision?
- Going To Therapy
How I Made The First Steps
I didn’t really know how else I could build the confidence to change careers into tech since my set of skills and experience were completely on the other end of the spectrum. I was going from creative, design, and non-linear thinking to a role that required logic, heavy in understanding theory, data concepts and a linear way of thinking.
You’re probably thinking WTF? Should you not play to your strengths? I don’t know I question this myself every day 🙈. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love my computer, being on my computer and the internet world. Even though logic and linear thinking is not my natural ability I just wanted to work in tech so bad I was willing to just … work on it.
So I went through the route of “traditional” education and enrolled in a Part-Time Masters in Computer Science. I decided to trial the degree as a “pay as you go” option where you pay per module and I was able to save up enough money to not work for a year so I could also focus on hobbies and have a bit of a break from work. Then covid struck which couldn’t have come at a better time. It was downtime for everyone, not just me.
I did initially think about boot camps but they seemed too ‘quick’ and I wanted a slow but stable transition and to learn how a computer worked. I also wanted the challenge and structure that came with achieving a qualification. I had heard a lot of self-taught Software Engineers end up wanting to do a Computer Science degree later on in life anyways.
The Masters’s degree was tough and it still is – since I’m still doing it now 2 years later. The only programming I knew was HTML & CSS which now I know isn’t really programming and Computer Science isn’t even about programming either 😅. My first few months of uni was very difficult. We had to learn Java in a week to build stuff and learn about Algorithms & Data Structures. All very new concepts to me but luckily all very interesting. I achieved a distinction in my first module which gave me the motivation to continue on.
I think if you’re looking to change careers there are so many different routes you can take that lead you to a similar place, it depends on how much time, energy, money or interest you have in whatever path you decide to choose. Your career is not a destination it will always be a journey and I discovered that it may change as you live your life. So my advice is to never stop exploring your options. What you work towards might not always be where you end up but it’ll open new doors and prospects and maybe somewhere better that you never knew existed 🙂
Getting A Part-Time Job
I felt a bit lost not working. So, not long after I started studying I found a part-time job as a Visual Designer for a start-up agency. I met this guy on Facebook and we’d be talking back and forth, the offices were half an hour commute away, he worked with charities and schools and mentored uni kids too – I truly believed in his ethos. I was allowed to bring my new puppy to work so I was sold. I only worked 1 day a week and was planning on doing this for the next 2 years. Adding an extra day if necessary.
Plenty of time to study right?
But then 3 modules in… I forgot to pay for my next module (doh!) So I was forced to take a 2-month break. I didn’t really know what to do so I decided to build a portfolio. The topics I had learnt so far at uni mostly covered Data Science/Data Analytics projects and during this time off I discovered this new career as Data Engineer. I started watching videos by this Data Engineer, Seatle Data Guy.
What is a Data Engineer?
A Data Engineer brings in data from all different sources which might be messy and in different formats and construct it in one area to make the data usable and easier for the rest of the business. This means Data Scientists, Data Analysts, and Sales can use this data to build models or reports and make better-informed business decisions. This is kind of the generic high-level information you get online and it was all I knew when I started as well.
Count Me In!
I got sucked in. Basically, it wasn’t new but a new marketing name for what YouTubers call it, “a glorified database engineer”. I had never heard of this job role before, especially at Uni, so I was super intrigued. It sounded like something I might enjoy. I’ve always wanted to be Software Engineer because it was the only role I had heard of that required programming but Data Engineering seemed to use programming concepts but using Data which I was quite enjoying exploring in my course.
So I filled my new portfolio with all my Data projects and started applying to internships for Data Science, Data Engineering or Data Analyst roles in hopes I could get some experience to get a feel if I enjoyed these types of roles. I applied to a handful of internships and to 1 full-time job which I didn’t really think much of. That one job I applied to crazily ended up being the only interview I got. 😱
The interview consisted of speaking to the Recruiter, and sharing how enthusiastic I was about this job I had never worked on before lol. Then speaking to the Hiring Manager on a video call. He just asked me about my experience, what I’ve been doing at uni and a bit about me as a person.
Then after that, I got through to the proper interview which consisted of a 1 hour of behavioural/competency-based interview where they ask you questions about given scenarios and how you would respond to them. Then there was a 20-minute presentation on a given topic. This was in front of a panel of 4 people in a Zoom call with some questions at the end.
Reading up on interviews for engineering roles was one of the things that put me off from changing careers. The technical aptitude tests do strike fear into my bones but actually, for an entry-level job (like mine) there were barely any technical questions. So if you’re planning to change careers without any experience I highly recommend the graduate jobs. The process doesn’t seem as intense as your usual Software Engineer position and they seem to now let in oldies like me.
I spent weeks planning this and practised my presentation numerous times. I made sure the presentation was using the brand colours of the company as well as writing down all the possible competency questions they could ask and a short paragraph answer for each one with a load of past experiences and scenarios that I could retrieve answers from. It seemed like this company hired based on culture more so than skills – especially if you’re inexperienced, I guess.
Then a week passed and they requested my presentation again then not long after that I got a phone call that I received the offer for a graduate job as a Data Engineer, and what’s more, it was at PlayStation 😱!
I had no idea how I managed this my stomach hurt so much from joy.
I couldn’t believe they had 1) offered me the ultimate n00b a job 2) WTF it was PlayStation!!!
I was literally like this… in the park oh my way home from work:
After I got feedback from the Hiring manager saying my CV was unique and stood out and the fact I actually had an Online web portfolio also helped. I guess in Data jobs… they don’t do portfolios? 🌚. I was glad it stood out. They said they were initially going to hire 1 but instead hired 3 of us after 500+ applications because they couldn’t pick between us and so… here we all are 😆
How do you know where in tech you’d like to go?
I “stumbled” across Data Engineering and I’m so glad I did. It’s such a varied role where you’d definitely be learning for most of your career. I see Senior Engineers at work still motivated, upskilling and invested in their work. Everyone seems to enjoy what they’re doing even 20 years later which, to me, is how I see my future.
Furthermore, there is not much competition in comparison to Software Engineering since it’s very niche. The salary is also really good. I moved from a Senior level Designer to a Graduate level Data Engineer and I was getting paid exactly the same. So no loss in salary there despite restarting my career.
I also think it depends on what your own interests are. I’m interested in learning all the time, business, data analysis and I love working out how things work and so I feel Data Engineering fits my interests quite well. I know I am creatively inclined but there is a technical logical side of me that is just starting to wake up. I feel like in the future when I get better I can use both skills to design unique solutions. At the moment I’m still hobbling along on the technical side of things 😅
It really helped before I decided to go for this job to speak to someone in the field. I initially reached out to my twitter circle to ask if anyone knew someone in this field. A Lecturer at a University replied and linked me up with his colleague who agreed to talk on the phone. This helped SO much to ask about her day-to-day, the stuff she enjoyed or didn’t enjoy and her future aspirations.
If you are stuck on which path to follow I recommend working on some projects in said area, getting internships or reaching out to your network of professionals or extended network to obtain their feedback and advice! It personally helped me so much.
The Hardcore Struggles
Transitioning wasn’t exactly smooth. There were so many new technical skills, processes, tools, rules, and concepts at work and the work culture was different. We sometimes have to present and knowledge share and this takes up energy because I have to overcome social anxiety. For the first year, I could barely understand what was going on and it was mentally and physically exhausting.
Since I was only 4 modules into Uni – I still had to finish my degree. Although I did take several months off to get acquainted with my new job I started uni back up again and it was TOUGH.
Like I said – I’m still studying…
I work 9-5 and then study about 20-30 hours extra every week; mostly after work and all of the weekend. It’s quite taxing as I’ve sacrificed about 80% of my social life and my friendships.
Every 2 months I have 2-hour exams or 3000-word technical assignments. Despite all this studying, I’m always behind. I still make sure l do non-work/study stuff like go out and enjoy life every few weeks but I always feel guilty when I do.
Luckily what I study feeds into work. i.e from uni I’ve learnt a lot about parallelism, data structures, cleaning data, data analysis and so many more computing concepts that Data Engineering is built on top of but it’s been quite gruelling.
I currently have 6 months left and I can not wait to graduate because it’s been one of the toughest things I’ve had to do my whole life.
What I do Day to day
I didn’t REALLY know what a Data Engineer actually did day-to-day until about a year into my job since a Data Engineer in one business may have different job requirements from Data Engineer in another business. It really depends on where you work. At PlayStation we are mostly ETL Engineers which stands for Extract, Transform and Load (data) but we also do a tiny bit of Data Architecture and Data Analysis work.
We have our main team goals which will be a company-wide goal for example recently we’ve had to introduce PSVR2 game sessions into our Snowflake Warehouse for others to use for reporting in lieu of the PSVR2 launch tomorrow! So whenever anyone plays a game using PSVR2 headset we process all of this. Every.single.time someone plugs it in and plays!
Our team is like any other Scrum team. The product owner will divide a large project into mini sub-set projects and the agile scrum master will ensure some of these mini-projects have no dependencies on each other so they may be worked on in parallel and can be delivered in a 2-week sprint.
Sometimes the Analytic Engineers will focus on re-designing the Database schema or adding new tables or new attributes to existing tables, perhaps rejigging the attributes if the tables are getting too large amongst other things (my guesses – as it looks too complicated for me lol) their goal is to make it more user friendly and efficient for querying and building reports on. It also means they really need to understand and know the data inside out. They often have to use SQL to profile the data, use Data Modelling tools to restructure the database and then share these changes with all the stakeholders. They also build a lot of dashboards and visualisations of the data.
Then the ETL engineers in our team will work with them to design a new process for new data sources or re-design our pipelines to process the new data into the tables. Our goal is to work out how to get A to B in the most efficient way. Because the ETL infrastructure has all these requirements and dependencies on each other you need to understand how they are interconnected. There are also existing rules/guidelines you have to follow. In order to do all this we use a specific ETL tool created by Abinitio which is an enterprise Data Management tool that is super powerful. It’s essentially this program that allows you to visually piece together a pipeline through different components which looks like a flow diagram then schedule and monitor it. Programming is minimal in my job but it requires it here and there to write scripts to transform the data. The visual components are similar to functions in OOP. This tool is not widely used but large Corporate Banking companies often use it since it’s expensive and powerful. We work mostly in this tool and Unix (command line).
We also use a lot of SQL to explore the data and sometimes look at problematic data in a bit more depth. I love this part of my job as I get to deep dive into what the attributes mean, how they relate to each other, what they are used for and how they are derived through our ETL process and how to fix these problematic data or even explain why they’re wrong. Understanding the data and business logic is the most interesting part of my job. The technical stuff is just tools and processes you learn so you can do what you need to do.
My goal is just to work towards understanding more the business logic, and the ETL components and get better at building solutions to data problems. At the moment it’s a lot of information overwhelm so I am building on skills slowly from smaller projects.
Did I Make the Right Decision?
I had gone from being a graphic designer of 8 years, a Photoshop advocate of 16 years and knowing a lot to knowing absolutely nothing as a Data Engineer so it was hard to feel like I had made the right decision.
It had taken me about a year to work towards changing careers into tech and the only feeling I had was guilt at the fact I had landed my dream job but regret everything. I felt dumb because it was like I had decided to leave a cushty job I was good at and decided to give it up for a carer that was difficult and that I was naturally bad at.
Multiple people told me perhaps this job was not fitting for my natural talent and skills… but these people had not changed careers after 8 years of one path so yano… I won’t take their advice. I believe I can learn what I need to get better and become great at it. I wasn’t always good at graphic design from the get-go. I believe I can grow my skills and knowledge but it will just take some time and patience. I feel like I’m improving a lot already 🙂
Going To Therapy
I decided to see a therapist some months into the new job as I could not cope with the emotions I was feeling from too much workload, personal pressure and the feeling of failure when I made mistakes.
Luckily, private healthcare came with my new job and I was able to obtain finances and found a lovely therapist who got to the root of my thoughts and why I was reacting this way. I kept “not feeling good enough” as I was comparing myself to others. I had the famous “imposter syndrome”. I also linked job performance to self-esteem and hated asking for help as it made me feel inadequate also a lot of my fears about poor performance did not mean they were factual. It involved understanding that I did a lot of self-blame and how to work towards being more compassionate towards myself.
My therapist would ask me questions like “What happens when you make mistakes?” and my response was always “They told me mistakes are the best way to learn” and it made me realise how positive and supportive the work culture was. I had to stop blaming myself as no one else was!
The problem wasn’t with the actual work it was with my mindset.
I was doing a Computer Science Masters degree alongside a career change into a Data Engineer – I had to cut myself some slack 😁
She helped me cope with my negative mindset and relieve the high expectations I’ve always had for myself which was the cause of my mental exhaustion but she couldn’t obviously take away the main culprit which was my workload. So I’ve worked towards better time management, planning ahead for study time and planning rest days.
I mean I haven’t “changed” overnight and I’ve been exhausted for so long that now I’m just used to doing nothing else except work and study but I’m getting into the swing of things and I’m feeling pretty chuffed with what I’ve achieved so far. Whenever I have time off studying I even start missing it 😆
It’s Normal To Feel Imposter Syndrome when Changing Careers Especially in Tech!
Reaching out to the tech community on Twitter, I saw many Senior Engineers share their stories as Junior Engineers and they went through exactly the same motions I was going through. And career changers can ALSO go through equally demobilising emotional discomfort. It is a part of change, it is part of the risk and it is part of life 🙏
I had two very big reasons for what I was going through.
Changing my expectations and knowing that this is exactly what is expected from transitioning careers, starting from scratch, and studying for a Masters’s degree whilst working AND being new to tech has completely soothed a lot of my brain fuzz. I heard imposter syndrome was big in tech, and I’ve always felt it at the beginning of jobs – but this was the longest time I’ve had it (almost a year!)
Because there is just so much to learn you will never learn it all.
I think the most important things to remember when changing careers is creating realistic expectations as well as being very patient and compassionate towards yourself.
Do I think if I wasn’t studying I wouldn’t be struggling? Probably not as much.
It has taken over a year to get over that initial hurdle and am currently more focused on my journey of progression and enjoying it so much more. After calming my mindset, being lucky enough to work in a supportive environment and most of all being patient with myself I now am steadily making progress both at work and in my studies.
My goal was to become a Software Engineer but en route I discovered Data Engineering which I am so thankful for. I’m excited about graduating at the end of this year and looking forward to free time, re-building all my friendships, exploring more and having the time to focus solely on getting better at Data Engineering.