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Empowering H.’s tech transformation with Opportunity Academies

February 02, 2023

When you’re looking to hire diverse tech talent, the candidates available now may not always possess the skills you need. Luckily, there’s a solution: Opportunity Academies. 

Opportunity Academies equip people from varied, non-technical backgrounds with the skills they need to thrive in entry-level tech roles. Students learn critical tech skills in areas like data, software, and IT, and the sponsoring organization creates a pipeline of diverse talent to address skills gaps and fill open roles—often at a lower cost than hiring and training new talent.

In this blog series, we interview Pluralsight Opportunity Academy participants to learn how their experience changed their lives and propelled them into the tech world. 

For H. (ey/em/eir), the stakes couldn’t have been higher: “I really needed to land the job with the sponsoring organization of this program, or I was going to be out on the street.” Here’s eir story.

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“I cannot express just how fundamentally my outlook on life has changed since the bootcamp.”

H. (ey/em/eir) participated in a learn-to-code Opportunity Academy sponsored by a Fortune 500 company. Now working in application support, ey shares how the program got em where ey is today, along with advice for individuals and organizations interested in Opportunity Academies.

What were the circumstances that led you to apply for the learn-to-code program?

“Like many over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was eventually laid off from my job. That had a number of challenges associated with it. I tried day in and day out to find another position that would allow me to work from home, but prospects were slim and bills were steadily draining every penny I had in my accounts. 

“I am a Year Up alumnus who has been receiving email notifications from the alumni program for years. Typically, the emails had not applied to me, but I saw one about learning to code and decided to try for it despite my hopelessness at the time. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Funny enough, I had applied for Year Up under similar circumstances, and that had worked out for me as well.”

How did you feel on the first day of class?

“Nervous mostly. Grateful. I really wanted to get to the end of the program and hopefully [find] a new job doing something different than what I had been doing. I jokingly thought that this was my last chance before I lost it all again, and that really was barely an exaggeration.”

During the program, what was a typical day like for you?

“A typical day involved intense focus for the entire class time. I spent most of my time asking questions and taking notes. I’m fairly in my element in a learning environment structured like the learn-to-code bootcamp.”

How was the Opportunity Academy structured?

For this particular Opportunity Academy, a typical day started at 8 or 8:30 a.m. and ended around 4:30 or 5 p.m. It included a mix of instructor lectures, demos, code-alongs, and independent and group lab work. During lab time, instructors created Zoom breakout rooms with 4 – 5 students. The program ended with a two-week collaborative capstone where students worked together to create and deploy a full-stack application.

Empower diverse tech talent with Opportunity Academies.

What was the highest point for you during the program?

“The highest point was when JavaScript finally started to click for me. I had been struggling for weeks to really understand how it worked and how to think through the development problems I was faced with.

“My place of work does have a Pluralsight [Skills] license available for all employees, and I've used it to get a little more familiar with Java. I anticipate that this year, I will be leaning on Pluralsight for a lot more learning as I move forward with my goals.”

What was the hardest day for you during the program?

“[My] hardest day was probably the last few days of the final capstone project, when everything I had learned was being put on full display. It was less about the difficulty of the project itself, though that was a contributing factor, and more about my circumstances outside of class. The 14-week program was coming to a close, and my time was really starting to run out with regards to keeping my life in a somewhat working order.”

Did you ever think about quitting?

“Quitting didn’t cross my mind even once. I really needed to land the job with the sponsor of this program, or I was going to be out on the street. These kinds of circumstances will push me forward more than anything. I just so happened to also really enjoy the challenge of coding.”

How did the instructors support you during the program?

“The most demoralizing situation I can think of is being in a learning environment and having an instructor who [gets] annoyed with having to answer questions or explain concepts in a different way. The Opportunity Academy instructors didn’t judge me for misunderstanding a concept or needing to ask for clarification. I found that this was a huge boost for me.

“I also found that having a concept explained to me, and then being able to interrupt and ask clarifying questions, immediately fostered a much stronger understanding of the topics. It was an exceptionally positive environment to be in.”

Have you stayed in touch with anyone who was in the program with you?

“When I joined the program, I actually knew someone who was also a Year Up alumnus. We had been on speaking terms long before I ever heard of the learn-to-code program, and we still stay in touch. There was also someone from my cohort who made it onto the same team I did [with the sponsoring organization]. We stay in touch, but on more professional grounds.”

“I was interviewing with the sponsor of this particular Opportunity Academy. I was hoping to make it in, and I prepared as if I was going to transition directly from the bootcamp to the company. 

“I consider myself lucky, [as I did make it in]. But I am realizing now that I wouldn’t have been selected if the sponsor didn’t think I would be a good fit.”

How did the program prepare you for the job you have now? What skills have you carried over?

“I am doing less coding than I had anticipated, though I understand that the nature of the work I do could not allow extremely inexperienced coders to touch source code. 

“I currently work in application support, and I use more of the command line than anything, which was something that was taught during the program. Also, with my familiarity with coding syntax and rules in general, I can easily expand my knowledge when looking up information because I can understand what I am actually looking at. This is a lot more useful than it sounds on the surface.”

Does your employer provide support for new hires in your role?

“There are countless ways my employer supports new hires. There’s a dedicated year-long program for new hires, an internal website, and Slack channel. You are assigned a mentor to ask as many questions as you can think of, and in my experience, my manager has been an invaluable resource for anything I would need, from questions about benefits to learning opportunities.”

Do you consider yourself part of an underrepresented group in tech?

“I certainly am a part of an underrepresented group in tech. Not only am I black, I am also openly trans in the workplace, which has a unique set of obstacles. 

“Besides people [who don’t know] me misgendering or deadnaming me, I feel comfortable working where I do. I realize that when I must use my legal name in most channels of communication, these sorts of things will happen. My direct manager, however, respects my chosen name and pronouns, and I consider that a win.”

Do you feel a sense of belonging in your organization?

“I do feel like I belong. I have a lot of issues with imposter syndrome, especially [since this is] my first more application support-oriented job. My team is intelligent and very willing to help and answer questions.”

Have you ever thought about what you’d be doing now if you hadn’t completed the program?

“It haunts me every waking moment. I know exactly what I would be doing right now if I hadn’t completed the program. It’s happened to me before. 

“Life is often incredibly unkind to people, and when you live under a constant threat of total upheaval, you really appreciate the opportunities that have randomly fallen into your lap. 

“I could have easily missed the email [about the program] in a depressive fog, or not shown up or not been chosen. I like to think more optimistically when I can, because otherwise, the pressure of total ruin would crush me again.”

What would you say to others who are thinking of joining a similar program?

“You should do it. And you should do it enthusiastically and with as much passion and drive as you can muster. A change in career can be an exhilarating and freeing thing.”

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What advice do you have for an employer who’s thinking of sponsoring a learn-to-code program like the one you experienced?

“Take a chance on a demographic that you would otherwise pass over. Variety is the spice of life, and insular environments will only lead to your workplace looking and feeling exactly the same as every other place. 

“If you really and truly believe in diversity, then tapping into groups of people who haven’t had opportunities like this will make a difference. If you put in the work to bridge those widening gaps, then you will find people who are just as willing to work hard to get to where they want to be.”

What advice do you have for an employer who’s thinking of hiring academy graduates from non-technical backgrounds?

“Investing in people’s skills works out a lot better in the long term. If you do take the plunge in hiring and supporting someone with a different background, then you’ll find that those very people won’t waste your time. Nobody was born with the knowledge they have. It had to come from somewhere.”

If you could choose just one, what would you say is the biggest value you got out of the program?

“The biggest value I got was a career opportunity. I cannot express just how fundamentally my outlook on life has changed since the bootcamp. A career in tech like this has done wonders for me to achieve my goals, both personal and professional.”

Democratize tech skills

The power of Opportunity Academies extends beyond tech. This program literally helped H. keep a roof over eir head. While ey learned critical tech skills and earned a job opportunity, the employer who sponsored the program bridged skills gaps and improved diversity in the process. 

Want to empower individuals like H.? With Pluralsight's Opportunity Academies, you can build a tailored learning program that addresses your skills gaps and organizational goals.

Interested in hearing from other Opportunity Academy participants?