Starting Over: How One Liberal Arts Loving Mom Found Success in Tech
Growing up I just knew that I would become an actress, singer, and dancer on Broadway. I spent all of my free time in classes, rehearsals, or performances. I did not, even for a moment, believe that my future resided in the tech industry.
In college I found a new passion — history. I loved reading, writing, and, most of all, learning. My world expanded exponentially and I graduated remembering my favorite professor’s parting advice:
“The one thing you should understand when you graduate from college is that you really know practically nothing.”
In other words: the world is a big place, and there is always something for you to learn.
My passion for learning propelled me to pursue a PhD program in History at Emory University. I loved the education, and received my Masters. However, imposter syndrome plagued my research and dissertation writing process. I had a fear of being exposed for not knowing enough, and as a result I didn’t ask for help until it was too late.
I failed spectacularly to accomplish my goal. On the upside, my ABD (“all but dissertation”) status led me to a decade of university teaching, which I loved. However, as an adjunct professor, I found no job security or benefits, and the wages barely kept me above the poverty line.
Changing My Story
I was at a crossroads personally and professionally. I felt that my identity was defined by failure. I failed to become an actress. I failed to get my PhD. I failed to find a stable career as a history professor. I failed in my marriage.
Living with failure is crushing. So I decided to reboot my story. I gave myself permission to think outside the box and explore new avenues. I discovered inspiration in the artistry of website design and a passion for the possibilities of creation through software development.
I found further inspiration in the story of a young Syrian immigrant living in Chicago. She developed an app to help her people flee bombs being dropped by the Assad regime. This app helped Syrians find safe spaces quickly. I was floored by the implications of her story. I realized that my passion for social activism and bringing positive change to the world would be grounded in code.
I declared to everyone that I was going to learn to code and become a software developer. Interestingly enough, coding is in my blood. My uncle works as a software developer and Q/A tester for Kodak, and my aunt retired from a life long career as a software developer for the US military. Even though everyone thought I was crazy, my family had my back.
The Awesome Insanity of Code School
Once I made my decision to be a software developer, I became absorbed in studying my education possibilities. Would I get a Computer Science degree? I wanted to and still do, but the pressure to get a job and support my family was imperative. I spent two months studying code school websites and attending online and local open houses.
I told the universe that school was going to happen. I would not be deterred.
When you change your life path, it takes a village to help you shift. The funny thing is, when you are following the instincts of your heart, doors open and opportunities materialize.
I had the support of my fiancée (now husband), who realized his partner would be a distracted mess consumed by study and code projects. I had the support of my children, who had to bear the wrath of a mommy pushed to her mental and emotional limits. I had the support of dear friends, who knew first-hand that a career in tech offered amazing possibilities. I had the support of the code school, which awarded me a scholarship.
As with college, I loved the learning environment of an in-person code school. I spent three hours in the morning in lecture, and the entire afternoon conquering homework. I’d race home to be with my kids in the evening. After I got them to bed, homework challenged me until the early morning hours. Weekends offered no respite from the breakneck pace, as I always had a large comprehensive project to complete.
Did I ever feel like I was going to fail? Yes. I had to give myself permission to put down the old ways I defined myself. I did struggle. I remember a moment toward the end of the twelve-week program when I felt like I was drowning, and told my husband that I was going to end up working at Walmart the rest of my life. (Dramatic, I know, but exhaustion tends to make one a little unbalanced.)
Most days I focused on conquering my old story of failure. I went to class and allowed my brain to be cracked open like an egg. I told myself repeatedly that I could learn anything that I wanted and that there were no limits to what I could do, so long as I was inspired.
I fought imposter syndrome head on. No way would I waste my time worrying if other people thought me stupid or ridiculous. Because at the end of the day, this was my life. I decided that if I wanted to ask a million damn questions, I would, and I did.
Graduation and Beyond
My final project, which I worked on in tandem with another student, was titled “Connecting Communities: An Immigrant and Refugee Resource Network.” My partner, a refugee herself, and I created an app that incorporated a dynamic resource map highlighting for refugees, immigrants, and other organizations, much needed resources in the Charlotte area.
My graduation project led me to an amazing opportunity to be a software developer intern at Gordian. This internship (I’ll write more on that later), turned into a full time position at the same company. As a junior software developer I have a career I love, a job that supports my family, and the sky is the limit so far as my life direction.
The tech world is such a blessing to me. I am now volunteering as the Partnerships Coordinator for the Charlotte chapter of Girl Develop It, an amazing nonprofit that supports women interested in learning web and software development. I’m a total evangelist for careers in tech because of all the opportunities it provides people.
So I’m off to design, code and advocate! I encourage you to do the same.