When Judy Thao hit a ceiling as a dental hygienist, she began looking for a new career path with more opportunity. By enrolling at the Software Guild, Judy got the foundations and real-world project experience she needed to launch a career in full stack development. Now four years into a successful tech career, Judy walks us through what it took to get started as a developer and how her Software Guild experience continues to help her as a Senior Associate Full Stack Developer at RSM. Plus, Judy's advice for any bootcamp graduates currently on the job hunt!
What inspired you to make a career pivot into software engineering?
I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in dental hygiene and a minor in biology, and then worked for three years as a registered dental hygienist. The field of dental hygiene is great, but long-term, it can be potentially debilitating for the body. I started feeling the effects and I didn’t feel like I was being challenged enough as a dental hygienist. The job became monotonous and I didn’t have the potential to grow. I started looking into different opportunities that would enrich my knowledge and growth. I came across several free coding courses and decided to try Solo Learn, which I liked a lot. After that short course, I began looking for a coding bootcamp and ended up finding the Software Guild.
When you were researching coding bootcamps, what stood out about Software Guild?
When you graduated from Software Guild, what had you learned about programming?
By the time we were done, we could build a full stack application from front to back!
What was your favorite project that you built while at Software Guild?
One of our first projects was to build a simple console application that simulated the board game, Battleship. You could have two users place their ships and then you’d strike at the ships with coordinates. It was my favorite project because that was where we first really applied the fundamentals of object oriented programming. It was probably one of the hardest projects because we were so new to these concepts but it was also the best because everything clicked after finishing.
Overall, what I built at Software Guild were real-life applications. Although it was on a much smaller scale, it has definitely been applicable to what I’ve built on the job as a developer.
What kind of network were you able to build at Software Guild?
Minneapolis is pretty big on tech. During the bootcamp, we did speed interviews to get experience with interviewing and to create connections with employers and recruiters that could help open more opportunities. I met recruiters from the Software Guild who later reached back out to me, which has been nice.
Kipp Graham, the Director of Career Services at Software Guild, kept us informed of certain events that were occurring in downtown Minneapolis. These were opportunities to network with other people in the field as well as meet potential employers. There were a lot of women at the coding bootcamp events that I participated in, which helped me stay motivated and inspired.
One of my colleagues from my Software Guild cohort actually helped me get my current job at RSM! He kept asking me if I would be interested in working for their team, and eventually I went for it.
Which tech roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating?
Most of the jobs I applied for were junior dev or associate-level work. At a bootcamp, you learn all of these things in three months and then, even with all of this knowledge, you feel underqualified for the job. Sometimes imposter syndrome can take it out of you, but it’s amazing how much you actually know and have applicable skills.
What was your first tech role after graduating from Software Guild?
My first job after the bootcamp was at Securian and I was an application developer. I got an interview with Securian through Software Guild, where my resume was passed off to their recruiter. At Securian, I worked on Oracle's documaker application, which is a document automation software. I did a lot of configurations and managed how these automations are processed. My time at Securian was short because I wasn’t doing much coding on the job, and coding was why I joined the bootcamp and where my passion was.
I moved from Securian to ProAg, which is an agricultural insurance company. I found this role through a recruiter on LinkedIn. At ProAg, I was working as a full stack developer, specifically working on an MVC application that had internal and client-facing portals for processing insurance claims.
Has Software Guild continued to help you with career support throughout your career?
I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had many struggles looking for work since graduation, but I know that Kipp at Software Guild’s door is always open. If I was struggling to find a job, I know he would be able to assist me or pass my resume along. I know he had helped other bootcamp grads in the past as well.
What is your advice for recent bootcamp graduates looking for their first job in tech?
You know more than you think. Don’t give up and just keep trying. It could take a few months to find a job, but don’t give up hope!
You’re now a Senior Associate Full Stack Developer at RSM! What kinds of projects are you working on now?
RSM is primarily known for their tax and auditing consulting services, but a part of RSM business is dedicated to technology. This has been nice because a lot of the services we provide are software solutions built from the ground-up. We mainly service the middle-tier markets, so a lot of our applications are set up from scratch versus enhancing ones that were already in place.
In my role at RSM, I work on a vast variety of software applications, which has been an enriching, learning experience. There’s quite a range in the types of projects I’ve worked on:
Are you still using everything that you learned at Software Guild in your job today?
Yes, I use everything I learned from the Software Guild and more! The beauty of consulting is that you get to dabble in the latest technologies, which has been awesome. I've done mobile development and I’ve also done development with older technologies. The Software Guild did a good job of preparing me for real-life applications.
How have you evolved as a developer since graduating?
My most recent job with RSM has been the biggest evolution because I’ve gotten the most experience with different technologies, applications, and projects. I feel I have been very fortunate to have had these opportunities that have allowed me to do well in the field, especially for someone that didn’t go to college for computer science!
As a senior developer, are you now seeing more bootcamp graduates working alongside you?
Working alongside other bootcamp graduates is actually pretty common now. When I first started at RSM, there was another Software Guild grad there, and we just hired two more developers onto my team who came from another form of coding bootcamp. It’s nice to see and work with peers with a similar educational background.
Over the past 4 years since you graduated from the bootcamp, what has been your biggest career challenge?
Definitely imposter syndrome. I feel like we bootcamp graduates don’t give ourselves enough credit. We know more than we think we do if we compare ourselves to other people working in the field. I think it’s because we don’t have that C.S. degree to back us up. We can get into our heads, thinking “Who am I to say I’m qualified to take on these roles and responsibilities?” That has been my biggest challenge. Once you get over your imposter syndrome, the sky's the limit.
Looking back on your career as a developer, was attending Software Guild worth it for you?
Yes, I think Software Guild was one of my best career choices. I’m happy with every aspect of it. I’ve gotten my return of investment on it and I love my work/life balance. Since pivoting my career into the tech industry, I now have so much flexibility.
What is your advice to other women considering a career change into tech?
Before making a career change, find out what you’re interested in. Just switching into tech for the salary will not be sustainable long-term. However, the beauty of working in tech is that you can move around if you don’t want to code for the rest of your life. I’ve seen people move into business analyst, program manager, or product manager roles. I’d also recommend connecting with others in the field to get real life perspectives. Aside from that, it’s important to work hard, keep at it, and remember to give yourself the credit you deserve.
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