A Wise Coder’s Top 5 Pieces of Advice to Others in Her Generation Curious About the Industry
Virginia de la Riva is 54 years old, and to many in the tech industry, that’s too old to be re-entering the world of tech after taking a break to be a mom. Virginia vehemently disagrees.
“There may be a perception that older people aren’t as up-to-date on newer technology,” she said. “But that just isn’t true.”
After receiving her undergraduate in electrical engineering and working in the field for over 20 years, Virginia decided that she wanted to try something different. Though she started out designing medical devices using microprocessors and did a lot of coding in machine language, she wanted to expand her skillset. Going to a few open houses around the city, she decided to take a chance on a new opportunity: a coding boot camp. Invigorated, she enrolled in the part-time University of Minnesota Coding Boot Camp.
“I liked that this would be a quick way to refresh my technical skills, and it seemed very interesting,” Virginia said.
Today, Virginia works as a developer in business systems with the Minnesota Twins baseball team. In fact, the organization created the position specifically for her after being impressed with her diverse skill set in both business and coding.
Virginia is glad that she made the career change when she did, despite the challenges she faced as an older learner. Here are her top five pieces of advice for anyone considering following in her footsteps—regardless of their age.
1. Remain confident
When entering a new industry, it can be very easy to second guess yourself and your knowledge. Virginia was not immune to these doubts.
“The whole experience involved learning higher level languages, and sometimes you have no idea what is going on in the machine,” she said.
Virginia credits her instructors and TAs for helping her find the confidence to continue throughout her program, even when things got tough. Finding that support network and reminding yourself that you’re capable are essential when finding your footing in the program—and in your eventual career.
2. Learn all you can
Despite working full time, Virginia put a lot of time into boot camp, including focusing on outside study and homework assignments.
“If I wasn’t in class or my other job, I was sitting at my computer coding,” she said. “It was very exciting and challenging. I quickly learned that you really could teach an old dog new tricks.”
This required Virginia to find balance and flexibility in her time—something she also found important when looking for a new career in tech. She encourages anyone thinking about boot camp to give it all they’ve got and try to learn as much as possible. This attitude can take you far.
3. Look for new opportunities
Even as you get older, it’s never too late to try something new. Doing so can be beneficial in more ways than one.
“It’s fun learning something new and getting your brain to re-engage,” Virginia said. “Exercising your brain is something you should definitely take advantage of.”
Virginia advises anyone around her age to keep an eye open for things you really enjoy or new roles you might consider. You never know what might come your way if you open yourself up to change.
“Life is short,” she said. “I’m working at something that is fun and challenging, and I really enjoy it.”
4. Highlight your experience—even in other fields
Virginia came to her new position with a lot of experience, but it was in a totally different field. At first, she didn’t know how to tout that experience without making herself seem inexperienced in development, but she soon found a way to combine both aspects of her career history into one.
“Emphasize other work experience,” Virginia said. “Highlight a track record of defining and completing projects, your professionalism, and experience working in many environments and with many types of people. Basically, a track record of getting things done.”
5. Find the right employer
Finally, Virginia highlights how important it is to find an employer that recognizes the value of having people from all generations in the workplace. This is the best way to make sure you’re with a company that values all your skills, including the ones you acquired prior to working in tech.
“Find an employer who values the diversity and experience you bring to a group,” Virginia said.
All in all, Virginia wants older generations to know that their age shouldn’t hold them back from exploring new opportunities that they’re interested in, no matter what field they started in.
“I’m really enjoying the work that I’m doing,” she said. “I feel very blessed and fortunate to have been able to re-enter the workforce in an exciting and challenging new field with supportive co-workers. The work and experience are very fulfilling.”