How This Teacher Went From Zero Coding Skills to a Job in Tech

There’s no doubt about it, career changes are scary. The thought of learning something completely new and finding a job in an unfamiliar field can be overwhelming. Take it from Caroline Joseph, a middle school math and science teacher in the Chicago suburbs, who took the leap into the world of tech.

Caroline, now an API specialist at Braintree Payments, stumbled into coding last winter when she agreed to let her school’s tech specialist run Hour of Code lessons during study hall.

“She was instructing the class and I was following along to make sure I’d be able to help students,” she recalls, “I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is kind of cool.’ During my free time I started trying the more advanced parts of it and I thought, ‘If I’m spending my free time doing this, this could be something that I’d be interested in doing for my job.’”

But to make a career switch, she needed training. So when school let out in June, she enrolled in an intensive back-end coding boot camp. The program ran through mid-September, and at one point she was juggling teaching and three hours of class in the evening, plus homework for both.

“I didn’t have a life,” she jokes. “But it was worth it in the long run.”

Finding the Common Denominator

Today, Caroline is the student, learning tech support problem by problem. Merchants using Braintree’s payments software who encounter technical issues—an error that’s preventing a payment from clearing on the merchant’s website, for example—come to her for help. She digs in to find out what happened (a flaw in the code; a data migration gone awry), fixes it, then tells customers what went wrong.

The career switch—and the role reversal that came with it—suits her. “I’m the type of person where if you put a puzzle in front of me, I’m going to keep going until a couple of hours have passed and I’m like, ‘Whoa, what just happened?’”

Although coders are often cast as headphone-wearing computer geeks who don’t take well to other people, the reality is much different. In fact, Caroline was surprised to find herself interacting with merchants on a regular basis and drawing from her teacher playbook while doing so.

“If a student has trouble grasping a concept, you break it down in a way that’s accessible and easy to understand.” Caroline says she does the same thing for merchants having tech problems.

She says it’s tough at times to wrap her head around the technical issues that pop up, but the challenge keeps her hooked, and the more she can learn, the better. This job, Caroline hopes, is a stepping stone to moving into a developer role down the line.

Taking the Leap

Take Caroline’s story as proof that transitioning to a tech support role is doable, even if you have no experience. Many career changers follow Caroline’s lead and take a coding boot camp; Actualize, General Assembly, Startup Institute, and App Academy are just a few places where you can pick up basic tech skills in a relatively short time period.

Plus, many tech-support roles kick off with internal training at hire. Braintree, for example, takes new tech support staff through a mix of self-guided and class-based training to get everyone up to speed.

Of course, even with all the prep, a tech support role is going to have its learning curve like any other position.

“You’ll probably struggle to find solutions, especially early on,” says Caroline. “But for me it helps to just realize that right now I know a lot more than I did when I started four months ago, and I’m able to tackle things I wasn’t able to tackle then. And I just keep going for it.”

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