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One of the hardest hit industries during the Covid-19 pandemic has been the airline industry. With global travel drastically reduced, many in the airline industry have had to make some tough choices about their careers. In this episode of Career Relaunch, flight attendant turned coder Christine Snow shares her story of stepping away from her 7-year career as a flight attendant to pursue other interests.
We discuss how you can tell whether now is the right time to make a change in your career and also talk through some common hurdles, both emotional and practical, that stand in the way of starting something new. Afterwards, I address a listener question about the other parts of your life you may want to reevaluate when you’re rethinking your career.
Key Career Insights
- Whether maintaining the current trajectory of your career makes sense.
- When a job isn’t fun anymore, your entire view of the industry can change.
- A crisis can force you to make the changes you’ve desired for so long
- One of the biggest hurdles in leaving your career behind is fearing that your current role is as “good as it gets” and you may ultimate just end up returning
- When you’re doing a job that brings you so much fulfillment, it enables you to feel like you are where you should be in your life.
- If you know deep down that your current job isn’t quite right for you, not knowing where you want to take your career instead can often leave you feeling stuck.
- Learn more about Zip Code Wilmington, the software development bootcamp Christine graduated from.
- I mentioned James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, a book I’m reading right now, which is really reshaping how I think about habit formation.
During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I talked about the importance of taking steps to create the path you want for your career and life. If you’re reevaluating what’s next for you in your career, think about the exact type of person you want to be. Take stock of how you’re spending your days, what actions you’re taking, where you’re directing your energy, and the people you are or are NOT prioritising. Then, ask yourself whether you’re behaving in a way that’s consistent with the person you want to be.
If you’re not, find a way to change how you’re running things in your life or how you’re reacting to things in your life. Maybe it’s a habit or a work pattern you’ve fallen into that you know deep down isn’t sending you in the right direction or serving what’s really important to you in your life. Take the initiative to do something about it.
Make that change. Do it now . . .before you become the kind of person you don’t admire when you look yourself in the mirror. Even if it’s small change, making that change is the first step toward becoming the kinda person you wanna be and the kinda person you can feel proud of.
About Christine Snow, flight attendant turned coder
Christine Snow spent 7 years as a flight attendant, but her career trajectory completely changed when the pandemic hit in early 2020. While she was at home on a 6 month leave from flying last summer, she started learning how to code, and it hooked her interest and creativity. She eventually applied for and was accepted into Zip Code, a competitive 12 week software development bootcamp in Wilmington, Delaware.
Having graduated right before we recorded our conversation, she had just begun her job search and interview process with nothing guaranteed, but she told me that learning this new skill has given her the confidence and hope to start a brand new career for herself in the tech industry, and that she couldn’t be more excited.
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Episode Interview Transcript
Teaser (first ~15s): The pandemic forced my hand a little bit. It made me look at my career and say, ‘Look, you’ve desired something different for a while, but you haven’t done it. You haven’t had the push to do it yet, and here’s your push.’
Joseph: Hello, Christine. Thank you so much for joining me today on Career Relaunch. You are actually the very first guest I’ve had on the show in a while, since the pandemic hit last year. I really appreciate your time today.
Christine: Thanks for having me.
Joseph: Can you start by giving me a glimpse into what you have been focused on recently in your career and your life?
Christine: I spent about the last eight years as a flight attendant in the US. Clearly, I was in the industry that was very heavily affected when the pandemic really hit last spring. I think in the US was when we first really noticed it in March. I spent most of the next six months at home in my apartment just rethinking my whole career and what this meant for the rest of my life. Did I want to try and stay in this career, if I was even able to industry-wise?
During that time, I discovered this deep interest in tech and coding. You are catching me after I just completed this three-month coding bootcamp in Wilmington, Delaware, to become a Java developer.
Joseph: Congratulations, first of all, on that. I know that things have actually evolved quite a bit since we’ve first connected last month. I want to get into your current situation in more detail when we get to the latter part of our conversation today.
I know you mentioned that you haven’t always been a coder, and I would like to start by going back in time and want to talk about your time as a flight attendant. This is something that you did for seven years at the start of your career, and I’d love for you to just start by telling us how you got into that industry.
Christine: I was in college in Atlanta, Georgia. I was graduating with my bachelor’s degree in English with a focus in Victorian-era poetry actually at the time. I was only 21. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at all. I’ve never been one of those people who is clear on what I wanted for the rest of my life. I thought at the time I really love analyzing poetry and any kind of literature, so may I’ll just go on and get my master’s in that.
At the time, a friend of a friend, who was a flight attendant heard that I was graduating, and she told me, ‘Christine, you know, my company’s hiring. I could refer you.’ At the time, I was like, ‘Sure, why not? I might as well if they will hire me. I might as well put off more college for a degree I’m not even sure that I want to go have fun.’ That’s actually how I first got into it. Luckily, I was hired at the time, and I spent the next seven years flying.
Joseph: Can you tell me a little bit about which carrier you worked for and what the nature of your role was? What exactly did you do on a day-to-day basis?
Christine: I worked for Delta Airlines. When I was first hired, I was sent to the New York City base, and I spent most of the next seven years as a New York City base flight attendant. It was quite a big change in my life. Anyone who goes into the airline industry gets a big change schedule-wise. You are constantly traveling, especially when you’re new. You’re working a lot of back-to-back trips, so you’re not home very much.
If you are excited to travel and meet new people, and you don’t need to be home every single night, it is the perfect job. It definitely was that for me for a while.
Joseph: I guess all of us have cross paths if you’ve ever flown with a flight attendant, and that’s going to be your primary point of contact on a flight. It’s one of those vocations I’ve always found to be very fascinating. I’d love to hear a little bit about the good, bad, and ugly about being a flight attendant to kind of demystify the industry a bit. This is a question I’ve always wanted to ask a flight attendant but just never had the opportunity to do that.
First of all, can you explain a little bit about what it takes to become a flight attendant? What’s involved with training?
Christine: In the US, when you get hired to work for a major carrier, like Delta, they put you through about seven weeks of training, wherever their base headquarters are. This involves emergency training, mechanical emergency training on different aircraft types, and training you how to evacuate a plane in under a certain amount of time, all the different doors for all the different types of aircraft in the fleet. You have to be certified on those and how you would operate them both normally and in an emergency. You undergo a lot of training as well for medical emergencies.
As everyone knows, anything can happen at any time. The only difference in flight is you’re stranded up there, so there’s definitely medical emergency training. As well, customer service training and how to deescalate situations and how to handle cultural situations that maybe you weren’t prepared for before you joined the industry.
Joseph: I know that you mentioned deescalating situations. I know that’s been a really big role that has emerged from flight attendants just in recent months with the pandemic and face masks and all that. I won’t get into that, but I’m curious about the social side of it.
You mentioned interaction with people who are flying and passengers. One of the things I’ve always wondered about, Christine, and this is probably more on longer-haul flights, is that flight attendants spend a lot of the time with one another, with fellow flight attendants. Maybe this is just my perception, but I’ve always just been curious, what do you guys talk about when you’re in the back of the plane, and you’re between serving meals? I just feel like you guys are flying together, you’re traveling together, you’re going into the same hotels. What is that side of the world of flight attendant life like? That’s an element that you may not get as much of in other, I’ll call, more 9:00-to-5:00, traditional office jobs.
Christine: You’re right. Definitely we spend a lot of time together, even just in flight talking. Some of that’s talking with passengers who may come to the back just to hang out for a while, but a lot of talking with just crew. There’s actually a term that flight attendants use to describe what happens called jump-seat therapy, where you may have never flown with this other flight attendant before, but you guys are seated on jump seats right next to each other for however many days.
Joseph: Right, I see that. I can kind of tell sometimes if people quite don’t know one another so well.
Christine: It is a lot of meeting new people, not just meeting new passengers, but at least at my company, it was constant meeting new co-workers and knowing there’s a possibility that I may never fly with this person again. It’s a very unique work environment, I found, just in that alone, because you might make these great connections with other crew members and not see them again. It can also be helpful because if you did not bond particularly with the crew member, you might also not see them again. It’s very interesting. You’re right.
Joseph: I have just a couple more questions I do want to talk about what happened in March 2020 because I’m really interested to hear about your transitions. Before we get to that, any major misconceptions you feel people have about being a flight attendant? I guess we’ll first talk about other people’s perceptions and then maybe some of your perceptions in a moment.
Christine: A lot of my friends and people I’ve phoned with feel that flight attendants are seen as just the waitress or the waiter in the sky, and they feel that passengers forget sometimes that we’re there for their safety a bit. We’re there for both. We want everyone to have a good flight, but our job is more than just bringing you your Coke for example. We’re trained to make sure people make it through the flight, that if anything goes wrong, we can handle it. I think a lot of flight attendants wish that people consider that a more well-rounded picture of what a flight attendant does.
Joseph: I guess there is that huge element of safety that people sometimes overlook and take for granted, but it’s such a big part of the job. Are there any things that surprised you the most about being a flight attendant, either pleasant surprises but also any sort of unexpected challenges in the job?
Christine: Pretty much all of your training is what to do when the worst happens or what to do if someone gets ill. Then you get on the line, and you’re flying, and pretty much all of your job turns into customer service. You’re surprised every once in a while, when something really does go wrong, and you instantly have to respond.
I remember I was pretty new at the time, maybe only a year or two in, and a woman in front of me, in front of the whole plane actually—I was standing nearby thankfully—she just started choking on her sandwich. It became apparent very quickly that she was not able to get it out of her mouth, and she stood up, and she came over to me, and I was heading over to her anyway, and I started doing the Heimlich maneuver. I was just in shock the whole time that ‘I was actually doing this.’ It’s pretty crazy how quickly everything can change.
She was fine. She was totally fine. The sandwich came out. Everything went back to normal, but right after that particular moment, another passenger came up from another part of the plane. As soon as this woman was breathing again, he came up to me and he started complaining that his bag wasn’t directly above his seat in the overhead bin. I just remembered standing there, like, ‘What?’
Joseph: Oh god.
Christine: It’s just a world of contradictions, I think. I don’t know.
Joseph: Absolutely, yeah. Passengers can sometimes be the most unpleasant people, I would imagine. I can ask you probably about 50 other questions about this, Christine, but I know the show is about transition, so I do want to talk now and shift gears and talk about your transition out of the world of being a flight attendant. We got to talk about March 2020. That’s when, as you mentioned, the pandemic started to hit in the US, just at its infancy. I know it might be hard to go back a year, but can you take me back to the moment in March 2020 where you started to notice something happening on flights?
Christine: I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It was, I think, probably like March 15th. It was right in the middle of the month, and I was working a three-day trip. At the beginning of the trip, all of our flights were still full, overbooked, oversold. Starting on about the second or third day of the trip, flights were just empty. These large planes, we would have maybe eight passengers, and that was just completely unheard of. It was quite a shock from that perspective, just seeing who was showing up and that people weren’t coming.
Also, it was just kind of getting alarmed knowing that we didn’t really have the protective gear we needed yet, and we still have to work seven more flights before we made it home. It was being a little nervous to close the overhead bins, ‘What am I going to pick up if I close this one?’ or, ‘I don’t want to rearrange that bag because what if something is there?’ We didn’t have any of the gloves yet, no masks. It was like realizing that the whole world was changing in front of your eyes within a week, I think.
Joseph: What was running through your head when that happened? Were you thinking, ‘Okay, this is a temporary thing’? What did you think was going to happen and what started to transpire in your head as it relates to your own career as a flight attendant?
Christine: I know a lot of people at the time were expecting it to be over in a month or two. To me, at the time, I already felt like something had changed for me. Something with the whole job had changed. It was a big shift for me, walking through the plane and not feeling safe from germs that I couldn’t see. It really took the fun out of the meeting all the different passengers and getting to have all these interesting conversations with different people. It wasn’t fun anymore. I didn’t want to leave the house to do that anymore. It really affected my view of the whole industry.
Around that time, the company that I was at, Delta, offered leaves that people could just sign up for to take. Since there’s also reduced flying, it would help the rest of the company out, and I signed up for it right away. I took a six-month leave. I remember that whole time being at home just wondering, ‘I don’t think that this will go back to normal the way it used to be for me.’ I knew I would never feel the same way that I did about it before, but I also didn’t know any industry would go back.
Joseph: Was it around that time that you, then, started to think about coding? How did that emerge? I’m just curious because it’s quite the pivot to start thinking about coding after being a flight attendant.
Christine: I actually read an article when I was at home on my leave. It was something silly. I don’t know where I saw it, but it was about how young people, when they’re at home during this time, should be learning Java. At the time, I did not even know what Java was, but it reminded me of a little course I had taken a couple of years ago that it was really not much of anything. I had taken a small, little course on HTML in the past. This reminded me of that, so I thought, ‘You know what? I really need something to do while I’m sitting here at home. Why not? Why not just brush up on that?’ I started reviewing HTML and learning CSS. CSS is like a lot of styling webpages. That was really fun for me because I’m a creative person, and I love seeing the different things I could do with a webpage.
Joseph: You’re just learning this on your own, in your own time?
Christine: Yes. I had nothing but time.
Joseph: Right, that’s true, but you’re literally just teaching it to yourself through books and references online?
Christine: Yes. There are actually a lot of really great, free references for anyone who wants to dip their toes in. There’s a lot online if you just searched for it, even just for free. That’s really all I was doing at the time.
Joseph: How did you find that transition for you? Going from flight attendant and traveling all over the place to then being at home, 24/7, and on top of that, learning a completely new skillset. What was that like for you?
Christine: At the time, a lot of my friends were also at home, a lot of my flight attendant friends. They were having a terrible time. They all wanted to be flying. They missed going to Paris or whatever, and I didn’t. I knew at that moment, ‘Oh gosh, I don’t fit the same way that I used to with this career. Something has changed irrevocably in me.’
I knew that I was enjoying coding, and I knew that the more I learned with that, it seemed that the more I found to learn and the more excited I was about digging into it. I thought it only makes sense. I know that I feel different about this career than I used to, and I’m really excited by this new one, and I know that tech is a growing field right now, and I just thought, ‘Why don’t I put all my energies behind this? Because I’m never going to find a better time. If doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to flying whenever they’re ready to have us all back. If this does work out, I don’t need to go back, and I can leave my position to people who want it more than I do.’
Joseph: You mentioned something interesting there. You said that it felt different. You felt different from how you felt when you were a flight attendant. I know this might be tough, but can you describe in words how it was different? The reason why I ask, Christine, is sometimes, it’s hard to decipher and clarify whether something is better for you or not. I’d be curious what you noticed about yourself doing one versus the other.
Christine: When I first started as a flight attendant, I was so excited. I was never bored, even if all I did was fly between Atlanta and Minneapolis or something like that. I was having the best time, and I was meeting these interesting people, and nothing was boring. For me, during this past summer of 2021, I was at home. The thought of going back to flying was boring. It no longer held that interest for me. I felt like, in going back to that, I was only going to be exposing myself to risks that didn’t give me the satisfaction that I used to have from it.
For me, I’m motivated by what I feel passionate about. What I feel passionate about are different things that I’m learning, different things that have grabbed my attention during the time. Coding and tech, I’m using coding, I guess, as a blanket term. Coding had really ignited that interest in me. It just seemed like a field that I could explore and not get tired of exploring. It seemed like on top of having so much to learn in a really exciting way with it, it seemed very creative, which I had never anticipated before I had started trying to learn to code.
Joseph: At what point did you feel like this could become something bigger, like an entirely new chapter in your career? It’s one thing to be learning a new skill on the side, and it’s another to, then, start to feel like, ‘Hey, this could actually be a new career path for me.’ Can you remember when that moment happened for you?
My husband came home and told me about it, and I realized in that moment, as I was looking it up, that this was a real thing and that it was a really achievable thing within reach. If I could get into the school, there is a serious chance that I could have a career as a software developer for a financial institution in Delaware. Just knowing that there was a route, knowing that this had been done, that the people who went to this school came from all different backgrounds, like me—it was a very, very diverse background pool that this school pulls from—just knowing that that path was there made me realize, ‘Oh, this is a possibility.’
Joseph: I know you’ve now finished at Zip Code. We’re fast-forwarding to the current day. That, as I understand, from when you talked with me before, it’s a 12-week course, right? You graduate, and the idea is that it can be an on-ramp to some potential professional roles in the future. Do I have that right?
Christine: Yes, perfect.
Joseph: I know that things have actually transpired for you. Before we get to where you’re at, at this specific moment—I know things have changed even since we last spoke a couple of weeks ago—I’d love to talk about a couple of the lessons that you’ve learned along the way of your career change journey.
When we spoke last time, I think you’ve alluded to this today, Christine. You said that a lot of colleagues told you that being a flight attendant was, I think you mentioned, the best job you’ll ever have.
Christine: Yes, exactly.
Joseph: But you actually realized deep down that that wasn’t true for you. This is a common dynamic that comes up with really any job when you start to share your sentiments or doubts with your immediate colleagues. I found that in many of those situations, people, whether they’re your immediate colleagues or friends or family, tend to err on the side of reminding you how lucky you are to have what you have, for you just to be happy with what you’ve got. There’s this tension between wondering if the job you have is as good as it gets and something you should just be content with, or if there’s actually some more fulfilling option out there for you to pursue, knowing that it may be more rewarding, but maybe it’s not going to be more rewarding. I’m curious, how did you cut through the noise and make sense of whether your former job as a flight attendant was or was not as good as it gets?
Christine: I’m glad you brought this up, because for so many years, I was there for seven and a half years. I did not cut through that noise. I’m the kind of person who really likes to take people’s advice. I guess that’s been to my detriment in some cases, but I wouldn’t change anything in my life, but I know if I had been more confident listening to myself and what I knew deep inside, that this job, my career as a flight attendant was not going to keep my happy forever, I knew that much earlier on. I knew that probably on year two or year three flying, and I stayed for seven years.
You hear constantly—constantly—that this is the best job you’ll ever have. I was afraid that there is a possibility they would be right. They would talk about people who left, and all they wanted to do was apparently come back and be a flight attendant again. I was afraid that would be me. You have to face down your fear, but I did not feel that I could do that before this past summer because I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go in.
The pandemic forced my hand a little bit. It made me look at my career and say, ‘You’ve desired something different for a while, but you haven’t done it. You haven’t had the push to do it yet, and here’s your push. You’re right in the middle of this pandemic. You’re on a six-month leave. This is your chance. Take it.’
I’m really grateful that I was able to do that during the pandemic, and I’m sure there’s a lot of other people out there who were less than satisfied in their careers beforehand. Maybe this is actually a perfect opportunity for people to be exploring what they’re more interested in. I just feel so lucky that it has all worked out for me so far.
Joseph: When we spoke before, you also mentioned something interesting to me that you said, you know in your heart whether something fills you up. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Christine: The joy of doing what you’re doing. When you’re doing a job that makes you feel fulfilled, that just brings you so much contentment, you know that you’re fully where you want to be in your life, and I had lost that feeling for a while with flying. Learning to code was kind of like rediscovering that joy again. It’s so hard to explain.
Joseph: Yes, it’s one of those tough things. I think it’s what your heart knows, but you can’t really rationalize with your head. It’s just like a feeling, I guess, that you get.
Last question before we wrap up with what you’re doing right now, having been through this career change journey—and I know you’re still in the middle of it—as you now look ahead to the next chapter of your career, what are you the most nervous about and what are you the most excited about?
Christine: I’m nervous about keeping up. Tech seems to constantly be changing and growing in different ways, and it seems like the companies who come out on top or the people who come out doing well are the ones who are good at pivoting and growing their skills in a certain area maybe, knowing where to learn. That worries me, I guess, a little bit, but that’s also partially what excites me. Just because I know that there’s going to be so much variety still in what I’m doing, continuing in tech, I’ll constantly have the ability to learn different technologies, different things that I can do, and grow in that way.
It’s both the fear and the excitement because you’re always a little nervous, ‘Hey, am I an impostor in this situation? Am I going to be able to keep my head above the water? What if the job that I get is too advanced? How am I going to keep up?’ but you just got to keep reminding yourself, ‘You made it this far. You’ve learned so much already. You just got to believe it’s going to keep carrying you through.’
Joseph: On that note, I would like to wrap up with what you’re doing now. I know you just got some news. Could you tell me a little bit more about what’s next for you?
Christine: Since we last talked, Zip Code hosted this power interview week at the end of the cohort for all the students who graduated. They helped to set up interviews with their hiring partners, which are financial institutions in the area, and their students. Luckily, I was offered a job actually by one of those institutions. Right now, I’m just going through signing all the paperwork, and I should be starting at that new company on March 1st.
Joseph: Wow, congratulations, Christine! That’s fantastic news. I know when we last spoke, I think you hadn’t quite even graduated at Zip Code. Now, fast-forward to today, you got a job offer on hand. That’s great news. That’s fantastic.
Christine: I’m just so grateful really. I can’t believe it. I feel like my whole life has changed.
Joseph: Absolutely. I just wanted to thank you so much for telling us more about your former life as a flight attendant and the steps you took proactively to pivot into coding and also the importance of listening to yourself and paying attention to what truly excites you. I think you’re absolutely right about the fact that this is a really good time to reevaluate what truly matters, and you’ve certainly reminded us of that.
Best of luck with your role, and congratulations again on finishing up at Zip Code. Please stay safe.
Christine: Thank you so much, Joseph. You too.