For a long time, Jack Mayer wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his career. During high school and college, he worked for several breweries delivering beer, which he describes as more of a “fun gig” than a career path. After a stint in retail sales, he joined the family business as an aviation consultant, working closely with airlines and local governments to keep behind-the-scenes operations at airports running smoothly. These days, he’s found his purpose as a software engineer.
Jack achieved the rare feat of switching careers while staying at his current company. While working as a fraud analyst at Whitepages, the largest and most trusted online directory (like the Yellow Pages but in digital form), Jack convinced his company to let him train as a software engineer and transition into an engineering role. While enrolled in Springboard’s Software Engineering Career Track, he participated in a number of hackathons at Whitepages to prove his coding chops, eventually convincing his manager to let him transfer to the engineering department.
“If I didn't have such a good working relationship with my coworkers, I don't think I would have been given the opportunity,” he said. “You have to be adamant about it, be passionate, and show people that you are willing to put in the work.”
My partner and I decided we didn't like the Midwest because it was very cold and the job market was not very exciting. So we moved to Seattle, where I started working at Whitepages in fraud detection. Working for a tech company, my eyes were opened to software engineering. Learning how to build a website that millions of people use was just so fascinating to me.
I always thought software engineering was unattainable—you need a four-year degree, you need to be a nerd. I've learned that that's not true. I wanted to be able to use technology to create access to things that people take for granted. For example, an app can tell you where the cleanest water is, or the safest route to get home.
Then I learned about Springboard and realized I wanted a mentor, someone who would push me and keep me accountable. So I took the Software Engineering Career Track Prep course and I decided: this is it.
I was a few months into the Software Engineering Career Track at Springboard and I’d just done my first assessment. That’s when I realized this was something I could do. So I went to my company, Whitepages, and I said, “Hey, I would like to become a software engineer. I would love to do it with you guys.” They’d never done something like this before, but they were interested. It was really important that I kept bringing it up. I kept asking “What’s the status? What more can I do?”
I participated in a company hackathon, where I made sure to do a lot of coding. I wrote a Python web app that used Google Maps and Bootstrap. My coworkers looked at my code and were like, ‘That's really cool. How did you do that?’ That was such a good feeling. A few months later they offered me a job. It’s been difficult so far, but it's really cool to learn something new every week.
Whitepages is an online directory. For example, you can use it to look up a family member's phone number or address. We're really busy during the holidays when people are sending Christmas cards. So there's a lot of data manipulation and presentation. I'm on the platform team and we handle most of what the user sees and interacts with. Our team is small; we have 10 engineers who work on customer-facing products, so everyone is expected to be able to do a bit of everything—which is a blessing and a curse.
Some global health companies write mobile apps designed for doctors in rural areas or developing countries, which essentially replace medical equipment that you might find in a hospital. This means doctors no longer need to transport a massive ECG monitor into the field—they can just use a smartphone. It would be so cool to build that sort of thing and be able to help people without having to build a hospital.
Another thing I'm passionate about is sustainability and biodiversity. There's a search engine called Ecosia, and instead of using ad revenue for marketing, they use it to replant forests. They work with local communities around the world and essentially rebuild forests with people's internet searches. That concept of taking the skills we've learned about capitalism and the internet and using them to do good with is very clever.
At Whitepages, we do a pretty good job of making sure that we meet accessibility standards and that all types of people can use the website. I would say that accessibility in coding is very important. The majority of us who use the internet don't need the accessibility tools and we don't even know they're there most of the time.
The mentorship was the reason I chose Springboard and it definitely lived up to my expectations. Putting something concrete to a theoretical concept is super important. Let’s say I just learned about asynchronous code [a programming model that allows you to perform multiple requests simultaneously.] Then I have a discussion with my mentor where he tells me how he uses it in his work. Or understanding the concept of printing to the console [writing programs that can interact with users] and what is the difference between a user and a server—these were things the mentors were really good at explaining. Some things are hard to learn from a book or a lecture.
My mentor was very blunt about the fact that learning a new skill later in life takes a lot of dedication and it's not easy. He told me, ‘Don't let them sell you short just because you're a bootcamp grad. Make sure that this is as important to them as it is to you.’ He told me to be confident that the skills I was learning are in demand—and they definitely are. He kept reassuring me that as long as I was willing to do the work and willing to learn, people would give me a chance.
Yeah. It was really important to me to finish the course at Springboard, even if my company was ready to transition me into a new role because it's a good accomplishment.
Towards the end of the course, we had to refactor someone else's code—perhaps it wasn’t working correctly or had a bug. This happens so often at work, and having experience with this helped with my imposter syndrome. Sometimes people will add poorly written code which is prone to breaking. Reworking other people's code and seeing words or functions that I would never use was really eye-opening. There’s no one right answer. The first time you write a function, it’s not going to be good. So get used to iterating and asking for feedback. This is why mentorship is so important.
First off, to anyone who is looking to become a software engineer, I would say this: you can do it. Many of us are conditioned to believe that whatever you study in college should be what you do for the next 60 years of your life. For our generation, that's just not even possible. Things are going to change. Github has new co-pilot software that's will write all your code for you.
Springboard showed me that as long as I dedicate myself to something and get feedback and show other people what I'm doing, I can do it. You're not the first person to deal with imposter syndrome. You're going to experience it on the job, too. You just have to learn how to handle it and if you do, the sky's the limit.