Three years after graduating from The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin (offered in collaboration with edX) we caught up with Software Engineer Melissa Cadena on how her boot camp experience continues to drive her career. Even without a college degree, Melissa shares how UT Austin Boot Camps elevated her career from Customer Relations Representative to Associate Software Engineer at Southwest Airlines — and how her career change journey is the catalyst for companies changing their hiring practices to skills-based! Plus, Melissa shares her top tips for non-degree holding boot camp students and other women considering getting into tech.
Why did you choose The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin in early 2020?
I did a lot of research back then because there were so many coding boot camp options. As someone with no prior coding experience, I had no idea what languages were popular or which ones would get me hired somewhere. In my research, I saw how The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin offered several different languages to learn. Other boot camps were strictly Java or Python, and this one was full stack. The curriculum felt more well-rounded than other boot camps.
What kind of network did you build at the boot camp? Are you still in touch with any of your cohort?
I love the people that were part of my cohort — We got really close and worked on all of our projects together. We didn’t change our team members because we worked so well together. I’m in touch with my cohort, mostly on LinkedIn, and it’s cool to see them thriving as developers now.
Has your boot camp experience continued to help your career since we last spoke?
The same thing happened when I went to work for Southwest Airlines, I started to use some other languages like React that I hadn’t touched since the boot camp. I was able to go back to my notes from boot camp and review all of it to help me with my new role.
What kinds of projects did you work on while at Westrom Software?
Westrom Software handled software for delivery companies. As a web developer, I was helping with the web-based application they had to support those companies. That included reporting on inventory, which is why there was a lot of database work. It was a lot of creating and providing reports as well as accessing different tables. SQL came in handy with a lot of that.
How did you jump from Westrom Software to working at Southwest Airlines?
Before enrolling in the coding boot camp, I was working in Customer Relations for Southwest Airlines with the career goal to switch to the technology side of the business. There was a hiring freeze because of COVID and I wasn’t able to move into their tech team immediately when I graduated. I was grateful to work for Westrom Software during that time and get some experience under my belt. When Southwest Airlines started hiring again, I immediately applied. I had experience under my belt and was able to land a role as an Associate Software engineer.
Was the interview process any easier for you when landing your second tech job?
It might just be me, but I had the same amount of stress when I was interviewing for my second tech role since I wanted to pass the technical interview. I wanted the job a lot since it was with the company I originally worked with and I wanted to return.
Was Southwest Airlines interested in your boot camp experience?
Yes! Typically, for the Associate Software Engineer position, they only hire college grads. I was one of the only ones for my group that was a boot camp grad. It helped that I worked for Southwest Airlines in customer relations before and that I had a little developer experience under my belt — all of that contributed to my landing this job.
Have you confronted bias against boot camp graduates in your tech job interviews?
There are a lot of companies that will only hire a college graduate with a CS degree, but after working with people that have CS degrees versus boot camp graduates, it’s crazy how much of the same knowledge we have. We can definitely learn from each other!
The boot camp did prepare me for this type of job — I don’t feel like I need a college degree to do this work, and that’s proven by the fact that I am a developer now. I’m grateful that Southwest Airlines has started a program to intentionally hire boot camp grads. The bias towards hiring people with degrees is changing, slowly but surely.
What team are you working on at Southwest Airlines?
I work on the Revenue Management Team. We service internal customers and we’re creating a dashboard for our team members that handle fares and how they change. Airfare is more complicated than I could have ever imagined! We want to stay competitive with other airlines, so we have to report what our fares are going to be compared to others on the market, which means we have to change based on the market. All of this happens rapidly and developers are needed to help them react in time.
Are you still using everything you learned at the boot camp on the job at Southwest Airlines?
Are you using any of the skills from your customer relations role as a software engineer?
Just like when I worked in customer relations, I'm still working on a team as a Software Engineer, and I’m not just working with other developers. There’s a Project Manager and Tech Leads on my team, and we have to be able to communicate in order to thrive. There have been situations when writing stories where the acceptance criteria isn’t clearly communicated and it can get jumbled. If we don’t call things out specifically in the acceptance criteria, it isn’t going to be done that way. My communication skills from working years in customer relations has helped me to speak up when necessary in those situations.
Is working as a Software Engineer different from working as a Web Developer?
I honestly feel like Software Engineers and Web Developers have the same job. I’ve seen so many job postings for Software Engineer, Software Developer, and Web Developer and they seem like the same job with different names. When I was initially doing my job search, I would search all of those terms because it’s pretty much the same role with different names depending on the company.
You’re also a Director at Women Who Code in the Dallas/Fort Worth area! How are you supporting other women in tech in that role?
I’ve seen it a lot in my career as a software developer: there aren’t enough women in this field. That’s why I feel so passionately about volunteering for Women Who Code, even though life can get kind of hectic at times. As a Director at Women Who Code, I have more responsibility to plan some of the events we hold. My duties include things like finding speakers willing to share expertise and opinions, brainstorming ideas, and planning panel talks. We want to make sure we’re doing events that are relevant to new developers.
What are the benefits of joining Women Who Code, especially for new developers?
Women Who Code helped me so much with every part of my tech career. Whenever I was interviewing, I would ask them for help with resumes, interviewing, and advice.
Once I was working in tech, if I didn’t know how to handle a situation, I could ask for their advice. It can be confusing working as a new developer in an environment where you don’t see anyone face-to-face. Having that group of experienced women tech professionals who I could ask questions of with no judgment has been so helpful to me.
Does Women Who Code also support moms in the tech?
Yes, we even have a Slack channel for parents who code so we can specifically talk about struggles of trying to work from home or code while having littles run around the house.
Are you seeing more women technologists working alongside you in 2022?
I am seeing more women hired as software developers; little by little, there’s a change happening. I’m part of the College Hire & Internship Program at Southwest, so I onboard any new college hire or early career people in our technology department. I get to see all of those new associate software developers and I feel like I’ve been seeing more women, which is exciting!
Looking back over the past 3 years, how have you evolved as a software engineer?
When I was thinking about a boot camp back in 2020, I didn’t even know what a Software Engineer was! Now I’m in a role at the company and department I wanted to be in and it’s crazy to see how much has changed in the last three years. I’ve changed a ton and I honestly have to pinch myself all the time. I would definitely say I have a lot more confidence. I’ve gone from knowing absolutely nothing about developing to working in it and feeling like I’m contributing to the team. I’m not just a newbie anymore, I know what the projects are, I know I can help, and I know what stories I can pick up. I feel like I’ve gained a lot of confidence and I’m super happy to be where I am now.
Do you still struggle with Imposter Syndrome?
There are definitely times when I struggle with imposter syndrome, but not as much anymore. In the beginning of any new role, you’re having to learn a new domain or project, and you have to learn how the whole company works, which can be overwhelming.
Now that I’ve been at Southwest for a year and I’m learning how we work as a team, I feel more confident to speak up and put in my opinion. As long as you don’t let imposter syndrome get the best of you, it’s definitely something that can be overcome.
At this point in your tech career, was enrolling at The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin worth it for you?
Absolutely! I have a close friend who has seen my journey through the boot camp to working for Southwest in the role I always wanted. She just started the process to start a cohort in June for The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin! I absolutely recommend it to everyone.
Since boot camp, I have almost tripled what I was making as a customer relations representative. I was able to pay off the boot camp tuition within the first year of graduation. That was a huge worry for me because the tuition wasn’t cheap. I had to take that leap and I’m so glad I did because it’s paid off.
What is your advice for other students without a college degree on how to make the most of their boot camp experience?
It’s all about mentality. I had to come to the conclusion that I had the skillset to be successful even though I didn’t have a college degree. If you have that mentality, it helps a lot in your interviews since you are equipped to work as a software developer after going through a boot camp. Instead of focusing on trying to learn every language out there, focus on what you learn in the boot camp. There are so many companies hiring for those languages and if there are a couple that weren’t part of the boot camp, it’s not hard to transfer those skills. The biggest thing is to have confidence in yourself that you’re skilled enough for these roles and that will transfer over to interviews.
Find out more and read The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with UT Austin Boot Camps, offered in collaboration with edX.
Jess Feldman is the Content Manager at Course Report. As a lifelong learner, Jess is passionate about education — She loves learning and sharing insights about tech bootcamps and career changes with the Course Report community. Jess received a M.F.A. in Writing from the University of New Hampshire and lives in southern Maine.
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