The Big Switch: How the Pandemic Brought This Producer From TV to Tech

Eight days before her graduate school tuition was due, Briana daMota decided to start working in entertainment.

“My mother almost didn’t forgive me for that,” she says now. 

She started as an intern at a production company and climbed the ladder to become director of development and production. Along the way, she worked on popular unscripted shows like ‘The Biggest Loser’, ‘Master Chef’, and ‘The Price is Right’. She even worked on the Spanish-language version of ‘Family Feud’. 

Following that experience, Briana shifted gears to work at a digital marketing startup, then decided to go freelance in November 2019 to develop and produce more entertainment-focused content.

Then came the pandemic, and with it a stop to her career momentum.

“There was a sort of, What am I going to do now that the whole world is shut down? It was really what made me start thinking about making a change,” she said.

Picking up the pieces to pivot careers

Having worked at a company responsible for building out the video aspect of a digital platform for all things US Hispanic and Mexican culture, Briana decided to reach out to the company’s head of digital who left around the same time she did.

“I was like, I think maybe I should start learning more of the technical side of things, since I didn’t know anything,” she said.

That conversation — plus the burning desire to find something to do — are what led Briana to The Coding Boot Camp at UCLA Extension.

Making the first move toward this career transition having never coded before wasn’t easy, but with the help of a career advisor, she had a smooth onboarding experience.

“The TAs made everything easy,” she explained. “They gave us a lot of resources because it’s a massive learning curve, very much like a foreign language. It’s very different from how I’d been taught to think.”

Since she didn’t have any experience interviewing for programming-focused positions, Briana felt the career-oriented services offered by the boot camp’s career services team would benefit her — in addition to the hard technical skills she’d get to learn.

Learning the full stack of skills

When it comes to programming languages, Briana was put through a full stack curriculum. She learned HTML, CSS, JavaScript, React, MySQL, Express, and Handlebars. She found throughout the learning process that she was better at programming with back end languages — server, application and database work — but actually prefers front end languages, i.e. those used for making user-facing interfaces.

Throughout the six-month process, she worked on three team-based projects. “I had a really good team, and I think we all sort of had the same interests, which was helpful,” she said.  

This shared interest led the group to develop a web-based project for the content-crazed, socially distanced era: Kickback. Users of Kickback choose a cuisine and movie genre, and the app randomly generates a choice of movie and recipe for them. It then provides the option to save the selection for later, to preserve precious pandemic brain space.

The team’s second project was a social media platform to connect individuals learning the same languages — called Mylingual, inspired by the popular Duolingo language-learning app. 

Finally, the third app — titled DateSpot — was something of a continuation of the team’s work on Kickback. It was a similar app used for planning dates, and featured more robust options like date location, cuisine, and other date-related aspects.

From production to programming with power

Despite the more technical focus of The Coding Boot Camp at UCLA Extension, Briana found that her past experiences in the marketing and entertainment worlds helped her to succeed in developing these projects. “I was a production manager for a long time, so I think as far as understanding timelines goes, I could intuitively delegate work and play to people’s strengths to make sure that we got things done on time,” she explained. 

Learning a new skill is hard enough, but the pandemic brought with it particular challenges for online learners like Briana. 

“We had tools like Slack that we would use to communicate, but I focus better in-person, so it was definitely an interesting experience,” she explained. 

But with the pandemic came an unexpected silver lining. “I think for a long time my heart was no longer in production. I just didn’t really know what to do to switch careers.”

Making good use of resources

Briana was eager to make use of the career services offered by the boot camp to make a professional change.

“I wasn’t physically going anywhere, so I went to a good number of digital events and that’s how I got to networking on LinkedIn. I would just reach out to the people who spoke and build connections that way,” she said. 

The boot camp also helped with developing a technical resume and a GitHub repository. “My career director was super helpful and encouraging, offering a lot of notes to help me improve as I went along.”

Soaring toward new horizons

In May 2021, Briana started at Delta Air Lines as a digital content producer. She ultimately chose a path that engages more of her skills in user experience and production. But the technical know-how she gained from the boot camp gave her a leg up on the job-seeking competition.

“The fact that I can sit in meetings and understand what technical people are saying is really helpful. Like, I know what an API is, and I can make changes to HTML in our Adobe editor. So the program genuinely helped me to make a career change,” she said.

Itching to learn something new? Check out UCLA Extension Boot Camps in coding, cybersecurity, and product management for more information on finding a tech community that’s right for you. 

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