How a former music teacher taught herself to code and landed a job at GitHub (Podcast)


This week, I got to chat with Briana Swift, who used to teach music to elementary school children. She loved teaching and loved her job, but realized it wasn’t what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. So she started looking around for what might be the next steps, and started learning about the world of tech.

After going to a number of meetups and looking around online for various free resources, she stumbled upon freeCodeCamp. Over the course of a couple years, she got her full-stack certification while sharing videos of herself learning various concepts.

When she started looking for a job, she experienced what so many new developers experience: rejection and frustration. She had to adapt, learn how to learn, and keep trying.

But one day, after attending a random meetup, someone drew her attention to a role at GitHub that seemed tailor-made for her skill set. Doubting that she’d get through the interview process, she applied anyway – and got the job. She identifies a few of the skills that helped her get the job:

“On the one hand, it was the actual skills I learned [before working at GitHub]. But on the other hand it was the mindset. Because even if I’d learned everything perfectly 2-3 years ago, it was such a different ecosystem out there now. Knowing how to search the documentation or find the answer or Google to get what you need – I don’t think that will ever go out of style.”

Three and a half years later, she’s worked her way up through a couple different roles at GitHub and couldn’t be happier with her job. She’s learned how work with a diverse and passionate team, she’s learned how to stand up for herself, and she’s come to appreciate how much soft skills matter.

“Anything that’s a technical thing can be learned. But working with a bunch of really smart, passionate people can be challenging because they’re so passionate. And I think navigating that and trying to meet people where they are while still getting the best work done that I can is something I’ll be working on for the rest of my life.”

One thing she emphasizes again and again throughout our chat was not being afraid to ask questions and have confidence in yourself:

“Ask questions even if you think it’s gonna make you look dumb. Sometimes no one else is asking because they want to look smart. But on the other hand, trust yourself – don’t let anyone convince you that you don’t know something if you’ve done your research. You can be the person who asks dumb questions and the person who’s an expert on something at the same time.”

In this episode, we discuss how she transitioned into tech, how she learned all the skills she needed to work at GitHub – and how she continues to learn, what she does to support diversity in her tech community, and how she stays fueled up and motivated day to day.

She’s gained a lot of insight on creativity, and shared her perspective on staying creative:

“Creativity is like a body of water. And if you let yourself become like a pond, where nothing’s coming in, then nothing’s gonna go out. If you want something to go out, you have to have new experiences, new things going in.”

Briana also offers advice on learning to code, asking questions, achieving balance in your life, and being a good team member, among many other things.

This interview is a 1 hour listen in your favorite podcast player app – just search for “freecodecamp” and you should find it.

If you have an Amazon Echo, you can just say “Alexa – play the freeCodeCamp podcast.”

Or you can listen to it right here in your browser.

You can connect with Briana on Twitter here.





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