From TSA Security to Software Engineer

Meet Atlanta Flatiron School Alum and Popmenu Software Engineer, Deka Ambia! During the summer of 6th grade, she stumbled upon coding through an internet forum and fell in love with it.  Later in life, she received poor advice that she needed to be proficient in math to take programming classes in college, so she abandoned the […]

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Blog: Deka

Meet Atlanta Flatiron School Alum and Popmenu Software Engineer, Deka Ambia! During the summer of 6th grade, she stumbled upon coding through an internet forum and fell in love with it.  Later in life, she received poor advice that she needed to be proficient in math to take programming classes in college, so she abandoned the idea.  Nearly 15 years later, she’s reclaiming her passion. Here, Deka tells her story:

I read that you were originally interested in coding when you were younger, but didn’t have the resources or guidance to proceed forward.  What made you circle back and reclaim your interest and pursue mastery in web development?

The shortest and most accurate answer to this would be “freedom.” The freedom to be able to work wherever I want, whether that is at an office, at home, or on the beach somewhere. The freedom to look however I want, because my superiors at TSA and I clashed a lot on that. While I respected wearing the uniform, the government had strict rules regarding hairstyles and body art that could be visible to the public. While the world is slowly changing its opinions toward these personal choices, there are still many fields where it’s unacceptable. The freedom that a skillset can be used in almost any industry is filled with endless opportunity. Every business needs internet presence now, even if it’s a simple page with their name, address, hours, and contact information, and a web developer can help them bring that to life, and so much more.

You come from the government sector first working with TSA and then a role with the Immigration Department.  What can you tell us about leaving that sector and going into software engineering? Why at this point in time did you find it necessary to career pivot?

At the time I learned how to code, the federal government was in a shutdown and I had been waiting to hear back from Immigration Services for a year and a half regarding a position I had been working at an Amazon warehouse for almost a year and a half in the interim.  I knew I had to do something else with my life because I couldn’t keep waiting forever and one of the things that came to me was learning to code. My intention at the time wasn’t to find a new career, just to learn a new skill while I waited to hear back, but my passion grew from there. Learning to code and going through the Flatiron School curriculum changed me as a person in ways I didn’t know possible. I was no longer the same person I was fifteen weeks prior and found I needed something much more challenging as a career. I had spent so much time, money, and energy into learning how to code, and I loved doing it as well, that I could no longer settle for anything else.

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You have a tremendous work ethic and ambition working a full time job while job seeking. Tell us how you managed both and what you can now reflect and glean from that experience.

I just did what I had to do to secure a better life. A lot of the things I saw and experienced during the time I was job seeking motivated me to keep moving forward. I had to get up at around 5:30 am to go to work. I had a lot of downtime at work so I would use this time to practice coding and algorithm exercises. If I had a Meet-up to attend, I would stay in that area until it was a good time to head over to the event. I took naps in my car in between work and Meet-ups sometimes. I worked tirelessly on my personal projects. I only took time off if I absolutely needed it. There really isn’t much I can change about that experience, but if I were to change one thing, I would have learned to code much earlier than I did and began the job search the first week of the program.

What was your job search approach and how ultimately did you secure your position?

My approach was going on LinkedIn and local tech-related Slack groups and searching/applying for open positions more than anything. Additionally, I frequented Meet-ups and introduced myself to as many people as I could. I found my position through a Flatiron School introduction. I did my first phone interview in the parking lot of my workplace on the last day before the Christmas break! I worked non-stop on my personal project to get it ready to present in case I received an in-person interview. In early January, I went to my in-person interview and I was mostly asked to explain why I made certain decisions on my project. I arrived ready for anything.

Where are you working and what projects keep you busy?

I am working at Popmenu and I work on their web app, doing whatever it is they assign me. It’s different every day!

What wisdom can you impart to Flatiron School students who find the job search nerve wracking and scary?

The scariest part which I anticipated (whiteboarding exercises) never crystalized. I would still say to prepare as though you will be having a tech challenge in the event it’s an interview step. As a recent graduate, you will more than likely be asked how a particular technology you put on your resume works and why you chose to use it in a project. It is perfectly OK to say “I don’t know” or “As far as I know, it’s “X.” Be VERY honest about what you know and don’t know. Make sure your projects on Github look their best as they will be viewed. Make sure your personal projects stand out; do them on a subject you are passionate about and avoid making a clone of an already existing website.

If you had to go back to Mod 1 to your former self, what words of encouragement would you say to yourself?

I would tell myself that this isn’t a course you can just coast through; you have to put in the work and it will be incredibly difficult at times but it will be worth it. I would tell myself this has a real possibility of changing my life and mindset forever so take it extremely seriously. Everybody in your cohort is there with the same goal in mind and they and the instructors are more than willing to help you if you get stuck. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for clarification, because at one point they will ask you for help as well. You are all there for each other.

Career coach Mitzi Schawo on how Deka’s job search was a great success:

“Deka’s job search was a success because she believed in herself, knew what she wanted & never gave up!”

Disclaimer: The information in this blog is current as of May 12, 2020. Current policies, offerings, procedures, and programs may differ.

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