Eleven Fifty Academy Alumna Profile: Jessica Bushong
Eleven Fifty Academy was launched in 2014 with the mission to provide an alternative pathway for career-changers and career-seekers to break into the tech industry. We are always excited to sit down and talk with some of our over 1,000 graduates who have entered the tech workforce about their experience of our programs and the careers they built on their foundational skills. Recently we got to check in with Jessica Bushong, a software engineer at the Indianapolis-based recruiting tech startup Qualifi.
What motivated you to pursue a career in tech?
I started off my career as an educator teaching both English & Theatre Arts at the secondary level. It was actually through this experience that I discovered my love of tech. Exploring & testing out new tech tools in the classroom was one of the highlights of my job. I loved seeing how ed-tech could be used to enhance both student learning & motivation. I think this is really where my tech journey began. As my excitement & interest in these tech tools grew, I found myself growing more curious on what it would take to build these tools myself.
I tell anyone who asks, I didn’t leave teaching because I was unhappy in my role, but rather because there was an exciting alternative passion I wanted to explore and pursue.
Even when I started thinking through that, I still didn’t think a career in tech would happen for me because I thought it was too late. I was already 5-6 years into teaching, so transitioning careers was a scary idea. I was living in rural Illinois so I also wasn’t surrounded by tech job opportunities. Honestly, I had a very “woulda coulda shoulda” attitude about it.
When I moved to Indiana is when the wheels started turning. Summer of 2020 is when I started learning online about HTML and CSS. I started looking at the basic information and it kind of clicked with me. Not only was it fun and exciting, I wanted to learn more. And so next thing I knew, thanks to algorithms, I was getting emails about bootcamps.
When I first started thinking I might leave teaching for a career in tech I thought that would have to be in sales because that was the only place my skills would potentially transfer. But then learning to code a little and hearing about bootcamps, I suddenly saw I could learn the tools to create these solutions that inspired me.
Why did you choose the Eleven Fifty Academy tech bootcamp?
I looked into three different bootcamps. As part of that process, I signed up for a free Intro to Coding class with Eleven Fifty and just loved it.
Cost was a big driver for me, and Eleven Fifty was the only one offering a grant through the CARES Act Funding. Plus, I could do the Eleven Fifty Academy course part-time in the evening and on weekends. If it hadn’t been something I could fit in while also having my full-time job, I would not have been able to do it.
At the same time, I knew I needed something more structured than just continuing to self-teach. People will say everything you learn in a bootcamp you can teach yourself. While that might be literally true, in the world of technology there are so many different languages, tools, and platforms. I didn’t know where to start! Eleven Fifty Academy does a great job of providing not just the education but the roadmap. They start you with foundational knowledge and then eventually you can build out a full stack. It’s not by any means everything you need to know, but it’s a start. If I had tried to do this by myself, I would have gone down all the little rabbit holes and never reached the end goal of being able to get a job in tech. I would never have known what to focus on. It’s a lot easier to have someone helping you put it together instead of trying to tackle it all yourself separately.
Did you enjoy working with the instructors at Eleven Fifty Academy?
In a word, the instructors were fabulous. The staff not only walks through the curriculum, but they are also patient with you in times of struggle. To me now, some of the things I was really struggling with are very elementary. But they didn’t feel that way at the time! Not only are the professors knowledgeable, but they are patient & understanding of the fact that even the most basic material might be difficult to grasp for beginners.
The setup is such that you have access to ask questions during the class, and during office hours. You can meet with any instructor and any learning assistant to get on track. Coming from being a teacher myself, I think asking questions, being curious, and advocating for my own learning is important. So, I took that mindset into the classroom at Eleven Fifty. I had a lot of students in my cohort who halfway through admitted they had felt intimidated about signing up for office hours or asking questions. To anyone reading this who is currently a student or considering enrolling: DON’T FEEL BAD asking for help. This is YOUR six months of time that you are providing yourself, and you deserve to take advantage of all of that. Remember that a teacher might not know you need help unless you say something.
Every question I had they helped me and if they didn’t know right away, they would go research and help me by finding answers.
What was it like to look for jobs as an Eleven Fifty graduate?
From the time I was in bootcamp and up until I landed my first position, I felt very supported by Eleven Fifty’s career services team. I had people rooting for me and my success. There was a sense of positivity and encouragement that helped me have confidence going into the job hunt. I knew it would be difficult, but once you can land that first position, those opportunities come easier and easier. I will say, I went into the job search with the mindset I would have to prove to an employer I was worth taking a chance for. I applied to a handful of places, focusing my search at smaller startups. I graduated in February 2021 and it took me 2-3 weeks before I landed the role I am currently in love with.
What do you love about your current job?
I feel very fortunate to have landed a role as a software engineer at Qualifi. In this role, I get the opportunity to build new tools & features that directly benefit Qualifi’s platform and its clients. Each day I’m faced with new challenges to tackle– which has been really exciting for me. At the start of each sprint, I’m presented with designs, and then it’s my job to go turn that idea into reality. This role really allows for a beautiful blend between my creative & analytical sides– which has been very rewarding!
I am also loving the flexibility, work-life balance, and culture that are prized by my employer. Coming in as a new developer, I was a little nervous about making the transition, but my team has been nothing but supportive every step of the way.
What is your advice for doing a tech bootcamp while working full time?
Completing a tech bootcamp while also working full time is no small feat. During my 6-month part-time program, the majority of my evenings and weekends were spent attending class, studying material, or working on projects. It can be exhausting, but it helps to remember that all the work that you’re putting in now is an investment in your future.
Having a solid understanding of the fundamentals will help so much later down the line. So, I guess my biggest recommendation is to take it day by day. Working full-time while attending a tech bootcamp is hard and might require you to sacrifice your social life for a period of time, but it’s possible!
What is your biggest takeaway from your time at Eleven Fifty Academy?
I would not be where I’m at today without Eleven Fifty Academy. Through this program, I’ve been able to gain the technical skills required to start an amazing new career.
Considering a career change can be scary and sometimes even feel like an impossible task. But if you’re willing to take the time & effort needed to skill up, the opportunities are out there for you!