This month, in conjunction with National Women’s History Month, we’ve been sharing Q&A sessions with some of our recent female graduates of the Zip Code Wilmington boot camp. So far, Kelsey and Sujatha have recounted their experience. This week, we share Jocelyn’s story. She attended the boot camp in the spring of 2016.
Q: What motivated you to apply for the Zip Code Wilmington boot camp?
My best friend, Kelsey, was in the first Zip Code Wilmington class. After she started going through the course, she told me I had no choice and I had to apply. So I did. I was having some personal setbacks at the company I was with. I had been with them almost 3 years, but I wanted to do more. I knew I could do more than I was able to as a receptionist. I was personally frustrated with my growth. Kelsey knew I was frustrated. She said, “Jocelyn, you already love math. You already know HTML and CSS. It’s a no-brainer for you to do this.” She was my catalyst to go for it.
Q: What was the boot camp experience like?
For me, it was very immersive. For 12 weeks, I really didn’t talk to anybody. They tell you that up front. You don’t have time for family or friends when you’re in this. I had so much riding on the success of this program that I took that to heart. I threw myself into it completely. The only friends I had were my instructors and the people in the boot camp with me. Treating the experience that way was vital for me coming out with a job at the end.
Q: How does a trial-by-fire experience like that develop the relationships between you and your fellow students?
In my class, there were 27 people. We put our lives on hold for 3 months. We all started out on the same basis. That drew us together. It created a sense of camaraderie that still exists between cohorts and even between Zip Code Wilmington alumni in general. I’ve made great and lifelong friends through the program. We share the experience of knowing that we really had no other choice. That brought us together and keeps us together.
Q: With no coding experience, was this a whole new world for you?
It was a whole new world because HTML and CSS are so different. For that, you just memorize tags and colors and things like that. Coding challenged me to a whole new level of solving problems. You had to find the essence of the problem and then find ways within Java to solve it. This ended up being something that I didn’t even know I would like and I turned out to be really good at it.
Q: What do you think prevents women from seeing coding as a viable career choice?
For many, I think it starts in school. When I think back to high school, the option of pursuing computer science was never presented to me. I enjoyed art and math and science. I participated in Science Olympiad and Math League and things like that. But never did any of my advisors mention that computer science might be something I’d be interested in. If I’d had an advisor then who’d had a conversation with me based on my skills and what I liked, I probably would have gone into computer science in college. I think it needs to be encouraged in schools more. It’s a good thing that Zip Code Wilmington gives people that second chance to succeed.
Q: You’re now a full-time software developer. How prepared did the boot camp make you for the real world?
From a programming level, it was insanely effective. At my current company, Zip Code Wilmington graduates were interviewed the same as everyone else. We were alongside college grads with computer science degrees. Based on conversations with those computer science grads, I was surprised how much more actual programming we knew. Many said they only did programming in the first two years of their degree, while some were luckier and learned programming in their last year. Many were out of practice with programming because they hadn’t taken a Java course since their freshman year. For me and my fellow boot camp graduates, that made us realize that even when competing with computer science majors, we’re still on par with them as far as coding skill goes. Zip Code Wilmington isn’t a substitute for a college degree, but it also shouldn’t deter people from applying. I’m on par with, if not better than, some of my coworkers who have computer science degrees.
Q: What advice would you give to other women considering this boot camp?
I think the most important thing is to have a support system. I had Kelsey, her family, and all of my friends. Without that support system, I wouldn’t have had the guts to do it. You have to take risks for your own happiness and career growth.