For Whitney Brooks, What Started As a Joke Became a Catalyst for Career Change

Whitney Brooks always wanted to work in the nonprofit sector. She studied anthropology in college, received a master’s degree in international development, and was eager to contribute to a whole host of issues, causes, and organizations across the globe. Despite her drive, she was unfulfilled by the day-to-day of her progression of roles at nonprofit organizations.

“Everything I was doing felt low-level,” said Whitney. “I was doing administrative work for much of the time, despite my master’s degree, and I wasn’t being challenged.”

Whitney’s last job in the nonprofit sector was as a program manager and product owner alongside a team of developers. It was through them that she became exposed to web development and Agile development methodology. While she learned a lot from her role, she was continually frustrated by the slow rate of project completion due to the limited developer resources at her organization. She would sometimes joke that she could learn to become a developer in the time that it took her program’s needs to be addressed. 

Her good-natured quip soon turned into reality. After a layoff, Whitney reached a breaking point with her feelings of career dissatisfaction. She decided to take the plunge and learn web development. In May 2018, she enrolled in the UC Davis Coding Boot Camp.

Diving in headfirst

“For the past few years I’ve heard a lot about initiatives empowering women and girls to enter tech, but I was still only one of three women in my class,” said Whitney. “I said to myself, ‘I’m 36 and completely starting over—should I just empower myself?’”

Despite being one of the only women and older than the majority of her classmates, Whitney was determined to forge ahead. She was buoyed by the support of her instructor and her TAs—it was evident that they wanted every student to learn as well as they possibly could, and she met a lot of students that she enjoyed working with.

It was hard at first for Whitney to acclimate to the fast-paced learning environment of the boot camp. It required her to become comfortable diving into topics headfirst, and often without a lot of context. Of course, this is the design of the boot camp experience. “You just have to start by trying,” said Whitney. “It’s remarkable how most things won’t make sense at all, but after two or three more passes it will start to come together.” 

Creating yummy apps

Whitney particularly enjoyed that the boot camp was project-based. She and her group created RoulEats, a play on roulette, an app that allowed users to decide at the click of a button what restaurant to eat at. The app pulled information from Yelp and randomly generated a restaurant within a two-mile radius. 

Her next project was also restaurant-related. Whitney and her group partnered with her brother-in-law’s coffee roasting company, Soul Work Coffee. Soul Work Coffee offers a vast selection of specialty roasts that can be overwhelming for those who are not coffee connoisseurs. To help guests decide, the group developed a quiz that could allow users to decide which coffee offering would be the best fit for them based on their likes and dislikes. 

Relaunching her career

Whitney now holds a position as a junior developer at Runding Corporation in Sacramento, California, where she works in an interactive development environment to modify and customize project control software for construction companies. Just like at boot camp, the majority of her work is based in experimentation. She continually benefits from her ability to delve deeply into new projects, even if they may seem daunting at first.

“I like my role a lot,” said Whitney. “I nailed the ‘find a job’ dilemma. I’m really looking forward to the coming years where I can get better at being a developer. There’s still so much more to learn.”

Eventually, Whitney hopes to re-enter the nonprofit sector armed with her newfound skillset. But for right now, she’s happy where she is. 

Empowering others

Whitney’s advice to those considering boot camp? Do it. Reach out to people like her, women who have empowered themselves to pursue tech. For women in the field, networking opportunities are the most powerful way to succeed.

“Even if you don’t see other women in STEM, know that you can still do it yourself. Don’t be intimidated, because there are plenty of openings and opportunities out there.”

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