From Scientist to Web Developer: Concocting A New Career

Ugonna Ojiaku had all the makings of a burgeoning career. A series of internships and forged connections led to a great job right out of college—which isn’t always easy with an environmental science degree.

Despite her early success, Ugonna questioned the future. She wasn’t sure how long she wanted to continue working at an environmental lab for Pace Analytical—or whether this career track was right for her.

“I was unsatisfied with my career at the time and the path that I was going along,” Ugonna admitted. “I just didn’t feel like it was a career I could see myself in for the long term.”

How do you switch careers after spending years going down a different path? When is it okay to change course? And how exactly do you begin?

Ugonna started her search for a new life the way people look for stuff every day. She Googled it.

How to change career gears

That search led Ugonna to the University of Minnesota Coding Boot Camp. “Honestly, I sort of stumbled upon it,” said Ugonna. “I was initially attracted to IT because the barrier to entry was low. I could explore this new career for not a lot of money, in a short amount of time.”

Saving time and money are cornerstones for a new wave of technical learning programs. Part-time boot camps at leading universities, like the Trilogy-powered one Ugonna took, offer professionals new formats for learning with the credibility of a university certification. And thousands of learners like Ugonna are realizing that it’s possible to change course quickly—sometimes in a fortuitous decision made in a single afternoon.

Ugonna was surprised by how fast her life changed. “It happened really quickly,” she explained. “I submitted my application for the web development boot camp, and I got the call for an informal interview one or two hours later.”

And that surprising speed was just a sample of what it’s like to enroll in a 24-week intensive coding boot camp.

Running down a new path

“It’s a lot of studying, especially in the beginning,” Ugonna said of the initial course workload. “But you quickly learn some serious time management skills to help get your projects done on time.”

The U of M Coding Boot Camp expects students to learn as they go—and they move quickly. Instruction is centered around three real-world technical group projects, where students apply the front- and back-end skills they’re learning every week.

Ugonna’s first group project, a program that analyzed a person’s headshot to see if they were “professional enough,” was a triumph. She actually took home some awards from the boot camp.

And while she expected learning to code would be a challenge, she wasn’t prepared for what turned out to be her favorite part of the course.

Making connections and asking questions

“I went in expecting to just get my work done,” admitted Ugonna. “But I was taken aback by how much I connected with the TAs and other students.”

Ugonna was initially nervous about switching careers, but thanks to the welcoming environment created by her teachers, she felt confident asking all the questions she needed to understand the material.

“It was such a comfortable environment—especially for people without a background in the field, said Ugonna. “I felt like I could ask a lot of questions because everyone was always patient and encouraging. The instructors and TAs were just really cool, kind people.”

Her teacher offered to be a professional reference for her after the course. This quickly led to a new career.

A new environment

“I got a new job just a few weeks after completing the boot camp,” said Ugonna. After only her second interview, she was hired as a Digital Content Software Developer for a company named Total Expert, thanks to the skills she learned in class.

But Ugonna also points out that she wouldn’t be where she is today without all the new friends and colleagues she met during the boot camp—both in and out of class.

“During and after the course I went to a lot of programming meetups. Mostly DevFest and Hack the Gap, a group dedicated to connecting women and minorities in tech,” explained Ugonna. And now that she’s finished her certificate course, Ugonna has no plans to stop connecting with other IT professionals.

“I’m going to keep going to these meetups. In fact, I even signed up to be a computer tutor at my local library,” Ugonna said. “It’s not super technical, but I just like helping other people out.”

And Ugonna isn’t done learning. “I want to be in a position where I’m expanding my skills as a full-stack web and software developer. I have a great entry-level job now, but I learned so much in the boot camp, and I have so much more to give,” she said.

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