If you’re willing to build up your skills, anything is possible

Willow Solem is one of the engineers here at MuleSoft, but she took an unconventional path to her current career. Here’s her story:

I’ve been coding full-time for about three years. Before I started working as a , I lived a completely different life, doing jobs just to pay the bills. Before I got my first coding gig, I was applying to be a barista. Changing careers isn’t always easy, but there are a few things I’ve learned that made it more doable.

I’m an associate software on the core services team at MuleSoft, and I’ve been doing that for about three months. I find the work interesting and I’m learning a lot. The particular project I work on gives me the ability to work with a variety of code from lots of different places and, since I’m working on it on my own, I can take ownership of it right away. But I also work with a great team who are helpful and nice, which is awesome.

Before I started coding, I was an administrative assistant. It was awful. I worked in an firm, yet my job was little more than filing papers. It paid terribly, the hours were not great, and I basically felt that my position was interchangeable.

That was the last straw for me. I decided to go back to school in 2010 for computer science. I’d had a series of jobs to pay the bills, but I’d always had friends with more interesting careers than me–friends who were in academia and sciences. At the time, I had a roommate and boyfriend who were getting degrees in electrical engineering, and they were building an app. I knew I was as intelligent as they were, and if they could do it, I could. I’d seen their code, I’d done web design with them, I could write a little bit of HTML. So I took an entry level programming class, a summer class, I would go on my lunch break at work, and I got an A-.

Around the same time my best friend moved to Berkeley, I came and visited her, and fell in love with the area. I applied to grad school, moved down here, went back to school and started working, and got a job before I finished. Every other person who was in my year who started with me and should have ended with me, none of them finished – they all got jobs.

The secret to getting a job – in programming or any field- is learning how to play the game. Learning how to network is interesting too. It’s not always easy to change careers, but if you’re willing to build up your skills and play the game, it’s completely possible.

Here are my top 4 tips for career changers:

  1. Take advantage of whatever resources you have open to you, and the most valuable are the contacts you happen to have. I used a recruiter to get my first job. I applied online and got a position as an intern, and then I found out you don’t get a job by applying online. Most people I went to school with are working at Splunk, because one did and then they worked their contacts. If you know someone in the company, then they can pass on their resume. That’s how I got to MuleSoft. You don’t necessarily have to schmooze, just pass on your resume.
  2. Have someone you know and trust look at your resume and make sure that it has no typos, is well written, and gives an impression of who you are. A grammatically correct and typo-free resume is so important, and so easily over-looked.
  3. Sometimes you straight up have to go back to school. It’s not necessary all the time, but for me it was. There was a lot I didn’t know. What school was mostly useful was for contacts. It’s for meeting people.
  4. Make sure you’re changing careers for the right reasons. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make more money, but I also really, really liked what I was changing my career to. The point is to do what you can do all day and earn money from it.

The only person who can change your life is you. If you’re in a situation you don’t like, you need to be the person to take action to change that. I get frustrated when people look at a particular field and say “I can’t do that.” Anything you work at you can become decent at if you want to.


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