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Eleven Fifty Academy Alumni Spotlight: Kaylea Britton

With so many opportunities available, it’s no surprise that the Tech Industry is one of the largest growing industries in the world and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Many people enter the field through a traditional college track or some take other routes. My name is Kaylea Britton and I am one of the non-traditional entrants. Here’s the story of my journey to tech.

I graduated from Ball State University in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in General Studies. In my defense, I started my time at college with a degree that was way more in demand, Theatrical Studies. Needless to say, my major changed when I decided it would be nice to actually make money after graduation but the only degree I could finish on time was General Studies. Knowing that I needed to better my chances of finding a job I enrolled at my local community college right after graduation and earned an Associates of Applied Science in Business Administration about a year and a half later. That didn’t end up helping much either, or at least not how I imagined it would.

I did manage to find a full-time job while working on that Associates but it was sort of by accident. I went into my college to meet with someone about scholarships and she ended up suggesting that I apply for a full-time job opportunity there. Since I had her, the then Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, backing me and a Bachelors in anything I was able to get this job that only required a high school diploma.

While I was proud of the fact that I landed this opportunity, it did take 6 months to find and it was in Higher Education, which I knew virtually nothing about. Initially, it was actually a great fit for me and over the years I gained an immense amount of knowledge, admittedly most of it is virtually useless outside of the Education Industry. However, if you need help filling out your FAFSA, feel free to send me an email.

So fast-forward, and after almost half a decade in this industry that I had stumbled into, I decided it was time to pivot and change careers. I was aching to find passion in the work that I did and I recognized that would never happen for me in Higher Ed. Admittedly a large part of that decision was inspired by the birth of my daughter. I hated the idea of raising her to think that life is about going to a job you don’t love, day-in and day-out just to barely pay your bills. I wanted to teach her that she is capable of anything that she aspires to provided that she is willing to put in the hard work to get there. The only way I could think to teach her this was to show it to her by doing it first.

So after a lot of research on industries with a low barrier to entry and a year of trying to teach myself to code, I drove up to Fishers, IN to meet with Eleven Fifty Academy about their Javascript 12-week course. The outcome reports and course structure made the decision really easy but to top it all off there was a grant available at the time that would pay for almost half the program if I started within 4 months.

It felt like a sign. That I was being presented a one-time opportunity and it was now or never. So after completing the 2-day weekend Intro to Coding course, I committed to starting the 12-week course at the end of that summer.

The training that I received at Eleven Fifty catapulted me on an upwards trajectory to my future in tech. What had taken me a year to teach myself, we covered in the first few days of class. The care and dedication that came from the instructors and staff were paramount to my success. But with that success, there were also failures and hardships.

It’s not difficult to find statistics about the lack of qualified talent in the Tech industry and how it will only get worse if more talent doesn’t appear. But just because there are jobs to be had does not mean that it is easy to obtain them. From the time that I started at Eleven Fifty Academy to my first day in my full-time position was about 8 months. Now I had a 12-week internship, 12 weeks in boot camp, and a part-time apprenticeship within that timeframe but overall it’s fairly safe to say that it took me a solid 12 weeks of serious searching before I had a full-time offer. I don’t tell you this to scare you. This process is different for everyone, I had classmates who graduated with job offers in hand. But I still think knowing that it sometimes takes longer will help to form adequate expectations.

Yes, it was hard. There were many long periods of me not contributing much to my family’s finances when I had been the breadwinner before this journey. Yes, sometimes I wondered if I had made the wrong decision. But overall, it was worth the struggle. I had a lot of family and support to lean on that made things easier to bear and I hated the idea of giving up and negating the sacrifices they had made to support me. Now, I work with great people and feel like my voice is heard. Also, the fact that I make 50%+ more than when I worked in Higher Ed helps ease the pain from when I couldn’t contribute much.

It takes hard work, perseverance, the ability to face rejection and a lot of faking-it-til-you-make-it, but if I, a General Studies major and mom of a toddler, can manage to get to this point, then anyone can. But the words of encouragement may not be enough to spur you to action so let me leave you with some of the key thoughts/tips that I think made the difference for me this past year.

  1. Build your network and be sure to include mentors.

I contribute the majority of any success I found this last year to networking and mentors. The advice and opportunities I received from my mentors shaped my entire year and building my network helped to sharpen my soft skills which are often in short supply in the tech industry.

  1. Don’t turn down an opportunity that doesn’t meet all your specs until you have all the facts.

This one is three-fold for me.

The first example is when I met a gentleman in the elevator during my internship and he mentioned that his company was hiring and suggested I send him my resume. Weeks later I ended up with a job offer and got my friend an interview at that company as well. I decided not to take the role but my friend still works there and that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t even taken up the original offer to send him my resume.

The second example is when I received an email invitation to an invite-only Meetup that I had never heard of. Originally I didn’t plan on attending but the day of the event, the organizer emailed me and asked if I would help him run the event, and he made sure to mention that I would be compensated for my time. Of course, I decided to go and I met a lot of nice people, developers and hiring managers alike, one of which led me to get on with my current company. Even if I hadn’t been hired, the Meetup organizer had offered me the opportunity to help at more events that would mean paid travel to other states and compensation for my time. I still would have gained valuable experience while being compensated.

The third and final example is my current job. While my internship was on a .Net project, my boot camp experience was JavaScript and I had already decided I wanted to focus on the front end. When I was introduced to my company I learned they were a .Net shop and I really second-guessed if this could be the right opportunity if it meant going down a different path than what I had originally planned. Now that I’m here, I am learning so much about C# and can really see a future in it for myself especially in Indiana where .Net experience is highly sought-after.

  1. If you feel like your learning or professional development journey is missing something, don’t be afraid to seek it out. Or, don’t wait for someone else to do what you can do yourself.

When my fellow boot camp classmates and I graduated we felt like there were still some things we weren’t quite prepared to face. The biggest of which was networking. It’s a scary thing to go to a new event, especially by yourself and you never know if it will be beneficial or not. So, we started a meetup together that is welcoming to all early career developers but especially other boot camp graduates. This gave us a low-pressure situation to network with people who were at the same stage in their careers as us and it has been immensely rewarding for me to watch and participate in the fellowship. Your need may be different but I guarantee there are things you can do yourself to start filling any gaps you feel you might have.

Your journey is your own but I believe that there is always something to learn from the experiences of those who came before us and I hope that you will find at least a snippet of valuable information from my story.

–Kaylea is a Junior Software Engineer for a startup in Carmel, IN and is a graduate of the August 2017 JavaScript cohort of Eleven Fifty Academy.

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