From nonprofit fundraising to finding creativity in coding: Emma's story

Emma Converse

Emma Converse

Emma Converse joined our web development immersive course just over a year ago. She had found herself moving farther and farther away from the creative life she had always seen herself following, and eventually found herself in a fundraising role with little room for creativity. Rather than wait for years in a career that didn't excite her, she decided to make a career change. She found a home at Carolina Code School, and today is a successful junior programmer. Read more below to meet Emma. 

What did you do before you went to Carolina Code School? 

My bachelor's degree is in painting and printmaking. Art was the focus of most of my life, which led me to nonprofits. I received my master's degree in public administration, nonprofit management. I ended up in fundraising and donor relations roles. 

While I liked it, I found that I enjoyed the more technical and analytical sides of those roles; processing data, running reports, looking at donor trends and seeing where people were giving and why. I based my master's thesis on why people were giving, but I enjoyed that side of things more than the hands-on, face-to-face fundraising aspect. 

What made you want to attend Carolina Code School?

I have several friends, and my husband, who are software developers. I've seen a lot of the work they've done, and I've seen that it's a very creative process. I started looking at the work my husband was doing, looking at his code, asking him a lot of questions on how everything worked. And it just sounded more and more interesting the more questions I asked. 

Weirdly enough, I took an HTML class in high school and hated it. I started looking into coding boot camps, or just coding programming courses you could take at local community colleges, and Carolina Code School came up. I had known a few people who have gone through a code school, and they loved their experience. I decided to give it a shot, and I ended up receiving a scholarship, which sealed the deal for me. 

What did you think the code school would be like and what was it actually like? 

I knew it was going to be hard and intense. I had the mindset that it was going to be tough, but I don't think anything prepares you for the intensity or the pace of the course. 

I expected it to be difficult, and it was. It was probably even more strenuous and more vigorous than I expected. That's part of what makes it worth it. It prepares you. The programming world isn't always that intense, crazy, and mind-boggling, but it prepares you anyway. You have to restart the way you think about everything. Unless you have a technical background already, you probably haven't been taught to think this way and to be able to learn how to do that in three months. Like I said before, it's worth it. 

Is there a favorite moment or day that stands out to you while in school? 

One of my favorite days, this is going to sound bad, was when we stopped working on JavaScript. I appreciate JavaScript more now that I'm out of it, but those couple of weeks you are intensely learning it for the first time and doing crazy stuff with it, it's a lot. 

When you're finally halfway through the course, everything that you're doing and how it all connects starts to click. You're still stressed, and you're still working hard, but it's finally starting to come together a little bit. I'm not saying you won't struggle at that point, but you are finally getting over that emotional struggle where you feel like you can't do anything. I enjoyed all of it, but it took a few weeks to get used to the pace and to accept the fact that I was not going to understand everything right away. 

What was the final project process like for you?

You have to narrow down what you think you want to work on, then do your research on the APIs. I'd recommend thinking about it before you need to have an idea because it will take you a while to decide on something that you're going to like also enough to be frustrated with at the same time. 

Once you pick your idea and finally get started, it's a lot of fun to be working on a project that not only you get to choose, but that you're going to see from start to at least a pseudo finish, finished enough to present it on Demo Day. It is exhilarating to finally put all those components together that you've learned throughout the class and make a finalized project with an idea you're passionate about. 

I worked at a Humane Society, an animal shelter for a while, so I decided to do my project on adoptable animals. I used IBM Watson's Visual Recognition System in my app so that you can upload pictures of animals that you think are cute and then use their visual recognition tools to figure out what color the animals were, how old they were, and what kind of breed. It would then search the Pet Finder's API to return animals in the Greenville area that are available for adoption that looked like the animal. 

What was your experience like at Demo Day? 

Demo day is nerve-wracking, but once it gets started, it's a lot of fun to be able to talk to people about your project. I think everyone in my cohort was nervous. It is stressful, but it is fun. When you are presenting your project, people are going to ask you all kinds of questions that you may not know how to answer. 

I had a few people ask me questions about things that I'd never even heard of at that point in my programming life. When they ask you something that you are not sure about, you have to be honest. I would say, "I don't know how to answer your question, but I'd love to think about. If you give me your card, I can get back to you." I collected a few cards by saying things along those lines. It's an excellent way to at least connect on that level. I handed out a lot of my business cards, and a few people did call me because of that.

What are you doing now that you've completed code school classes?

 After Demo Day, one of my instructors (who also runs a software company) approached me about coming on as a part-time contractor/apprentice for a 12 week trial period.

It ended up working out great, and I was offered a full-time position as a junior developer. I've learned so much. They assigned me some very complicated issues and pieces of their app that at the time, 12, 15 weeks ago, when class was just starting, I would have had no idea how to even think through something like that. Having a supportive team and the experience of the class helps you figure it out.

What advice would you give someone interested in Carolina Code School?

I would think really hard if you want to put your life on hold for a few months. Unless you have superpowers, you're not going to have a social life. You have to be committed. I know in my cohort, a lot of people who struggled the most weren't mentally prepared. They weren't able to cope with the amount of time it was taking. Even if you're extremely smart and fast learner, you're still going to be working on homework for hours at night.

Students should embrace being wrong, and accept that it's okay and almost expected to fail in these projects they do for class. It's truly the process of trying what works/doesn't work that matters. Don't be afraid to take risks and try new things when solving problems. 

My advice isn't to scare people, that's part of what makes this worth it at the end. You are learning so much in such a short amount of time. You have to be prepared to make sacrifices. Make sure you have a good support network at home, people to talk to, and maybe vent if you need to. Having a supportive family and a supportive husband really helped me.