No Shoes, No Jacket…No Problem

erika-mickie

One woman’s journey from law school to web developer
(Hint: she’s happier now)

On her first day of class at Galvanize’s Web Development Immersive course last spring, Erika Angarita was a little nervous. Not because she had never studied web development before, aside from some basic HTML she had taught herself. Not because she had never worked in the tech industry, or because she was making a major career transition from studying law in her native Colombia.

After a year of soul searching and researching, Angarita knew she wanted to level up her skills at Galvanize’s Austin campus. She’d shadowed a web developer at a previous job and was fairly certain she would be good at and enjoy this line of work.

She just wasn’t sure what to wear.

Angarita was accustomed to the buttoned-down dress code in law school, and the business casual standard at the jewelry distributor she worked for in Austin. So for her first day at her new school, she went with what she knew.

“I wore a blazer to class,” she recalls. “I looked over at the guy sitting next to me, and he wasn’t wearing shoes.”

Before Angarita had tackled her first coding lesson, a pair of bare feet showed her just how different her life would become.

erika_lawyer_graduationGrowing up in a small town in northern Colombia, Angarita didn’t aspire to a particular profession. “I decided to to study law because I was good at it,” says the 28 year-old, taking a quick break in a jam-packed day to share her story with a new acquaintance. In school, Angarita found herself drawn to criminal law, and spent an “intense and interesting” six months interning in a prison while pursuing her degree.

The day after graduating from law school in Colombia, Angarita joined her husband in Austin, where he had taken a sales job. Her move to the U.S. was great for her personally, but professionally it presented a setback: Angarita’s Colombian law credentials did not allow her to practice in Texas—not without earning another Juris Doctor from an American law school and passing the state bar exam. But she and her husband weren’t sure they wanted to stay in Austin. They had their eyes on Denver, loving the city and its proximity to the Rocky Mountains and world-class snowboarding. Did she really want to invest considerable time and money into earning another law degree, passing the Texas bar, and then having to study for and pass yet another state bar exam if they moved?

“I wasn’t that in love with the law,” she decided. “I was okay doing it, but I wasn’t like Yes, I want to do this for the rest of my days.”

Angarita wanted to find a career that would enable her to work anywhere. She polled her friends and coworkers: Do you like your job?

“Most people would answer ‘Yeah, it’s okay. It pays the bills,” she says. “But when I talked to my friend who is a UX designer, he seemed really happy with his job. Like, so happy. He genuinely enjoys what he is doing.”

Angarita took a position in quality control at a jewelry company to pay the pills and started researching opportunities in web development. She went to meetups, asked questions, and tried to wrap her head around the fundamentals of JavaScript and HTML. “Every time I would solve a little coding problem, I would think Yes, I can do this. And I got more excited and interested.”  

Her recon into local coding schools revealed that most of them offered three month curriculums. Galvanize, on the other hand, offered a six month immersive course. “Galvanize had really good reviews, and a strong sense of community,” Angarita notes. “And since I didn’t have any coding experience at that point, the additional three months of course time seemed better suited to me.”

What she also found in Galvanize was its partnership with Atlassian, an enterprise software company known in part for its business team platform HipChat. Baked into both companies’ core principles is a mission to promote diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, where men outnumber women roughly 7 to 3.

Angarita applied for and received an Atlassian scholarship, offered to Black, Latina and Indigenous women who want to sharpen their skills in the web development programs at Galvanize’s Austin and San Francisco campuses. The scholarship paid a portion of Angarita’s course costs and, perhaps even more impactfully, paired her with a mentor from Atlassian to guide her through the various phases of her tech career transition.

Angarita’s Atlassian mentor, software developer Mickie Betz, helped her navigate what Betz calls “the rollercoaster of becoming a developer” and work through “imposter syndrome,” an affliction common among newbie engineers.

“You’re surrounded by people who have been coding since they were ten, and you think Oh jeez, I’m literally decades behind you,” Betz explains. She, like Angarita, came to the tech world after making a major career pivot in her mid-twenties. “It’s about overcoming that self-doubt and being receptive to what they can teach you, as opposed to thinking I don’t belong here. It can be very humbling, but Erika was really open to it.”

Angarita’s hard work and can-do (and-if-I-can’t-I’ll-figure-it-out) attitude earned her an internship at Atlassian while she was studying at Galvanize—the first-ever internship the company offered with its HipChat development team. While her conversations with Betz inevitably touched on the culture shock of being a woman transitioning into a testosterone-heavy industry, “The guys I work with at Atlassian and my male classmates at Galvanize have been really supportive,” Angarita reports. “They never take me for granted or look down on me because I’m not a ‘bro.’”

That’s not to say she breezed through her time in the classroom; support and guidance from Betz and Angarita’s Galvanize instructors helped her power through spells of frustration and uncertainty. “I learned so much. Not just ‘This is how JavaScript works.I learned to learn,” she emphasizes. “How to look at problems and take different approaches to solving them. How to be patient with myself. To keep practicing until I figure it out. And to not be scared to ask questions.”

Angarita also embraced the freedom that comes with the tech industry’s hoodie casual dress code. “Honestly, I love being able to wear jeans and tennies and t-shirts to work. I feel so comfortable!”

As the holidays approached, Angarita was hoping to land a full time gig with Atlassian. If that didn’t work out, she and her husband would likely make the move to Denver. Either way, she was confident her risk-taking would pay off. “I feel like in Galvanize, I found a family,” she says. “No matter what happens, I’m going to be fine. I have this great skill, and I have this great community I can always reach out to.”

“I think it’s pretty fearless,” Betz says of Angarita’s decision to change her career path. “Being willing to put herself in a position where she wasn’t going to be a rock star right away, to jump off that ledge not knowing how it was going to go—that leap was what I was trying to walk Erika through. You have these moments of thinking Can I learn this? Can I learn it quickly? What if I just don’t get it? And then you look over at these guys who have been coding forever and you have to remind yourself: Don’t look over there. Their path is their path. You can get there.

Angarita’s tenacity paid off. Shortly before Christmas, Atlassian offered her a full time position, which she happily accepted. “I really love my job,” she says, beaming. “Once I made the decision to pursue this line of work, everything changed for the best for me.”

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