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JACOB STORDAHL

From Welder to Software Engineer

Published January 26, 2022


One of the most frustrating misconceptions I hear about the tech industry are those that poke fun an initiatives that bring traditionally blue collar populations into the industry. They'll say "what, you expect a coal miner to learn to code?". To which I reply with a resounding "Yes!". I've talked with a lot of people who have made a transition from blue collar industries to tech and the most prominent theme of those conversations is how much those blue collar skills become useful tools in tech. So I wanted to take this opportunity to share my odd journey into tech.

In 2017, I graduated from Hamline University with a BA in Digital Media Arts. The program was half technical training, half art/research practice – we would learn technical skills in the classroom and then use those skills in large art projects. Most of the work I did during this time was building large-scale sculptures & installations that integrated either video, Arduinos, servos, Raspberry Pi's, or any combination of these tools. I was employing these digital technologies and mostly using code I found online, making minimal edits when needed. However, the lions share of the work I was doing was building stuff - carpentry, welding, plastic fabrication, and metal casting took up a large majority of my time.

During my last semester, I was trying to decide what I wanted to do for work with this vast array of different skills I had gained through this program. The idea of being a developer was enticing, but I had already tried to learn Javascript in school and, let's just say, it did not go well! So, mostly out of financial necessity, I decided to look for jobs in welding & steel fabrication. I absolutely loved all of my time in the metal shop at school and wanted to work with my hands so this was a perfect fit!

Later that year, I got a fabrication apprenticeship at Western Neon , a fantastic neon sign shop located in Seattle, WA. I often credit this role for teaching me most of the skills that help me as a Software Engineer today. Complex problem solving, collaborating across disciplines, time management for deadline-driven projects, and understanding stake-holder needs are all critical skills both in fabrication and software development. Being an apprentice, I got to practice these skills working on real projects with a teacher close by, which was totally transformative for me.

Complex problem solving, collaborating across disciplines, time management for deadline-driven projects, and understanding stake-holder needs are all critical skills both in fabrication and software development.

After working in fabrication for a few years, I decided to try picking up Javascript again - I needed a portfolio for my fabrication work and wanted to take a stab at building it myself. When jumping back in, I found that the logical parts of programming made a lot more sense to me, given the years of experience thinking about complex fabrication problems and effectively solving them. When I would get stuck, instead of feeling hopeless, I was able to find the answers I needed to get unstuck. I finally felt like I could learn Javascript.

When jumping back in, I found that the logical parts of programming made a lot more sense to me given the years of experience thinking about complex fabrication problems and solving them.

I continued to learn JS in my free time while working as a fabricator, picking up some freelance work when I could. Eventually, the pandemic forced me to go full-time as a freelance web developer. Working freelance allowed me to continue to learn while working on real world website & applications that met the unique needs of my clients. Fast forward to this month where I've landed my first full-time Software Engineering role with Stylitics , all without any formal CS training or Bootcamp under my belt.

If you're a blue collar worker with an interest in tech, don't let the negative people convince you that your skills aren't valuable in this industry. Often, your skills will be your super power and will set you apart from the more traditionally educated tech worker.