Software developer Markéta Willis has paved her way to IT through what may appear to be an unexpected journey that had her studying pedagogy, working in the service industry, or undertaking a diplomatic internship in Moscow. The soft skills she gained from this experience are now proving useful for coaching junior developers at Czechitas, creating educational content on Instagram, and communicating with clients at Applifting. Markéta opened up to us about the insights and advice she would share with her past student self.
How does a pedagogy student become a software developer?
I studied pedagogy not because it was my dream to become a teacher but rather because I enjoyed languages and literature. I also found math interesting, but people at our high school assumed that if you were into math or technology, you’d be going to matfyz (Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University). It was considered more of a field for “nerds”. I didn't know that there were so many opportunities in the world of technology, so I wound up choosing pedagogy for its focus on languages.
Nearing the end of my studies, I realized I didn't want to teach. Instead of getting a master's degree, I went to London to gain some experience. I worked in cafés, then spent some time doing an internship at a Czech cultural center in Moscow, and after that, I returned to Prague and worked in recruiting and other office jobs. I was trying to figure out what I enjoy.
Something changed when a former colleague of mine went into IT. She showed me that it wasn't just for guys, that I could also make that change. Until then, I hadn’t known anything about the IT community. It's a shame that the IT industry isn't better marketed.
You mentioned London and Moscow. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
It was during my studies that I had my first international experience. In my second year of university, I did an Erasmus in Ireland. There, in Dublin, I studied pedagogy and literature. It was very typically Erasmus-like. I didn't think of it as an international experience, more of a long vacation.
After my exams, I still had to write the bachelor's thesis. I didn't have any classes anymore, so I moved to London to stay with a family friend and write my thesis there. My supervisor was very accommodating, we did everything online. I spent two and a half years there, earning money by working in cafés. I really enjoyed that. It was an interesting job, working with people and creating a cozy environment they liked to come back to.
However, I wanted to move forward. I was looking for what to do next. I got an opportunity to do an internship at the Czech House in Moscow—one of these cultural centers for Czechs abroad or for foreigners interested in Czech culture. I spent three months in Russia. This experience didn’t set me down the right path either, so I returned to Prague and started working in recruitment, where I finally met the colleague I mentioned earlier, who showed me the way into IT.
You enjoyed working with people when you were abroad. Do you miss that in development?
I think if I were doing just development, then I would miss it. But I also took up teaching at Czechitas, so I still come into contact with people. Working in a café is different, and I’d still enjoy it, but there is a lot of communication in development as well. It's not just for introverts as some people think. You need to have well-developed communication skills.
When you were studying, IT seemed like a field for boys only. Do you think this idea still persists among young students?
I’m not in touch with young people who are about to go off to college. I know that there are organizations that introduce programming to children from the age of six or seven, where they make programs with Scratch—a child-friendly programming language that is more visual, where the individual components are put together like a puzzle. Parents are also quite involved in that. I think the ratio of boys to girls is balanced in these courses. But I don't have any data.
Was there any internal change in your philosophy that led you to these dramatic changes in fields?
I never wanted to go in one direction. I studied the humanities, but then I worked for three or four years in all sorts of positions, countries, and companies. I was open to almost everything. And perhaps it was hiring design engineers back when I worked in recruitment that inspired me. I asked them what kind of job they wanted, and they talked so enthusiastically about it. They had specific requirements for which program they wanted to work in or what they wanted to do. They were incredibly passionate about their craft. I thought it’d be great to have such a hard skill to pursue as well. At that time, I didn't know what it should be, but I did figure it out during the first course at Czechitas.
If you could turn back time, would you study pedagogy and work in the food industry again, or would you go straight into development?
It's hard to say in hindsight. All the college and work experience got me to where I am now. It's not like two years ago, I started from scratch. I could speak English and Russian perfectly, I was well-versed in culture and history, and I had good organizational and soft skills.
But it's definitely a shame that high school teachers don't think about what their students will do for a living instead of just focusing on where they will go off to college. It's possible that if they had shown us in school that IT isn't just programming, that it includes many other positions, I would have studied that field.