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Voices of Gatsby: Lifelong Learning Led Me Here

Shanese Black
January 8th, 2021

Gatsby believes in cultivating inclusion and elevating the many members of our diverse community. Our new Voices of Gatsby series, publishing every other Friday, showcases and celebrates our users for who they are as they share stories from the tech life. True tales from the front lines, personal accounts of each of us came to be where we are today. Got a story to share? Visit the Voices of Gatsby info page to learn more and connect with us! Accepted submissions pay a $500 author’s fee, because we recognize the value of writing whether it’s words or code 💜.

When I was in college, opportunities for mechanical and civil engineers were widely promoted. Software engineer, however, was not a term I ever saw advertised or heard suggested as a possible path. Instead, I came across it myself through reading job postings — and instantly recognized it as my ideal path. Finally! The work that married my love for design with my passion for programming. 

The problem? As a senior just about to graduate with a degree in graphic design, it was much too late (and expensive) to change my major. 

How it started

But first, the story of how I ever came to that day in the first place.  Growing up in North Carolina I was privileged to attend New Technology at Garinger High School. The program combined front-end web development with graphic design, and introduced Visual Basic coding. I loved all of it! Once I began applying to colleges, however, I was unable to find a program that matched my design skills with my love for writing code. 

I ended up next at Guilford Technical Community College and connected with a support group that was quick to acknowledge my computer passion and talents. This encouragement pushed me towards a fairly standard career path in tech; after earning my associate degree in Computer IT,  I started a career as an IT Technician. Part of my course requirements included a few programming classes, though, and bam — my passion for writing code was fully activated! I knew there was so much more to learn., and I was excited to learn it. So, while working in IT, I kept attending GTCC and completed a second associate degree in Computer Programming. 

I was excited to land what I now thought of as my first “real” job, and I thought getting a programming position would be simple. I had the talent and two degrees on my resume, obviously an easy hire — but I was wrong. Frustrated by my lack of progress getting started in someone else’s business, and wanting to apply my education and talents, I decided to start my own custom print and digital design firm, The Black Print Design. This brought me full circle to my early experience combining code plus design. It also inspired yet more educational ambition to better my skills for my business, and I headed back to school for a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design. I was thrilled that the graphic design track at North Carolina A&T State University required web development courses. The work was very satisfying. This, I decided, was the final piece I needed to finally land my dream programmer job. 

However, I eventually found myself on the verge of graduating with my third college degree yet feeling no closer to a career that truly fits who I am and what I do best. The path seemed to split, design in one direction, tech in the other. Finally putting a name to the profession that would use ALL my skills, education and experience was such a relief. Finally, I had a professional destination I could truly focus on reaching: software engineer. 

Unfortunately, two associates and now a bachelor’s degree still was not enough. I still needed hands on experience building real world projects and products. 

How it’s going

Once again I dove headfirst into building that path through learning whatever was needed. I researched different avenues for gaining the skills I needed to enter the software development field. It quickly became clear that the most direct path was coding bootcamp — and the right bootcamp was Coder Foundry. Coder Foundry is one of the toughest programs in the country and I held my breath as I sent in my application. I was thrilled to be accepted and impatient to get started. As you might imagine, once you find a flight path straight to your passion you are eager to jump in deep end and get started right away! 

After covering the basics of code in the first two weeks of the twelve-week program, we got straight into coding challenges and building multiple enterprise-level applications. As a hands-on learner, the boot camp teaching method aligned perfectly with my learning style — we learned as we built, and though the work was demanding it never felt hard. I was head over heels in love with writing code and always eager to learn the next concept, and the one after that! 

The learning curve at a coding bootcamp is highly efficient. I learned daily not only from my instructors but from my peers, and on my own through a lot of trial and error. A quality bootcamp (or any other program) teaches not only the skills needed to be successful in the tech industry, but a whole lot more too. You learn to be a critical thinker, a problem solver, a project manager, and a planner — as well as how to be resourceful and to efficiently manage your time.

During my time at Coder Foundry I manifested a full career as a Software Engineer — not just that first job, but a satisfying professional path that incorporated continuous learning and development.  I made lists: Applications that I wanted to develop as personal projects, continuing courses that I wanted to pursue, additional technologies and languages that I wanted to study. Everything I needed to work my way up from junior developer to senior developer and — my highest goal — becoming a mentor to others. It is a lot, and it is never ending! One of the most exciting things about working in tech is that it’s always changing and improving.  I am constantly adding to my goals, and day by day I am tackling them.

As a lifelong learner, I’m excited to continue growing in my chosen field and striving to become the best I can be. I’m also grateful. I’m thankful for the journey I’ve walked and the education I hold. I’m thankful for positive influencers in my life, like Bobby Davis, who connected me with Hashim Warren. Most importantly, I’m thankful for coding bootcamps like Coder Foundry that provide the training, skills and hands-on experience that finally allowed me to succeed — and follow my own ideal passion.

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Passionate full-stack developer, dedicated entrepreneur, and devoted family woman striving to be the best me I can absolutely be.

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