For Maria Parra, August of 2018 was rough. She had stepped off a plane from the Spanish city of Granada to Dresden, in Germany, with a desire to start a new chapter in her career. The problem was that she did not speak a word of German. Finding her way through streets with names that sounded like nothing she knew felt like figuring out an RPG dungeon. Buying groceries turned into a Duolingo exercise.
‘The first week I was there, I kept missing all my stations on the tram,’ she remembers, but with a smile, almost a touch of nostalgia. She has now made it 3 years living in Germany, and while she has picked up some of the language, she is still quite a way from being fluent.
Yet only a few months ago she was hired as an interactive web designer for a local firm. How did she do this?
The beginning of Maria’s story is one that many Southern Europeans of her generation might relate to. As a university student in Spain she had studied design, but was frustrated by the unregulated working conditions and the low wages in her country. So she tried her luck abroad, working in bars and restaurants under the cloudy skies of Bath, in the UK.
The combination of poor weather and a low-skilled job experience would leave her yearning for a more satisfying career: ‘England in winter is the right place to go to decide you want to change your life,’ she jokes today.
But how does one move to another country and build a rewarding, meaningful career without speaking the local language?
For Maria, the answer overlapped with her decision to transform from a designer working hands-on, to one operating in the virtual environments of the web. ‘I used to have my own brand of artistic book-binding, but the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything. People stopped making things by hand, and all the jobs and services moved online. I realized there was no future for me in printing, so I decided it was time to upskill with a coding bootcamp.’
The Bootcamp Experience
Maria signed up for the WBS CODING SCHOOL Full-Stack Web & App Development bootcamp in January 2021. Never one to wait for things to come to her, she took advantage of the school’s career services and started looking for jobs during the bootcamp rather than after it. By the time she graduated, she already had two job offers on the table – neither of which required that she speak German.
‘The world of tech is special in this way,’ she explains. ‘You can travel anywhere in Europe, and probably beyond, and find a job there, as long as you can code competently and communicate in English. This has become even truer now that the pandemic has normalized remote working. A lot of the non-essential or non-technical communication that would normally be carried out with the local staff is no longer necessary. Thus, the only languages you really need to know well are English and your programming language – and for me, at least, the latter can be learned faster than German.’
With that being said, Maria doesn’t want to convey the message that building a career in programming is easy in and of itself.
‘I know people who thought that just because I was moving to Germany, I was automatically going to be handed the job of my dreams. But no matter where you go, it’s first and foremost about how much effort you put into your career and into carving out your path. Building a good portfolio is essential, but you must also know how to sell and promote yourself. And for me, that’s about knowing my skills and being natural in interviews.’
Undeniably, Maria had to work hard to get her current job. A bootcamp is no joke, requiring as it does a full-time commitment to learning to code (the word she chose to describe the experience was ‘intense’). But because she was completing it and looking for positions at the same time, she found herself doing her class exercises on top of the coding challenges sent to her by the companies she applied to.
When they invited her to an interview two days before the presentation of her final project with the school, the first thing she did was to apologise ‘for being so sleepy’ – she’d been working until very late hours that week!
Her success in finding the job she wanted without speaking the language of the country where she was hired is therefore not just the product of hard work, but also of the right attitude. ‘If you stay positive, patient, and always try to give the best of yourself, then I believe that things will work out,’ she says. And her best argument is her own story.