How Persistence and The Coding Boot Camp at UCLA Extension Helped Stephanie Aurelio Find Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic

After working as a librarian for several years, Stephanie Aurelio was ready for a new challenge. When choosing her next move, she thought back to an early childhood interest.

“When I was younger, I learned how to make websites on my own and I really liked it,” said Stephanie. “I think as you get older, you return to things you really enjoyed doing as a kid.” 

A career in web development or software engineering would allow her to do just that. What’s more, both career paths involve problem-solving and creativity — two skills Stephanie was keen to use in her working life. Her mind made up, she began looking at programs that would help her fast track her new career. 

Eager to recreate the group learning experience of college and graduate school, Stephanie enrolled in The Coding Boot Camp at UCLA Extension. Its part-time, 6-month format made it easy to jump back into a classroom environment, even after five years in the working world.

From bookstacks to boot camp

Although Stephanie took basic web development classes while completing a Master of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University, her coding skills were a little out of date. Fortunately, the boot camp’s instructors tailored the coursework toward in-demand tech skills, like JavaScript, React, and MongoDB. To help the new skills stick, Stephanie and her peers were tasked with putting them to good use in challenging front end and back end projects.

“For me, that learning method worked really well,” said Stephanie. “We weren’t just taking notes and taking a test. We had to actually build things with what we were learning. It was definitely good practice.” 

The instructor challenged them to find real clients for their class projects, which he knew was valuable practice for the tech world. For her first project, Stephanie and her teammates created a commercial website for a real small business. For the next, she worked with a tech company that allowed her team to visit its offices and collaborate with one of the software engineers. 

“That was a really good way to work with a client, find out what they were looking for, and tailor the project to them,” said Stephanie. “It gave me the opportunity to see what I would actually be doing when I finished boot camp.” 

The last two weeks of the boot camp took place online due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but the experience didn’t change much for Stephanie. Thanks to telecommunication technology, she was able to collaborate with her team remotely, and the course was structured in a way that made the online transition easy. 

Job hunting during the COVID-19 pandemic 

After finishing the boot camp, Stephanie threw herself wholeheartedly into her job search. But as the COVID-19 crisis worsened, economic pressures led to hiring freezes and layoffs across virtually every industry — a challenge Stephanie encountered firsthand. 

“It was pretty tough job searching and being unsure of what would happen,” she said. “I definitely had interviews at places where they would then take down the job posting or cancel the position because they didn’t know what was going to happen either.”

Despite these unpredictable conditions, Stephanie persevered. She shifted her networking to Zoom, attending events sponsored by Women’s Voices in Tech. She also met once a month with a software engineering mentor she met through the boot camp, who provided invaluable guidance throughout her job hunt. 

Eventually, Stephanie’s persistence paid off. In June, she landed a job as a front end developer at Sky Castle Studios in Los Angeles, California. 

Making technology more accessible  

Making the transition from the Dewey Decimal System to front end development might sound like a huge leap, but Stephanie found she was able to combine the problem-solving skills she honed through the boot camp with the research skills she practiced every day in the library. “I had that foundation of trying to figure out things from scratch,” she said. 

That’s not the only thing Stephanie has carried over from her former profession. In a few years, she hopes to become a senior engineer and focus on making accessible software, an aspiration which stems from her experience working in public libraries. 

“I would see people from all different walks of life try to use technology and those different struggles they would have with it,” said Stephanie. “I like to think about those kinds of users who aren’t as tech-inclined and make the experience easier for them so they like using their devices.”   

In the meantime, Stephanie is just excited to be doing something she loves. By making the most of her boot camp experience and building valuable connections, she was able to find a fulfilling new career path, even during this uncertain time. 

“It’s really hard, especially if you don’t have a computer science degree — but a lot of the people that I worked with didn’t have a computer science degree,” reflected Stephanie. “It’s not as impossible as it seems when you first start. Stick with it and use the connections you make in boot camp as you keep going. It set me up for an entirely different career that I see a really bright future for.”

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