From Chemist to a Python Developer

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"What I learned from all this is that Flatiron School helped me develop the foundation and confidence I need to learn anything I want."

Meet Flatiron School Grad and Python Developer at Schrödinger Marco Sanchez-Ayala!  Solving complex problems has always been Marco's passion, so science made sense to pursue. But the answers didn't lie in the equations or research, Marco needed to discover data science for all his passions to click.  Here, Marco shares his story:

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You started out as a chemist but then shifted to become a paralegal in hopes of someday practicing patent law.  What made you now career pivot to data science?

Other career paths I tried were fulfilling in theory, but weren't so enjoyable in practice. As a chemist, I had many opportunities to solve complex problems with quantitative reasoning, but the work was quite isolating. I couldn't imagine myself doing that over a long period of time. As a paralegal, I gained a lot of experience with interpersonal skills (namely communication). I just didn't get to do any quantitative problem solving there. I realized technology is a field where one gets to do both the communication and problem solving side of things. Data science in particular was the perfect marriage of those things for me, since it's especially number driven and a lot of the work is about conveying technical results to non-technical audiences.

Your career coach said you have a very effective job search. What was your approach to networking?

At first, I tried simply sending out my resume to companies. I received referrals to a few big companies (Google, Facebook, etc.) but those didn't come to fruition because there were no entry level positions available. After months of little success, I shifted my approach. I stopped applying to companies unless I was able to get a personal referral. I found companies with open positions and sent cold LinkedIn messages to anyone in that same position. I also reached out to any 2nd and 3rd connections on LinkedIn, especially targeting  alumni from Flatiron School and my former University. I actually received multiple referrals from people I met through the second approach and eventually got an offer as a result of one of those referrals! Of the 8 companies I interviewed with, only one of them came from a company where I had made no contact with any employee prior to the interview. Just goes to show that you have much better odds at getting an interview just by reaching out to someone specifically.

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How did you ultimately receive your position and what are you working on?

I was referred to this position by a college friend. Interestingly, I felt I had really bombed the second round interview because I was unprepared to discuss object-oriented programming at the level that was required for the position. So I learned some OOP, made a simple Python program showcasing my new skills, wrote a blog post about it, and sent everything to the interviewer. Some days later, I received notice that they wanted to move forward with my application. I completed a final round which went MUCH better since it was largely applying OOP design and I ultimately got an offer.  I haven't started yet, but I'll be a Python developer building GUIs for Schrödinger's proprietary molecular modeling software. This is my dream job as it combines my background in chemistry with my passion for programming. 

What was the biggest support you received from your career coach?  What did you learn from it?

My career coach offered unwavering support despite my changing course a few times in the job search. There were multiple points where I decided to shift my focus towards different job types and industries. She always gave me plenty of great resources and offered her time to review any of my materials to make sure I was maximizing my chances of success. It was only through exploring other options that I was able to land my dream job. What I learned from all this is that Flatiron School helped me develop the foundation and confidence I need to learn anything I want. At Flatiron School, I really figured out how to effectively and quickly teach myself new things, which is what has been most fulfilling for me and landed me my job.

If you were to turn the clock back to your first day at Flatiron School, what would you tell your former self?

I would go back in time and tell myself to be patient and keep an open mind. I was convinced I could get a job right out of the bootcamp and that it would be as a data scientist at a large tech company. Keeping such a narrow focus hindered me from even considering that there could be other opportunities. After many rejections, I was forced to consider alternatives and rethink my timeline. With a little more patience and willingness to think outside of the box, I discovered that my passion for programming lies more in development rather than strictly data science. This is what allowed me to explore different paths and come across a position that could combine my interests so well.

Career coach Ugochi Okorie on how Marco's job search was a great success:

"Marco was focused, dedicated and proactive from day one! He eagerly exceeded any requirements, treated his job search like an actual job and made no excuses. Marco was great about networking far and wide as well as skilling up constantly and building projects along the way to demonstrate what he learned. Marco was also really great about sharing content on LinkedIn such as projects and blog posts, which helped a lot with increasing visibility and in turn building relationships."

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