From Illustrator to Engineer — What I’ve learnt from my first tech job: Month 1

Less than one year ago, I was working for myself as a freelance illustrator. Fast forward to today, I’ve had a complete career change, traded the paintbrush for a keyboard, and started working as a Junior Software Engineer for Click Travel. It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride to get to where I am today, and it’s now been one month in my new career. So how am I finding it?

Weirdly, illustration is fairly similar to programming in more ways than one. Programming is a career many people don’t think of as creative(although I’ve always disagreed with that concept) but even the people who didn’t think that way would probably be surprised at the amount of transferrable skills there are. Some of the crossovers are directly from freelancing itself, good communication skills are important, and while ‘Agile methodologies’ is a very tech-centred term, when I learnt about Agile on my bootcamp I realised I’d been naturally gravitating towards that mindset as a freelancer already. But what about the other similarities?

I’ve traded one canvas for another

I’ve started to realise that I look at a coding problem the same way to how I would approach a sketch. When painting, the worst thing you can do is to not do anything, sit there looking at the canvas, stuck for ideas — same with code, you’re never gonna solve a problem if you don’t start writing something. As soon as you put brush to paper, or start writing, ideas start to flow, and your brain starts to kick into gear. The first bit of code I write for a problem will never be the final draft. If, by the end of the problem, I’ve not deleted the code entirely, I’ll have rewritten it. This is exactly the same as how I would approach a drawing — constantly erasing and redrawing something until it has the intended effect.

Coding is problem solving. So is a blank canvas.

I’ve long argued that creativity is just problem solving in different mediums. Creativity forces our brain to think about new ideas and new things, which helps us approach a difficult subject differently than you may have approached it before. Perhaps there’s a life hack for any programmers reading this — if you’re stuck on some code: doodle! Get your creative juices flowing and maybe you’ll be able to solve the problem.

The best ideas come in the shower

I always have my best ideas for illustrations while I’m in the shower, or doing some other mindless activity where I can just zone out. If I ever start feeling overwhelmed or confused or stressed about the problems I’m facing in programming, showers help my brain process the information and suddenly I’m able to understand things much better.

You can’t force inspiration, but you can learn how to maintain it. If I’m giving my brain a lot of rest, a lot of time to relax, and not worry about producing something groundbreaking or impressing anyone, it’s be a lot easier to think of new ideas or process new information.

Feedback is your Friend

In illustration, there’s nothing more intimidating or nervewracking than waiting for feedback from your client. It’s the same with code reviews! Getting your work reviewed means you can improve and grow, but it sure is scary when you’re getting your first reviews back. I thankfully get reviews on all my code at work and it’s helping me become a lot more confident as a programmer. I think my time getting brutally honest feedback from clients and customers has been great education for me here because I can take the reviews for what they are: A learning opportunity, instead of something my brain can use as insecurity fuel.

There have been more lessons I’m sure, but these are the ones that stand out the most. It’s been a fantastic journey so far, and I’m excited about the new things I’ll be learning about in the future.

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Piper Bates

Piper Bates

Introverted nerdy weirdo. Junior Software Engineer at Bamboo Auctions. I’m pushing for diversity and accessibility in tech. They / Them pronouns.