How Losing my Job was Perfect Timing for a Career in Tech
“Sometimes perfect timing can seem like it’s too late.” Nipsey Hussle.
A year ago, I knew nothing about how to use HTML to make words appear on a screen, let alone how to query a PostgreSQL database. What I did know was that my ambition to build a legacy and financial stability for my family was limitless — I would stop at nothing to achieve that goal. “But how?” Back then, that question was constantly on my mind. It seemed that going back to school was my only option for upward mobility, but without a dollar to my name, it was just another lost pipe dream.
So I kept grinding: work 9 to 5 as an Accounts Payable Rep, rush to my second job at UPS, change in the car, and mentally prepare myself for another 6-hour shift. I barely had time to breathe, and yet I was still struggling financially. Day in, day out, that burden was chipping away at my creativity and my sense of hope. No matter how strong I was, the constant running and spinning my wheels were getting to me.
One day, a friend told me about a software engineering bootcamp he had come across. A 3-month program that prepares you for a new career in tech and the kicker was that it pays you! “No way,” I thought. This was either a gimmick or the info he was giving me was inaccurate because it sounded too good to be true. After looking into it and speaking with a few people, I knew I had found a once in a lifetime opportunity to step through the door to a new world. One where you don’t have to work multiple jobs to get by, one where you can enhance your skillset for a high growth career.
A few weeks later, I found myself at a hackathon, which is the only way to apply to Resilient Coders. I was nervous and afraid of being out of place. I kept thinking to myself: “What in the world would I do at a hackathon?” But when I got there, the staff was warm and welcoming. We spoke about ways to improve our communities using technology, and learned the fundamentals of HTML and CSS to actually start building our solutions. Lastly, they conducted a short interview with every attendee. Overall, I was thoroughly impressed and left hoping I would be accepted. I anxiously awaited their response, only to receive a rejection email encouraging me to reapply for the following cohort. I was utterly devastated, but I knew I would be back.
Another hit came soon after the Resilient Coders hackathon. In late November 2018, my job was in jeopardy. The company informed employees they were outsourcing the majority of the jobs to India, and a severance package would be paid out in February as long as we trained our replacements as part of a knowledge transfer. I felt like I just couldn’t catch a break and staying until February created a major dilemma for me. I could either take the money, which would give me time to find another job and continue in the same rut I was in, or take a leap of faith and try again for Resilient Coders in hopes that after 3 months I’d find a good job. Was I willing to risk my family’s financial prospects on the off chance that I would get accepted into the program, complete it, and find a job soon after? There were a lot of ifs, but the more I thought about it, the clearer it became to me that it was time to make a change. So I took a chance on myself and went into the hackathon feeling more confident. I was familiar with the motions of the event, and I made sure they knew I would never give up. I awaited their response while having the pending layoffs looming over my head. My resilience paid off; I was accepted into the first cohort of the year and began my journey on January 20th, 2019.
It was clear that it would require major sacrifice to successfully complete the program — for 14 weeks my entire life was dedicated to becoming a software engineer. To avoid Stereotype Threat, which is when an individual, especially a person of color, self-sabotages in a testing environment, there are no tests at any point during the bootcamp. Instead, every three weeks, coders are expected to apply what they have learned to complete a series of projects. We call them cliff weeks, one of the biggest challenges of the program. I was pushed to my limits and with every cliff week, I surprised myself. Beyond getting all of my work done on time, I learned how to communicate and advocate for myself, which has been vital to my growth as an engineer. I was committed to the program and I was willing to do everything in my power to finish strong.
Resilient Coders is rooted in community. And one of my favorite ways this shows up is through the House system. Every student is placed into one of four houses (like in Harry Potter) named after local abolitionists and civil rights leaders. This ceremony (yes, it involves a sorting hat!) has become a true tradition within the student and alumni community. Houses foster a sense of pride, but more importantly, it is a support system. Your house gives you access to alumni who will mentor you through the program, and helps you build a bond with your fellow housemates. Without House Moses, I wouldn’t have made it through the bootcamp.
After graduating, within weeks, I was hired by Perkin Elmer as a junior engineer. This job has been an ideal landing spot for nurturing my growth. In the last six months, I’ve been exposed to a variety of technologies, including React Native, PostgreSQL, and Salesforce, and have built microservices utilizing Docker, Express, and node.js. This week, I was promoted to full-stack software engineer. In less than a year, I went from losing my job to outsourcing to building software that powers innovation in healthcare. My bet paid off, and let me tell you, it’s an amazing feeling!
Over the past months, I’ve attended many tech networking events and it didn’t take long for me to notice that many companies don’t have a good representation of people that look like me. Having a community of coders of color with whom I can continue to grow helps me navigate this new environment. With my new skills, and a community to propel me forward, I am confident that I can build a legacy for my family. Resilient Coders brings more than financial stability for black and brown people, it works to ensure that our communities are not forgotten and survive the next wave of automation.
“I know perfect timing feels like I’m too late. Before you run your race you gotta find your pace, make sure you cross the line regardless of the time it takes,” said the late great Nipsey Hussle. Resilient Coders not only showed me the race, but they also allowed me to find my pace as a software engineer. Regardless of the time it takes, we have to assist black and brown people in crossing the proverbial finish line into a new future in tech, inclusive of all. Join the movement by hiring or contributing to Resilient Coders’ Champions for Equity campaign.