From a PhD in Materials Science to Junior Developer with Scrimba

From a PhD in Materials Science to Junior Developer with Scrimba

Maeling earned a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering before realising her passion for code! After months of practice and with help from her new friends in various communities, she’s now working as a Junior Developer at a remote start-up. In this episode, you’ll learn how Maeling found the job through a virtual career fair and how you, too, can find success.


  • Introduction (0:00)
  • About Maeling's new job (00:48)
  • How Maeling found this opportunity through a virtual job fair (02:30)
  • How Maeling used Twitter to lern to code (02:55)
  • Community and learning to code (06:35)
  • Self-directed learning compared to university (09:33)
  • Don't compare yourself to others (11:37)
  • Homeschooling while learning to code (14:02)
  • Building a homeschooling journal app (15:30)
  • What the interview process looked like  (18:59)
  • Maeling's top tips for anyone wanting to become a Junior Developer (23:19)


Alex Booker (00:01):
Hello coders, and welcome to The Scrimba Podcast. On this weekly show, I speak with successful developers about their advice on learning to code and getting your first junior developer job. Today, I'm joined by Meiling Murphy, a Scrimba student who recently got their first junior developer job. Believe it's or not, she found the job through a virtual job fair. I didn't even know that existed. And actually, it's just one interesting idea you'll learn from Meiling, as I think she basically did everything right, from networking, to building open source projects, and participating in community, Meiling discovered a bunch of great resources on her journey that she was excited to share with you in this conversation. I think it's super exciting. You get to learn from someone who's just a few steps ahead of you, so let's jump into it.

Meiling Murphy (00:48):
So my new role is a software engineer intern position, and I'm working for an API company. So, long story short, when I was going the self-directed journey, I was exploring as much as I could around on the different types of software engineering, and I started off with front-end, and when I started building my own projects, I quickly realized that I enjoyed either full stack, or focusing more on the back-end, and dealing with databases and APIs, so I was honestly surprised to find such a great fit for my first role, where it was doing exactly what I wanted to do. And I hadn't even heard of the company before. Just a quick story on how I found the company, during my job search, I was attending online career fairs.

Meiling Murphy (01:30):
It was my first time doing anything of this sort, and I actually remember that day. I almost didn't sign on because I had so many meetings, and just I felt like I needed to do more on my projects, so I was like, "Just let me go check it out," and they were using this technology, I believe called Gather, but it was basically a way to create this virtual career fair environment where you could virtually walk up to different companies' booths. As someone who was looking for a job, you could upload your resume linked to your GitHub, LinkedIn. And so they had recruiters and employees of the companies there, and the person from the company that I work at now kind of reached out and was like, "Hey, come on over to our booth and let us tell you about our company." I was like, "Sure, why not?"

Alex Booker (02:14):
Oh my God, that sounds amazing.

Meiling Murphy (02:14):
Yeah, from that conversation, my current manager was on that call, and I followed up with him after the career fair, and he was like, "Hey, anybody reached out to you about next steps yet? If not, let's set up this hiring manager interview call." And the rest was history.

Alex Booker (02:30):
I've never heard of that, like a virtual career fair. How did you find that?

Meiling Murphy (02:33):
Twitter. Twitter was where I found most of my resources during my journey and job search as well. And I just wanted to add to, it was really cool, because earlier this month I was able to participate in the career fair with my company as part of the hiring side. So I was there looking at people's profiles, reaching out, encouraging people to just come on and talk, and so it was a really cool full circle moment.

Alex Booker (02:55):
Let's talk about Twitter for a second, because you mentioned it, and I feel like it's been quite a significant part in your journey.

Meiling Murphy (03:01):
Absolutely. My Twitter journey in tech started with an organization called Career Karma. Career Karma is an organization to help underrepresented or people with non-traditional backgrounds break into tech, essentially. And when I joined Career Karma, it was because I had a friend who transitioned into tech, and I saw her story on this site, and I realized that I'd actually signed up for Career Karma several years ago, but never really did anything with it. And when I saw her profile, I was like, "Oh wow, this is really cool." At that time I hadn't really thought of transitioning fully into software engineering, but I enjoyed hobby coding. And so after speaking with her, she encouraged me to get active with the community, and what they do as part of their onboarding with their community, which is free, is this 21 day challenge.

Meiling Murphy (03:51):
And a part of this challenge is for you to research boot camps, and the main thing was to start interacting and networking with people in tech at all different levels. So every day, you had to reach out to several people, ask them questions, just connect, and also start posting on Twitter. And so that's what actually got me first active in the tech Twitter community. And I'm so grateful that I participated in that challenge, because Twitter just ended up being an amazing resource for me in my journey in tech.

Alex Booker (04:23):
Can I just ask, were you hesitant at the beginning? I just imagine coming into something like Code Karma and be like, "Okay, task number one, sign up to Twitter." You might be a bit like, "Hmm, why?"

Meiling Murphy (04:34):
For me it wasn't too foreign, because in my previous job where my self-employed business, I did a lot of digital content creation and social media consulting, and I was active on social media myself. I already understood the benefits of being on social media, and just sharing your journey, because in that past role, just me sharing different things in my life ended up creating partnerships with businesses. So I could see the benefits of being active on social media, and just being kind of vulnerable and open about your journey, because it can connect you with people who can help, and then as you progress, it can be an encouraging story for other people to see as you've shared from these early steps. And they're like, "Oh, okay. If she could do it, I could do it as well," and see what was helpful, and just pull things, and try things that may or may not be helpful, but either way, you can learn something from someone else's journey.

Alex Booker (05:25):
What would you say to someone who is a self-taught developer and in two minds about Twitter? I know that there are some people who it comes quite naturally to, it looks like they're quite articulate, and they can write snappy tweets, and some people fall into something of a community, like I would call 100 Days of Code a community, for example. But for those who are kind of wondering if they should get into it, or if it's kind of a waste of time compared to just putting your head down and coding, what would you say to them, Meiling?

Meiling Murphy (05:51):
I would say if you are having second thoughts about it, give it a try if you're comfortable with it. If you try it, and it doesn't end up being the thing that works for you, that is totally understandable. It's not like you have to do Twitter in order to get a role in tech.

Alex Booker (06:05):
That's very true.

Meiling Murphy (06:06):
There's so many different avenues. Like for instance, there were so many people who were blogging during their journey, that didn't end up being the thing for me, because I found that, yeah, it just wasn't a great fit, but sharing little tidbits on Twitter was what worked for me. So just remember, as you're reading different tips from other people, and they're saying, "Try this, try that," know that if it doesn't work for you, it's okay, but there are other things you can explore that may be a better fit for your journey. At least give it a try. Don't knock it until you try it.

Alex Booker (06:35):
I guess you strike me as someone who really found a lot of value in the social side of it, and the community aspect, because not only are you being exposed to new people and ideas, but you just enjoy having a positive vibe as you learn to code something that otherwise, is quite a lonely endeavor.

Meiling Murphy (06:52):
Absolutely. So, I'll say one thing, when I was in grad school, so my background is in material science and engineering-

Alex Booker (06:57):
Can we just say that you have a PhD in engineering now? Because I just think that's so insanely impressive.

Meiling Murphy (07:03):
Oh, thanks. So part of that experience, I want to say that graduate school can be really tough, and one of the things that, looking back, I wish I had tapped into a community during that time. During my graduate school experience, my head was down, I was all about the research and writing my papers. And I really felt, looking back, that I should have spent more time networking, and just interacting with the community on campus, and even outside of my institution. So when I started the journey transitioning into tech, one of my goals was to find community, because I knew how powerful and transformative finding a supportive community could be. And so that's definitely one of the reasons why I focused a lot on social avenues, joining communities like Scrimba, I mean, the list can go on, there is Virtual Coffee, which is an amazing community for developers on all levels, another one, Code Connector.

Meiling Murphy (07:58):
I mean, I could spend half of this podcast talking about the people and communities I connected with, because they were so integral to my journey, and just being able to progress in the way that I did. Really, I could not have done this without community, just from figuring out what kind of resources should I be focusing on during my self-directed path? I remember when I first started, and I had research boot camps, decided it wasn't for me, and I wanted to go self-directed. One of the first questions was like, "Well, where do I start?" I'm reading all of these blog posts, they have so many different recommendations, and in the beginning I was literally focusing on three at one time. It was The Odin Project, freeCodeCamp, I believe Codecademy, and I quickly realized, this is too much, this is overload.

Meiling Murphy (08:43):
And I had a conversation with one of my friends who's a developer, and she was like, "Just focus on one. Complete that, and then you'll be able to have a better idea of how to move forward." And so, because of that conversation with her, I was able to focus on CS50, which is Harvard's online course Introduction to Computer Science, and that ended up being a great foundation for me and just helped me move forward. And I'm saying all of this to say that community was so helpful in getting recommendations for what to focus on, encouragement, seeing the different types of paths within software engineering that I could explore just by talking to people, and seeing what they enjoyed, or what they didn't enjoy. Again, I could go on for the rest of this podcast about community, because I just, I'm so grateful.

Alex Booker (09:33):
I was wondering, since you went through university before, even though you studied something different, I understand, how did it compare to being self-directed? And I'm also wondering, obviously, when you graduate, you get a degree, and part of the expectation is that you use that to find work. I'm also wondering what your experience has been like, trying to find a job without a computer science degree in this case?

Meiling Murphy (09:54):
First, to answer the question about self-directed, so working on my PhD, it was a very self-directed process, so there wasn't a huge difference in that aspect. As far as searching for a job without a CS degree, one thing I was grateful for during my research and during my journey, I had a lot of examples of people who did not have a CS degree, and were successful in transitioning into tech. And so, with all of those examples in mind, having conversations with people who were working at companies that I was interested in, and them having similar backgrounds, I went into the job cert very optimistic, because it just seemed like the tides have changed significantly over that past five years or so, with companies being more to accepting people with nontraditional backgrounds, meaning not having a CS degree. So I was very optimistic, and I didn't really see that as a detriment, not having a CS degree when I started my job search.

Alex Booker (10:55):
It's very tempting to sit behind your computer, and there's an answer for everything on Google, right? You can YouTube everything. You can Google everything. You can go your whole life without talking to another person, if you really, truly wanted to. But once you engage in community, and you start to make friends on a similar path, well, you can't Google and get a result for how to feel motivated on a day when you don't, right? But if you're in a community, you might be exposed to some inspiring idea, or inspired by someone's success. I also think by engaging in conversations, whether it's via a one-on-one chat or in a discord community, for example, you kind of learn about yourself quicker. It's just to say, that if you just sit down and focus on coding, you will become a pretty good coder, but you could be going in the wrong path for much longer than you need to be.

Meiling Murphy (11:37):
Oh, I completely agree with that. During my conversations, I've heard people getting discouraged when they read articles like How I Landed A Job in Tech After Two Months, and when they hit that two months into their studying journey and don't get the job, they're like, "Well, what did I do wrong?" And so that's one of the things I wanted to bring up in this conversation, to not compare yourself to other people's journeys. Everyone's circumstances are different. Everyone learns differently, and you just have to focus on why you want to do this transition, or why you want to enter tech, and let that be your motivating factor.

Meiling Murphy (12:11):
I know it can be very stressful at times, but that will save you from so much stress. At least it did for me, honestly. When I took out the expectation, like, "Okay, I have to get a job by 2021," because I started really in 2019, at the end of 2019, and I was just like, "I'm going to just focus on this. I'm going to enjoy the process. I'm going to connect with people. If I get a job, that it's great. If I don't, at least I tried it." It was all about, I just want to try this and see where it goes.

Alex Booker (12:39):
There's a nice quote which is, "The comparison is the thief of joy," and it's something that Cassidy Williams brought up in a recent podcast interview I did with her. And I think about it a lot, because it really does suck. If you are enjoying this episode of The Scrimba Podcast, please share it with someone you think will find it helpful, be that a friend in your community, or a direct message, or maybe even your followers on social media. I'm always on the lookout for tweets about The Scrimba Podcast to retweet. Next week on The Scrimba Podcast, I'm talking with Randall Kanna, senior software engineer and author of The Standout Developer. It's a book about how to succeed as a developer beyond the raw coding outputs, and it's the theme of our conversation.

Randall Kanna (13:22):
When I started thinking about writing the book, it was because I realized so many people didn't know kind of what I thought were the basic things in getting a job as a developer. When I started out, I didn't really know much about the technical quantity, that was a huge weak spot, but I did know that I should contact my mom for help on my resume, and that I should get someone to help me put together a great personal website, and that I knew I had to answer the soft skills side of questions in an interview really well. I would ask someone, "Why do you want this job?" And they would say, "I just really want to make more money. I just want to live in this city. I want to move to San Francisco." And it's a very honest answer, but it's not really the right answer.

Alex Booker (14:02):
Make sure you subscribe to the podcast so that you don't miss it. Back to the interview with Meiling. You spoke a little bit about how you had a bit of flexibility as to when you could secure a job. I just happen to know that you've been homeschooling your kid as you've learned to code, and that's one reason you wanted the self-directed route, because you could manage time however worked best for you and your family. Can you maybe just sort of set the stage, and tell everybody a little bit about your circumstance, and sort of how you factored that into your schedule when learning to code?

Meiling Murphy (14:33):
When I first decided I was interested in really buckling down and studying, learning how to program, basically why the bootcamp route didn't work for me, a lot of the programs had this very strict schedule where basically all day, or even sometimes on the weekends, from like 9:00 to 5:00, or whatever other large time block, you had to be in the classes, working on your projects, coordinating with other students, and that just wasn't going to offer the flexibility I needed to be able to spend time with my family, and homeschool my son. And so I remember during my research, I found that there were some programs that did offer that flexibility, but essentially, it was kind of like this self-directed, self-paced path. So I was like, "Well, if I can do this self-directed path on my own for free..." There's so many great resources that are considerably less in cost, then let me at least try the self-directed path first, and see how far I can get with that.

Meiling Murphy (15:30):
And so that's, essentially, what I did, and during the course of my journey, one of the projects that I created was a homeschool journal app, which was absolutely motivated by my own reasons for wanting to keep records for my child in the homeschool journey process. And what was really exciting about that project was that, I started to get involved with more of the developer communities, people started reaching out and were like, "Well, hey, can I share this with my homeschool community?" Like, "I'd love to use something like this." And it was really cool to see that kind of, and hear that kind of feedback, because it's like, "Wow, I actually created something that people would want to use."

Meiling Murphy (16:12):
And one of the communities that I'm a member of, Virtual Coffee, they always have these amazing workshops, and one of them was centered around sharing your work. And so as part of that workshop, I was able to present my homeschool journal app to the community, and I had one member reach out to me soon after that presentation. They were like, "Hey, I'd like to recommend you to my manager for a job, and I shared your presentation with him, because they recorded it."

Alex Booker (16:39):
Oh yeah?

Meiling Murphy (16:39):
And so one of my job interviews was a result of just sharing my project in that community, so it was an amazing experience.

Alex Booker (16:47):
I'm going to share a link to the homeschool journal app, because I know it's on Heroku to play around with. Is the code open source as well?

Meiling Murphy (16:53):
It is.

Alex Booker (16:54):
How long had you been coding for before you built this application? Because it looks quite professional.

Meiling Murphy (16:58):
Thank you. So I started end of 2019. Prior to that, in high school, I did a basic HTML class with inline CSS, because they didn't have all these fancy packages then. But yeah, 2019 is really where I really learned how to program, like studying JavaScript, that started 2019. And I have to say, my introduction to JavaScript really came about during Scrimba's JavaScriptmas Challenge. I don't know if-

Alex Booker (17:25):
Oh yeah.

Meiling Murphy (17:25):
You guys are running that later this year-

Alex Booker (17:28):
It's a secret.

Meiling Murphy (17:28):
But that 30 days of JavaScript prompts with pure JavaScript challenges, and then there were some that integrated HTML and CSS, that was such an amazing way to start learning JavaScript, and what brought me to Scrimba as a member, eventually.

Alex Booker (17:44):
I can neither confirm nor deny that JavaScriptmas is... okay, I can confirm. It is happening, and people can look forward to it.

Meiling Murphy (17:49):

Alex Booker (17:51):
I'm so excited that's the way you learned about Scrimba and got involved. I mean, the project is so impressive, and I see that you have a few more, like a GitHub user search, a grow zone finder, which looks pretty interesting. It sounds like all these projects are mostly built around your own interests and things that you just were sort of excited to build. That's always the best motivation when it's fun and exciting.

Alex Booker (18:09):
You have this kind of learning exhaust, like if somebody looks at the projects you're building and sees the quality that's worth a lot, obviously, they can imagine you contributing to their own projects or at least growing within the role, but because you were on Twitter the whole time, and in communities, and really putting your face out there, and being personable, and gregarious, it means that anybody looking at your profile, they know that you didn't just pick up a one month course and decided you wanted to become a developer. And looking at your profiles, there's absolutely no doubt that coding is something that has excited you throughout, and you're clearly very passionate about.

Meiling Murphy (18:42):
That's nice to hear that you can pick up on that as well. Just in general, I'm a person who's really motivated by the learning process. I don't don't mind being a beginner in any area, because the learning, the research, the discovery, the trials, the errors, that kind of stuff motivates me so much.

Alex Booker (18:59):
I'm similar, by the way, and I think coding is one of the best industries for people like us, because there will never not be something to learn. There's always going to be something to learn, which is great. Let's talk a little bit about out the job, finally. I know that you were reached out to during the virtual career fair and had a little conversation. Can you take us through what that conversation was about at that career fair, and did it lead to an interview? Is that the next step?

Meiling Murphy (19:23):
The initial conversation was very introductory, where they were just telling me about their company, since I hadn't heard of it before. And I gave maybe a brief, one minute, elevator kind of spiel about who I was, and what my background was, and what I was interested in. And the conversation was continued over on LinkedIn, where I set up that hiring manager interview call where my manager, now, proposed the follow up phone call. And what was interesting about that conversation, my manager did admit to me that they didn't have space for more early career devs on their team, but proposed the idea of an internship. And going into the search, I hadn't really thought about internships as a way to enter the tech world, but after having that conversation, again, why community is so important, I reached out to my developer community on Virtual Coffee, and just proposed the question, like, "What do you guys think about internships?"

Meiling Murphy (20:19):
And we had a great conversation, because they were able to give me advice about making sure compensation levels are good, making sure that the role is defined, see what kind of benefits are offered, what you would actually be learning, and just see if there'd be opportunities to grow. And so, after having that conversation with them, and I believe I also attended a panel by Code Connector, where they actually ended up interviewing like three people who were working in tech as a result of internships, after having all that information, I went back to my manager and was like, "You know what? I'd love to explore this as an opportunity."

Meiling Murphy (20:55):
And so the next step after that was a take home project, where I had to build something related to APIs, basically gave an outline of what the expectations were for the project. It was very, very clear, and I had so much fun doing the project. And the next part of the interview was actually just presenting my work and speaking with one of their other engineers, just about different considerations for aspects of the project. And after that, right after the end of the presentation, that's when I was offered the role.

Alex Booker (21:24):
Oh, nice. What a grand finale, that's wicked. But isn't it interesting how you were presenting the homeschooling app, at which point someone shared it with their manager, and sort of advocated for you, and then this job in the end, okay, there was a coding task, but yeah, the presentation was part of the interview. Obviously it matters.

Meiling Murphy (21:43):
Absolutely, absolutely. I'm really grateful for that practice, and one thing I would want to just advise people who are in the job search, is to not be afraid to network with other developers. Even if you can start working on projects collaboratively, where you're having to talk about your code, just any opportunity that gives you the opportunity to practice speaking about your code, is just worth so much, because it's what you do on an everyday basis in your role. That's been one of the most interesting aspects of transitioning into working with a team on production level code, just the amount of conversations that are continuously going on. And even when you're asking questions, learning how to ask great questions. There are just so many aspects that you can develop when you're in community with other developers working on projects.

Alex Booker (22:33):
Putting yourself out there and joining communities, or presenting, even if it's to a camera, these things can go a long way. You can be the best coder, but if you can't present yourself so that people understand how talented you are, you're only doing yourself a disadvantage, and frankly, if you are very good at selling yourself, you can almost jump ahead a little bit. If you just focus on code only for four or five months, that's obviously going to help you a lot, but if you're also practicing communication skills, and as we touched on earlier, Meiling, you're also getting feedback from people, and that's giving you better ideas about where to go next. It's going to make your learning journey so much more sociable and fun. And if it's fun, you'll keep doing it longer. If you have connections, you'll find a job more easily. You have to really put yourself in the most advantageous position, I feel like, and it sounds like that's exactly what you did.

Meiling Murphy (23:15):
Thanks. Yeah, I agree with that completely. It does not hurt to tap into community.

Alex Booker (23:19):
Do you have any sort of final tips or advice for anybody learning to code and wanting to become a junior developer?

Meiling Murphy (23:26):
Looking back? One thing that I would advise people to do, especially if your goal is to enter tech, is to maybe look into open source contributions or anything that would give you the experience of working with large code bases. That was one of the biggest transitions for me working in my new role, just working with massive code bases. It's so much different than when you're working on your personal projects with these small, monolithic repos, and being able to look at large code bases, and see how different parts of microservices interact with each other. If that's what you're interested in, definitely practice maybe just looking at GitHub, finding large code bases. Hacktoberfest just passed. That was great for introducing people to how to contribute to open source projects, and of course, you can contribute at any time. That's one thing I would tell people to look into, because that's one thing I wish I had done more of during my journey.

Alex Booker (24:16):
And what about resources? Are there any resources that you've come about that you'd like to share with people?

Meiling Murphy (24:21):
So again, I'm all about communities, so I'll just mention those communities I kind of scattered throughout the podcast, but Career Karma, of course, Scrimba, Virtual Coffee, Code Connector, the last one I will say, YearOne, I found them later on in my journey, but they have great resources around so much, but I came to them looking at data structures and algorithms, resources that they have, and they have great joint study groups for that, which can be so helpful, because data structures and algorithms, I mean, it can be tough.

Alex Booker (24:54):
We know. We all know. We know.

Meiling Murphy (24:54):
Right, yeah. So if you can do it with a community, that just makes it just a bit better. So yeah, definitely check those out. And I mean, there's so many more, but I would have to say those were the key ones in my own personal journey.

Alex Booker (25:08):
Meiling Murphy, thank you so much.

Meiling Murphy (25:10):
You're so welcome. Thank you so much for having me, Alex. I really enjoyed this.

Alex Booker (25:15):
That was Meiling Murphy, a Scrimba student and self-taught developer who just got their first developer job. Absolutely amazing stuff. This episode was edited by [Yan Osenovik 00:25:25], and I'm your host, Alex Booker. You can follow me on Twitter @bookercodes, where I share highlights from the podcast and other news by Scrimba. See you next week.