Creative writer Alicia Evans worked in nonprofits in New York and California before pivoting into web development in search of a more stable work-life balance. She chose LearningFuze to pave her way into front end development, eventually realizing she could apply her social services experience to tech by enhancing web accessibility. Four years after graduating from LearningFuze, Alicia is making three times the salary she made working at nonprofits and improving the web experience for everyone as an accessibility engineer at TPGi! Was LearningFuze worth it for Alicia? Find out!
What inspired you to make a career pivot into tech?
After graduating from college with a focus on creative writing, I moved to NYC in 2011 to work in publishing. But at that time, the print industry and economy were not thriving. To support myself, I took on other part-time jobs, and I found myself immersed in nonprofit work. I worked as a Personal Care Attendant for people with disabilities, then as a coordinator where I supported people with disabilities and families seeking permanent housing for several years in both New York and California. Working in nonprofits was fulfilling and gratifying work, but it also demanded long hours and high stress that felt doable in my 20s but waned as I entered my 30s. I got married and wondered how I could manage a more flexible and stable work-life balance.
I knew a few people that went to coding bootcamps and absolutely loved their new tech jobs. I asked them if they thought I could do it and if I would enjoy it. Universally, they said I was too creative, and that it would be too practical and mathematical for me, but my husband had some coding experience and assured me that I would like it. I took some free Codecademy classes and realized that my friends were wrong! I loved how creative coding was and decided to go into web development. My dream was to someday work remotely with flexible hours, and be my own captain in life — and that's exactly what I'm doing now!
Even in 2018, there were a lot of coding bootcamps – why did you choose LearningFuze?
My husband and I decided to enroll at LearningFuze at the same time. We quit our jobs, which meant there was no alternative — this career change for both of us had to work. We took out loans and went to the bootcamp 10 hours a day, six days a week, which was more than expected of us. We did extra projects and went above and beyond the bare minimum, to make the most of this investment for ourselves and make it count.
What kind of network did you build at LearningFuze?
My bootcamp experience was incredible and I met such great people! I was a bridesmaid in one of my instructor’s weddings and my husband was a groomsman in one of my instructor’s weddings. My lead instructor has a child the same age as our child, so we still hang out all the time. And we all still want to work together! At my last job, I referred a LearningFuze classmate to work with me. Every time there's a job opening, we call on the LearningFuze classmates that we want to work with, who we know are fun to work with, and who are reliable and responsible. It continues to be that kind of community for us. We developed a level of closeness that doesn't just happen often. We intentionally decided that our cohort would be people we'd work with for a long time.
It also really helps not to think of each other as competitors. I never competed for a job against another LearningFuze grad. We've only ever ridden each other’s coattails. Even when people move away, we still keep in touch.
What jobs or roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating?
Many “women in tech” articles encourage women not to sell themselves short. Employers can reject you, but you don't have to reject yourself. I felt empowered by that advice to not get sidelined by imposter syndrome, so I just applied for everything, including senior-level positions.
What was your first tech job after graduating from LearningFuze?
My first job after graduating from LearningFuze was as a Senior Developer because I applied for the position and got it! It was a short-term contract position, but it completely exceeded my expectations of what I could get right after graduation. I worked with an investment company using a React front end and Ruby on Rails back end codebase. My job was to work alongside a Ruby on Rails developer and update the front end for simplicity and React best practices.
I was terrified at first, but the back end developer was really nice and understood that I was coming out of a bootcamp. They understood that regardless of what job I applied for and landed, I still needed guidance in working in a production environment and working with pre-existing code.
After that contract ended, I worked for a fintech company called FormulaFolios, which is now part of Brookstone. I got that job because I knew someone from LearningFuze who told their boss about my work and they brought me in for an interview. This ended up being my first job working in accessibility.
Do you recommend that other recent bootcamp grads consider contract positions?
If I were to do it again, I might wait for a full-time job, but starting with contracts was a lower risk for everyone involved. People who are hiring contract employees can hire higher risk employees because they can always end the contract.
There were some contracts that I thought were great and others I was less enthusiastic about. The biggest difference was the team. I wouldn't recommend signing on for a contract where you're working primarily on your own. It's better when you can work on a supportive team and have an idea of what it's like to work in a production environment, rather than building on bad habits on your own.
What advice would you give a recent bootcamp graduate who is looking for their first job in tech now?
My advice for bootcamp grads is to understand that hiring managers aren't expecting you to immediately run a company. They expect you to learn and get up to speed. People will be there to support you. From my very first tech job to the job I currently have, I have received support from my team. People understand that you need time to catch up and that it’s okay not to hit the ground running.
After I graduated from bootcamp, I spent the first six weeks adjusting my portfolio to reflect me as a person. People want to hire you for who you are, so make your resume, cover letter, and portfolio represent you. I enhanced old projects to reflect new languages, I took old class projects and revamped them to reflect my values and interests. For instance, I altered a past project into a system for people to find free meals in Orange County. My final project at LearningFuze was an augmented reality application, and everybody who interviewed me wanted to talk about augmented reality and virtual reality, so it helped to have that in my portfolio.
How did you eventually specialize in web accessibility?
The hiring manager at FormulaFolios was looking for someone who could learn web accessibility to ensure they were making accessible products for their clients. This was my epiphany moment when I realized all the nonprofit work I'd been doing leading up to this career change was coming together! Previously, I had worked with people who used screen readers, screen magnification, and have encountered the barriers of inaccessible web content. I had no idea I could work full-time enhancing accessibility for people with disabilities. I continued to learn on my own about web accessibility, which was challenging and rewarding.
After FormulaFolios, I worked for two years for a company that focuses exclusively on web accessibility, a nonprofit called Knowbility, where I learned the complexities of web accessibility. Clients would come to us asking if their website was accessible and we would show them how to improve it. I got to dive into their code, show them where the issues were, and how to fix it. I moved over to a new job at TPGi at the beginning of this year where I continue to use these skills.
How has the web accessibility field changed in the past 3 years that you’ve been working in it?
Web accessibility has been around for more than 20 years, but people are now starting to prioritize its importance. Working in this field today promises job security and the ability to negotiate offers, since the demand has increased but the amount of accessibility professionals hasn't. Once you get your foot in the door, the world is open to you. When I decided to look for another job, I applied for two to see what it was like out there, and I got immediate callbacks.
Since LearningFuze, you’ve evolved from Software Engineer to Accessibility Engineer! Was enrolling at LearningFuze worth it for you?
Now an Accessibility Engineer, I'm earning three times the salary that I made before I was a software developer! When I set out on this career path, I wanted flexible hours and the ability to work remotely, and I've been able to do both. In my new job at TPGi, I asked to work remotely four days a week, and they easily granted it. I’ve been working remotely since before the pandemic. This career has given my family financial flexibility. We bought a house and my husband was able to quit his job during the pandemic to care for our daughter.
Looking back at your career change, would you have been able to become an Accessibility Engineer on your own?
No, I don’t believe I could have taught myself how to code well enough to get my first job on my own. Or if I could, it would have taken years, not months. I benefited enormously from the dedication and expertise of my instructors at LearningFuze. When I got stuck, they were there to help. I also benefited from the dedicated time and due dates for assignments and projects. The portfolio I was able to share at the end of the bootcamp is what helped me get job offers. I’m very grateful to everyone at LearningFuze for helping get where I am today.
Are you still using what you learned at LearningFuze in your job today?
Do you need to know any specific languages or skills to launch an accessibility engineering career?
What are your favorite resources for anyone interested in getting into accessibility engineering?
For anyone interested in joining the accessibility space, my favorite Slack workspace for web accessibility is the A11Y Slack channel. I've also heard good things about the WordPress Accessibility MeetUp.
Knowbility hosts AIR (Accessibility Internet Rally), where you team up with other developers, designers, and project managers, to compete to build the most accessible website for a given nonprofit organization, artist, or not-for-profit entity. It's a fun way to get free training on how to make things accessible. You do want to come to it with some experience, either in web development or design, because they can teach you the accessibility, but they can't teach you the rest of it. If you're right out of a bootcamp, it's a good time to get together with some friends and take on that challenge.
What advice do you have for people changing careers into tech now?
People often think that web developer jobs are the same at any company, but it's amazing how you can apply past experience to new tech careers. I worked with people with disabilities and now I'm still working with people with disabilities.
If you're into art, there are art museums that need websites. If you're into education, there are so many educational institutions that need support with their website. Web development is versatile and can reflect who you are and what you've done with your life thus far. Employers love to see your existing passion and knowledge.
As a senior engineer, are you seeing more bootcamp graduates working alongside you?
Yes! I was surprised that many of the new hires that onboarded at the same time as I did were bootcamp grads! Many of them worked in other environments before finding their way to TPGi.
What was the biggest challenge in your career change journey?
When I was at LearningFuze, my mindset was that I was there to learn as much as possible. I asked simple questions at the risk of embarrassment because it was more important to learn than to impress people, and it helped crack open any fundamental concept I wasn't getting.
The biggest hurdle for me was believing that I could do it and that it wouldn't be the wrong direction for me. I had to convince myself that I could make the career change from social services to a tech field, that I was able to, that I’d enjoy it, and that it was for me! Once I got through that, it was just lots of hard work.
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