From Microbiologist to Software Developer

From Microbiologist to Software Developer

A tale of following my passion to become a developer, and the long journey that keeps on going.


8 min read

Dear Reader,

I hope you can grab some inspiration from this tale and enjoy this coming of age story.

Now gather around, grab your coffee or favorite drink and let me tell you how I discovered my passion for software development and decided to embark on a journey that will last through my lifetime.

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Chapter 1. The Beginning

My Name is Dathan Stone and I've always had a passion for Science and Technology. Since I was just a little dude, biology and gaming where my favorite subjects. From reading bug encyclopedias, building small robots and caring for animals during the day, and playing video games throughout the nights, I was your typical science geek.

I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, since that's what I've been telling myself since I was 10 years old. After High School, I went straight to college to try and make that dream a reality. Within two years of being a Biology major I tossed out the veterinarian dream because I took so many Microbiology and Molecular Biology classes, that I felt that was the direction I needed to go.

As I was in my last semester of my college career and finally getting that Biology degree, I took a class that I believe changed the course of my life... without knowing it until 3 years later.

1.1 The Class that Started it All ๐Ÿ“–

What could possibly be the one class that could change the directory of my life? The answer is Bioinformatics. Bioinformatics is a combination of genetics, genomics and a dash of programming to create and use scientific applications that analyze data.

Here is an accurate description of how that class made my brain feel:

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It was difficult, especially with no programming background. The class was a plethora of information and it made me feel like my head was going to explode. I could have just dropped the class, but I was hooked into it for some reason that I didn't know at the time.

1.2 Python was King ๐Ÿ

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This class centered around the Python programming language, specifically the BioPython library. This was because Python is one of, if not the most popular language for creating bioinformatic tools and data analysis.

1.3 The Project that Embodied Frustration ๐Ÿ˜ก

With no programming experience, and a very brief introduction to BioPython, I had to create a program that did the following:

  • Could take any FASTA or GenBank file as input.
  • Allow a user to search for a specific sequence in the FASTA or GenBank file.
  • Print out the results with the locations and number of times the sequence occured.

The tools at my disposal was the BioPython documentation and Jupyter Notebooks. For a couple weeks I read over documentation, tested code in Jupyter Notebooks and even pulled an all-nighter with a colleague so we could finish this project by 6 AM, the day it was due. There were times my code wouldn't run correctly for hours, only to find out my issue was a missing letter or the capitalization was off. It was infuriating, but again, I was hooked and my attention span for this project seemed infinite.


1.4 What's Next?

It's December 2017, the class is over and I finally graduate with my degree in Biology! This also happened to be when I put down programming and didn't touch it for another 3 years. I became a Microbiologist and stayed in a quality lab setting for years...until the beginning of 2020.

Chapter 2. The Year is 2020

The beginning of 2020 was slightly chaotic for everyone. The pandemic hits and people's jobs are affected. Unfortunately, I was one of those people who lost their job. This was incredibly stressful and I was on the hunt for a new job. I would eventually find a new job in the dietary supplements business that was more on the corporate side. I was elated that I had a job, but it made me think about what I really wanted to do with my life.

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2.1 Thinking about Bioinformatics

I started to reflect on my college days to see if there was anything that I was exposed to that I truly wanted to pursue. The only reoccurring thought that popped up was my Bioinformatics class and how I was so invested in my programming assignment no matter how frustrating it was. I decided to self-study programming to see if this is my mind playing a cruel game on my frustrations or if this is something to follow.

2.2 Learning the Basics of the Web ๐Ÿ–ฅ๏ธ

I had an arsenal of programming resources at my finger tips when it came to learning the basics of web development. My study material consisted of:

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I had a short attention span for tutorial classes, and often I'd follow along just enough to where I felt I could go on my own and create my own projects and reference documentation instead.

2.3 To Code or Not to Code? That is the Question.

I was hooked, there was no question about it. I experienced the same frustrations of code not working due to simple and complex issues, but I stuck to it with amazing focus. I realized that the reason I loved programming was because it allowed my logical thinking mindset to be creative by creating whatever I wanted with code.

Mid 2020, I decided that programming is what I truly wanted to do, and so I did the one thing I know best...

Chapter 3. School Again ๐Ÿซ

That's right, here comes some more student loans! In all seriousness, school is comfort to me and I felt that I needed structure when it came to my programming journey. When it came to deciding the school I was going to choose, I had three basic requirements:

  1. Relatively low cost
  2. Accredited institution
  3. Flexible

Luckily, I found my school in June 2020, and started my first day on July 1st 2020. 2.png

3.1 Hello Western Governors University

Western Governors University was an easy choice for me. It's an online, accredited institution that has a low cost tuition and it was incredibly flexible. I chose the B.S in Software Development program and hit the ground running!

I studied the foundational concepts like data structures and algorithms and I was often tested with coding assignments for web development, mobile development and even desktop development! This is how I found my favorite language to work with:

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3.2 Hello Java โ˜•

Java is one of the most popular, statically typed object-oriented programming languages. To me, this language helped me grasp programming concepts the easiest such as variables, loops, memory, data structures, inheritance, polymorphism, composition and more. It is also general-purpose and you could create any type of application you'd like with this language. Here are a few from school and personal projects:

Chapter 4. Struggles

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4.1 Time Management โŒ›

My life is like a plate at an "all you can eat" buffet...its always full and never-ending. Time management was extremely difficult for me because I couldn't just sit at my computer and learn how to code all day and do school. I have family, a relationship, two cats and a full-time job to juggle and I was not perfect at it by any means. I still tried to get at least 2 hours a day on the computer to do school classes and some side projects to keep developing my coding skills.

4.2 Burn Out ๐Ÿ”ฅ

Naturally, this hustling lifestyle took a toll on me and there were numerous times that I burned out. I had to learn to give myself a break, even if it was just a day of not touching my computer to decompress, spend time with my partner and cats and give my brain a break.

4.3 Imposter Syndrome ๐Ÿƒ

Imposter syndrome hit really hard for me. I've read stories of people becoming web developers within 3 - 9 months and after a year into my schooling, I still didn't feel ready for even a junior position. It didn't help that whenever I went onto job boards for entry level roles, you had to have 10+ years experience in a technology that has been out for 2 years and know 17 other technologies. It turned me off from even trying to apply to jobs.

Chapter 5. The Year is 2022

This is the year I feel good about myself. Imposter syndrome is leaving, I'm about to graduate with my second Bachelors degree and I've gotten better at managing my time. The week before I graduated from school I:

  • Took 3 days to create my portfolio website.
  • Learned numerous AWS Technologies enough to deploy my portfolio website.
  • Redeployed my NFL API using AWS EC2 and Elastic Beanstalk.
  • Created an entry level software developer resume.
  • Polished my GitHub.

5.1 Thank you Bioinformatics

July 28th, 2022 I've done it. I have graduated with my B.S in Software Development, and even though I didn't have a job in the field yet, I confidently call myself a software developer.

As I reflect on this achievement, I can't help but attribute the beginning of it to a singular class: Bioinformatics. I never would have thought that during my Biology degree program, I would have found my passion for something and not even know it until years later and I'm so grateful for it. I am no longer afraid to apply for jobs and have had a few recruiters slide into my DMs.

Thank you Bioinformatics for making me become a developer,

Dathan Stone.

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The End

Thank you to all the readers who decided to listen to my story. If you're a developer who is still trying to find their way, I promise you that you will. There are so many ways to approach your software development journey and I hope my story gave a sliver of inspiration and comfort to those who have struggles during their journey.

Keep on coding, and never stop learning.

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