Ashley had found success in social work but was searching for a job with less stress and more balance for her young family. She attended DigitalCraft’s 16-week full stack immersive bootcamp in Atlanta and is now an Associate Engineer with Riskalyze! What was it like switching careers for this mom of two? Ashley shared why she chose DigitalCrafts, how she juggled attending a bootcamp and being a mom, how social work continues to influence her career path, and why it was important for her to prioritize a career change and demonstrate to her daughters that girls can do cool tech jobs!
What was your background before attending DigitalCrafts?
I have a master’s degree in social work and worked in the public sector for ten years, primarily in child welfare, working with families and children who had come into contact with the state through child abuse, substance abuse, or neglect.
How did you get interested in technology or coding?
I noticed the social work field was behind technologically – the funding is minimal for non-profits and agencies in Florida and Georgia, and we had to make the most of our resources. We gave clients a lot of paperwork and they would lose it almost immediately, but I noticed our clients always had a smartphone. No matter what happened in life, they held onto their phone as a means of communication. So I worked with my agency to put some of our paperwork in a more mobile format so we could give our clients better access. I realized I was making an impact on an individual family basis but thought I could make more of an impact if I worked in technology on a larger scale.
Changing careers is a big step. How did you decide to shift career paths and join a bootcamp?
It was a gradual change – quitting your job to take a bootcamp is a scary step to take! I had contemplated it for a long time before I dove in. Over the past year, I’ve met several people with similar stories – we started off trying to teach ourselves and dabbled on and off. At some point, I realized that in order to advance, I had to decide on a goal, focus, set aside time, and not push it to the back burner. For me, deciding to do the bootcamp was saying “I want to do something different.”
What types of resources did you use to teach yourself before the DigitalCrafts bootcamp?
I took some free, online courses like Udemy, Codecademy, and a Ruby tutorial (free with a Groupon!). I also joined a subreddit where everyone shared their coding success stories. Coming from social work, I had no idea about which programming languages I needed to learn, so I dove into what I saw that was available.
What were your biggest worries before changing careers? How did you find a bootcamp that would be a good fit for you?
My main concern was that I would be completely starting over in a new career. I had advanced pretty far as a director in my field. And I was a mom in my 30s – would I be learning in a room with a bunch of 20-year-old men?
Before I decided to go for it, I researched success stories and looked for my own story in their pre-bootcamp stories. When I met with the DigitalCrafts recruiter, those were my first questions: What are your demographics? Do you see different success rates between men and women? Am I going to be the oldest one in the room or is it varied? Reading bootcamp reviews also helped a lot. I got to hear from successful students with a wide variety of backgrounds.
You were working in a director-level job in social work – how does that salary compare to tech?
Sometimes, I feel guilty because the disparity is crazy. In my director role, I oversaw the foster care program for a metro county with several foster care units of multiple workers reporting directly to me. To reach that director role, I had to have a master’s degree. Now, I’ve done a 16-week bootcamp, entered tech as a junior level intern, and made $20,000 more annually right off the bat. My healthcare costs less (because my company covers it) and the culture is great – we do fun things, get snacks, etc. There were no frills in social work because all funds were funnelled toward helping our clients. I really enjoyed my job in social work and I miss a lot of aspects of it, but I’m glad I jumped in to technology.
How did having a family impact your bootcamp choice?
One of my priorities was finding a local Atlanta bootcamp to minimize the impact on my family. Thankfully we have several bootcamp options here. I was mainly looking at Georgia Tech and DigitalCrafts. I interviewed with DigitalCrafts because they offered a full stack bootcamp and they are right across the highway from my husband’s office (in fact, we commuted together a lot of days).
I liked the idea of the full-time immersive program and DigitalCrafts also offered a flex program on evenings and Saturdays. I initially applied for the flex program, but I ultimately chose the immersive program because I was ready to make a commitment to learning that I did not think I would be able to make on top of full time work.
What was the application process like for DigitalCrafts?
There was a coding challenge, a few interviews, and I had to write a bit about myself. I first had several phone interviews, especially when I was thinking about the Flex program. DigitalCrafts checked in with me regularly, which helped me stay motivated.
Who were the other students in your DigitalCrafts bootcamp?
We were a variety of ages – I wasn’t the oldest (which had been my biggest fear)! Some people had a strong tech background and others had to start at the very beginning. A quarter of us were women (5 out of 20), and I never felt like I was the only woman in a group of men, or an older person in a group of teenagers. There also was another mom in the cohort – we bonded over funny children stories and similar struggles to balance family life with our own career pursuits!
What was DigitalCrafts’ teaching style like?
In the morning, the instructor gave a lecture on a new concept while doing some live coding, and then the afternoon would reinforce those concepts through self-driven activities.
At first, it was really overwhelming. They taught us new concepts, gave us an assignment, and turned us loose. I felt like I didn’t have all the answers, but I quickly learned that a lot of software engineering is learning how to Google, and that there isn’t one right way to do anything.
DigitalCrafts didn’t give us explicit instructions because everyone approaches things differently, and if you don’t develop your problem solving skills, you won’t be as successful as a developer. It was one of the most beneficial parts of the program – we were given a task and a lot of flexibility in how we approached it. Help was there if we needed it, but we were encouraged to inject our own creativity into it as much as possible. That worked really well – learning in the beginning and then practicing by doing. I’m a visual learner, so it definitely lined up with my learning style.
We did a lot of pair programming; not only did we get to discover how we would code, but we got to see other people’s coding styles. We were encouraged to sit in a different seat every day and sit next to someone new, which helped us learn different styles and techniques. The activities were the best for my learning style, and DigitalCrafts let us take those home, which was great for me. Some students would stay late into the night and get there early the next morning. However, being a mom, I tried to set those boundaries so I would get as much done as I could in the classroom during the day, and spend the evenings with my family.
As a mom with a family, how did you prepare for your bootcamp and career shift?
I knew that this career change was something I wanted to prioritize for myself and if I hadn’t done it, I would have regretted it. It’s easy to guilt myself into thinking I’m a terrible mom, so I had to do a lot of positive self-thinking and tell myself that it was ok to take some time and do something for myself. I spend a lot of time and effort on my children and my children deserve to have a mother who demonstrates that it’s good to put time into yourself.
It was also important to establish a weekly schedule before I started class. Before I started the bootcamp, my husband and I worked on what a typical week schedule would look like. The bootcamp has set hours and since I still had a 2-year-old at home, I needed to fit those hours into my childcare routine. Would I need extra childcare? Was the bootcamp going to work with the hours I already had? What if I had to stay late?
My husband and I sat down together and decided on one night per week where it would be okay for me to stay late and he could manage the childcare. That day would be flexible, depending on schoolwork and his travel schedule. It turned out that things never really happened the way we planned, but it was good to try to get an idea of what those weeks looked like!
Congrats on landing a job at Riskalyze! How did you find the job and what are you working on?
I actually hadn’t planned on working right away after graduation. I had wanted to take a break and wait until my kids were back in school in August. I had only applied for a few jobs here and there, but DigitalCrafts’ career program is amazing and they sent my information to Riskalyze. Riskalyze asked if I wanted to be a summer intern. I spoke with their Chief of Staff and it sounded like a great opportunity; I really liked how they listed their core values as a big part of their company culture. I came in as a summer intern in the middle of June 2018, and was immediately put on a project. It was a bit overwhelming at first, because they were transitioning all of their product into React. I had just learned React at DigitalCrafts, so I got put on that project along with several other engineers. In July, they approached me about a full time position and August 1st, I started as a full-time Associate Engineer!
Did you have to do a technical interview to become an intern?
I didn’t, which I’m thankful for! But DigitalCrafts provided mock technical interviews in the bootcamp so we could practice and prepare. That was helpful, but I’m grateful I didn’t need to do one for this job.
Are you using the same languages you learned in the DigitalCrafts bootcamp or are you learning new languages?
I started as a front-end developer but now do full stack. I use React almost every day. I also use a lot of PHP now, and I had to learn it over the course of several months. After learning React in three weeks at DigitalCrafts, learning PHP in that timeframe almost came easy to me!
DigitalCrafts teaches you the skills to learn a programming language. I’ve found that a lot of programming languages share basic fundamentals even though the syntax is different, so learning new languages isn’t so intimidating anymore. There are a number of senior developers on our team, and they’ve all been very helpful. I appreciate the fact that the company allows the senior engineers to take the time to teach and guide junior developers.
Is your job what you expected when you decided to attend DigitalCrafts’ bootcamp?
Yes and no. As far as the actual code writing, it’s on par with what I learned at DigitalCrafts and what I thought I’d be doing afterwards. I like the company I work for and they do a lot of good in the world, but I do miss the one-on-one aspects of social work. Maybe at some point, I’ll be able to take a job that merges social work and technology, but at this point, I’m learning so much every day. It’s really great!
How has your previous career in social work impacted your new career in development?
For career switchers – even if your first career wasn’t technical – it’s important to take advantage of those past skills. Even though I’m a junior software developer, I had led teams as a director in my past career. Because of that, I’ve been given opportunities at Riskalyze and have been able to lead a couple of small teams because of that professional experience.
It’s been about one year since you changed careers and broke into coding. Would you recommend other moms enroll in a coding bootcamp and enter the tech industry?
I definitely recommend it – it’s been a great experience for me. I get to do something that I really enjoy. I’ve always liked puzzles and coding is a big puzzle all day long.
I think that working in technology has made me a better role model for my family. I have two girls of my own and I want to show them that their mom is awesome! When I learn new things, I like to teach them as well. We even made a sensor out of a Raspberry Pi for their school garden to indicate when the soil needs water.
Even though I’m away a bit more in my new role than I was before, I think it’s improved our family dynamic as a whole. My previous job was so stressful, and the time I spend with my family is more relaxed now.
It’s never going to feel like the right time to make a career change, and it’s always going to be scary to take the leap. But even if the change is rough, the staff at DigitalCrafts have helped hundreds of students graduate, are supportive, and can help you plan and navigate your journey.