Fireworks and Rubber Ducks

No stranger to learning new skills, Ali Johnson found after year’s of academia in chemistry and nanoscience, he wanted an engaging career which didn’t confine him to a laboratory…

Written by Nology Team - 21.08.19

Here is Ali's story

When I was younger my passion was chemistry

As a teenager, I was obsessed with making fireworks. This hobby sparked an interest in Chemistry which led me to study it as a degree, which I enjoyed immensely. Driven by the desire to use my knowledge in a practical way, I carried out a PhD in Chemistry and Nanoscience and spent 4 years building solar energy devices inspired by photosynthesis. I then moved to San Sebastian, a lovely city in Northern Spain, to pursue a postdoc where I made more Nanotechnology devices, ate tapas and swam in the sea. Most recently, I worked in Cambridge where I researched and developed DNA technologies.

I’ve always enjoyed solving problems and understanding how things work

While externally my career was going well, I was restless for change and knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working in a lab. I considered several career moves such as science policy, bio-security research and working for an international NGO. While exploring these options, I serendipitously met a computer scientist who suggested I might like coding. Although sceptical at first, I quickly became hooked as I realised how creative it could be.

I’ve always been interested in solving problems and understanding how things work, but I also love imagination and creativity. I found coding, in particular, front-end languages, bridged these interests nicely. After several months of self-study, I realised I could do with expert advice on every aspect of coding and guidance to breaking into the tech industry. That’s where the 12-week coding course at _nology came in.

Joining _nology has pushed me out of my comfort zone

One month in and I’m having a great time. I was a little nervous before starting, and a little unsure about what to expect but so far I’ve found the whole course enjoyable, challenging and exciting. I particularly like the atmosphere of being pushed as far as you can while feeling supported. Whilst the trainers are always there to help, they heavily encourage you to solve problems yourself before reaching out for advice. In fact, before we do ask for help, we can ‘rubber duck’ the problem, which involves taking a real or imaginary rubber duck and talking through the problem to it until you see the solution. It sounds quackers, but it really works!

When you do finally crack a problem, it is much more satisfying and gives you the confidence to do it again. I also find it useful to push myself out of my comfort zone, taking on challenges that really test me, which is the most effective way to broaden my skill set.

I still don’t know the exact direction I will take after the course but I’m hoping to find a junior development role with a significant visual design aspect and a positive impact on the world around us. While I am working all of this out, I’ve gone back to making fireworks, this time on a screen, with JavaScript animations!


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