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Actualize Blog

November 2, 2018

Success Story: How Tonja Made the Leap from Graphic Designer to Web Developer

By Jay Wengrow, CEO of Actualize

Tonja Daniels had been working as a print Graphic Designer since 1996. And while the field was changing, she freely admits that she got comfortable, and didn’t keep up with the industry and the new skills needed. When she did start adding to her skill set by learning HTML and CSS, she realized she enjoyed them, but adding those to her resume wasn’t enough to get her hired into a new role. After a prolonged job search, Tonja switched to insurance and became a licensed agent. Except, Tonja’s not great at sales: she freely admits “I have a hard time closing.” In February 2018, Tonja’s last insurance job ended and she was at a crossroads. “Do I really want to go back into [insurance]? Or do I really want to just try to go straight for graphic design and just go headlong into the whole coding process?”

Tonja started with Codecademy learning Python. While practicing coding at Starbucks, she ran into someone who recommended she get in touch with Women Who Code. They recommended Actualize.

Tonja joined Actualize Online Live and was thrilled with the experience. Dani Zaghian was her Lead Instructor, and Tonja loved having a female lead instructor in the middle of a male-dominated industry. Her cohort also had two Teaching Assistants, and she enjoyed being able to see how each TA approached problems differently. It helped solidify for Tonja that there’s always more than one way to solve a problem with code. Tonja’s favorite part of the bootcamp, however, was the Capstone Project at the end: “I think the thing that was a lot of fun was the Capstone Project. Putting the whole thing together from start to finish and then having it work.”

Out of necessity, Tonja was already job searching while going through the bootcamp. She’d gotten on a mailing list for a job board which notified her about an upcoming job fair. Raytheon was one of the companies attending the fair, a company Tonja already had on her radar. “Raytheon was the second table that I went to...and the guy was like ‘Yeah, we’re looking for people in bootcamps.’...I’m’s my resume, you guys need me. I want to work with you, I want to learn everything that I can...It was just the right place, right time.”

Raytheon Company specializes in defense, civil government, and cybersecurity technologies. Because of this, the company has a unique culture where they work on projects and were able to allow Tonja to learn different roles and different specialties on projects for the first six months while she awaits her security clearance before ultimately being able to choose which role and project team is the best fit for her. For Tonja, this is a perfect fit because her goal right now is to keep learning and absorbing as much as she can. Tonja’s currently learning C++ and Sharepoint, two things that weren’t taught in the bootcamp, but Tonja feels like she’s gotten into a groove. “Now I’m at the point where I’m kind of getting used to learning something new, picking something up, practicing it, learning something new, picking it up, utilizing it. I think you have to train your brain to think like that.” She credits the bootcamp with her success in that: “It’s just a continuation of more learning.”

Tonja has some advice for bootcamp graduates and career changers: “Don’t get discouraged. So what if you don’t know everything? In this field, what I’ve learned is that the engineers that are there don’t know everything. These people have been doing this stuff for 20, 30 years and they’re like, ‘I don’t know.’ I’ve never heard “I don’t know” and people being ok with it ever in my life...They’re not expecting you to know everything. Because they don’t.”

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