Natasha’s Deferred Developer Dream
Published February 16, 2023

Natasha’s Deferred Developer Dream

”I was driving to work after a 10 year career in the prison system. I had been thinking about the unfinished business I had with my web development background and didn’t have a good answer to the question “why keep doing this?” At that moment, I decided to put my notice in. I gave myself a year. I knew I would figure it out.”

When Natasha Johnson started college in Virginia in 2006, her original major was computer science. But, her many interests led her to find it wasn’t quite the right time for it. “I did terribly and failed out. From there, I went to community college and changed my major a ton of times.” She ended up getting her Bachelor’s in psychology and working in the prison system, soon finding herself in a decade-long career and questioning whether it was time to follow her original dream. 

Restarting with a goal in mind

“I was good at my job and there were parts I liked, but I had unfinished business. I wanted to go back to finish what I started in web development.” The day she quit, she started the next phase of her career journey. This time she would be fully self-taught with resources online and the goal of landing a job where she could apply and grow her skills firsthand. Natasha gave herself a year and treated learning like a job, working 12 hours a day. She followed free online curriculums and the live and open source The Odin Project. “They don’t hold your hand. They give you projects and enough info to go get stuck and figure it out.” She learned  HTML, Javascript, and React, all the while applying and continuously trying to outdo herself, focusing on projects that would get her a job. 

Natasha didn’t want to hold her learning journey close to the chest though. She started an Instagram account turned YouTube channel and Twitter account (check out artsycoder533!) where she documented what she was learning to help other self-taught people see that it was possible and they aren’t alone. “I wanted to document my journey for myself, but I realized my videos were helping other people. A lot of people show the end product, not the reality of the process.” She didn’t see a lot of content from folks she related to when looking to increase her skillset. By sharing honestly, she hoped to encourage and inspire others to pursue becoming a developer when they may not have otherwise. 

Choosing the right company for her growth

Being self-taught made learning more challenging than formal schooling, but she had a different edge through how and why she finally became an engineer. She chose it and worked hard for it. And, almost exactly a year later, she felt ready to start the search for a company and role that fit her desires. “In the prison, you were one of thousands of employees. I wanted a smaller company. Not a startup, but somewhere in the middle. I get bored easily so I wanted to work on a lot of different things. Web development agencies felt like a good fit, but it was hard to find opportunities for junior engineers.” 

That’s when a timely Tweet led her to Township. “It was a thread about who actually hires junior engineers and Township came up.” She got on our email list, we reached out shortly thereafter, and now Natasha is nearing her first year on the team. 

One of the reasons Natasha chose Township was the transparent career framework that showed how to track growth. “You don’t see that a lot. A lot of companies want juniors as work horses, meaning they don’t have time to train. I could see the commitment to my growth and was paired with teammates depending on the project that allowed me to do and learn. The onboarding process really allowed me to feel like I was set up for success.”

A dream no longer deferred 

While her talents are boundless, Natasha has been humbled by how far she has pushed her limits in her first nine months of engineering work. When she started, she didn’t know what a junior developer actually did. “My second day was sprint planning, I had never seen a ticket. I’m glad I did that though. I was thrown in, but not to the point of not having help—I was challenged, but supported with the safeguard of a team I can trust.” Over the course of months, she’s working more and more independently and asking for less help. “Township is really good at meeting people where they currently are. They give juniors a chance to use what capabilities they have, while stair-stepping them into bigger and bigger work. Starting from the beginning gives you a deeper level of understanding.” 

Natasha has grown from taking on small tickets on smaller projects to being the primary individual contributor on one of our largest projects. Her growth continues to follow the path she’s set for herself. “Analysis paralysis traps so many of us when setting out to learn a new skill, but Natasha really excels at navigating a path forward,” Angela Sheppard, Engineering Manager shared. “It can be easy to underestimate or overestimate your own abilities when faced with a tough problem, especially as a junior engineer. Natasha walks this line well.” 

Outside of work, Natasha uses her Personal Trainer Certification to work out in her growing home gym, doing freelance work as she continues to help therapists with their websites, and recently enjoyed a reflective New Years of painting, bringing the artsy side of her “artsycoder” moniker to life. 

We all have varying backgrounds and life experiences. If we take Natasha’s attitude, we see the value of the unique parts that make up the whole on a team. “There isn’t a one size fits all answer. We all understand things in our own way. If we can get a challenge to our point of understanding, it makes it exciting to find a better way to rewrite our own solution with others.”  

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