Episode 54 – Creating Software Development from Chemistry

Ken Luk and Mentoring Developers with Arsalan Ahmed

Life has a funny way of throwing you a curveball and changing your path sometimes. One minute, you have your degree and are working in a field you first envisioned would be the career of your life, but it isn’t all that you imagined it would be. Something is lacking. That lackluster can be just enough to drive you to the point to say enough is enough, it’s time for a change. That is what happened to our next guest.

Meet Ken Luk. Ken graduated with a degree in biology and worked as an industrial chemist full time. But like many of us, his former job lacked the excitement and creativity that he so desired. In one fell swoop, Ken left his job and traveled halfway across the country to attend a coding bootcamp, where he fell in love with software development. Listen in to episode 54 to hear about Ken’s journey, why he made the change and how he feels about his decision.

Don’t forget to say hello to Ken on Twitter!

Ken Luk’s Bio:

After working as a math and science at Mason Academy, Ken Luk attended Dev Bootcamp and became a software developer in 2014. Less than a year later, he was working in mobile app development, where he currently works today. Ken helped bring three main projects to fruition since the start of his software development journey.

  • The Dev Bootcast podcast. Ken documenting his experiences with this coding bootcamp.
  • Survey Gorilla. This was modeled after Survey Monkey and allows people to create and take surveys, and view the aggregated survey results.
  • NodeHopper.  This is a recommendation engine that suggests new interests across movies, music, books, and more.

Episode Highlights and Show Notes:

Arsalan: Hi everyone. Today my guest is Ken Luk. Ken, how are you?

Ken: I’m doing pretty well. How are you doing, Arsalan?

Arsalan: I’m doing pretty good. Your path and your journey into software development are a little bit different from my other guests. This has become a trend now, but that’s what I love about these interviews. I get to me all these people. So, you’re now an android developer for an android consultancy company in Michigan, but before that, you were doing something completely different. What industry were you in?

Ken: I studied sciences and ended up working as an industrial chemist. So, it’s a pretty big change.

Arsalan: Is that what you studied in college?

Ken: No. I actually studied biology, but I took a ton of chemistry so I was able to work in that field.

Arsalan: Did you graduate with the degree?

Ken: Yes. I received a bachelor’s of science in biology from UCLA.

Arsalan: That’s a very good school and an interesting degree. You did that for a while, but that wasn’t cutting it for you. What was missing?

Ken: Prior to the chemistry job, I also worked as an EMT. Just as with that job, it was super interesting at first. But over time you start encountering the same scenarios over and over again and the job becomes pretty predictable. I wanted to find a job that has less of a ceiling in terms of what you’re going to see every day. Software development is what I ended up settling with.

Arsalan: Do you remember your first encounter with programming?

Ken: It was probably prior to considering software development as a career. I was trying to work on a personal website and trying to figure out how to modify some JavaScript to do something slightly different that I wanted on my website. That was my first exposure to programming.

Arsalan: How did that feel?

Ken: It was very confusing because I didn’t have the experience to really understand what the background code was doing. So, it was pretty much a bunch of guesswork trying to get it to work the way I wanted it to.

Arsalan: So, you were working on your personal website and you needed some JavaScript, and you figured that you’d better learn some. Yet, you weren’t really that interested in doing this full time or as a career. You just wanted to work on your website. Is that right?

Ken: Yes. I would say this was a couple of years before I considered software development as a career. I always thought the programming aspect is a little boring. I never thought I would want to stare at the screen, but now I love the problem-solving and logic aspects of it.

Arsalan: It does seem like that to outsiders. A lot of people don’t think that they want to be nerdy or geeky and be stuck typing at the computer. We do have stereotypes of those kinds of people. I think that is what is keeping a lot of women, girls, and other people who have multiple talents away. They want to be cool and until recently doing things like this on the computer wasn’t that cool. Yet now, I think a lot of people want to become software developers because now they see other people build incredible things and change the world in a small way. I think that is really empowering.

Arsalan: So, you were going through that. You had your degree and you were working, but then you decided that this was it and now you were going to jump ship. When you decided to go to the code camp, were you still working as an employee somewhere or did you just start over and quit your job? How did that go?

Ken: Once I got accepted, I quit my job and I moved to Chicago from California.

Arsalan: Wow! That’s a big change. How did Chicago feel to you?

Ken: It was nice. It was my first prolonged exposure to the Midwest. People seemed nice, but the weather was quite a shock. It was pretty cold.

Arsalan: I believe you were there in either late winter or early springtime. That’s when they would do the code camp. I’m guessing that you probably didn’t actually see the winter.

Ken: I think I did. I remember the lake being frozen over and there were a few days when they actually had to close down classes because it was so cold out.

Arsalan: I used to live in Chicago and I used to live near Lake Michigan. The lake does freeze over and it’s like Siberia out there, if you’re out on the lake. But you’ll see people running around the lake and along the side of the lake and acting like its all normal in the middle of winter. Yet, that’s just the way Chicago is. People are really tough. Coming from California, I can see why this would be a big shock for you.

Arsalan: Now you’re in this alien environment. You gave up everything you had and had worked for. You decided you were going to be a software developer and you also traveled all the way to Chicago. You had to find a place to live. I’m assuming you didn’t have relatives or friends living there. Did you know anyone in Chicago?

Important Links

  • Dev Bootcast
  • Detroit Labs (Please note: Applications just opened.  It’s a paid 8-week apprenticeship for QA and it includes 4 weeks of programming and 4 weeks of QA training.  They try to place the graduates at companies after graduation.  Applications close on 1/20/16).
  • Find Ken on Quora
  • Dev Bootcamp

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