Written By Jess Feldman
In 2018, Courtney Corlew was nearly finished with her college degree in music business when she decided to completely change career paths towards more financial stability. Courtney enrolled at Eleven FIfty Academy to quickly reskill and then land her first tech job as an Associate Software Engineer at a local startup. Five years later, Courtney is now a Senior Product Manager and she shares her insights on what it’s taken to develop her tech career without a Computer Science college degree.
What inspired you to make a career change into tech in 2018?
In 2018, I was attending college and trying to find my way into software engineering. I first started as a music business major, but I wanted to quickly transition to software engineering because I loved creating things and seeing their output! I also really wanted a job where I could work from home and that was more stable than the music industry at the time.
I knew engineering is a skill-based role from what I saw on job descriptions, but at this point in my college program, I couldn’t switch to computer science. I started looking for bootcamps and decided to take a semester off of school in order to attend Eleven Fifty Academy.
When researching coding bootcamps, what set Eleven Fifty Academy apart from the rest?
Eleven Fifty Academy was local to Indianapolis, which was huge for me because I really wanted an in-person option. They had great financing available, plus everyone I spoke to when interviewing for the bootcamp was so helpful and nice. I was really drawn to the environment Eleven Fifty has cultivated.
What did you actually learn in the coding bootcamp?
What were your instructors like at Eleven Fifty Academy?
I actually became really good friends with one of my instructors and she helped me land my first engineering job! The instructors were all very skilled — it wasn't people who went through the bootcamp and tried to teach you what they just learned. It was obvious that the instructors had years of experience and would be able to help with any questions.
What was your cohort like? Were they career changers, too?
Yes, a lot of career changers! Everyone in my cohort was super nice and helpful. We were all there for the same reason — to try and learn a new skill — so everyone was open to working with one another.
How did Eleven Fifty Academy prepare you for the tech job hunt?
The real-world experience we got working with clients was very helpful, plus Eleven Fifty held mock interviews and brought in guest speakers. Not only were we learning about engineering, we also got to hear from designers and Agile specialists that informed us on how teams function on the job.
Which tech roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating?
I mostly applied for entry-level, associate front end development roles. In the 12-week bootcamp, I started applying around week 8 when I felt like I could showcase my skills.
What was your first tech job that you landed after graduating from Eleven Fifty Academy in 2018?
I landed an Associate Software Engineer role at MetaCX, and five years later, I’m still at the same company! I graduated from Eleven Fifty on a Friday and started my first job at MetaCX on Monday! MetaCX was a startup, funded by a venture capital company here in Indianapolis, and I was a founding member. The company has been growing and I've just been moving up on the career ladder ever since.
Was MetaCX interested in your bootcamp experience?
Startups are looking for people who have drive and motivation. People who choose to change careers have that grit and drive because they’re new and committed to learning. Even though I was lacking certain skills and had only 12 weeks of real experience, I think they saw my motivation to learn and that helped me land the job.
What kinds of projects did you work on in that first position at MetaCX?
A little bit of everything! I was setting up databases, getting logins working, and just figuring things out as I went. There was some mentorship, but a lot of the time I had to teach myself, which Eleven Fifty Academy helped me with because I was already used to learning so fast. Becoming a software engineer required me to be a fast learner.
You started at MetaCX as an Associate Software Engineer, then moved into a Business Analyst role, and then moved into product management where you are today! Why did you decide to move from software engineering to business analytics to product management?
After I had my first baby, I had been working as an engineer for three years. I was looking for something different and I knew that I liked solving problems, but I didn't know if I wanted to code anymore. As an engineer, I was siloed and I felt I had to make a decision of which ladder I wanted to start climbing: if I wanted to stay in engineering or move into engineering management. As an engineer, I missed talking to people and solving problems.
When I came back from maternity leave, I told my company I was interested in product. MetaCX gave me a Senior Business Analyst role to see if I could change my mentality from how something is built to why it’s built. They liked my work and I kept moving up and now I’m a Senior Product Manager!
How does your initial background in software engineering help you now in product management?
Product involves metrics and analytics, so I'm having to think about data loads and how queries return. Understanding how to code helps me collaborate with the engineering team, which I really enjoy. I’m now also encountering more executives and involved in communication across the board. I’ve learned more soft skills than what engineers normally need to have!
Since you’re in a senior role now, what’s the next career ladder rung you’re aiming for?
I am aiming to be Director or Head of Product. I currently work closely with the CEO to ensure that the vision is distilled down to the next features that we're building, so technically I'm already playing the part.
Are you seeing other bootcamp grads working alongside you?
We haven’t been hiring as many engineers lately but I've been wanting to partner more with bootcamps because those career changers have that grit and proactive attitude to get stuff done. You want someone in a startup that's willing to work — not nonstop of course, but able to shift gears. I foresee that when we start to hire more engineers, we will look into local bootcamps here in Indianapolis or even across the country. It’s nice to have diverse backgrounds in a new company.
At this point in your tech career, was Eleven Fifty Academy worth it for you?
Absolutely! Without Eleven Fifty, I would not have landed a job in engineering. I loved how quickly I could learn the topics I was interested in, compared to a four-year degree.
What is your advice on anyone looking to make a career change into tech this year?
Keep your options open, but have an idea of what you want. Tech is so diverse with so many job titles that when you're looking to go into a bootcamp, it's overwhelming. You don't know where to start or what to learn first. Look at the companies that you may want to work for — for me, I knew I wanted to work for a SAAS application — then look at their job openings and what skills are required. Understanding the skills you need to have will help you determine what bootcamp is right for you and what courses you need to supplement your learning.
Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps.
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