No one knows this better than Practicum graduate Leandra Shelton. In just one day, she transformed from an administrator in the healthcare industry into a dog owner, part-time bartender, and trainee frontend developer. Let’s talk to the master of the “career 180.”
Shattering the glass ceiling
Although she enjoyed her job as a secretary at a doctor’s office, Leandra started to feel that she had no opportunities for further career growth. “I actually loved working there. I just love learning and growing, and there wasn’t really anywhere for me to go there.” Following the advice of her husband who worked in the tech field, she decided to try her hand at front-end. After working her way through some free resources, she discovered it was an instant match. “I’ve always been a creative person,” says Leandra, “and pretty good at math and science,” so front-end dev proved to be a great way for her to leverage all of her strengths.
“Honestly, I was never introduced to coding as a young woman. I personally blame the fact that I'm a woman – tech isn’t typically geared toward us. So, when my husband showed me [what coding was ] I said, ‘Oh, this is something I am definitely interested in.’ I did more research into coding – what it is, what jobs I could get, articles, etc.”
However, Leandra realized that she would need to invest substantial time and effort to become a good frontend developer. Knowing that her current position could lead to a dead end, she knew it was time to take action. So, Leandra came up with a plan.
After putting in her resignation, she decided to try her hand at bartending. “I liked talking to people and learning about their lives,” she says, “and also recommending drinks to them and bringing them joy.” So when the day came, she handed things over, adopted a dog with her husband, and started bartending part-time and learning to code.
“But I got to a point where I needed feedback on what I was doing. The [free] resources were self-paced, but you don't get professional feedback.” Leandra was stuck doing one tutorial after another, not able to put what she learned into practice. So, she felt that joining a professional community would do her some good. She joined a bunch of Facebook groups and subscribed to their newsletters. In one of them, Leandra spotted Practicum’s Web Development course.
After a little research into Practicum, Leandra was sure it was just what she needed. The Web Development course consisted of a number of two week-long sprints, which included theory, practical tasks, and a project for each sprint — just like a real working environment. While Leandra could do the theory and practical tasks at her own pace, the projects had deadlines she had to meet in order to unlock the next sprint. “I like the idea of being self-paced, but also having deadlines,” she admits, “And I was like, ‘Oh, yes, this is what I'm kind of used to with the other programs that I was taking, but also I get to interact with professionals.’” So, she signed up.
The beginning of Leandra’s study coincided with the pandemic, and she had to stop bartending. However, the situation let her focus on her studies. She usually studied during the day, becoming so focused at times that she would lose track of time.
“Usually by the time five o'clock rolled around and my husband was done with work, I would just stop studying to focus on family, so I had a good work life balance. I had some late nights when I was focused on a project and was like, ‘No, I need to finish this.’ So, it was just like a 12-hour day because that was all that was on my mind. When I get hyper-focused on something, I'm like, ‘No, I'm almost there, I know it!’”, she laughs. “But otherwise, I think the deadlines themselves were very helpful for me.”
Besides, Leandra was encouraged by the thing that convinced her to sign up in the first place: feedback. “[With] the other programs that I was doing, I would pass all of their online assessments, but... there wasn't anyone actually reviewing and saying, ‘Yes, you pass, but your code could be better if you did this.’” The Practicum support team, however, reviewed her code and offered suggestions on how to improve, which helped Leandra acquire another invaluable skill: the developer mindset. Whenever she had a problem with her code, instead of telling her the right answer, the tutors and code reviewers would help her figure out the right way to solve it. In other courses she had tried, Leandra could check the solution and “think backwards” to understand why her answer was correct, but it wasn’t the same as learning to think in the right way.
Another great outcome? Joining a professional community and growing her network. “I really like all the workshops I've been able to do with Practicum. They put me in touch with other people that are doing the same thing as me. I've made some connections on LinkedIn too. I know that I could go to these people if I have questions. Or if I want to do a project with someone, I'm sure anyone would be up for it.”
Ready for a new life
Leandra is adding the finishing touches to her final project now, but she knows where she wants to be after it’s done. First, she plans to join Practicum’s Career Acceleration program. “I will feel more confident sending in resumes once a professional looks at it for me,” she says.
Then, she’ll consider various front-end developer jobs in either the medical or brewing industries. She wanted to work in the medical field when she started her study, and there are hospitals that may need her expertise. “Everyone needs a website nowadays, so doing work in all of the industries that I love would be great too,” she says, “I gravitate towards places that love what they do, and have a great environment. And I just personally know about the medical field and the brewing field, and I'm already on board with those fields.”
The more you look the more you learn, right? Leandra stays open for other great things that life – and the tech industry – may put in her path. “I feel like I can learn a lot, regardless of where I start. This can help me redefine my focus on exactly what I want. So, whatever my first job is, I could love it so much that I stay there for the long term. Or maybe it's just a stepping stone to another place. That would also be great. I'm very open to whatever this industry has to offer.”
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