Barbora Skálová: From studying and teaching Finnish to working as a frontend developer
Until recently, I’d disliked the question “What do you do for a living?” I’d never had a job that was easy to explain – I wasn’t a teacher, a lawyer or a doctor. Telling people about my work always required long and complicated explanations, and it didn’t help that I was always working several rather disparate jobs at the same time. And now, finally, my job can be described in one or two words: for the past year, I’ve been making a living as a programmer/frontend developer.
I majored in Finnish and for many years had a part-time job teaching it in language schools, but I also taught courses on the history of Finland at two faculties, earned a PhD in modern history, and translated a variety of texts from Finnish and English: ranging from official EU documents to Finnish film subtitles. After my first daughter was born, I started working part time as project coordinator of the international study program at the Czech Technical University in Prague. I stayed there for seven years, including the time I was on maternal leave with my second daughter – I had a great boss who tolerated my 100% home office even back then, years before Covid-19 existed.
After my second maternal leave ended, I successfully applied for the post of Scientific Attaché at the British Embassy. It was an interesting period of time around Brexit and seeing British diplomacy and politics from the inside was often an unforgettable experience (in both the good and bad sense of the word). I got to know many impressive people there, mostly scientists, and visited many interesting places. Even so, my job didn’t feel very fulfilling – what I was missing were tangible results of my work and the sense that I’m doing something meaningful, something with some real impact.
The analyses that I spent entire days creating were disappearing in the depths of British ministries, and I never found out if somebody had actually read them and whether they’d been useful. What’s more, the world of diplomacy is a very specific one, full of fake smiles and pandering to people that you would normally go out your way to avoid. Although I had excellent colleagues, I wasn’t very lucky as far as my boss was concerned, and so my job, with its prestigious title but soul-crushing nature, caused my dissatisfaction to grow every day.
I first discovered Czechitas when I was searching for a programming course for my daughter. When I found out that they also do courses for women, I signed up for a one-day course called Introduction to Programming, which was led by a very unorthodox lecturer named Martin. I found that I enjoyed learning the basics of programming, so about six months later I enrolled in a semester-long course called Creating the Web from A to Z and started flirting with the idea of changing my field completely at the age of 37. At the time, I still didn’t have the courage to leave my well-paid work, but eventually this dilemma resolved itself when I lost my job just before the pandemic broke out. However, I got a very decent severance package, so I could afford to dive headfirst into something I hadn’t had the courage to do until then. I signed up for the Digital Web Academy, which was unique in many ways – it was the first web academy in Prague and also the very first academy that was basically 100% online because of Covid-19.
The academy was one hell of a ride, and even though my classmates and I didn’t see each other in person for at least two months, it was often a lot of fun. Sometimes we cried with laughter, sometimes with despair. But the instructors (including Martin, the same guy who once taught me the basics of Python) and coaches were incredibly supportive, and we all made it through the Academy, even with an offline gala in the end. Since the Academy ended in June, I decided to take the summer months off and look for a job at the end of August.
I was prepared for the job search to take a few months at least, but I was secretly hoping that I would find something by Christmas. However, just as my summer vacation was coming to an end, the girls from the Academy and I got a message from our lecturer Martin saying that the company where he works is currently hiring new frontend developers. Six of us applied, and three of us got accepted. And so that was the corny happy ending to my IT journey. I joined Newton Technologies right away in September, where, in addition to a fulfilling job, I have found great colleagues: Martin, that quirky lecturer who once guided my first programming steps and subsequently grilled us with his algorithmic exercises over the course of the Academy, Andra, with whom we created our winning project for the Academy, Markéta, another classmate from the Academy, and many other programmers who support us, help us, and never, ever look down on us.
Programming is where I’ve found my calling, and I’ve never loved my job as much as I do now. I can finally see the results of my efforts and after eight hours of work I can usually close my laptop with the feeling that I’ve done something meaningful, measurable and tangible. I never stay in one place and I’m constantly learning new things (understandable, since I’m still a junior programmer). I can work from anywhere and when the pandemic was at its height, I had the luxury of a 100% home office. These days I come to the office two days a week, mostly for the social interaction (I live outside of Prague, so an everyday commute is impractical).
Programming is an ideal career for women with young children – it offers conditions more flexible than those of any other job I’ve had. The world of IT is subject to many myths and prejudices, where programmers are often considered to be an entirely different species, but my experience has been quite the opposite of that. Essentially, all of the programmers that I’ve met so far have been kind people with high social intelligence, great sense of humor and a willingness to lend a helping hand whenever and to whomever. Never in all of my previous jobs have I laughed as much as I do now. So don’t be afraid of us, and we’ll gladly welcome you aboard.
– Barbora Skálová