Making a career change can be daunting, especially when you’re already established and doing well, but that’s just what Heather Wenzel did. When she applied for a Grand Circus coding bootcamp, Heather had been in marketing, a career she chose in college, for eight years. And she was succeeding, getting promoted. From the outside, her job looked great, but she says “I realized one day — I kind of hate my career path.” Like so many Grand Circus students before her, she shifted gears and found a new career in tech. Two years later, she’s loving her new job and helping people like her make the same shift.
How did you first get into development?
I was one many people in my bootcamp who first started developing on MySpace. I had always done my own custom themes and all of that silly stuff that everyone who had MySpace in the 2000s did. I did it for fun in HS and then grew out of it.
In college, I started out in art and then I switched to advertising. I never really thought, “Hey, I should look back into this technology that I really enjoyed as a kid and as a teenager.” In my first job in marketing, I worked alongside a web developer. He kind of reignited that fun for me of developing and creating websites.
I took some courses and loved them, but I thought “How in the world am I going to do anything with this? It’s fun, but I don’t think there’s any way I could make a career change.” I didn’t know how I would integrate that with the career path I had chosen.
Tell us about the transition from marketing to development. Are there any ways that your previous career has helped your new job?
I might not be doing marketing anymore, but I actually work in a marketing agency. I was able to get my foot in the door because of my background and because I had agency experience. I could say, “Hey, you don’t have to teach me all of these things. I already did it for eight years.”
That is what’s so cool about Grand Circus: you’re encouraged to integrate the skills that you gained before into your current career path.
There are people who were in healthcare or food service before. There is absolutely a spot where you can fit not only in the technology field, but using that prior experience. You’re not always going to get a job after bootcamp just [as a developer]. You might end up in healthcare working on a healthcare system. Or you might work in an agency like I do, or in a consulting firm [where the clients are] in healthcare or food service. Having that background kind of makes you a shoo-in for whatever you’re going to be doing. It’s a little easier for an employer to take that risk on you. You’re not coming in with no experience at all. You’re coming in with a little experience as a developer, but a lot of experience in your previous career path.
In addition to working as a developer, you’ve also spent time teaching coding with Grand Circus. Tell us about that.
The first thing I did after graduation was go to the [workshop coordinator] and ask how I could teach. I wanted to stay involved with Grand Circus. Obviously, I loved my experience. And I wanted to share what I had learned with other people.
At first, selfishly, it was also a way to test myself: Was I really up to par? Do I really understand these concepts? Now, it’s [an opportunity for] sharing my real world experience, where these concepts apply as a developer in the real world.
What was it like for you to do a full-time bootcamp? How was bootcamp valuable to you beyond learning to code?
I quit my 9-5 job and started my 9-5 bootcamp. Bootcamp was way more difficult than my 9-5 job. It was intense 24/7. At nine o’clock, you should have already had your coffee and it should have kicked in because you are jumping right in. You spend the first half of the day learning and the second half applying that learning. There’s homework and projects — it doesn’t stop. When I came home, I’d redo everything that we had learned that day that I didn’t understand.
[Grand Circus] gives out a little sheet that shows the two weeks that [students] should expect to feel completely distraught. I was like, “No, I’m gonna be fine.” And then, it hit me. Those weeks, I thought, “There’s no way I’m going to get through this.” Not that I wasn’t going to graduate, but that I wasn’t going to be able to be a developer. It was hard, but that mental hurdle was really important for my growth as a person and as a developer. Those little feelings come back when I’m learning something new, but I am able to think back to that experience. I felt that so vividly in bootcamp. Not only did I get over it, but I am successful, and I love what I do. Overcoming that [fear] is the greatest thing that you can experience.