Manual Transition

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A fateful Uber ride gave this veteran new direction

Two years ago, as fall turned to winter — or what passes for winter — in South Florida, Steve McLaughlin felt lost.

He’d emerged from a five-year stint as a submariner in the Navy, and another two years in the Georgia Army National Guard infantry, to discover the skills he acquired in the service weren’t really applicable in the private sector.

An artist by nature, he started a business as a videographer-for-hire, but an unpredictable freelance income wasn’t the ideal way to help support his wife and three kids, so he was trying to make ends meet as an Uber driver. What he needed was a new, sustainable career with a good income. He just wasn’t sure where to find it.

One afternoon, while trawling downtown Miami for Uber fares, a client climbed into McLaughlin’s Mazda 5 and gave him the answer.

His passenger mentioned that his destination was the offices of a small tech startup he owned. This sparked McLaughlin’s interest, as he had recently seen a news story about a woman who made a successful career change after taking an immersive education course in software development. He asked his passenger if career pivots like the one he’d heard about on the news were common in the tech industry.

Yes, said the entrepreneur. He’d hired several developers fresh out of immersive programs, starting them at salaries upwards of $75,000. “I had thought that an immersive program was interesting and something I could possibly do,” says McLaughlin. “Now I had confirmation.”

McLaughlin made up his mind that a career in software development, with its high demand and earning potential, was the smart move for himself and his family. But which path should he take to get there?

His research led him westward, to the San Francisco Bay Area.“If I was going to be a developer, I needed to go where the best are and learn among them,” he says.

McLaughlin homed in on the SoMa campus of Galvanize and its vibrant mashup of startups, entrepreneurs and students leveling up their web development and data science skills. Unlike the three month courses offered by many other coding bootcamps based in the greater Silicon Valley, the Galvanize WDI is an intensive six month program. “In my mind, Galvanize was committing to me for twice as long,” he says. “How much can you really learn in three months?”

He felt confident he was moving in the right direction; and yet he was dogged by a nagging reluctance to turn away from his artistic roots. He had always dreamed of going to art school, sketching and sculpting, indulging his muse and living the gallery life.“I thought I was going to make crazy dollars and inspire people by throwing paint at rolls of tissue,” he says, half-joking.

Even when his life had detoured through prosaic work as a Logistics Specialist in the armed forces, he held onto the vision of making a career as a creative, a dream that didn’t seem congruent with the world of computers and software engineering. “I always thought that there was nothing artistic about software development, that it required no creativity,” says McLaughlin.

At Galvanize, he expected to be surrounded by numbers-crunchers and science geeks who would be difficult for him to relate to, but he found that wasn’t the case at all. McLaughlin’s peers were drawn to the program from a wide range of backgrounds. “I came to Galvanize as a guy who had created all of these limitations in my head,” he admits. “I realized there was an immense amount of creativity and autonomy in full-stack development. It’s about trial and failure, and finding creative solutions—the idea that there isn’t just one way to do anything.”

Last August, after graduating from his cohort and stretching his family’s savings nearly as far as it could go, McLaughlin landed a job as a full stack developer with Accenture, a Fortune Blue Ribbon Company based in nearby Redwood City.

“I’m at Accenture because of my time at Galvanize,” he says. “The Galvanize community—my instructors, the career services team, my fellow students—convinced me from Day One that I belonged in this industry, and that I could totally change my life if I was willing to work for it.”

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