Student Spotlight:
Lizzie Mawer

My first experience with programming was in a technology lesson at school.

Having already created an electrical circuit with a light, our next exercise was to write a program in binary that would enable the light to be turned on and off. Usually, I found technology lessons difficult and needed help but, on this occasion, I was able to complete the task after a few attempts.

a gif illustrating an electrical circuit linking a battery and lightbulb

However, this was the late 1990’s and programming wasn’t on the curriculum. Back then, the focus was on getting pupils to know how to use a computer not how to program one; it would be nearly twenty years before I would write another program!

Fast forward to 2011

You will find me on the other side of the world in Sydney, Australia. The global financial crisis had hit the UK and I decided that not having a job meant I was free to travel! Having already spent one year in Melbourne previously, I returned to Aus for the outdoor lifestyle and friendly people. I was working as an Assistant Buyer in a department store, and was living in a backpacker’s hostel at the other end of town.

Birds eye view of the world famous Sydney opera house

I made a group of friends in the hostel who were working and travelling like me. Their professions differed widely- from doctors and radiographers, to nannies, architects and programmers.I was enjoying Aus so much and didn’t want to return to the UK, so I started looking at options for more permanent visas. The skilled visa provided a list of professions that were in demand; doctors and radiographers, nannies, architects and programmers! All the skills my friends had but nothing suitable for me. If I wanted the skilled visa, I was going to have to re-train.

I remembered that lesson at school and asked my programmer friend, Jo, to tell me more about her work; the more she talked, the more interested I became. But time was running out to research courses, expenses for a course were worrying, my visa was expiring, and, eventually, the dreaded day came and I, reluctantly, boarded the plane, bound for Heathrow.

A gif of a British Airways plane taking off from a runway

London Life

My friends at home were married and settled, so I decided that rather than studying, I needed to get a job and buy a flat.

A week after arriving back, I found myself standing on a freezing cold station platform, awaiting a train to take me to London. It was February and about two degrees- a far cry from the thirty-two degrees it had been only a week before! The job, by the way, was nothing to do with programming. I was working for a really interesting media company, that arranged the delivery of television and film content for airlines.

Unfortunately, I was made redundant after a year.

In the redundancy meetings my manager and I discussed alternative job opportunities, and we concluded that I would benefit from taking on a more technical role.

Unbelievably, I still didn’t take the plunge and start programming!

Over the Christmas holidays one year, I borrowed a programming book from my father — he had taken an Open University course in digital technology which included a section on programming — and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges. I had a full-time job so I programmed at weekends, following an online course.

At the end of my contract, I visited North America with friends from Aus. We travelled along the North East coast; starting in New York, and finishing in a beautiful national park. We were out walking one day when Lyndsay asked me about my work. We got talking about programming and I explained that I thought I was too old to be a student again — by now I was in my early thirties. She said she knew several people who had made career changes and re-trained later in life, that my age definitely shouldn’t matter. Maybe she had a point? Especially if it would make long-term improvements to my life- right? This was the epiphany moment. I concluded that as the government had introduced programming onto the national curriculum, there was clearly a demand for developers well into the future, and now the time had come to make the step.

I finally made the decision to re-train!

Programming for me is the opportunity to be creative. I’m not good at drawing with my hands but I admire those who can. Writing code enables me to take advantage of technology, to transfer my thoughts and ideas onto the page. Producing a beautiful website is my version of an artist’s painting. It is also something that focuses and challenges my mind. If there is one thing I have learned from coding, it’s that you never stop learning! Technology is developing at such a phenomenal rate that it is impossible to know everything. Even those who teach are learning new things.

After spending about a year and a half self teaching, I decided to see if I was good enough for a junior role by putting in some applications. I received a few telephone interviews, during which it became apparent that my JavaScript needed improvement. I was pleasantly surprised by the attitude of the interviewers; instead of simply telling me I was not what they wanted, they recommended tutorials to help me improve.

It was time for me to sign up for a coding class

 I wanted to be in a classroom environment and have access to a teacher, who could comment on my work and give me direction. I had attended some tech talk evenings hosted by Women Hack for Non-Profits, and decided to ask the girls for suggestions. One of the courses mentioned was 23 Code Street.

Several things jumped out at me about the course. Firstly, all the benefits to myself:

  • it was not expensive, I could afford the £1,500 cost;
  • it was two evenings a week so we would cover more content and have more time with the teacher;
  • it was aimed at women, so I wouldn’t be outnumbered;
  • it was for people who had never coded before, the course started at the beginning, which meant any concepts missing from my self teaching would be covered;
  • and there is a two week work placement at the end of the course, giving me exposure to the industry, which is very valuable.

If that wasn’t enough, the course also gives back to the community by teaching digital skills to a disadvantaged woman in India. Added to which, there are opportunities to train as a teacher and volunteer in India!

I am now almost three months into the course.

We have covered HTML5, CSS3, jQuery and JavaScript and I’m loving the challenges! I’m using the projects we complete, along with my personal pieces to build up my portfolio. We have a professional designer coming along, to give us advice on the layout and presentation of our websites and I’m planning on showing them my portfolio site. There are jobs on the horizon and I want my work to look it’s best!

The future’s bright!!

four students and 23 Code Street web development teacher with Easter eggs and laptops at a desk in a classroom