This month, we’re sharing insights from Karina Lopez, a 2017 Grand Circus DEVELOP(her) graduate. Before deciding to pursue a new path in tech, Karina felt stuck in her sales job. She thought that her educational background didn’t offer her other career options. A few years after completing her C# .NET bootcamp and successfully pivoting to software development, she’s enthusiastic about her new work as a developer.
How did you first decide to get into tech? What were you doing before starting bootcamp?
It was a long, winding process. I was working in sales. I jumped around different sales roles, but I wasn’t really feeling inspired. It didn’t feel like a good fit, but I didn’t know anything else that I could do with my background.
Then, I randomly ran across this article about a woman who was head of IT at a couple of different companies. She talked about how she didn’t have an official background in computer science. Her degree was in marketing, but she decided to get into coding and it ended up being a really good career for her. That piqued my interest.
I started by reaching out to my network and asking friends, “How can I do something like that? How can I get into it now that I’ve already finished my undergrad?” A couple of friends told me about the Grand Circus program. When Grand Circus opened their campus in Grand Rapids, it was like fate.
You completed a part-time bootcamp. What was it like to juggle a daytime job, a part-time bootcamp, and parenting?
I prepared mentally, knowing that it was going to be hard. It was tough, but I knew going in that it was going to be tough for a while. When I was at work, I was working. When I was in class, I was in class. And when I was home with my young son, I was home with him, focused on him.
On the weekends, I’d prepare by packing my lunches. After work, I would go straight to class, so I’d have something to eat in between. I did homework on my lunch break at work and just tried to optimize the little breaks that I had.
One of the big things I did was talk with my family, my support team. I told them, “I want to do this to improve my career and do something that I enjoy, but I need your help. I can’t do this without you.” I organized things with them to watch my son after I got out of work, so it wasn’t just me figuring this out on my own. I leaned on my support network to make it work.
Once it was over, I was so glad that I finished.
How did your Grand Circus bootcamp help you change your career path?
I don’t think that I would have gotten half as far trying to learn [coding] on my own outside of bootcamp. There are so many resources online for learning to code, but I had zero background. I didn’t know any coding languages. I’d never done any coding before.
At Grand Circus, they break it out: this is what we’re gonna learn first, then we’ll build on that and go on. Having the instructors and the other students made a supportive environment. I was really grateful that I did bootcamp. When I graduated, I could see the benefit. I could see in detail what I had learned. That was really rewarding.
Even though I wasn’t employed [as a coder] right away after the bootcamp, I was reinvigorated with my career search. I knew that this was something I wanted to do. Before bootcamp, I felt really lost. I wasn’t sure what I could do with sales. Afterward, I knew that this was a career path I wanted, even if it took a lot to get a job.
Can you talk about your job search? How much time did you spend on your job hunt? Did you send out resumes every day?
It felt like a daytime job. I was writing cover letters for every job, updating my resume. Even just finding the job listings felt like a job. I was on LinkedIn, Indeed, and Slack, looking for openings. Every evening, I’d look to see if there was something new. I think I dedicated one or two hours each night to looking for jobs, applying, and following up.
What are you doing now for work? Did you end up in a coding job, or some other tech role?
I work for National Heritage Academies, which is a charter school organization. It’s not a tech company, but they need tech. There are a lot of devices that need to be managed throughout the company and the way we do that is through our CRM system.
Some of Grand Circus’s focus is building soft skills with our students. Can you talk about that?
One of the biggest takeaways that I took from the bootcamp was related to networking. I learned how to feel comfortable with it. I consider myself pretty introverted and it’s sometimes uncomfortable to go up to a recruiter or someone in my company. It might not lead to a job, but letting people know that you’re interested in the field [is important]. It’s something I wasn’t doing well [before Grand Circus]. Bootcamp pushed me to reach out to the people that I already knew, to talk to people inside my company, to get my name out there.
Tell us about your experience as a woman in tech.
I was nervous about getting into tech because it’s a very male-dominated space. [I heard] a lot of negative stereotypes: that it’s not a great space for women and that women drop out. But that hasn’t been my experience.
I’ve met a lot of people who are very welcoming. I have felt very supported coming into the field. It’s still pretty heavily male-dominated, but I think many people that work in tech are aware of that and they’re working to make it a more inviting place for people of different backgrounds. I think the awareness piece is really what has made me feel comfortable.
Do you have any advice for people who are considering applying for bootcamp, or changing careers?
My only advice is to reach out. Seek out those people that want to help others come into the field, that have made career changes, and ask them questions. There are challenges to making a career change, but surrounding yourself with a supportive group is one of the ways to be really motivated about it. When it gets tough, [that support] can recharge your batteries.
I love the Grand Circus family and the feeling that you have around Grand Circus. People are excited about supporting you through the journey of switching careers.