Before joining The Iron Yard, Amber was a middle school teacher. While she loved teaching, she couldn't ignore her love for technology and followed her passion. Here's Amber's story in her own words:
“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
One of my favorite quotes by Walt Disney rang true in every aspect of the word, just a little over a year ago. If you had known me two years ago, you would have found me in my classroom, teaching and tutoring my middle school students. I often wondered if I was meant for something more and if I was truly living up to my potential in my chosen career path. I loved most aspects of my job and still have an incredible passion for teaching, but I always felt like I was destined for more.
I have always had a love for technology and computers, but never thought of it as more than just a hobby. The draw for a more technology-driven path became more and more of a reality, until I finally said goodbye to my classroom that last summer and went for it. After tireless hours of research, I decided to go back to school and work toward a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design with an emphasis in Web Applications and Development for which I enrolled for upcoming classes that fall.
Months into my new degree, I began to realize that the teaching felt pretty archaic for being such a fast-paced field and sadly was less hands on and more out of textbooks. The degree was more focused in print media design versus digital UI/UX design, not to mention my 2-year degree plan was crushed, when I realized to get all the required credits I would need to graduate, it was going to take me a full 4 years. Definitely not what I had been promised and what I had signed up for in the beginning. I was commuting back and forth every weekend from Charleston to school, so I began to wonder if I made the right choice in leaving my teaching career for this crazy endeavor.
My husband, who is a software developer, sent me a link one night about this new school opening soon in Charleston called, “The Iron Yard.” I googled for hours, reading reviews, and pouring over everything I could find about The Iron Yard. I filled out a contact form and asked for information very late that same night. It seemed like everything I was looking for and more, almost too good to be true, considering Charleston did not have many options in technology field, which is why I initially went to a long distance college for my second degree. The process moved fairly quickly from initial contact, to an interview with the instructors, to being accepted as a front-end engineering student for the first class in March. I felt like everything just fell into place like magic (cue the Harry Potter and Disney references) and before I knew it I was submitting my withdrawal paperwork, no longer being a college student, and I was back in Charleston anxiously awaiting my new adventure to begin.
The Iron Yard was unlike anything I had ever experienced. From the first time I stepped through the doors, to my last day as an Iron Yard graduate, it was the most challenging work I had ever done; yet it was also the most rewarding. From March throughout my three-month program, I had become a rare sight to all my friends and family, appearing randomly and then disappearing again for weeks at a time. I gave up sleep, my social life and learned to appreciate the wonders of caffeine and late night infomercials.
I felt myself learning and changing into the mindset of an engineer and applauding even the smallest of victories. I was making friends with my classmates and felt like I was becoming a stronger programmer each and every day. The course work was very detail orientated and intense; definitely something that even if I had tried to learn independently, I feel I would not have had this much success. It was extremely fast paced- but with the help of my instructor and fast growing friends and teammates, it was feasible and left me wanting more.
Alongside the code we were given several opportunities to volunteer and be apart of the local tech community in Charleston, and I jumped at the chance for every one of them. I began building a name for myself in the industry and already felt like I was making a lasting impression on several potential employers. From the code to the job, we were taught hands-on with what to expect with technology interviews in the industry and how to build a tech resume and portfolio.
I wasted no time in interviewing after graduation and had my eye on several different companies, many of whom we had visited with tours during in our coursework. After a few phone screenings, interviews, and on-sites with several companies, I accepted a position as an Interaction Engineer with my first choice, Benefitfocus. I was extremely excited and discovered I was the second person from the Iron Yard to be hired by Benefitfocus. Which to date, we have hired at least 10 more engineers from the Charleston and Greenville Iron Yard programs.
Recently, I just celebrated my one-year anniversary with Benefitfocus and I seriously couldn’t be happier. I love the work I do every day, and my team is amazing- we have a lot in common and I already feel like I have made some lifelong friends, two being my fellow classmates from my Iron Yard class, who I get to work beside every day. The work I do is challenging and rewarding and I am continuing to learn new things every day as I continue to grow as an engineer. I have stepped into my new career in all aspects, becoming the social media coordinator for our Design + Engineering building as well as having a hand in leading the charge of Women in Tech throughout the Charleston area.
Recently, I had the opportunity to teach elementary school girls how to code through the Google CS First program. It was such a rewarding experience to be teaching again, and it made me wish these programs would have existed when I was younger. I was so happy to give this amazing opportunity to these girls at such a young age, so that hopefully they will truly embrace a career in the technology industry.
Making the jump from teaching into the tech industry has truly been an eye opening experience, but something I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. I can’t thank the Iron Yard enough for allowing me to pursue my dreams and making them into a reality.
“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
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Amber followed the footsteps of hundreds and hundreds of students who have forged their own path by attending The Iron Yard. The graduates below have their own unique stories to tell as well. Whether you're looking to find a more fulfilling career or fulfill your love of technology, there are alumni who have walked your path.
After working for over half-a-decade as a systems analyst, Thomas knew he wanted to build software people used. Today he loves his work building digital products.
Katie is a lover of all languages and taught English for many years. When it was time to switch careers, learning a programming language led to a career she loves.
Chelsea went from writing prose to writing code by attending The Iron Yard in Atlanta. Today, she has a great salary as a web designer for a startup company.
Andrew switched majors several times before finding programming. The Iron Yard helped him make a career out of building medical apps for people in Guatemala.
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