How I got here: Ruth Clare, software engineer

My route into becoming a software engineer wasn’t something you could have predicted 5 years ago by looking at my CV.

A textiles specialist with an interest in innovation

I’d worked for Footasylum for around 2 years as an assistant garment technologist before I joined Footasylum Tech. I was based in our head office in Rochdale and my job was to assess the quality and design of samples that were sent to us from our factories in Turkey and China. I’d look at samples and recommend changes on things like fit, colour and style features.

I have a degree in Textile design for Fashion and Interiors and an MA in Textiles for Fashion so on paper, this was exactly the kind of role I was destined to be doing. However, the modules I chose throughout both degrees leaned heavily towards stuff like tech-forward and responsive fabrics, laser cutting and 3D printing. These topics aren’t traditional textile design – they’re innovative, experimental and progressive much like the technology industry, so perhaps my switch from textiles to coding isn’t actually such a leap.

Time to go

Various things had been making me feel anxious at work which made it difficult for me to enjoy and take pride in it. I knew I didn’t want to feel this way about my worklife. My dissatisfaction had been building for a while but it came to a head in September 2019 prompting me to do what I’d been thinking of doing for a while: I handed my notice in.

Self-motivation, determination and a slice of luck

At this point I’d been studying Code Academy courses and YouTube tutorials about HTML, CSS and Javascript programming languages in the evenings. I’d been doing this for a few months because my friend – who was originally a fashion merchandiser – was learning to code and said I should consider going into coding as a future career option.

When I handed my notice in, I was part way through applying to a full-time coding course. It was a bit of a risk because at that point I hadn’t been offered a place anywhere. But my god I was determined that I would be! And I was.

A week before the date I was due to leave Footasylum, Sarah, a colleague in HR (who has since got into coding), heard that I was leaving to do a coding course. She told me that Footasylum Tech would sponsor me through a 3-month course at Code Nation. I jumped at the chance – I’d have a job with mentors and a supportive team waiting for me once I’d completed it.

There were 6 weeks before the course started so I spent them with our IT retail support team. I began to learn about systems and I rang up stores each week to seek out problems instead of waiting to be told about them. Store colleagues felt they were being heard which was great for our relationship.

Starting a new career remotely

I joined Footasylum as an apprentice software engineer at the end of March 2020. Lockdown was in full swing. It’s not the ideal way to start an entirely new career but we adapted in-person introductions to remote ones, and so far we’ve been able to work around major obstacles.

screen grab of ruth on a video call with 2 colleagues.

I’m one of 4 people within the core Product Information Management (PIM) team. We’re creating a centralised management system – one source of truth – that contains consistent, enriched product information to support different areas within the business, such as eCommerce and Marketplace. It’s a classic ‘digital transformation’ project where we’re aiming to bring together all sorts of information from various systems that don’t tend to speak to each other so it’s getting information is simpler and there’s less chance of error for our internal users.

The course is over, the learning isn’t

Every Thursday, me and Sarah Weeks (another apprentice developer) spend all day being mentored by senior developer, Ian Wells. We follow a loose sort of syllabus – subjects like TDD (Test Driven Development), SOLID principles, and OOP (Object Oriented Programming), but if something comes up in our teams during the rest of the week, we can talk through it. We’re also big fans of the online kata coding challenges at Code Wars.

The PIM team’s Principal software engineer, Chris Wilson, made me his understudy so although the project only involves a limited amount of coding, Chris involves me in everything to do with the code base or technical aspects. Currently we are focusing on setting up and testing code, that will integrate product information coming from one system into the PIM. This has really helped me to sharpen my skills within javascript and improved my confidence using unit tests within code.

The relationship between work culture and personal confidence

I’m relatively new to tech but I’m not new to the world of work. I would love to see all workplaces adopt the ‘prime directive’ – the idea that a team:

“truly believes that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

From what I’ve seen, cultures where trust (rather than blame) is the default, help individuals grow and workplaces get the most out of their colleagues. The fear of being blamed cripples productivity and progress for the workplace but I’ve also seen it crush individuals’ confidence.

In my new team, I feel safe to ask questions. I don’t fear looking ‘silly’. Tech and design people love solving a good old complex problem so if something goes wrong, their mentality is to ask how we're going to fix it. It’s never to ask whose fault it is. I put this down to a flatter team structure where there’s no jostling for stardom – everyone’s expertise are integral to team success.

I’m happy to say that my confidence is on the up, I’m looking forward to completing the apprenticeship, maintaining a healthy work life balance and helping to solve some big problems. Bring it on.

Ruth Clare Software engineer