If Not Now, When? The Story of Bellevue Alumni Mary Pearce

There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.
—Nelson Mandela

By its nature, technology constantly evolves. But even though change is necessary and inevitable in tech, many of its core principles have remained the same since the days of room-sized computers and punch cards. Keeping current is just a matter of learning new tools and languages. That’s what Bellevue Coding Dojo alumni Mary Pearce recently discovered.

Mary graduated with a computer science degree in the 1980’s and fashioned a 35-year career in the tech sector. After finding success as a project manager, she found herself wanting to get back in touch with her problem-solving side as a developer. While Mary had ample programming experience during the internet’s boom years, as a project manager she felt a little removed from the latest technology.

I just decided with all the exciting things going on now, that I missed coding and I missed the challenge of it. I got to that point and I left my job as a project manager and I looked around and realized that there were a lot of skills that I just wasn’t up to speed on. I had tried just going online and taking classes, from Udemy and other pay-as-you-go classes. I tried to get as many skills as I could. But I was having trouble putting everything together and I didn’t have the confidence to really go out and market myself as a software developer. 

Mary found the Coding Dojo website and visited the Bellevue campus at open-house night. Right away, she saw promise in Coding Dojo’s group dynamic and learning environment. After enrolling, the promise came to fruition as she regularly worked with groups of people from all backgrounds, ages, and professions. Mary also enjoyed the collaborative experience of working through algorithms and learning different languages as a group. 

She also found out that, even after all these years, her background in tech and previous experience with databases was still applicable. What she needed was a download on modern programming languages, and to discover what developers need to know for the current marketplace. 

The really nice thing about Dojo is the research on what tools are marketable, and what’s the best way to learn a particular library or tool. All that research, all that work is done for us. It’s just a matter of putting in the effort and letting the instructors teach you what you need to know. And you come out very marketable, very well informed on the latest technology, and you don’t spend a lot of time going down rabbit holes on other things that may be on their way out. 

The supportive team atmosphere helped her get a sense that everyone encountered the same struggles, and that coming up with the right solutions was a victory for the group. Especially helpful was Coding Dojo’s “20-minute rule,” which is if you don’t understand something, you should work on it for 20 minutes before asking for help. If you still need help, then you go ask a classmate for another 20 minutes and then the instructor if you’re still stuck. This is intended to instill the organic problem-solving skills and self-sufficiency required in the modern workforce.

That struggle is a good learning experience, and a lot of times that’s enough time to figure out what you’re doing wrong. There’s always frustration in programming and things almost never work the first time, and then they break, suddenly. But knowing I’m going to struggle for 20 minutes really helps overcome a lot of problems. You get the learning experience, but you’re able to get past some of the frustration and move on to new skills.

After learning each of the three full programming stacks in Coding Dojo’s comprehensive 14-week bootcamp, Mary and her cohorts embarked on developing their own ventures for Project Week. The culmination of each stack, in which students design and build their own web projects from scratch, was Mary’s favorite takeaway from the program.

People aren’t afraid to fail, which is awesome, because we’ve got a week to work on something—it’s really four and a half days, because we do the project presentation on Friday afternoon. It’s not perfect, but everybody appreciates all the work that went into this. So it was really fun to be able to laugh with them and just enjoy the progress that they’d made and the effort that they put into these projects and the pride that they had. I definitely will take that away. That was pretty special.

Most importantly, Project Week gave Mary and her colleagues a real-world sample of what they could do: proof of their abilities to work together and execute on their own visions. After graduation, Mary was heartened to find that Coding Dojo would help her find a landing place for her newly developed skills, and that she’d found a network of other graduates to work with on other projects.

There’s a group of people whose job is to help us get jobs, and it’s a wonderful resource to have. We’re welcome to come back anytime as alumni. The doors are always open, and there’s always somebody here to help with everything.

After graduation, Mary worked with the Coding Dojo Career Services team and soon landed a contract role as a Software Developer through our hiring partner TEKsystems. Mary’s ultimate goal is to take her considerable new skills and processes on the road, becoming a “digital nomad” and working on development projects as she travels through France. 

For those looking to effect a mid-to-late career change, or for older technology professionals wondering if their repositories of knowledge are still marketable skills, Mary says Coding Dojo is absolutely a rewarding option.

It’s a lot thrown at you at once, but people are excited about what they’re doing and what they’re learning. Everybody is just giving 110% of themselves. If I can encourage anyone that’s thinking about stoking their software career, and talk them into spending 14 weeks of blood, sweat and tears, it’s a lot of fun.

If you’re interested in polishing old skills, or learning new ones, get in touch with a Coding Dojo representative today. If you’d like to watch the full interview with Mary, please click here

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