Computer Science Wasn't My Jam
Author: Adrianna Chang
The world of software development was entirely unknown to me when I entered high school. I had big plans to pursue film production post-graduation and had already picked out the university I wanted to attend. At the end of grade 10, my parents encouraged me to sign up for an introductory Computer Science (CS) course for the following year. Both of them are in tech, and they believed that I might enjoy it as well. However, I was resistant to give it a try. I thought that programming sounded a bit dull and none of my friends were taking it. Besides – I already knew what I wanted to do after high school, right?
After some persuasion, I registered in a grade 11 CS course. The first few weeks were difficult. I struggled to keep up with my peers, who had seemingly been coding for years. To make matters worse, I was the only girl in the class. However, as the weeks went by, I found that I was actually starting to enjoy the classes. The concepts were beginning to click in my brain, and the problem-solving element of programming was a fun challenge. That being said, I still didn’t see CS as something I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.
My viewpoint changed towards the end of grade 11. I found out through a teacher about a new program launching in Ottawa: Technovation. Technovation challenges girls to develop a mobile app and a business plan in order to address a community issue. Since 2009, over 15,000 girls have participated in the program from over 100 countries (https://technovationchallenge.org/). 2015 was the year Technovation came to Ottawa, and it was perfectly timed with my entry into the world of CS. I was excited to be able to put my newfound programming skills to use within the context of app development, and I saw the program as an opportunity to meet some other girls interested in coding.
Working together with a couple of girls from my school, I built an app to help connect high school students with local volunteer opportunities in their areas. For 12 weeks, our team brainstormed and crafted and revised. At the end of the program, we pitched our business plan to a couple hundred people and ended up taking home the regional prize! My involvement in the program helped me see that software engineering could build something so much larger than myself. The opportunity to build impactful software excited me. I was inspired by the women I observed during Technovation, and at the end of it I was certain that I wanted to pursue computer science after high school.
Midway through grade 12, university application season was upon me. I decided to apply to Carleton University, a local school I was pretty familiar with, though there were numerous options I was considering. A couple weeks after applying to Carleton and being accepted, I received an email from Doug Howe, the director of Carleton’s School of Computer Science, about a partnership being started between Carleton and Shopify. This new program offered applicants the ability to earn a CS degree at Carleton while also working as a developer at Shopify and gaining critical industry skills. Shopify was already on my radar at this point; they had been one of the sponsors of the Technovation program, and I had my sights set on trying to get a job there in the future. This opportunity could not have been timed more perfectly, and so naturally I jumped at the chance to apply.
The interview process was intimidating to me at first, but everyone I interacted with was very friendly. The Life Story interview was the first step, and it involved me chatting with a woman from the Shopify Talent Acquisition team about my interests and life experiences. The interview was held on Skype in the middle of my school day, so my only option was to camp out in the closet of my school’s library to do it! It was an unusual setting in which to do a job interview, among piles of books and dusty filing cabinets, but it ended up going well. The second step consisted of me talking to members of the Computing Education team at Shopify, which is the team that runs the Dev Degree program. The final step was an informal technical interview during which I discussed some of the prior projects I had worked on. The experience was quite positive, and a little while later I received an offer to join the first cohort of Dev Degree, a program that would change the education game entirely.
The first year of the program was challenging, but I learned more in that single year than I would’ve ever thought possible. We were able to participate in two introductory CS courses at Shopify that had been tailored specifically for the program and helped us ramp up quickly. Of course, things weren’t perfect. Being a member of the inaugural cohort meant that we were guinea pigs for certain aspects of the program. That being said, it was incredibly exciting to see the program shift and evolve as we provided feedback, and the ups and downs of the program’s first year brought our group of students closer together. Today, I see them all as a family.
We began working on teams the winter of our first year. I joined one other Dev Degree student on a team that builds some of the internal tools we use at Shopify to help employees work more effectively. I was a little disheartened initially, as I knew that I wouldn’t be contributing to the Shopify platform and building features for merchants. However, I soon realized that every person on every team here at Shopify drives forward our mission to “Make commerce better for everyone.” Developing tools to help my fellow Shopifolk work better was something to be proud of. It was beyond exciting to be able to start writing code, no matter how small an impact my first few lines had.
Today, I am nearing the two-year mark in the Dev Degree program. I have had the pleasure of working with numerous talented, ambitious Shopifolk and have been able to soak up their wisdom and advice. I have had mentors who have helped me grow technically and mentors who have given me guidance on how to navigate the first few steps of my career path. I have just joined my third team, and am digging into big data after completing placements on full-stack Rails teams. The possibilities here are endless. You constantly have opportunities to try new things. Working on different teams helps you obtain a well-rounded view of how Shopify works and allows you to discover which areas excite and inspire you.
My journey up until this point has been bumpy at times, but I have no regrets. Shopify gives you the chance to have an impact on hundreds of thousands of merchants all across the globe. It allows you to learn from some of the most brilliant developers in the industry and offers a supportive, exciting environment for you to grow in. It provides you with an unmatched set of tools to help you succeed and ramp up as fast as possible. Most importantly, Shopify stresses the importance of balance and self-care, which can be difficult to emphasize in a company as fast-paced as this one.
I have grown in ways I never would’ve imagined over the past two years in the program. I have pushed the limits of what I thought I was capable of and have knocked down barriers that have gotten in my way. Every day, the belief that this is exactly where I’m meant to be grows a bit stronger. If I can do it, so can you.