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A Personal Journey to Software Engineering

Kristen Fyffe | Associate Software Engineer in Austin

Have you heard the phrase, “living for the weekend”? If you have used it to describe your life, it could be an indication that there is a problem in what you are doing Monday through Friday. Our jobs consume a big chunk of our lives and if you no longer feel reward or excitement in your role, it may be time for a change.

Realizing the need for change

I let my thoughts and reasoning hold me back from pursuing a fulfilling career. My brain was determined to make my current situation work, trying to convince myself that I was in the right field, but my heart wasn’t fully committed. I was in project management where I had a great boss and coworkers, but there were other aspects that I couldn’t ignore. I was dreading most external meetings and I didn’t feel much satisfaction from completing projects, but rather, relief. Then, the cycle started all over again, feeling like an endless loop.

I had difficulty setting professional goals; my motivation came from naturally being a hard worker, but I couldn’t get past that I wasn’t fully satisfied and deep down I wanted something different. Instead of setting goals, I was dreaming of a position where I could solve problems, continuously learn, and be in an environment of endless possibilities.

“The essence of life is finding something you really love and then making the daily experience worthwhile.” -Denis Waitley

Finding a new path and passion

I learned that the best way to figure out your next step is exposing yourself to alternate options to see what piques your interest. Fortunately, I’ve had opportunities to work with product and development teams in my previous roles. With every interaction, the gears began to grind, and I found that I was passionate about the decisions that were made at the foundation level. However, by the time I was made aware, it was past the window to contribute. I began to wonder how I could become more involved.

That curiosity led to exploring software engineering. I rediscovered happiness in the joy I get from not only solving problems but the process as a whole. I love puzzles; everything from logic to jigsaw and completing them is so satisfying. It wasn’t long until I realized that engineering was my niche and many of the additional skills I have learned thus far in my career and education would only make me a more dynamic engineer.

Preparing for change

So where do you start? I began with online course offerings; there are a lot out there! I chose a front-end developer course; however, it didn’t push me past HTML and CSS. Many people have found success through teaching themselves online, but I didn’t feel connected to the instructors or classmates and knew a strictly-online plan would not be sufficient for me to make my transition.

Bootcamps are great at immersion and can spur the process, so I began researching this option. Some people I knew were doing a bootcamp at a local university and that seemed like a good avenue, but it was expensive and definitely not in my budget. I was already up to my ears in student loan debt from getting my master’s degree and just couldn’t fathom tacking on more. Not to mention, being able to balance a bootcamp with a full-time work commitment is daunting. I started to feel stuck; not really sure how to make my dream happen. I envied others that had the resources to quit their job and go all in.

What happened next was almost divine intervention. Vrbo offered me an opportunity to participate in a new program called the Career Exploration Program (CEP).   The program offers current employees from other departments, who may not have a computer science background, to explore a career in software engineering! Thank you Vrbo!  The CEP was the answer to accomplishing my goal. In the least, it would help solidify my decision through more exposure to the role. This opportunity was a win-win that I could not pass up.

There’s nothing more empowering than the strength to lift yourself up!

The program experience

The initial qualification for the CEP was to build a simple web application about ourselves that utilized HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. One of the requirements was creating functional buttons in our application. I scoured the web for how to set up a basic JavaScript button and after a bit of time, trial and error, that button worked! This project was the first taste of success and wow was it addicting.

JavaScript remained the focus in the next qualification as we began code exercises and diving into tutorials. At this time, I was still working 40+ hours as a project manager and finding the balance was challenging. My patience and resiliency were absolutely tested, but I made it a point to celebrate the milestones, no matter how small. 

Once we had proven our commitment by learning the basics and putting in the time, the CEP included a bootcamp right here in one of our Austin offices! One of the biggest benefits is that we were relieved from our daily work commitments with no financial repercussions, so we could truly focus 100% of our waking hours on learning.

During bootcamp, one of Vrbo’s culture principles really shone through in One Team, Group First where collaboration is celebrated over individual success. We had daily mentorship from existing software engineers that took time from their own responsibilities to assist. At first, I was extremely intimidated even trying to formulate my question about a coding problem in a conversation with an existing developer. Imposter syndrome is real! Many times I felt out of my realm, but they crushed the intimidation factor by sharing their own experiences of learning to code. Do yourself a favor and get a mentor in helping you through your journey; this was very valuable!

To wrap up bootcamp, we had interviews and presented our final projects in front of developers and colleagues. My nerves were skyrocketing as the stakes were high; do well and get to move on to learning under a Vrbo engineering team or go back to my existing role. I admired and respected my manager and team; they supported me in this journey and I knew my path was forward.

Shortly after, I received the news I was getting to move on. I discovered that one of the developers that had mentored me during bootcamp had fought for me to join his team for the final phase and I am so happy he did. For six months I worked on the shopping web team that helps maintain several codebases. I had no previous exposure to applications that compile Vrbo; I was shocked at the size and complexity. Orienting my way around the files and structure took time, but with the help from each of my new coworkers, I continued to learn and stretch my brain to the max. It paid off; as time went on, I was able to increase my participation in code and in conversations with my team.

“Sometimes, growth isn’t always equal to success. You may fall forward and continue to make some mistakes, but it’s all about growth and really finding the lessons that needs to be learned in order to get to the next level.”  -Aja Brown

Getting my first diploma; the first of many achievements.

The outcome

After a lot of hard work and perseverance, I am now a Software Engineer at Vrbo! Let me tell you, perspective is everything. Last summer, my coding scope was limited to HTML and CSS; I went from Implementation Project Manager to Software Engineer in just under a year! I am on a great team and looking forward to what is ahead. I am grateful that I was able to accomplish my goal without experiencing many of the potential hardships had I traversed this path alone. Many thanks to Vrbo and the Learning & Development team for creating the Career Exploration Program and the many developers that have guided and continue to mentor me in this new journey!

Learning the ropes in a QA testing session with the team. Pictured left to right: Bongo Russom, Kristen Fyffe, Levi Sitters, Tim Dietrich.

Don’t let yourself be stagnant in your career and become miserable in your work week. When you discover how you can enrich your life and do something that makes you happy, make a change! Explore all of your options as there may be amazing resources at your fingertips.

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