How I became a software developer without a computer science degree
It’s possible to become a developer without any coding experience. Ben Montgomery, a developer at TPP, tells us how he turned his economics degree into a tech career.
I still had a very ‘technical’ way of thinking: I enjoyed thinking about problems and looking for different way to apply my skills.
You don’t need to have studied computer science or an IT-related subject to have a successful career in the IT & technology sector – it’s even possible to work in a ‘more technical’ role, like that of a software developer.
To find out more about how you can turn a non-STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degree into a technology career, we spoke to Ben Montgomery, a software developer at TPP.
Ben’s career timeline
- 2012–2017: Carried out various part-time jobs during summer holidays, including volunteering, working in a bar and in a café.
- 2016: Completed a summer internship with property firm CBRE.
- 2016–2017: Worked in Windsor Racecourse’s events team over summers.
- 2017: Graduated from the University of Bath with a degree in economics.
- 2018: Started working as a graduate software developer at TPP.
Why did you choose to study economics at university?
A career in technology wasn’t something that I initially considered. When it came time to apply for university, I chose to study economics: I was interested in pursuing it beyond A level and the variety of modules on offer, from mathematics to international development and health economics appealed to me. I thought it would be good to study something that could be broadly useful across lots of industries.
How did you discover that non-STEM students could work in tech?
It wasn’t until my final year of university that I knew what I wanted to do for a career. In my second year I looked into careers in the property sector, but it was never really my ‘ambition’ to work in that area. I even carried out an internship at property firm CBRE. While I enjoyed my time there and learned a lot, it also helped me to understand that a career in property was not for me.
It was when I stumbled across representatives from TPP at a careers fair that I first considered a career in technology. I realised that I still had a very ‘technical’ way of thinking: I enjoyed thinking about problems and looking for different ways to apply my skills and solve problems. I left the job fair with a new career path and started researching more technical roles and jobs. Eventually, I came full circle and applied for TPP.
What did the application process involve?
The application process was relatively straightforward. After sending a CV and covering letter, I was invited to complete an aptitude test and two interviews. The interviews were fairly relaxed and I never felt that I had to compete with tech graduates. Instead, I tried to convey my passion for technology. Not only do I think that a passion for your work is essential for job satisfaction and wellbeing, but demonstrating this during interviews helped me to prove that, even though I didn’t have any experience of technology, I would be excited to learn as much as I could going forward.
Demonstrating a passion for technology during interviews helped me to prove that, even though I didn’t have any experience of technology.
How did you develop your technical skills
I joined TPP in January 2018 as a software developer. My main responsibilities are designing, writing and implementing new code. A typical day in the office begins with a short meeting with my teams where we discuss our current projects, and the rest of the day will be spent writing code. The teams are quite fluid, so I quite often help out on other projects.
Unlike many STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students, I had no experience of writing code when I first started. In my first week I was put in a team of developers and began coding (with a lot of help). This approach was quite full-on and, to be honest, was quite scary, but feeling myself improve and able to do more on my own was definitely satisfying. Having to ask a lot of questions felt a bit strange to begin with, but it soon became second nature. One thing that did come as a surprise was the level of creativity we get to express when designing and writing code.
What skills from your degree were useful in your degree?
One key skill from my economics degree that I use every day as a software developer is problem solving and looking at the ‘bigger picture’. It’s a common trap to get caught up in minor details, but the ability to step back and analyse problems from a high level is a huge help in a day-to-day life in the IT sector. I’d advise any non-tech students interested in technology roles to think closely about how your skills could apply. For example, artistic and creative skills easily translate to strong attention to detail and inventive methods of solving technical problems.
What challenges have you encountered in the job?
My working environment is fairly relaxed, but the job isn’t without stress. TPP is a healthcare IT company, which means that we sometimes have tight deadlines and always need to patient security our number one priority. However, it also means that the code I write can directly improve the lives of clinicians and patients in tangible ways. It’s nice knowing we’re making a difference, particularly when we get feedback from users.
Are there opportunities to travel as a developer?
Despite being a developer, I’m not chained to a desk. I am currently working on tailoring our products to the requirements of various countries. I’ve been on a couple of trips to China and South East Asia to scope our how our system would fit into their model of healthcare. As opportunities for international business increases, trips are bound to become more common.
I’ve also been able to travel for training courses and company events abroad. For the last few years, these have been sailing trips to Croatia and the Caribbean, which were an incredible experience (sun, sea and cocktails), and in January 2020 we’re going to the Alps for a skiing trip.
Give it a go! Look carefully and you can find a job that’s right for you.
What advice do you have for non-STEM students considering a tech career?
Since starting work in technology, without a doubt the biggest thing I’ve learned is how to code. It’s a hugely valuable skill that will continue to be useful throughout to my career. If you’re a non-STEM student or graduate and you think that a career in technology could be for you, my advice is simple: give it a go! Look carefully and you can find a job that’s right for you. If you enjoy solving problems and puzzles, and find gadgets and new tech fascinating, then a career in this sector could well be a perfect match for you.