From stay-at-home caretaker to full-time developer: Christina’s story

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One year ago, Christina Roberts was spending most of her time as a caretaker for her family. With two spirited boys at home and a father recovering from a stroke, her days were full. But her mind wanted more. She’d spent years in the medical field as a phlebotomist and later as a business owner, and she decided it was time for a change.

At the urging of her brother, a software developer, she started working through instructional coding books and online courses to learn Python at night once everyone was asleep. “I thought he was crazy at first,” she said. “I thought, I'm not this person. I'm not good at math. I'm not good at science. I would never be able to do this.” But the more she learned, the more she fell in love. 

“I started really putting my energy into it. And as I started getting little successes and understanding, I figured out that I actually liked doing it. I liked the problem solving.”

Christina applied and was accepted to our Web Development Immersive cohort, and began her journey in spring 2019. This summer, she joined a three month programming internship which vastly broadened her exposure to new tools and challenges. Dmarcian, a global e-mail security business (B-Corporation)  decided to step in and create an internship program to give back to the tech community and help mentor newer developer. She then accepted a full-time position as a developer for ChartSpan, which she starts next week.

We recently sat down to learn more about what made Christina decide to attend code school, and how her life has changed since. 

How did you come to the decision to apply for this program?

I had been studying Python on my own for awhile, but I wanted to take it further because I knew that I didn't know enough just to go and get a job. I started going to Meetups, and I remember someone making a comment about Carolina Code School. So I looked it up and just saw what it was about and thought that it would be something that I could make time for. I knew it would be worth it because by then I already knew that I wanted to be a developer. I just didn't know how to be a developer.

What helped you prepare? 

Other than a bunch of learning on my own with online courses, books and tutorials, I took the Foundations part-time class at CCS. It really gave me a good taste of what to expect for the full term immersive session. I'm glad that I took foundations. I gained  new knowledge about the front end and got out of my comfort zone. Foundations also let me have some experience with new types of syntax, thought patterns, and the CCS setting itself. I liked that there was a little break before starting the immersive course as well. I feel that it was perfect to be able to get used to the rhythm of the next few months and make sure that coding is something you really enjoy before being full speed ahead. 

What was the hardest part?

Honestly, the class was harder than I thought, but not in the ways that I thought. I assumed that it would be hard as in, “I can't understand this, I'm going to have no idea what they're talking about.” Instead it was hard because it was a new way of thinking about things. 

Also the pace of the class was intense. Having a project due each night  was good because it kept you working, and it kept us going on pace for what we needed. It was also definitely grueling, and I'm glad that I had the time at night available to focus. I had already told everybody in my immediate life “Don't call me. I can't go anywhere. Please help me with the kids.” Those types of things were needed because I knew I was going to have to commit that time. I'm glad that I did draw those boundaries from the beginning though because I needed every single bit of it. 

Even though the pace is a lot, the reality is that there's so much to learn in a short amount of time that it's really just what has to be done. I kept reminding myself: This is only 12 weeks of your entire life and it's a doorway to a completely new world. You can do anything for 12 weeks.

You were a master networker during and after your class. What made you commit so much to making those connections? 

One thing I realized quickly from the first few networking connections I made, was that almost everybody in this industry is extremely friendly and willing to share their time, which is kind of unusual compared to other industries. Every time I went to an event or a Meetup it was worth it.  The vast majority of the interviews that I had after graduation were with people I met in person, not from just cold calls or emails. Secondly these days, with automated resume scanning, it makes a world of difference to let people get to know who YOU are, even in a brief encounter, instead of never getting the opportunity because your resume did not have enough "key words".

That’s how you landed your internship, correct? What have you learned so far from that experience? 

Yes. In this internship process, I've grown a lot. I’m more self-confident and I’m moving away from the mindset of “I'm a student” to “I'm a student developer.” It has given me such great experience technically but also by giving me a chance to see what it’s like to work remotely, to understand what a good support system looks like and to understand the types of people I work well with. 

What are some of the characteristics you have that have made you successful at this? 

I think being relentless. Just deciding to believe in yourself and realizing that there is a pathway between what you want in your life and where you are in your life is so important. This is an extraordinary pathway. There are really not many other opportunities where you could literally go from making minimum wage to making five times that amount in six months or a year. Most pathways are years and years of college, which aren't accessible to most people. Taking four years off for college, it's just not gonna happen. But if you can squeeze, if you can pinch pennies, if you can make it work and make that commitment just to whatever happens, make it through that 12 weeks, then it's a completely different world on the other side.

What do your kids think about this change for you?

Oh, they think I'm a superstar. My older boy, he's constantly looking over my shoulder watching me and even though he hasn’t started coding himself, the interest is piqued. My youngest doesn’t fully understand what I do, but he is convinced I can make him a new video game at any given time. It is very fulfilling at the end of the day to be able to know that your children got a valuable life lesson. They saw me work for hours every night. They saw me jump around in excitement when a goal was met. They saw me cry at the kitchen table when I didn't think I could make it. Now they see me preparing to start my official career as something I never thought I could be deep down. My boys know, now, to take the challenge, keep going forward even if you don’t know how, and how to change and grow with every stumble. Either one of them could end up choosing to be a carpenter, welder, business owner, or anything else, but now they know that the technology field is an option, and if they so choose, they can succeed in it. 

What is your advice to someone considering this career path? 

Jump in head first, give it all you have, and make the commitment. You are able and competent. 

You have what it takes and you deserve to invest this time and opportunity in yourself. Tell fear, doubt, and worry to get in the backseat, because you are going on a road trip. You will run out of gas some days. You will get lost in the errors. You will have to make a lot of detours. Then, you will become an entirely different person who is not only able to build websites, but is able to build an amazing foundation for yourself and those you lead along the way. You can do anything for 12 weeks! You can change your life with one decision. Carolina Code School can be that decision for you.


Lelia King