Reflections from an Untraditional Path and Breaking Down Stereotypes

By Brittany Danishevsky

I’m Brittany. I graduated with a BSc in Psychology and Neuroscience, became a VFC Fellow in 2017, and worked a sales job for two years. I am now a software engineer working at a financial technology company in Toronto.

These are my four reflections from my journey into the dev world thus far.

How you get your ‘devs’ educated shouldn’t matter:

There are so many options today from self-taught coding to degrees in software engineering. I chose a more traditional route for getting my education in computer science. I had heard whisperings in the community about a degree garnering more respect and opportunity in the field. As a woman, I wanted to make sure my qualifications were iron-clad. Yet here I am, two courses short of the degree, but successfully employed as a software engineer for nearly a year. 

As much as my pride yearns for that piece of paper, my potential learnings from those two remaining courses are greatly outweighed by my continued learning on the job. All this to say, there are many ways to become a successful software engineer. Every day I work with engineers from all sorts of educational backgrounds, from self-taught, to post-secondary, and boot camps. If a company is making it a requirement to have a CS degree, I can confidently say, they are missing out.

Traditional higher-education is outdated and exclusionary:

When I took my first CS course during my first undergrad, I had an incredible professor. What was supposed to be just a skill added to my resume, became an interest of mine. That is until I enrolled in the second year CS course where the professor made it clear that you could not succeed if you weren’t coding upwards of 40 hours a week. This terrified me and I ended up dropping the course, not touching CS again for nearly 5 years

To my surprise,  I don’t believe this attitude has really changed. My education was riddled with sexist microaggressions, unrealistic expectations, and exclusive use of male pronouns. This time around, I had skills and support systems in place to limit the discouragement I felt. But young marginalized folks interested in computer science should not have to bear the burden of an archaic educational system, that makes them feel like they don’t belong. In my opinion, post-secondary education can’t be the gold standard if we are not working to make it effective and inclusive for all.

Wanting something enough doesn’t prevent failure:

In tech, we are inundated with messaging that claims if you want it enough, you’ll make it happen, no matter the cost. There are so many caveats missing in this messaging. I wanted this career switch, I wanted to gain technical skills, I wanted to succeed — but I was in over my head. Along with a full course load, I was working multiple part-time jobs, and really struggling with my mental health. I failed in ways that I’ve never failed before. 

School has always come easy to me, and it was hard to admit that this time around, it wasn’t easy at all. I beat myself up for resting instead of studying in my free time, and misread my exhaustion for a lack of motivation and grit. After many attempts, reducing my course load, getting some financial assistance, and working through my mental health with professionals, I was able to succeed in this career path. So yes, eventually I did make it happen, but not without rest, iteration, and failures along the way.

It takes a village:

In the past, when it came to my goals and career path, I always saw myself as a lone wolf. This career switch made me realize how important it is to have your village, for the smallest or biggest of goals. I would not have been able to succeed without my people. The people who hired me with flexible work hours, the people who worked beside me while I studied, the people who calmed me down when I thought it wasn’t going to work out, and reminded me how hard I’ve worked when it did. The people who took chances on me, the people who connected me to job opportunities, even the people who let me complain to them without judgment. 

When I failed my calculus course in my first semester back at school, I was convinced that this meant my lack of mathematical prowess destined me to fail in this career. My roommate lifted my spirits by saying, “if you never fail, it would make for a pretty boring keynote.” This sentiment has stuck with me throughout my studies and will stick with me long into my career.

I’ve had a pretty untraditional path into software, and so, my goal is to make the software a more inclusive career path for all. If you’re reading this and are thinking about making a career change I hope these reflections inspire you and support your aspirations.

Follow Britany on TikTok account (@brittperlin) to check out her tips on becoming a successful software engineer, how to manage your mental health, and building and including a dev workforce. Are you an entrepreneurial changemaker interested in a career of impact and innovation? Fellowship applications close February 28th, apply here.