Nathalie is an experienced and passionate designer and mother of two who joined Le Wagon in 2016. She is now an award-winning Full Stack Rails Developer, founder, blogger, public speaker and advocate for getting more women into tech. Hear her story below:
Before Le Wagon I was a work from home mum looking after my two boys and running a business with my husband. We needed to build an online presence. But as a small business we didn't have the budget to pay for digital services. I used to work as a contract graphic designer and thought that learning web design would be a good way to keep those design skills current. I used online resources to do it and I loved it. I decided to start freelancing again as a sideline but this time offering web design and development services.
It became clear I wanted to change my career. My husband could see how much I loved my new geek side and got me to watch the BBC 'Girls Can Code'. From that point on I knew I wanted to work in a tech startup and formed TreatOut with two friends. We had commissioned a developer to build the MVP for us, but soon realised that to make this work we needed to keep the development in-house. Shortly after, we were asked to enter a startup pitching competition in Milan. One of the judges asked me why it was, that if I could build websites, why I wasn't coding the MVP myself? Surely I could handle the development? It was a good question that I couldn't answer. So good in fact that I started to research my options to become the technical co-founder as he'd suggested. Le Wagon is pitched as a coding bootcamp for creative founders. If you have a willingness to learn the technical skills needed, Le Wagon will make it possible for you to build a prototype. That was all I needed to hear, to know that Le Wagon was where I needed to be.
The bootcamp was challenging. It was a completely different experience to using online material. The pace was relentless and the learning curve at the start was enormous. The long hours and intensity of coding full time was tiring. But. Although it was mentally exhausting the big difference is that you are surrounded by a highly motivated peer group. It's fantastic to be learning alongside such a diverse mix of people of all nationalities, background and experience. Having the support of the teachers is a really big help too to push through the pain barriers. I remember Seb (the CTO) telling me that it's called 'Bootcamp' for a reason! Le Wagon delivered all the things that I'd found were missing from learning solo using online resources. I was immersed in code, troubleshooting the code with my peers and learning fast.
It's not been easy raising a family, training and changing career. The housework has suffered quite a lot! There have been plenty of long nights wrangling and practising code and I don't doubt I have many more ahead. It does get tough sometimes trying to fit everything into 24 hours but you find a way. My kids have learnt that if you put your mind to it, study hard and practise, you can make anything happen and I'm proud of that. There have been come great things to come out of Le Wagon. It’s has taught me how to keep building on the technical skills and given me the confidence I need to push forward with my startup. I still have a huge amount to learn, but I've been able to throw myself into the heart of the London tech scene. I've landed a job as a full stack developer with a new and promising career ahead, even after a 20 year plus break from the workplace.
Unfortunately, any role models that I could relate to as an older woman were sadly lacking. It took me a long time to find the courage to start this journey because of that. I didn't know if I'd be taken seriously given my background but when I found Dr. Sue Black. I finally thought yes, I can do this. I also have a lot of support from a group of local web developers back home, the Sevenoaks Web Scene. We meet up once a month and I'm usually the only girl, but the guys are always on hand to give support and advice. Their honesty about their everyday issues have been a real eye opener. It doesn't matter how experienced a developer you are, we are all learning and we all face imposter syndrome from time to time. The greatest role models for me are the people doing this day to day, facing the same challenges. I'd encourage any woman in tech to start being visible and vocal, especially at the more junior level. Let's show other women what we can achieve in tech.
I got my first tech job at 48, so if I could give one piece of advice to women wanting to do the same I’d say believe in yourself. It won't be easy, so make sure you surround yourself with a close network of family and friends who can keep reminding you of just how good you are. I say it's not easy, not because of the work (that's the fun part!), but because of the barriers thrown up by current recruitment processes. As an older junior developer I'm a square peg but most recruiters only have round holes to fill. Be prepared to play the long game. Strike up conversations with internal recruiters at companies you'd like to work for as early in the process as you can. Experiment with building your own projects. These projects give a good starting point for conversations to showcase what you can do, how you solve problems and how you think as a developer. Companies are starting to realise the untapped potential that returners from all walks of life can bring to a tech team. So know that you are good enough. If you've got a desire to learn, and you can commit to being consistent at practising your newly developed skills after bootcamp, then you absolutely can do this. And you might just love it!