Podcast

066 - Linda Kovacs' inspiring journey to become a developer

February 02, 2021

Linda Kovacs' goal of becoming a software developer took her around the world and dropped several obstacles in her way. But her dedication and desire to help others won out. Linda’s story is as motivating as it is realistic. As Linda herself says, if you’re committed to improving, you need to "be ready to suffer."


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Transcript

Daniel Blazer:

Hello, and welcome to All Hands on Tech, I'm Daniel Blazer. Today's episode is a conversation with Linda Kovacs. Her goal of becoming a software developer took her around the world and dropped several obstacles in her way, but her dedication and to help others won out. And even though she now is a developer, she isn't slowing down. Linda's story is as motivating as it is inspiring. As Linda herself says, if you're truly committed to improve, you need to be ready to suffer.

Hi Linda, thank you so much for joining me today. I'm really excited to dive right into your story. To kick things off, can you tell us a little bit about your current role at Accenture?

Linda Kovacs:

Hi Daniel, thank you for having me today. I'm really happy to have this conversation with you and share more about my journey. In September, I joined Accenture as a software engineer and now I'm working on a financial project for a 401k retirement plan product and I'm on a design team. I really started to like it. In the beginning it was kind of a little bit scary when I heard that I have to talk with the client directly because our team interfaces directly with the client. But the ice was broken and everything is working as it expected.

Daniel Blazer:

How was the experience starting a new role led? I'm guessing you are working from home. Has that been okay to like, get on boarded and start with a new team while working from home?

Linda Kovacs:

Yes and no. It's nice that you can work from home especially this period that is so difficult for all of us so we can keep growing our career. In the beginning it was difficult because you don't have that interaction that you have when you are in person in the office. You meet sometimes on camera your team, but usually we don't use the camera. So it was kind of difficult but luckily, our team... I don't know other teams, I know only my team.

Everybody's very welcoming, they're trying to help you and you can get the work done because we're still learning there are things that we don't know. But yes, we got along and the most difficult part for me was interacting with the client in the beginning because it was the scariest part. Just like my team, very welcoming and very friendly, which makes it easier, especially now that we cannot interact in person.

Daniel Blazer:

Can you provide us just kind of a brief overview of your background prior to becoming a software engineer? I was looking at some of the different things you've done and it is a lot of great complimentary skills and complimentary roles. Can you just talk about those a little bit?

Linda Kovacs:

Do you want the short version or the long version? The long version will take like few days.

Daniel Blazer:

Maybe we stick with the shortish version. Yeah, yeah. That might be a little better for a podcast.

Linda Kovacs:

I would try to make it as simple as possible. I started a little bit programming when I was in elementary school. After class, I had a teacher that asked me, a professor actually in Romania. I say professor. A mathematics professor who was doing these classes after our school classes and asked me if I would like to join that class. And I joined it. And I really like it. And I remember I bought my first programming book in BASIC. I was so happy. And from there I went to University Romania-computer science, of course. I did only two years and I decided to pursue my dream. I wanted to arrive in United States, it was not easy. So I made another stop in Italy. I moved to Italy and there, I did other jobs, like Translator.

I worked as a journalist, but in the end I got a chance to work as a Web Developer and Designer. At the time, I didn't have so much experience but I started to learn on my own. That experience helped me when I moved here in United States and I worked for a company here nearby. I worked with them for years. In the beginning, I started as a... Hardware department was the only one position available but at the time for me it worked very well because I didn't speak English, so much. I speak, but I wasn't able to understand so that was a big barrier for me. And after six months, I started to work in their website and I created two new websites. But of course we were using, if you know, the LAMP stack. We were working on PHP and Apache and so on. I was looking so badly because I had to create two new websites. Not only maintain the existing websites so that they have another three websites and four internet sites all in PHP. I was looking so badly to learn something more advanced.

I found out about boot camp, and I was looking to see if I can find the boot camp that could teach LAMP to be a senior. To become a senior developer. And I didn't have so much luck with it and I found about the Modern Stack with the React and so on. So I got really hooked into it. I started with freeCodeCamp, I think most of us started there our journey back in, it was like December 2016. So I was learning this in my free time and I could not apply before because we were using another Stack. And in the end, in 2018, when I became an American citizen, I decided to pursue this dream to start to work with the React. I even got a class to Albany Camp Code here in Albany, where they were teaching React, the framework for the backend. And that's how I even found out about Accenture from them. They sent me the available position, but last year I didn't get so lucky. Only this year, I was able to join Accenture. So this was my second try.

Daniel Blazer:

That's great. And definitely, it seems like you've put in a lot of time in different places, like you said, kind of pursuing this goal that you eventually had to get to the United States to work as a software engineer. It's a very inspiring story that you stuck with it because I think a lot of people at a certain point would just be like- ah, you know this other thing is good as enough. Like I... really, really cool to hear that you stuck with it.

Linda Kovacs:

I think, as you said, my situation was pretty good, you know?

Daniel Blazer:

Yeah.

Linda Kovacs:

I was freelancing and I had my clients and everything. I think the lockdown accelerated the process because otherwise maybe it will take another few years until I will achieve it. So, this was the right time and the right decision to just do only this and get over it.

Daniel Blazer:

That's great. Yeah. That makes sense. So you mentioned getting your current position at Accenture. I think a few months ago you said 2020 was kind of the year that you decided to fully commit to up skilling and you fully... I mean, you were committed before, but it was like, I'm going to spend a ton of time. I'm going to make sure I have the skills that I need to get this position. Can you explain, like, what motivated you to prioritize this? Why was it finally like 2020, this is the year where this is going to happen?

Linda Kovacs:

Actually, first of all, I have this to-do list with my goals. I have it on my desk and I have it on my phone. And I'll tell you the truth, I didn't know if I will achieve it. I just put it there just in case. And I heard that by this year I will join a big corporation. It was kind of unrealistic for me. Because the main problem here is with big corporations, they are looking for your PhD diploma and I don't have it because I abandoned the university. During the time... In time, for many years I was blaming myself. Oh, I didn't do it. Why I didn't finish to have a PhD? I will have less chances. And now that I'm thinking, it's even better for me because I achieved more than if I was still staying in the same place.

What happened was, as I told you, I started in 2016. At the end of 2016 I started to learn React and Node, and things like that. I have my job so I was in my comfort zone. So this was like, okay, I will do it, I will do it, I will do it but when the lockdown came, being a remote freelancer, the only one guidance that I had was the Freelancers Union in New York city, which I subscribed to in 2018. And they gave us some guidance and what should we do. And we had some meetings, luckily everything was remotely so we had more exposure to the events than in the past as they had it only in person. I started to assess the situation because, of course, if you have an employer, they make the decisions and they tell you if they have work or if they don't have work.

So I said okay. You know what? I wrote to all my clients and I had meetings with them to try to assess our situation. I wanted to know. I didn't want to work in a project and after, wait for months and months to be paid. I wanted to know it upfront, what's the situation. So I had some clients that decided to freeze the contract, and I had clients that decided to do differently and so on. So after I assessed the situation, I decided, okay, now is the moment. I have to skill up myself.

I, a little bit, pushed myself over my limits to tell you the truth. And I not only did the Practicum full stack developer bootcamp, I also studied for my Google cloud Architect certification, which I use. I use all the tools that the PluralSight is offering. Unfortunately, I didn't pass this exam. I think I did too much during the lockdown. So I didn't have only successes, I even had this. This was a big disappointment for me that I didn't pass the exam. But at the same time, the fact that I joined the Accenture makes this disappointment a little bit sweeter. But this is not the end of it because I decided anyways, to pursue to still learning again.

Daniel Blazer:

You kind of mentioned that once the lockdown kind of started, you were faced with some challenges of some clients that maybe didn't want to continue their contract, etc. It seems like you took that and you're like, well, I have one option. I'm going to just improve my own skills, that's all I can do. That's such an inspiring approach, I think. And I bet, you mentioned, you said it was the Google cloud certification that you're working on? I bet, something tells me you'll get that sooner than later. [crosstalk 00:13:25]-

Linda Kovacs:

Its just that my English is not... The fact is not the... You know that PluralSight has this IQ skills test that you can take and I knew that. Because the test was telling me I was only proficient and there is another one that's advanced or something about it. And I did it.

Daniel Blazer:

Yeah.

Linda Kovacs:

And everybody who was pursuing this certification who... Were Ranked above me, then everybody passed it.

Daniel Blazer:

Mm-hmm(negative).

Linda Kovacs:

So, I knew. PluralSight taught me, you have to learn a little bit more. So I tried anyway...

Daniel Blazer:

And I can't imagine having to try to learn about Google cloud at the same time that I'm still polishing my English or another language. It's kind of a double obstacle. Like I said, I'm sure you'll get it eventually. You mentioned this, like a freelancing group, I know that you've also been participating in a lot of other communities. Can you kind of tell us about some of those communities and then what role they played in your journey?

Linda Kovacs:

Starting the lockdown, everything started to go online. And I am actually, Google Developer Group Lead & Women Techmakers Ambassador for Capital region. Until March, when the lockdown started to show, we were doing all the events in person. But with the lockdown, we moved everything online, which made it possible for our events to be reached worldwide. And we had the actual meetups with the participants from all over the world. We had to even expand from Google Meet, which has a limit of 250 participants to streaming to YouTube because there were times we were reaching like thousands of people in attendance and it was really difficult to handle this way. I really wanted to pass this Google cloud certification so I was talking with some of the other Google developer leads to unite and start to learn all together. But that was only to do it only for us. But after they said, oh, would you like to do it even with the community?

I was kind of scarred because I don't like to admit that I failed. So I had to say that I failed the exam and I had to make it public, but it felt good anyways. Not only I polished a little bit more of my skills and it'll help me when I will have to go back to take the exam, I also helped the community. I could see that many people, when they passed the exam, they would tag us in LinkedIn to thank us for all the resources we made available because we had those.

There was Google Nest that was online on air and there was a lot of resources. We were the first ones to have most of the information available and everything. So of course we shared it with the community and lots of people just to pursue this exam and they got the certification. I was a little bit angry with myself. I say, oh, everybody passes the exam and I didn't pass. I didn't try it yet. I don't feel prepared. But I have it on my goals for Accenture because we have a list of goals. One of them is this one. So I will pursue it anyways. Accenture gave us all kind of resources, including the PluralSight. So we have everything to pursue the exam and get the certification.

Daniel Blazer:

You didn't like having to tell people that you didn't pass, but, you never know how many other people are seeing that. And they didn't pass or, you know it can help play a role. Even some of the failures like you mentioned are important. You just never know how that can help other people even seeing that.

Linda Kovacs:

Actually, we got two testimonial from people who joined our Meet up [inaudible 00:18:12] from people that passed the exam and they shared their experience. So our community got exposure to both sides, not only the winners, but even the losers.

Daniel Blazer:

I don't know if losers is the right term.

Linda Kovacs:

No, I put too much on my plate. I could not handle everything at the same time so that's why.

Daniel Blazer:

Yeah. Kind of going back to you getting this role at Accenture, you've been doing all this skilling up, you've had these different experiences like we talked about. How did you know that it was the right time? I think that a lot of people they're like, I want to become a software engineer. I'm going to start skilling up. But I can imagine that it might be scary to actually like, okay, now, this is the actual time I'm going to do it. How do you know that the timing is right for you and your own skill development?

Linda Kovacs:

Actually, the right time is always the right time. I've always said to everybody that, interviewing is like dating. You don't want to wait until the moment when you need a date, you want to start to look around before. And also, how do you get experience to interview if you don't start interviewing? It's like riding a car and you go for... You don't go [inaudible 00:19:32] right away for the exam. You have to practice somehow. Yes, of course, I can practice with friends or family, but it's not the same experience. So for me, it was like... I didn't have people available to just say, oh, let's prepare an interview or something. So I said, you know what? I will just apply for jobs. And I will see if I get back any answer if nobody calls me back. The problem is, first of all, is my resume cover letter, right? So I will have to work on that.

And not only I applied to the companies that I like, I applied even to companies that I didn't know nothing about. I applied to big corporations like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Accenture... Actually my dream was to work for Google [inaudible 00:20:31] for it that way. When I see that big companies like Google and all, they got back to me and we went in the interview process, I said, oh, okay, Accenture got back to me. I didn't go until the end you know. Even on Accenture, I failed. But the point it is that I see that I get calls back. So I had instant feedback, career feedback. Not just, let's try to do some simulation, this was a real experience.

Of course it's scary, you have all kind of things going on in your stomach and all kinds of sensations. But, it was a real experience and I knew where I am, I knew what I have to work on. I knew that my weak part was the algorithms and data structures. And I knew that I have to work on that. No matter what. Even though most of the companies they ask for, you'll not have to use it in their daily job, but I had to do it. So I had to review this. I did it in 2017 in freeCodeCamp.

And this year again, I went over with the Practicum. I went again and I reviewed everything in freeCodeCamp. I think Coursera has some courses that I did. HackerRank, corridors and things like that. I tried to fulfill this gap, that I knew I had. And the interviews reflected that when I didn't pass the last technical interviews. [inaudible 00:22:32] that was. And luckily, I was lucky enough to ask for a feedback on my interview to a company here that I wanted to work with. And we are in a very good relationship. And they gave me the feedback and it was exactly what I was thinking that I have to work on. Usually, not all the interviewers will give you feedback, but I think the relationship that was between us made it possible to have a feedback and concentrate on what I needed to do.

Daniel Blazer:

You maybe already realized this, but what you just explained to me, it's like very much a developer's mindset to the process of applying and interviewing where you're like, okay, I need to find out what skills I need to acquire. So I'm going to just start applying. Well, kind of break that problem down into its own little problem. Is my cover letter good? is my resume good? Okay. I'm getting callbacks. Okay, now I can break it into these other little problems. I can get more feedback.

Linda Kovacs:

This is what I always explain to everybody who starts to learn, because there are many approaching these boot camps. They are coming from other different jobs that don't have nothing to do with the software engineering or with web development. I always told them, don't wait until you graduate. Just start to apply for jobs. Just start to make your little website, create a small portfolio to show and start to apply. And if you don't get a job by the graduation, by the graduation you'll be ready to apply for your job.

Daniel Blazer:

That's great advice. I think a lot out of people, they know that they should be doing that but they're afraid of failing. Right. And I think we've already talked about that. Is just being able to accept that's part of the process. That can be so empowering, but it's also scary. No one wants to fail. You just want to apply for one place and then get the job and it's your dream job, right? Like that's what everyone wants, but that's not the truth. That's not the way the real world works. How do you personally stay committed to like learning new skills? There's a million and a half things that we could all be doing. There's always a new TV show streaming on Netflix. There's always a new podcast to listen to. There's always something going on in the news. How do you stay focused personally?

Linda Kovacs:

Actually, I'm lucky that I don't like television. I like to read books.

Daniel Blazer:

Oh, that's good.

Linda Kovacs:

I think all my life, I felt guilty that I didn't finish university and I try to bridge that gap. Even through, I could even now go to finish a PhD, but I decided not to do it because anyways, nowadays it starts to be more clear that this is not needed anymore. And also Google announced that they have a certification, IT specialist that now, it'll substitute the four years of university PhD. Which I got luckily a few years ago, I did it when they were having it in testing. I did it only because it had a Google name. So I did it and I have it. I bridged it, but I have this passion for learning new things, traveling all over the world and learning new cultures, new languages. It makes you be more open for learning new skills. For me, it's like a second nature so it's not really difficult. And I think it's even the lifestyle, not having children. We don't have children. So I have more time for myself.

Daniel Blazer:

Real quick. I just wanted to give you the opportunity because you did mention that you've used PluralSight a little bit with some of the Google cloud stuff and maybe some other topics. Are there any specific PluralSight authors that you really resonated with, or that you kind of want to do a shout out?

Linda Kovacs:

I have one in particular. I don't remember the name. Okay [crosstalk 00:27:02]. I don't remember the names.

Daniel Blazer:

no worries. Is there a Google-

Linda Kovacs:

That is my [inaudible 00:27:07] ... Has a such a great voice and how he explains it's just perfect for me.

Daniel Blazer:

It's not Simon Allardice, is it a-

Linda Kovacs:

Simon Allardice! Yeah, he is. Learning and not being an English speaker, for me it's very important that I understand how that person explains. So for me, it's very... And he is just good. When I hear it, is just everything speaks to me so...

Daniel Blazer:

Yeah, he's one that a lot of people, they kind of gravitate towards. Like he said, he's actual... The way that he speaks is appealing, but then also how he explains things I think it's very clear. He breaks them down in ways that are very understandable. That's awesome, I'm sure. Hopefully he'll listen to this and it'll put a smile on his face that you mentioned him. You've mentioned a few you goals already that you kind of have in mind for this year, but what other goals are kind of in your mind? Google cloud certification, I know you mentioned that one, but are there any other ones that you're working toward right now?

Linda Kovacs:

Yes. So as you said, the first one and the most important for this year is the Google cloud certification. The second one that I'm working on, I have it even with Accenture in my list of goals, is bridging the gap for my English. They offer this Rosetta Stone English business classes that we take online. Even that I'm doing in my time and it's something that I'm really looking to get over.

I was surprised to see my English level, which I thought was lower because the Rosetta Stone starts with the test to evaluate your level. And I'm a C one, which was like, wow, for me. And I'm going toward C plus. C plus, I think, it's the last level. So that's one and graduate from Practicum because I put it a little bit on the side since I started with Accenture. Not only I started with Accenture, but everybody wanted to interview me, participate to hackathons, to give talks, write articles about this journey with Accenture and everything. It took lots of time from me and I got a little bit burned out. So I had to take a little bit of break from everything. And now I came back, I feel good. And I will start my... I will continue actually, my Google developer group meet-ups and activities as we did last year.

Daniel Blazer:

What have you found more challenging learning English or getting ready for the Google cloud certification?

Linda Kovacs:

I think the Google cloud certification. Can I share my experience with the exam when I went the first time. I read the first questions sections. I said, am I in the right exam or am I in the wrong exam. Let me check. This was my first experience with the exam. I was like, I just wanted to walk away, but Google has a policy that you have to take exam otherwise you cannot return back to take it. So I had to go through the pain of two hours reading all the questions and to understand nothing. In English, I could not understand it so I just put any answer I thought. So I said, if I pass, it means that I just got lucky. But I was sure that I will not pass it. The second time I started to understand the English part. So I'm guessing the next time I will pass it.

Daniel Blazer:

I bet you will. I really think so. One other question I wanted to throw out there. I'm sure there's going to be people that are listening to your story, and they're going to kind of think, I want to do what she did. I've I've wanted to take that step and become a software engineer. And I've been trying to learn stuff on the side. What advice do you have for those people that are willing? They kind of want to follow a similar trajectory.

Linda Kovacs:

They have to be ready to suffer. That's the first one. So if you accept the challenges and if you accept that you'll go through lots of pain because let's face it, even if you are a senior developer, you'll always go through some pain, a certain poin. You'll always have to Google stuff. You'll always have... Even if you know most of it, there are always things that you'll have to learn because everything changes. What I learned in 2018 change in 2019 or 2020. So you will have to be always ready to learn. With this presuppose, you can have many other tools that you can use. I used the freeCodeCamp because this was my first approach. There are people that they got jobs just working on freeCodeCamp curriculum. For me, I had a daily job and this was my side project. So I was learning on the side after the working hours.

So I didn't dedicate too much time to it, like eight or 10 hours a day or something like that. I will dedicate four hours maybe after work. Then, I wanted so badly to have a full stack course. So I did the class with Albany Camp Code. They didn't have the backend and the backend was my weak part that I really wanted to see how it is. At least to have the full experience. I helped a lot students in Slack, for example, Albany Camp Code, there is career in code here and now Practicum. So I joined Practicum because it was my dream to have the full experience and after to decide if I like more the front end or the backend or the full stack. But I had some experience from what I learned myself alone with YouTube videos, with Useremin courses with lynda.com.

You know, I was trying to find... There are so many screen bar. If I have to make a list with all the courses that are out there, it's not possible. It's an infinite list. Most people complain that they don't have a portfolio. What I did, I to put in my portfolio. I had a radio website. I put in my portfolio all the projects that I created with Albany Camp Code with helping the students for careers in code with Practicum. But if you don't get a chance to have a boot camp or something, you can go through freeCodeCamp. They have some projects that you can build, or you can build your website that can be a piece to put in the portfolio. And if you need help, the thing is that, if you join a boot camp, you have this access with Slack and you can find people to help you.

So this is what I'm doing every day. I'm helping other students, because I know how difficult it was for me in the beginning. I didn't have nobody to ask a question. It was really painful. Even if you know to code doing in another language, really, is really difficult. And I don't want to see this happen to other people that start so that's why I'm volunteering to help other people to pursue their dream because I did. And I will suggest that everybody after they pursue their dreams to help other developers that start or begin their journey now.

So, it's a lot of pain. So that's the most important thing. If you stay in your comfort zone, if everything is nice and pleasant, you'll not grow. It's just like, you want to go to the gym and lift weights. If you lift only two bottles of water, I don't think your muscles will grow. So the same thing with the developers, you need to grow your muscles and that's how you get confidence. Not only helping others, you learn it even better and you'll be able to see everybody's errors and help them to fix it and things like this.

Daniel Blazer:

Well, that's a lot of great advice. I think for me personally, like based on our conversation, it's kind of like, when you said, be ready to suffer. That mentality I think is actually really important because like we talked about before, I think we're all kind of wired to try to avoid discomfort and we want to avoid failure. And it makes sense that those things are not fun, but your analogy of going to the gym is spot on, right? If you're never willing to challenge your current... Challenge the status quo, you're just going to stay there. Anyway, lots of great advice for anyone, software developers or otherwise, I think.

Linda Kovacs:

If you don't feel pain, ask yourself if you stretch yourself enough. Look at the Olympics what they do. They just own the gold medal and the next day they start all over to do the training and suffer. Go through all the suffering. And they are the mondial champions. So same thing. So if you don't feel pain, it means that your goal is not high enough to make you grow. Avoiding pain is not the right way. You have to go through the pain.

Daniel Blazer:

I Like that a lot. Well, thank you so much, Linda, for speaking with me today and I'm really excited to get this out here, because I think a lot of people are going to really connect with your story.

Linda Kovacs:

Thank you so much Daniel for having me and thank you to your out [inaudible 00:38:00] and I hope to help others, to inspire others with my story. They can connect with me if they want. The only one problem is I cannot answer everybody. I have so many people contact me. Like, I don't have even time anymore. So if I don't answer you, consider that my day is only 24 hours like yours and there are many other people asking me the same questions.

Daniel Blazer:

Yeah. Well that's fair. I can put some of that information in the show notes to the episode so people can see that.

Linda Kovacs:

Definitely. Thank you so much.

Daniel Blazer:

Thank you for listening to Hands on Tech, to see show notes in more info, visit pluralsight.com/podcast.