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Balancing Parenthood and Software Engineering: Codesmith Alumni Q&A with Software Engineer Irine Kang

We chatted with Codesmith alum Irine about her experience attending the full-time, remote Software Engineering Immersive as a single mother to a 7-month-old. 

Irine discusses why she made the transition from a pre-veterinary path to software engineering, balancing the demands of the Immersive with family responsibilities, and how her current role offers much needed flexibility as a single parent.

What were you doing prior to Codesmith?

Prior to Codesmith, I was in college in a pharmacy program. But, I was trying to change career paths to pre-vet by taking a biology major path. Then COVID happened and I had to take a gap year, and I also ended up finding out I was pregnant. So, with all of that, it was difficult for me to continue school. 

I had to go through my pregnancy during COVID. That's when I realized that I didn’t have enough time to go through 8+ years of schooling, and I started looking into coding bootcamps and trying to find my way in the software engineering field.

Why did you pursue software engineering?

I was exposed to the industry because my brother-in-law is a DevOps Engineer. He's always talked to me about engineering and software, and I always thought it was pretty interesting. I really love solving problems as well, and think it’s really fun playing with logic. Given the situation I was in, a job where I could work remotely in the case that I needed to stay back home for my kid or any type of family emergency – that flexibility was really appealing to me. 

Software engineering comes with a whole bunch of things that I like doing – solving problems and making logical decisions, but with the flexibility of working from home. And, being able to ramp up something within a shorter period of time, compared to 8+ years of schooling, was super important for me at the time given my circumstances.

Why did you choose to attend the Codesmith Software Engineering Immersive program?

I connected with a few people on LinkedIn who went to various bootcamps. I talked to some grads from General Assembly, Fullstack Academy, Flatiron, and Codesmith. When Codesmith alums shared their experience, it was a little scary and daunting to hear that Codesmith throws you out there to figure things out with your teammates – like figuring out a project or a unit together. But, harder challenges allow you to learn and grow faster, rather than the answers being given to you so that you aren’t able to fully understand or you don’t take the time to look into it yourself. 

I loved that Codesmith threw you in because I do that every day at work – I have to look things up myself and I don't have an instructor to give me the answers all the time. So, hearing that experience from alums and reflecting on how this was going to be applicable to my actual software engineering job – that was the biggest appeal of Codesmith.

You attended Codesmith as a parent. How did you balance the demands of the Immersive with your other responsibilities?

I feel like my experience might be very different from other parents because I am a single mother. That didn’t come with the flexibility of having a partner to support me in this huge change. What made me push myself to do it at the time was really my son. My son was 7 months old when I first started the Immersive. So, I thought that he was still young enough, where I knew there were times where I couldn’t spend a lot of time with him during the 3 months of the Immersive, but it was a decision that was best for us. 

I did have to hire some help – having a babysitter come in every day in the evenings to help me out with putting him to bed because our classes would end around 8 or 9 o'clock. I also needed to have the babysitter come on Saturdays as well. I really dedicated Sundays to spending time with my son to make up the time I didn't have with him throughout the week. For me, my son was my biggest motivation. Not in the sense where I just needed to get through it, but it helped make things a little bit more delightful. I wasn’t going to do the Immersive with a bad mindset. I viewed it as a good challenge and something that was going to be helpful for me and my son.

What advice do you have for parents considering the Immersive and a career in software engineering?

If I did have a partner, I think it would be important to communicate the goals for the family, and communicate and be open about the schedule and how long of a time commitment Codesmith is going to be. I think it's important, depending on the child's age, to explain to them why you are doing this and why this is important to the family as well.

You can't have any regrets. Just really enjoy the Sundays and Saturday afternoons that you have off because that is really the time you get to spend with your family. In the end, it’s just 3 months compared to many years of schooling.

What stands out to you about your time at Codesmith?

One of the best parts was my fellows and my cohort mates. We had less of a classroom environment, and more of a teamwork environment. It was more like, ‘let’s figure this out together,’ instead of, ‘you did this wrong, do it again.’ There was never any discouragement from my cohort mates either. It was more like, ‘Hey, I think I understand this a little more, let me help you,’ and vice versa. It was a give and take. 

Having that kind of environment to learn something completely new was really important and valuable to me at Codesmith. I think that's why attending a bootcamp is important, rather than being self-taught, because you have a community to talk with and to help you through. And it also gives you structure.

Tell me about the job search post-Codesmith?

I actually did not apply to many companies. I only applied to, at max, 15 companies at the time. During my fellowship, I was taking it easy and just applying here and there and responding to recruiters. 

In one of the workshops we did during the Immersive towards the end, we had to put in our first job application and write up our first cover letter and personalized message. I actually did it for my current company, Cerebral. I did double down and reach out to one of the senior engineering managers there on LinkedIn. I got a response back, and he connected me with the recruiters there.

Tell me about your role at Cerebral – are you working on any interesting projects at the moment?

Cerebral is an online mental health platform that offers therapy sessions and visits with prescribers, doctors, therapists, counselors, all of that.

I started off as a full-stack engineer. But, right now, I'm primarily focused on front-end, and I’m doing a little bit of mobile app development as well for both iOS and Android.  

Have you found that your software engineering career offers a flexible work-life balance, especially as a parent?

Not having to commute saves me at least an hour or two a day. So, that offers me some time to catch up on house chores before I pick up my son from daycare. Also, being able to really make my work hours my work hours, and not letting my work affect my time with my son towards the evening. I usually just turn off my computer and my notifications, and that's kind of the end of it for me. 

I think that's really important because, in the end, as much as my career and personal development is very important to me, my son is my family and he comes first. The time I spend with him is definitely more important. It's really nice because when he does get sick or the weather's really bad and he can't go to daycare, I'm able to stay home with him. But, I'm also able to work as well. I can't imagine if I had to call off work every single month if I was in office or working in another field, especially since he gets sick so often from daycare. My manager and my team are also very helpful and understanding if my son is sick and I can't get to things right away. It's been a huge plus and I love the flexibility that I have here.

What advice do you have for aspiring software engineers who are trying to break into the field?

I think the most important thing is to have fun. There's a lot of information, whether it's learning about the core fundamentals of computer science to learning different technologies, different frameworks, different libraries. Instead of trying to master every single thing, because that's almost impossible, really just have fun with it. You might feel stupid, but you just have to get your brain and hands used to coding. I think having fun and staying curious about things is the most important part. If you're not staying curious, and you're just stuck on one technology, it's not going to be fun.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

In the beginning, I had a huge fear of having the stigma of being a bootcamp grad, and not being able to perform or being looked down on by other teammates. But, none of my teammates view me as just a bootcamp grad. Codesmith prepared me to actually perform on the job without differentiating me as something lower than them. I think that's one of the things I’m proudest of, especially as a bootcamp grad – I was really prepared for this. And, you know, there are times where you struggle, and I think that's okay. That happens to any engineer – could be a computer science degree grad or someone with a lot of experience. There's always going to be questions and problems that arise, but you just take it as a learning opportunity and grow from it.

What are your favorite resources to stay up to date on software engineering best practices and the industry?

I subscribe to an email newsletter called TLDR. They give you small snippets of different headlines related to tech. I actually saw one of Codesmith’s Open Source Product projects – ReacType – being talked about there, too.