IBMer Stories

My Experience as a Chef Helped Me Break Into the Tech World

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(3 min read) By Andre Merten

In 2006, I moved from Colorado to San Francisco to attend the California Culinary Academy. Upon graduation, I had the opportunity to work in different restaurants, ranging from quaint boutiques, to corporate hotels, to high-end private catering, to a Michelin Star Resort in the Caribbean. Cooking gave me an opportunity to travel the world through food.

Often, I found myself getting lost in different cuisines, cultures, and traditions. I picked up techniques and secrets that could never be taught in a classroom and learned that food is truly a universal language. However, I reached a point in my career where I needed more, a new challenge. That’s when I got interested in computer scripting and programming.

The parallels between cooking and coding…

I found that there was a direct correlation between recipes and computer scripts. For the last 12 years, I was a professional chef.  So before I wrote computer scripts, I wrote recipes. In essence, these recipes were my source code. They ensured that an exact set of instructions were executed to produce the expected (and delicious) results. Ingredients were like variables and combining the two created some intermediate output. This then became input for the next method or function. Each intermediate result contributed to the balance and merge of flavors, which was crucial to the overall success of the final dish. I was confident that I could hand off my recipes to one of the Sous Chefs and rest assured my vision would be executed and presented precisely.

Important lessons…

In retrospect, the most important lesson cooking taught me was to work hard. Nowhere does this apply more than the transition into tech. It’s a lot of work (and I mean A LOT), mainly because I am completely self-taught. When you decide to choose this route you really have to want it. Perhaps this sounds like a broken record but perfect practice makes perfect. Don’t just go through the motions and practice lazy technique, as this can be more damaging than beneficial. It means constantly working to master your craft, striving to be better than you were the day before. Have the curiosity to always learn, to always grow and accept failure by learning from your mistakes.

I had no idea where to start, so I began researching and familiarizing myself with the latest tech tools. While maintaining a full-time job I taught myself the basics of programming. I was often exhausted, but my curiosity and desire to learn seemed to outweigh that fact. I was hooked and found myself getting deeper down the rabbit hole. Every little script I created gave me that little bit of success that pushed me for the next challenge. At times I became overwhelmed from trying to decipher documentation that was far beyond my comprehension. I began setting small but realistic achievable goals. This not only kept me on track, but it helped to grow my confidence and to keep me engaged. I knew I was ready for this journey toward this new career.

Apprenticeship was the opportunity I was looking for…

What really intrigued me about IBM’s Apprenticeship Program was the fact that it gives those coming from non-traditional backgrounds the opportunity to step into roles that otherwise seemed unattainable. I was one of those who applied for what felt like hundreds of Entry/Junior level positions, all requiring years of prior experience coupled with a Computer Science degree. I got rejected by most because I had neither, and I began to think my dream would come to a premature halt. And that’s where I was very wrong.

IBM truly cares about its employees and their growth. The work culture helps employees to develop skills and gain relevant knowledge as the technology industry continues to change into the future. The Apprenticeship program provided me with real-world experience and on the job training. I couldn’t be happier since joining the program and becoming an IBMer. IBM truly changed my life.

Learn more about how the IBM New Collar Apprenticeship Program creates new pathways to employment for candidates without an advanced degree.

About the Author
Andre Merten is a Software Engineer based in Emeryville, California.


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