In this blog post, our colleagues Natascha, Michael and Tobias will tell you how switching their career from the natural sciences to IT was like for them. As is well known, the IT industry is desperately looking for young talent. At the same time, people often react with astonished faces when someone says “I work in IT” or “I’m a software developer”, as if you couldn’t possibly work in IT if you haven’t been tinkering with your own computers since you were twelve. Additionally, the notion that only nerds work in IT may still be found here and there. Perhaps all of this contributes to the fact that there doesn’t seem to be enough young talent to be found in IT. In any case, the IT industry seems to be surrounded a bit by the aura of “Oh God, I could never do that” and “Only nerds do that”.
However, we want to convince you of the opposite with this blog post. We are Natascha, Michael, and Tobias and all three of us have started working at Scandio a little more than six months ago as software developers and, in Michael’s case, as a software developer as well as an IT consultant. Knowing this, none of us has a background in IT but rather in another field, namely the natural sciences: Natascha has a PhD in physics, Michael has a master’s degree in physics and Tobias has a master’s degree in biochemistry. We only came into real contact with IT during our respective studies: Natascha did data science during her diploma thesis as well as her subsequent work as a scientist. While this did include a lot of programming, none of it could be called real software development. Michael did a minor in computer science and also started working as a software developer during his studies. Tobias was able to gain his first experience with IT through his major in theoretical chemistry. However, the focus of all of us was clearly on the natural sciences during our studies. Applying for a full-time job as a developer/IT consultant was therefore not necessarily an obvious choice, as the switch from the natural sciences to information technology also represents a change in career path. On closer inspection, however, these disciplines are not that different, as the way of thinking is very similar. In the natural sciences (no matter which one) you learn to quickly familiarize yourself with new fields, to see connections that are non-obvious and to work systematically and methodically. For example, Michael worked on organic solar cells in his master’s thesis. These could break down depending on the manufacturing and storage conditions. In order to find out what led to the failure of a cell, a lot of experiments and systematic investigations had to be carried out. These are all skills that help in solving IT problems, as well. At the same time, a large part of the pleasure of studying natural sciences was derived from learning new things all the time, be it through experiments in the laboratory or with equations on paper. Learning new things and thus constantly developing oneself further is an integral part of IT and a core principle of agile methods. This makes IT and science fun for quite similar reasons.
But what is it like to familiarize yourself with IT when you are just starting out? This is done by “learning by doing”, step by step. Hmm, what exactly is a class in Java, what do you need it for and how do you use it? No problem, look it up. How can I add a button to a web interface? Look it up. And how do I make sure that clicking this button also triggers a change that is persistent even after reloading the page? Again, look it up. Can that be a bit overwhelming in the beginning? Sure it can. But is it still fun? It absolutely is for us! And are you supported actively by the Scandio team and can ask questions at any time without having to fear that you are considered incompetent? Definitely. Our teams as well as the bosses knew from the beginning that we are not computer scientists. Consequently, there was no pressure at all. Only did tutorials today? No problem. You get easier topics in the beginning which means that it’s not long before you have your first results. Over time you will have fewer and fewer questions and it will be easier to answer them yourself. At the same time you’ll finish your first features that you programmed all by yourself. The first time you test your code and it works, is amazing. It’s also great if a customer wants a feature that would make their working life easier and you get positive feedback after the implementation because he or she can now work more smoothly. Along the way you notice that you are learning more and more and that the quality of your own work is constantly improving. Soon you are discussing the most sensible implementation of a feature with your colleagues, at eye level.
So much for the notion of “Oh God, I could never do that”, we hope that we could get that out of the way. But what about the colleagues? Are they all just nerds? No, they aren’t. Of course, there are people who configure their Linux down to the last detail and/or are obsessed with mechanical keyboards and could be called “nerds” by some. However, you can also find sports enthusiasts, travel enthusiasts, cooking enthusiasts… In this sense, perhaps everyone is a bit “nerdy”. No matter whether you identify yourself as a nerd or not, everyone is welcome here. We cook together, teams meet up to play games or do other recreational activities and Scandio-wide events take place regularly. At the same time, workflows are worked out and revised if necessary by both bosses and employees at Scandio and are not just imposed from management. All of this contributes to a familiar atmosphere.
If that sounds interesting to you but you don’t believe that it’s that easy to gain a foothold in IT, we can highly recommend looking for online courses to get a feel for the field and get your toes wet. Many of these courses are free of charge and provide a small insight into IT. There are also (paid) courses that end with a certificate and a presentable result. This provides an insight into the topic and looks good on your CV as well, probably not only in IT. At the end of this blog post, we provide a small and definitely not complete list of resources in no particular order to make getting into IT a bit easier.
So, if you don’t want to stay in the natural sciences after your studies, IT could be an exciting alternative for you. You can join the company directly after your studies, your doctoral thesis or your post-doc. We can say that confidently because we have people at Scandio coming from all three stages.
If you are thinking: “This sounds pretty good”, you can always look for jobs at Scandio. Applications are always welcome. If you’re not sure you’re quite there yet, you can also just contact us informally over at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are looking forward to hearing from you.