Michelle was aware of programming at a young age but didn’t get involved in computer science right away. In school she knew of a Pascal class that was being offered, but she was put off by the programming culture at the time. The computer sciences at her school were dominated by an uninviting all-male clique. There simply wasn’t wasn’t a precedent or environment that encouraged her to participate, despite her love for puzzles and logic problems.
Nevertheless, she got involved in the tech space during her college years, working in tech support for Word Perfect. She soon moved to Seattle and joined a startup where she was able to leverage her experience at Word Perfect, now owned by Corel, to build out the tech support team there. She eventually left the workforce to focus primarily on raising her children and taking care of her family while her husband Kevin worked in quality assurance for large companies like Microsoft, Adobe, and Word Perfect.
Around 2004 Michelle made a career shift and got involved with financial planning and operations. She started an early employee at Diversify, Inc. with two owners and less than one hundred clients, and helped grow it into a large, successful organization with thousands of clients and hundreds of millions of dollars under their management. She was able to lean on her previous tech experience to establish a database as part of a customer relationship management system, as well as her team building experience from her startup days to hire talent and grow the company. She became the de facto onsite IT person for the company.
In 2015, after a few years working in IT, Michelle realized that there wasn’t a clear career path other than being a financial advisor — a role in which she had little to no interest. She felt that she wasn’t going to get any ownership in the company, nor any say in the direction the company went, and that didn’t suit her given the amount of hard work she’d contributed during her stead there. It was then that she started seriously considering a major change:
“I know what this looks like now. I’ve been a grown-up for twenty-five years, and I have another twenty-five years of a work-life ahead of me, and I can get a lot done in that amount of time! I don’t want to stay where I am.”
There were a number of tech companies nearby in the “Silicon Slopes”, the burgeoning tech sector near Salt Lake City and surrounding areas, and she remembered how much fun she had working in tech companies in the past. But she faced considerable hurdles getting into the industry: She was the primary source of income in the household at the time, so she couldn’t just drop everything and start over somewhere new for considerably less pay; and having finished her undergraduate coursework but not a bachelor’s degree, the opportunities available to her were somewhat limited. She was driven and capable, and she needed to figure something out very quickly.
She started reaching out to these companies without getting much traction, but in doing so she kept seeing an abundance of developer roles. She spoke with recruiters about the job market and was particularly struck when one told her that:
"I get ten open positions for developers for every one open position for project managers; and for every one developer applicant, I get ten project manager applicants.”
Serendipitously, it was around then that she started to hear of a coding bootcamp nearby called Dev Mountain. She knew about someone who had graduated from it, and so she started considering the bootcamp path.
“I’ll do what the demand is, and go from there.”
“Are we saying I’m going to go out to New York and go to school? Are we crazy?”
Just before she left for New York she had her interview with Hack Reactor. It was very clear to her within the first fifteen minutes that she was not ready. Nevertheless, the interviewer spent over an hour teaching her, giving guidance, and looking at techniques to solve the prompt. Her experience during the admissions interview stuck with her. If he was willing to spend all this time to help before she was even a student, what would it be like when she actually arrived?
“I learned more in that time with that one person that I had learned in a month on my own.”
Since she was in the area, Michelle attended a tour, spoke with a Hacker in Residence, and sat in on a lecture at the Hack Reactor campus in New York to get a feel for the tone and culture of the program and classes. She loved the atmosphere and decided to go for it. She reapplied and was granted conditional acceptance, and started the precourse work in the beginning of October upon returning home to Utah.
“I’m going to try, I’m going to apply.”
Michelle returned to New York at the end of October to complete the admissions process and was accepted for the December cohort. She joined the New York City campus in December 2016 shortly after Hack Reactor acquired MakerSquare.
Her time at Hack Reactor was challenging but immensely rewarding. She gave it everything she had in order to get the most out of it that she possibly could. She struggled to stay ahead of the curve but was given ample attention and encouragement to continue growing her technical skill set. Working alongside fellow students with degrees in computer science was a humbling experience for her, but one voice allayed her doubts and rallied her confidence, that of her counselor Jeff. He reminded her that she wouldn’t be there if she wasn’t capable, that she was doing better than she thought, and that she could absolutely do it. She put her trust in the program, accepted that she was making progress on her own journey and learning new things, and she made it through.
“Michelle sacrificed being with our family. She put her ‘normal’ life on hold to go off and focus 100% on this course.” - Kevin Carter, Michelle's husband
Michelle’s favorite project at Hack Reactor was creating a clone of popular communication and teamworking app called Slack, which her team called, appropriately, Clack. She was particularly interested in the creative problem-solving process of looking at the program, wondering “how in the world did they do that?” and then working with her team to implement their own version. She deeply enjoyed analyzing the problem space, considering all of the possible ways one could approach it, and selecting the ideal solution.
“It was one of the top three hardest things I’ve ever done.”
After graduating, she returned to Utah and religiously followed the guidelines provided for the job hunt. She networked like crazy. She spoke with a business development group in the community. Eventually, Michelle landed at Adobe in a job apparently custom-tailored for her. Doing a mix of development and support, her role capitalizes on exactly the talents and skills she’d be fostering her entire life: team building, support, and now development as well -- all in just under a month after she graduated Hack Reactor.
Within two weeks at Adobe she was already participating company-sponsored activism like creating food kits to send to Vietnam. She’s thrilled to be working at a company that values philanthropy and relishes being a part of a community that encourages nerding out without shame or embarrassment, be it over board games, nutrition, or Harry Potter.
“With the new skills and confidence Michelle gained at Hack Reactor she is much much happier in her job and her day to day work. She doesn’t come home drained. She loves her new job and the work she is doing. This has changed our family dynamic in so many positive ways.” - Kevin Carter, Michelle's husband
After her experience at Hack Reactor Michelle realized that she probably would have loved the programming class back in high school. But as she learned during the program, we’re all on own our journeys. Good things happen in due time if we put in the effort, ask for help when we need it, and make the most of the resources available to us.