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From Chef to Coder: Transforming His Career During the Pandemic

It was March 2020 and Kieron Spearing, a chef working in the world’s top kitchens, knew it was time for a change. Over the next two years, Kieron would go on to take his first edX course, CS50's Introduction to Computer Science from Harvard, teach himself to develop software in Python and JavaScript and, ultimately, find himself in a new role as a full-stack developer within a new industry. 

Read on to learn more about Kieron’s journey, how he made this career change, and why he considers himself a lifelong learner.

Tell me more about your career as a chef and why you wanted to pivot to something different?

Prior to 2020, I spent nearly seven years working in Michelin Star restaurants. When I first moved to the UK from South Africa, I ate at one of Gordon Ramsey's restaurants and immediately decided I wanted to be a part of the industry. I asked the chef that night if they were hiring and two weeks later I was at work in the kitchen. Fast forward seven years and I loved my time as a chef, but I didn’t love the life that came with it. 

I knew I wanted to change but I didn’t know where to start. 

How do people change from one career to another?’ 

A friend of mine made a career change from being a teacher to a developer by going back to university. Although I had never been to university, I always had an interest in computers and how they work, so I decided to take a similar path. 

layer "Although I had never been to university, I always had an interest in computers and how they work."

I left the restaurant industry and started work as an English teacher in Spain as I took steps to apply to a university program. However, when COVID hit and the country shut down, my plans for university were delayed indefinitely, and I looked for other solutions.

What edX course did you take and what were your goals in taking it?

During the second week of the pandemic, as we were all in quarantine in Madrid my girlfriend found Harvard’s CS50's Introduction to Computer Science course and showed it to me. Since it was the height of the lockdown, I had some of free time on my hands and decided to dive into the course. I loved every minute of it as it took me through learning the basic concepts of computer science like arrays, data types, and memory management in C, and converting your acquired knowledge in one language to another like Python. However, I quickly realized that I wasn’t content with just learning a little bit about computer science. 

From there, I went on to complete The Flask Mega Tutorial by Miguel Grinberg, which taught me good practices throughout the development cycle of a full-scale application. After this I went on to learn React and combine the knowledge I had gained so far into multiple personal projects, this is where I truly learned how to build applications—I couldn’t learn enough! 

After about 10 months of programming on the side (while working my full-time teaching job) I wanted to become a full-time programmer, and so I started applying aggressively for developer roles. 

How did you ultimately land a developer role?

I probably sent over two hundred applications and ended up with two responses. One of those two companies was impressed with how I had taught myself programming and decided to give me a technical trial.

In this technical trial, they asked me to do something I had never done before: choose one of three websites and build a web scraper to collect data in an automated fashion. I spent an entire weekend learning how to build a tool like this and ultimately made a scraper for all three sites. I landed the job! I have now been working within the IT industry for over a year.

How has your learning impacted your career, life, or community? What’s next for you?

I am now loving my life and enjoying work more than when I was in the kitchen. I finally have the work-life balance that I was hoping for. Every day is different, with new problems to solve as a team. It is very exciting!

layer "Every day is different, with new problems to solve as a team. It is very exciting!"

I don’t believe I’ll ever be finished learning and I never want to, I have also found truth in the saying that the best way to learn is to teach, thus I started my Medium blog to do just that - I'm excited to combine my passion for food and programming to find ways to teach these topics in a fun way.

Long term, I would love to find a way to combine both the restaurant industry and the IT industry. I believe there are many untapped ways to use big data to improve the lives of these workers. 


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