Stories of CCX

How A Senior Software Developer Made A Career Gap Work for Her

What makes a good developer? Back-to-front understanding of the full stack? Memorizing good coding practices? Meticulous commenting? Understanding Java? Understanding Git? These all have their place but to CommerceCX senior developer Tanya Porter, it’s very simple: development is a state of mind.

“I have a problem to solve. I know I need to get from point A to point B. I don’t know the final details until I’m in it, right? Until I have my hands in it. But I know the path.”

Listening to Tanya’s development process sounds like witnessing a series of epiphanies. She may not know what the solution looks like, but she knows where to start to find it. From that point it’s just answering each question and problem as they come up until she finds her way to the answer.

“The journey can be in any programming language,” she explains. “Regardless of the shoes you wear, you will still get from A to B. You just have to take one step at a time.”

It’s an intuitive process, part natural affinity and part years of experience walking in different shoes. Tanya started programming in C, but various development projects have given her experience in many programming languages and frameworks: she’s developed Java, PHP, and JavaScript software and worked with a variety of databases using SQL; she’s worked on web projects using HTML, CSS, and Drupal; she’s even considered a Git expert.

Now she works as a Salesforce developer, working mostly in Apex (Salesforce’s proprietary programming language) and JavaScript. She’s one of CommerceCX’s senior developers and her work has helped establish CommerceCX’s reputation for competent and thorough solution development.

“She’s solved complex problems for us and generally made them look easy,” says Vinay Toomu, who hired Tanya in 2018. “Customers always enjoy working with her.”

Tanya is dedicated to doing her best work for CommerceCX and that loyalty is not incidental. It comes from how she got here.

“I worked for years as a software developer. I got my degree in computer science and then I worked as a C developer,” she explains. “Then, when I had children, I stayed home with them.”

Tanya obviously loves development: her eyes light up when she describes the thought process behind solving a problem and creating a solution. She has a passion for programming that has carried her through in an industry famous for burnout. But when it came down to her job or her kids, there wasn’t a choice to make.

“A year and a half after I left to stay home with my kids, I still had people calling me saying ‘are you sure you don’t want to come back? We really need a developer.’ And I said I would, if I could work from home, and they said that’s the only requirement: you can’t work from home.”

She’s not the only person to struggle with this paradigm. One of the biggest conversations about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is its effect on women with childcare responsibilities: over 32% of women are less likely to leave their jobs if given a remote option. Parents of all genders have described the positive impact that working from home has on their family lives. If Tanya could have worked remotely, she would have—but it wasn’t an option.

Tanya didn’t stop problem-solving, though. She started a tax preparation company to boost her household income and began volunteering as a mentor at the STEM nonprofit The Forge Initiative, guiding students through programming and technical development. And as her kids grew older and more independent, she started dipping her toes in tech again.

“Somebody asked me to do some development again and I said ‘sure, I’ll give it a try.’ So, I learned Java and also website stuff, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and other frameworks.”

These early jobs were part-time, but they whet Tanya’s appetite and reminded her how much she enjoyed programming. She started applying for full-time jobs but struggled to get traction with the professional gap in her resume. As it turned out the opportunity didn’t come from her professional history, but her volunteer experience.

Recruiters and HR representatives often debate whether to recommend putting volunteer experience on a resume. In Tanya’s case, her volunteer work got her a job. Tanya met CommerceCX CEO Vinay Toomu at an outreach program put together by The Forge Initiative and he was impressed by her history, professional and personal.

“Generally, the way I’ve always worked, is, I always look at a person, look at what their capabilities could be and what they could do. And then put the effort into that investment.”

Tanya had significant experience and a willingness to learn. Vinay didn’t mind Tanya’s nontraditional history as long as she could do the work. So, he hired her as a Java developer, with the understanding that she would have to learn Salesforce. Tanya sometimes worried about whether she would be able to program in Apex, after walking in different shoes for so long. But it wasn’t as hard as she expected.

“Surprisingly, as much as technology has changed, the software development process has not changed all that much,” she says. “And Salesforce development in its most basic form is not that much different than C development was when I started.”

The shoes have changed but the path is the same. Tanya’s path took off from there: she went from knowing nothing about Salesforce to being a lead developer on a major project in less than three years. Her nontraditional background hasn’t detracted from her work: it’s enhanced it. She describes how her personal experience helped CommerceCX make a good impression on a propane reseller and potential client.

“I just happen to live in a house that also uses propane. So, I knew exactly how the propane industry works. And that made a connection.”

According to entrepreneur James Rhee, individuals with nontraditional backgrounds aren’t bugs, they’re features. In his interview on Brené Brown’s podcast Dare to Lead, Rhee describes his own nontraditional background and discusses how recruiting team members from various backgrounds strengthens organizations by creating loyalty, inspiring confidence, and including different perspectives.

Tanya’s perspective includes decades of problem-solving in dozens of different environments—which makes her great at developing solutions in various use cases.

“She continues to amaze me in terms of how leaned in she is and how astute she is,” Vinay says. “How she looks at problems, how she solves problems holistically, and how she’s always trying to do what’s right.”

Five years out from that struggle to find a job, Tanya is now the one turning recruiters down. Her work at CommerceCX has earned her offers from larger, more prominent companies, but none of them can offer her the environment she’s found at CommerceCX.

“I really have this loyalty,” she says. “It’s not just about money. It’s about feeling appreciated and validated. Knowing that Vinay trusts me, that he thinks—he knows—that I will do a good job. Being validated like that is much more important to me than a paycheck.”

When recruiters rule out candidates based on nontraditional work histories or career gaps they risk losing out on valuable opportunities. More importantly, they risk losing out on good people. It’s easy to get hung up on what programming languages someone knows or where and when they earned their degree, but those aren’t nearly as big a factor in development as whether someone shows they can do the job.

“A good team lead knows that even if you only developed in PHP, you would still make a good Python developer if you’re a good developer,” Tanya says. “I was a good C developer, I was a good Java developer, so now I’m a good Salesforce developer.”

And it’s just as simple as that.

This article is part of our series Stories of CommerceCX, which seeks to collect and record employee experiences into a series of articles exploring their history and growth and how CommerceCX’s investment in goodwill and employees’ quality-of-life leads to positive business results. Read more Stories of CCX here.