The Road to an Engineering Career: Learning to Code at 27
Chris Castle is an Associate Full Stack Engineer on GetYourGuide’s Customer Engagement team. He discusses what it's like to make the move into engineering from a non-traditional background and the support he received along the way.
I didn’t write a single line of code before the age of 27.
I’d always been interested in technology, but actually creating it? That was for others. I was a consumer, rather than a builder.
Fast forward a few years, and I’m currently around three months into being an Associate Engineer at GetYourGuide as part of our Customer Engagement team, responsible for helping customers discover interesting experiences in the city that they’re heading to.
A Passion for Travel… And Tech
Career paths these days are rarely as linear as they once were. They zig and zag, rather than following a straight line. I’m no exception.
I started out battling an all-too-familiar dilemma among young people: what to do with a degree that I didn’t particularly enjoy? For what it’s worth, my qualification was in Accounting and Finance.
After working some less than glamorous jobs as a teen, I knew I wanted to work in an industry that I could talk passionately about and I found a home in the travel industry. I spent the next five years working at a sustainable tour operator across a variety of roles – B2B sales, business development, strategic partnerships, people management, operations, and most things in-between. I’d learned a ton, traveled the world for work, but began to reach a point where I didn't feel challenged or growing.
To challenge myself, I started self-teaching web development using courses on Udemy, FreeCodeCamp – the usual haunts for someone taking their first steps into the world of engineering. At this point I still had no idea of what it could turn into. I was doing it for fun and to learn some new skills that might come in useful at some point. But I loved it; I’d caught the bug.
Getting a Taste for Engineering
Shortly after, I started talking to peers in the travel industry about my interest in tech to get their advice. That’s one of the best things about the travel industry: the generosity of the people within it. I decided that if I was serious about going down the tech route, I needed to be at a more tech-centric company.
Fortunately, in my previous roles I’d gotten to know some of the people at GetYourGuide who encouraged me to apply. I shared that I was looking to gain some more technical skills, so they recommended I join the company’sSupplier Connectivity team which consists of half engineers and half operations experts, and is responsible for integrating and managing 150+ API integrations that we have with suppliers. It provided an opportunity to bring some commercial and operational skills to the team, whilst learning more about engineering at the same time. I didn’t have a lot of knowledge or tech skills when I joined, but the fact that I’d been trying to teach myself showed that I was eager and willing to learn.
Looking back, this was the real step change on the journey to put me on the path to becoming an engineer.
Considering the Switch
To describe working in the Supplier Connectivity team as a crash course would be an understatement. Having previously never really spoken to engineers, it was now my day-to-day. Half of our team were engineers, as were many of our external contacts. I was picking up a lot of knowledge via osmosis, and that’s when I first asked myself if I could be an engineer myself. I’d been brought into the team on the basis of my commercial experience, but in the first few months I’d found the technical side of the role – troubleshooting problems, rolling out new features, and speaking with engineers – more rewarding than the other parts.
I knew that a few engineers at GetYourGuide had moved into engineering from other roles, so I sought their advice. They all overwhelmingly advised me to do it, and offered a huge amount of wisdom and tips to make it happen – including doing a Bootcamp to better structure my learning and to get to a baseline level of knowledge to apply for an Associate Engineer role.
At this point I should add that I had a fantastically supportive and understanding manager. When I discussed with her that I was considering the switch, she was supportive. Her response greatly reduced any concerns I had that going for a career change would negatively impact my job if I stayed within the team.
Starting my Journey at Bootcamp
I spent the next six months doing a Full Stack Bootcamp in Berlin. The time commitment amounted to about 25 hours per week, on top of my full-time work. It’s not for the faint of heart, and I recognize that it’s not feasible for a lot of people with family commitments, for instance. Others at GetYourGuide are entirely self-taught, and I have huge respect for that level of discipline and ability. In my case, I benefited from the structure and close mentorship of a Bootcamp. There’s also the cost to consider, but I was able to use my personal growth budget to cover some of this, which was helpful.
The more I worked at it, the more I fell in love with it – to the point where the time spent in Bootcamp felt more like a fun hobby than learning. There’s no two ways about it: Bootcamps can’t cover everything you need to be a competent, independent engineer in such a short space of time, so completing one is really the start of your learning journey. But that’s what I like most about tech/engineering: your learning never really stops.
Interviewing and Onboarding
Around halfway through the Bootcamp, I started giving some attention to scoping out what opportunities might be available after I finished.
I spoke with our Recruitment team to get details of what they looked for in Associate Engineers and they gave me a ton of advice on things to work on outside of my Bootcamp. One great thing about the tech recruitment process here at GetYourGuide is that they’re open to any background – internally, it’s a mix of people holding technical degrees, self-taught people, bootcampers, and everything in-between! It’s about where your skills are at and where they’re going, rather than where you’ve been.
After going through the interview process, I was offered a role on our Customer Engagement team, which runs various initiatives and experiments to help connect customers with experiences that they’d love, but might not have thought about before. Naturally, I was delighted! And scared. It all felt very real, and imposter syndrome kicked in.
Fast forward to day one. The benefit of making an internal move was that I was able to get to know some of my new colleagues before joining, set up systems, and generally prepare for my start date so that I could have as soft a landing as possible. Everyone was really friendly and helped ease the fear that I wasn’t good enough, and that carried on during my onboarding.
I couldn’t have asked for a better onboarding experience: it was structured to cover all the necessary topics without being overwhelming for an associate-level colleague. I was also assigned a wonderful onboarding mentor, who guided me through every step of the process.
Growing into the Role
Now that I’m two months in, I feel like I’m in the ideal place to grow as an engineer. Growth pathways are clearly structured, managerial support is great, and the lofty talent bar means that you’re surrounded by A+ engineers to learn from. One great thing about our engineering culture is that ideas and contributions are judged on merit rather than your title. Your opinion is as valued as a Senior Engineer who’s been around for a decade – in fact, sometimes even more so as you’re a new set of eyes with fresh perspectives! This is where experience and skills from outside of engineering come in useful: being able to share unique insights. Because we’re a diverse crowd at GetYourGuide, we make decisions that take in a wide array of opinions and experiences, which leads to better outcomes.
Everyone’s so passionate about delivering features that customers want, that the hard part is actually being selective about what to work on.
With a supportive team around, I was able to settle in quickly, make meaningful contributions to build momentum, and I’m now looking for projects to stretch and grow further. What’s expected of engineers at different levels within GetYourGuide is made very clear, which creates a nice roadmap for future growth and progression.
Advice For Moving Into Engineering
Looking back on my journey from sales to engineering, what sticks out most is the number of people along the way that helped me with advice, support, and opportunity. From chatting with industry peers, supportive managers that encouraged my growth, fellow engineers that had trodden the same path giving me the push to go for it, to my new team onboarding me with great patience, I’m tremendously grateful. I’m also keen to pay the kindness forward to others who may be considering a switch to engineering.
Of course, I shouldn’t discount a healthy dose of luck along the way. There was an engineer that decided against joining GetYourGuide, which is why the Recruitment team reached out to ask if I was ready to apply.
I also worked harder on this than anything I ever have done before to make the most of the support and opportunities I was afforded. That’s made the journey so far incredibly rewarding – but I know this is just the first step, with a lot more to learn. I genuinely feel like there’s no better place to learn and grow as an Associate Engineer and beyond than GetYourGuide.
Other articles from this series
Growth Path for Engineers at GetYourGuide
Leveraging an Event-Driven Architecture to Build Meaningful Customer Relationships
Behind The Journey: Laurence Rega - Full Stack Engineer
How to Empower Engineers with Infrastructure as Code
How We Find and Fix OOM and Memory Leaks in Java Services