Did you know that you can blend your current professional skills with new tech expertise to help you level up your career? Even better, this type of change is one of our specialities. Meet Lauren, a Thinkful grad who turned the knowledge she gained as a teacher into a successful career as a software engineer in the ed tech space––with a little help from our Engineering Flex program. Now an engineer at LearnPlatform, Lauren shares how she went from teaching coding in the classroom to creating software tools that improve top education organizations across the country––plus, what she loves about being a woman in tech
Tell us what you were up to before Thinkful.
I went to UNC-Chapel Hill and studied music education. While I was an undergrad student, I worked for the Morehead Planetarium, and that's where I fell in love with teaching science. I kept working for science centers for a little while, and it's something I've really enjoyed. A big part of my work at science museums would be utilizing a lot of engineering-focused curriculum. I'd use Lego robotics and coding, and that's really where I fell in love with technology. I was able to do really cool hands-on learning for elementary and middle schoolers. We would discuss the core ideas and fundamentals of code like variables, the flow of logic, looping things, and how to handle events.
Why did you want to change your career from teaching to coding?
I had a couple of friends who went through bootcamps and started working as software engineers. I thought to myself, ' I have spent close to a decade working in education, it would be really cool to take this pivot and be a part of a team that makes the tools that I have been working with for so long'. That's when I decided I wanted to pursue the bootcamp route so that I could start working in the ed-tech space.
Did you think about getting a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science?
I spent close to six months doing a lot of bootcamp research. I started going to meetups and networking events right away. I wanted to get a feel for if I even liked the people working in this field in my area. A bunch of the bootcamps in the area, Thinkful included, do in-person meetups, and quick two-hour crash courses in HTML, etc. There were a couple of community colleges in my area that offer associates degrees in web development or certificate programs, which I looked at.
In the end, the job that I had at the museum, had a lot of variable hours and Thinkful's courses made the most sense. My husband and I had just bought a house, so quitting my job to go to school was not an option for me. I needed my benefits, and I needed something that I could do while I was working. Most of the other programs were strictly scheduled. It's every single weeknight for a set number of hours and then all day Saturday. Well, I worked at least two Saturdays a month and I worked at least a few evenings a month. I felt like it would've been a lot to ask my job to completely rearrange my schedule for me to pursue a new career outside of the museum.
When I saw Thinkful's Engineering Flex program, I thought, 'Oh my God, this is so perfect'.
Were you excited about learning with an online bootcamp?
I had originally stopped looking at Thinkful because I didn't want a remote bootcamp. I wanted an in-person course. Since I was hesitant, I did the free trial, so I got to see if I liked the way that the curriculum was laid out. One of Thinkful's academic success managers was really great and super encouraging. I thought the course fit the way that I learned really well. The more that I went through the program, the more I was so happy that I picked it. Having it be fully remote, self-paced learning, and getting a senior developer that you partner with, it's so real world.
Overall, how did you enjoy your Thinkful learning experience in Engineering Flex?
My mentor was such a big help; he was so encouraging. The variety of ways that we get to interact with people in the program helped a lot too. There are so many projects, but you get to work with graders, technical experts, etc. You're crossing paths with so many different people, and it really helped me stay energized.
As a junior developer, I do a fair amount of having to Google and research stuff on my own, and I'm expected to be able to solve problems by myself. But, I have a knowledge resource that I can go to when I get stuck. I'm not dependent on somebody handing information to me, and the structure of the Engineering Flex program helped with that so much.
Since you are an educator, how did Thinkful compare to traditional forms of education?
My Thinkful experience was great. I love the way the curriculum is laid out and how it has a project heavy focus. You get to see that real-world application of what you're learning. Alternatively, higher education and formal education are much more theoretical – it doesn't necessarily leave you with the ability to execute and actually create things.
There's a lot of confidence that is built into the way that Thinkful sets up their program because right off the bat, you get to start making things. The first time I wrote from the command line, I felt so unbelievably cool. I said to myself 'I'm a real computer person'. It felt magical to have that confidence where you can say, 'Oh yeah, I can do this'.
Your access to be able to review and refresh yourself on the course material is so much easier with the way that Thinkful has its curriculum laid out. The curriculum is fully available so that if I need to go back and look something up that I need support with, I can, and then I keep going forward in my learning. In a traditional college setting, there's a lot of resources given during a lecture but many times you could miss important information.
Describe your relationship with your mentor.
It was invaluable. The cost of Thinkful was worth a mentor alone. Everything else seemed like a free bonus that I was getting on top. Having that one-on-one relationship where I could ask every single question that I couldn't find in Google was great. My mentor gave me encouragement and a job reference, which is a testament to what I learned by gaining confidence in my skills.
Not having to hold back on the things that you're curious about and being able to get a lot of individual attention feedback on your projects was so helpful. I loved every session that I had with my mentor. It made all the difference in my experience.
Share with us your perspective on being a woman in tech.
I was very aware of being a woman in tech, and I was definitely nervous about entering this field as a woman. Having worked in a STEM field in the past, I had already seen some of the gender disparities that happen and I've known about the negative cultures that can occur in tech teams or in the field. Part of the reason why I started going to meetups so early is that if I can meet people, I can put faces to people in the industry and it's going to feel less scary. I joined the groups Women Who Code and Women in Tech Allies.
Building this network of other women in Raleigh/ Durham who were working in the field helped so much because there are tons of mid-career, senior-level women who were making career changes much later in their lives. Also, finding women who have been working in this field, they could help me with identifying where positive places to work as a woman would be. I was looking for an uplifting environment, not something that's going to be overly draining. I learned that on interviews you can probe questions to get a feel for if you're going to be a token hire or if it's a place where you're going to be successful. Without that support network of other women in the field, women who are excited to help propel and help change these job statistics, changing careers into tech would have been a lot scarier without that support network.
How did you balance working full-time? How did you manage it all?
It was a lot of work. and it was not an easy six months, but it was very worthwhile and rewarding. I was substituting one of my weekend days and would spend the whole day working on the program. I did at least a few hours every night when I wasn't at work. My spouse definitely helped pick up some of the load at home. It's a ton of work to work full time and to go through this program.
The whole point was to gain skills and knowledge to set me up for a future career and I wanted to get the absolute most out of that that I could.
It was worse those weeks and weekends, where it was taking a hit on my social life, but I really wanted to be able to enter this field and be successful. Because of my hard work and Thinkful's support, I had interviews lined up from the moment that I graduated. It paid off in the end.
What was your favorite aspect of Thinkful’s program?
There are various people that give you feedback throughout the course. At first, it was terrifying to do live mock interviews, whiteboarding, and coding challenges but they paid off so much. I was comfortable and confident going into job interviews. It made me feel better about my knowledge knowing that different people like our graders and mentors had seen me at different points in the program. I felt knew what I needed. It made me feel a lot better about my ability to go out and talk about my skills with employers and colleagues.
How did you land your first job after Thinkful?
I applied to a lot of jobs. Due to the networking that I had started, I was able to land some internal referrals for different companies in the area. I got a bit lucky with LearnPlatform because I actually didn't know anybody at the company. With my background in education, it helped a lot, and it was pretty perfect. I applied blindly and had a phone screen, which went really well. I then had a small interview with their lead engineer and their vice president of product. I actually loved the way they had my technical interview structured because instead of a live coding challenge, I got to submit one of my capstone projects from Thinkful and we did an hour-long code walkthrough with their engineering team. I was able to explain my code, share the problems I faced, talk about my rationale, and decisions on how I made fixes. It was really comfortable to show my skills. I really appreciated the interview process.
What was the onboarding experience like in your first job as a software developer?
I started in January and it's been really great so far. The company as a whole is about 30 people and there are four engineers. There's a lot of great growth potential, which I'm really excited about. The LearnPlatform team is really supportive. I appreciate how transparent and how communicative they are. I had very clear schedules and expectations and was not left guessing about what I was going to be doing or what was going to be expected of me.
I'm so excited and I am really enjoying it. I'm just now starting to get up and running, which is a process. I look at our codebase and I see that it is so much larger than anything I have ever experienced. But I can do this and I can handle this. There are reasonable expectations for how I will be able to grow and pick things up. This is my first job as a junior software engineer and I feel very supported, nervous, and excited: all of the feelings.
What advice do you have for potential Thinkful students or anyone out there that are thinking about making this change to becoming an engineer?
My biggest piece of advice is to go out to network and meet people. Go talk to people who are in the field. I love going to Women Who Code events because you can have career conversations. It's a lot less scary when you have an actual face that you can put to the profession. You can read all of the positive reviews in the world, but until you actually talk to a person, it won't feel quite as real until you've had that connection. When you have that support network, it makes everything else so much easier.
Lauren surrounded herself with support and stuck to a strict study schedule so that she could be successful in a new tech career. If you’re looking to make a career switch like Lauren, check out our Engineering Flex program and schedule a call with one of our advisors to learn more.
It’s never too late to start a new career path. Curious about how your current skills could make for a successful career in tech? Try our career quiz.