The process of getting a Bildungsgutschein was quite straight-forward, but I also put in quite some effort to make sure that the officer in charge with my dossier is convinced of my suitability. I explained my professional profile and also presented the legal technology field and the directions I could be heading towards by the end of the course.
I am originally from Bucharest, Romania, where I studied law and worked for five years as a corporate lawyer. In 2018, five months into my maternity leave, I moved together with my family to Berlin. I joined Le Wagon in part-time format in March 2020, shortly after my maternity leave ended. Actually my batch started right when the first corona lockdown started.
My interest in learning to code arose while I was researching professional opportunities here in Berlin as my maternity leave was coming to an end. Aside from legal counsel positions which would’ve fitted my profile, I was also researching about the innovation happening in the legal profession and more precisely the legal technology field, which had ignited my interest also throughout my practice as a lawyer, at (often) times when I realized how much space there is for innovating the legal profession’s processes and dynamics. Put very briefly, legal tech refers to technologies innovating the practice of law by, for example, giving people access to online software that reduces or even eliminates the need to consult a lawyer, or by connecting people and companies with lawyers more efficiently through online marketplaces; it also helps legal professionals with practice management, document storage, contract automation, accounting and others.
Since legal tech is gaining a lot of traction and since I have a strong feeling of how much innovation is needed in this profession, I started focusing on understanding how exactly I could practically contribute. My first instinct was that I’d have to somehow upskill and understand more about how software works, is developed and implies in general - otherwise I wouldn’t be able to bring an added value. This was confirmed by the requirements I noticed for the positions that sounded interesting and a good fit for me - as I had expected, most of them required legal background, combined with technical skills or ‘affinity’.
“Since I was, to be frank, a bit skeptical about the concept of learning something so complex in such a short time, I started a thorough research into it, and I was pleasantly surprised by the great reviews, the alumni testimonials, their career journeys and by the projects done by former students at the end of the course, so nicely presented on the so-called Demo Days – which I intensely watched on Youtube.”
Digging into how I could gain more insight into software development, I learnt about the concept of a coding bootcamp and of the possibility of doing them through a Bildungsgutschein and this is actually the way I came across Le Wagon’s courses - which were eligible for such financing. Since I was, to be frank, a bit skeptical about the concept of learning something so complex in such a short time, I started a thorough research into it, and I was pleasantly surprised by the great reviews, the alumni testimonials, their career journeys and by the projects done by former students at the end of the course, so nicely presented on the so-called Demo Days – which I intensely watched on Youtube.
My first contact with code was November 2019’s Women’s Coding Day organized by Le Wagon. Even if what we learnt that day was very basic, I remember how enthusiastic I felt about understanding the concepts. I continued to learn by myself to code by doing some courses on Codecademy and the enthusiasm stuck with me and even grew. I also took every opportunity I could to gain insight into the career journeys that I may choose from afterwards, so I joined multiple meetups organized by Le Wagon with people from the tech industry. I also reached out to bootcamp alumni with the same background as me, to find out about their experience post-bootcamp and how the course helped. All these contacts helped a lot and confirmed the very positive impression I had already gotten about Le Wagon.
“Then, the process of getting a Bildungsgutschein was quite straight-forward, but I also put in quite some effort to make sure that the officer in charge with my dossier is convinced of my suitability – which I think was key to my application going forward.“
Then, the process of getting a Bildungsgutschein was quite straight-forward, but I also put in quite some effort to make sure that the officer in charge with my dossier is convinced of my suitability – which I think was key to my application going forward. I basically built up a folder explaining my professional profile and also presenting the legal technology field and the wealth of directions I could be heading towards by the end of the course organized by Le Wagon.
I joined the bootcamp with an open mind, aiming to get a high-level understanding of how software works and is created and having more of a consultancy role in mind after graduation (bridging the gap between legal and tech). However, advancing through the course, I was consistently surprised by how much I enjoyed coding itself, which is one of the best things I got out of the bootcamp. I was amazed at how addictive the coding flow can get, what a great opportunity it gives you to be creative in problem-solving, how it allows you to immediately feel the impact of your work, the opportunity to be continuously learning new things, the dynamics of teamwork and, not least, the way you are constantly challenged.
“I loved the way the course is structured and the way everything eventually builds upon each other. It can feel overwhelming and intimidating along the way, but as one of our teachers was telling us at the beginning - ‘you have to trust the system’.”
I loved the way the course is structured and the way everything eventually builds upon each other. It can feel overwhelming and intimidating along the way, but as one of our teachers was telling us at the beginning - ‘you have to trust the system’. It somehow manages to magically make every single piece of information stick together with the rest of the already sedimented concepts and then you suddenly realize how much new and complex information from a whole new world you’ve learnt – it may sound cheesy but that’s the way I felt it. This culminated with the final project I really enjoyed working on with my team, which was the peak of this great experience and which eventually convinced me to go for software developer roles.
Not least, I met such a nice bunch of people from literally all over the world, made friends and gained access to a wide network of alumni which I feel free to contact at any time for advice or for sharing experience.
The decision between the full-time and the part-time format was not a hard one for me. Having a 2-year-old daughter and a full-time working partner, I felt I could not commit to joining a 9-to-18 course especially where the learning curve would be so steep. I did ask various people I met at Le Wagon events how the full-time course feels like and what it implies in terms of intensity and commitment and all of the advice was pointing in the direction of joining a part-time batch - which was fortunate because, like I said, right when our batch started, the first lockdown began and so there was no childcare available for us during the day, so it would’ve otherwise been quite stressful.
I watched the lectures and joined the sessions in the evenings and on the weekend, which is basically when I had my own free time, so it worked out very well overall.
The pandemic obviously brought several challenges along with it, especially on Le Wagon’s side, but for me the experience was still seamless. The only downside was that I met everyone in my batch and the teachers remotely. However, since during the summer the lockdown was less severe, we could meet up at the campus and we even arranged for us to go out for drinks or picnics. Personally, I felt doing the course remotely helped me concentrate better and take advantage of more family time as I could save the time I would’ve otherwise spent commuting - nothing stopped me from eventually meeting in person with my colleagues and keeping a nice personal relationship with some of them.
By the end of the bootcamp I’d decided to apply for intern or junior software developer positions. To be frank, I found the job-hunting process quite stressful. Adding to my insecurities caused by my lack of previous work experience in the field and the fact that I had acquired this technical knowledge solely through a bootcamp, was also the awareness that we are currently facing a pandemic, when presumably companies are reluctant to hire – and, to my mind – reluctant to hire especially junior developers who are more of a cost for a while, before managing to bring a real value to the team.
Luckily, there were still a lot of junior position offerings with tech companies out there and the Le Wagon team puts in a lot of effort to help the graduates onboard the job market. Due to this, early on after finishing the course I got quite an accurate and thorough idea of what the expectations are and what I should further do and look into.
“Eventually Le Wagon’s contribution to finding my first engineering role was key, not just because of the efforts I was mentioning before, but as it was the liaison between me and my current employer. “
Eventually Le Wagon’s contribution to finding my first engineering role was key, not just because of the efforts I was mentioning before, but as it was the liaison between me and my current employer. I met the CTO of the company where I’d eventually start working during an online meetup organized by Le Wagon for us as graduates, which gave me a chance to get a glimpse into the team’s expectations from a candidate and into the company’s culture and dynamics, plus it was a great opportunity to ask questions and afterwards keep in touch. My contact with a Le Wagon Teaching Assistant who was working with the company at the time was also very helpful.
Since the beginning of this year, I have been working with DataGuard, a company providing data protection services for small to medium-sized enterprises, using a hybrid solution - a combination between a sophisticated Software-as-a-Service platform and bespoke consultancy services provided by privacy experts.
I currently work as a software development intern in the Product team. So far, I got to work on the customer-facing side of the platform and already feel a great sense of satisfaction of having contributed (even if with small inputs) to improving our clients’ experience with the product.
Although I am still figuring out the ins and outs of this new profession, I am getting a lot of support from my amazing team, both from peers and teams around the company, and from more senior developers, who are genuinely devoted to help you grow – something that I am extremely grateful for.
Concerning those thinking about joining a bootcamp but are uncertain because of the pandemic - I can definitely understand the fears of investing so much time and energy into something so new and which can be so intimidating. My experience has shown me that the pandemic is not an obstacle to changing jobs or even careers. However, I’d like to point out some things I think could come in handy to anyone considering this.
Do your research – first, for deciding if this is something you’d enjoy learning and afterwards working with. Do some free courses for example on Codecademy, join events where people from the field present their experience and career options, join webinars introducing various code-adjacent concepts. Even get in touch with bootcamp alumni – you have common ground, and they will generally be happy to share their experience. The bootcamp can be a great experience, but it is also quite demanding and challenging – and sometimes the career path afterwards can come with a temporary adjustment downwards in salary and ‘status’ (which I think is the reason it is a difficult decision for a lot of people), so it should be something that you feel can help you grow professionally, that you relate to and you enjoy, before embarking on it.
Second, if you decide to go forward with it with a Bildungsgutschein, be well prepared for your meeting with the Arbeitsamt agent - put yourself in their shoes and give them as much information as you can, so that you let them know your upskilling is the best (and most cost-effective) opportunity for you at this time and that you understand what efforts it implies on your side during the course and after. Even write a motivation letter explaining all of this and hand it over (might also come in handy if your German is not great). Honestly, the process of preparing for this actually helps you understand if this is something you are really willing to do.
Third – and this is something I believe really helped me throughout the decision process and also in finding my current role – think about how you can leverage your already acquired work experience and knowledge. Sometimes, it may perfectly match the industry the engineering or engineering-related role is in – which was luckily my case – other times, you can ‘market’ skills you acquired in your current profession/ studies. Diversity is something really sought-after these days, as it really brings a lot of added value to any team and you can think about how your experience and knowledge add to the software development skills gained in the course.
Last but not least, don’t fear rejection, there is no tragedy in being told ‘no’ (reality is it will happen a whole lot). Make sure you try to find out why the answer was a ‘no’ – some people do take their time to offer feedback and from my experience this is an invaluable resource especially for someone switching careers. And of course, be humble and be grateful for any moment these people take out of their time to this end.
Check out what Sofia's team created during their Demo Day presentation: