Carla Stickler, a Fall 2019 Software Engineering graduate from Flatiron School, describes herself as a professional multi-hyphenate. After spending more than 10 years performing in Broadway musicals such as Wicked, Mamma Mia!, and The Sound of Music, her desire for stability, a better work-life balance, and a chance encounter with an old friend led her to tech.
She shares her journey from Broadway Star to Software Engineer below.
A Burned Out Broadway Star
By the end of 2018, Carla Stickler had already had what many would consider to be a dream career. She’d found success in the arts – a difficult feat no matter the medium – and performed on Broadway stages in world-famous musicals such as Wicked, Mamma Mia!, and The Sound of Music.
But, Carla said, the continuous grind needed to reach that level of success had begun wearing on her.
“From the outside, it looked like I was living it up. However, after performing eight shows a week almost non-stop for about a decade, I was burned out,” she said. “I was spending more time managing injuries than having any sort of a life, missing weddings, birthdays, holidays with my family, and weekend BBQs. I struggled to maintain friendships outside of work as I basically lived at the theater.”
To take a break from the stage (and dancing and four-inch heels), Carla earned a Master’s Degree in Education and worked as a voice teacher while moonlighting at the Wicked Broadway company to fill in for vacancies. The grind, however, didn’t slow down.
“I was hustling to get enough actor weeks to qualify for health insurance through the union and to find enough voice students to pay my bills,” Carla said. “All I wanted was a steady paycheck, a social life, and my body to stop hurting all the time. I couldn’t figure out why that was so hard to achieve in the arts.”
The Inciting Incident
Carla recalls knowing that she needed to make a change for a while, but a chance encounter at her 35th birthday party finally spurred her to act.
“A friend showed up to my party and announced, ‘I’m a software engineer now and I just got a great job making more money than I’ve ever made with health insurance and a 401k!’ I was confused, since last I checked, he was a composer writing musicals,” she mused. “I held him captive for the next 30 minutes asking him how he did it and what exactly software engineering was. He told me he went to the Flatiron School and learned to code.”
Several weeks and a few google searches later, Carla enrolled in a twice-weekly front-end development course* at Flatiron School.
“I wanted to see if I really enjoyed [Software Engineering],” Carla explained. “I got hooked and decided to attend Flatiron’s Immersive Software Engineering Bootcamp at their [New York City campus] the next summer and to change my life with code!”
Scene Change: Flatiron School
For Carla, Flatiron School’s community was a critical part of the experience.
“Flatiron was reminiscent of my time at performing arts summer camp. It was intense and overwhelming, but we were all in it together, with a common goal to learn a new skill set so we could change our lives,” she explained. “The folks in my cohort quickly became life-long friends. We supported each other by celebrating our wins and providing encouragement for those struggling to keep up.”
Her cohort supported one another throughout their time in the program and participated in a weekly tradition known as “Feelings Friday” to recognize and cheer one another on.
“We would sit in a circle and everyone would get a chance to talk about what we had struggled through that week, or talk about a win we’d had. We would all snap our fingers when someone was finished as if to say, ‘You are not alone. I am right there with you, feeling the same imposter syndrome, terrified about whether or not I’ve made the right decision. But we can do this crazy thing’”, Carla explained. “Flatiron had a way of building a community that made our struggles seem manageable. We were all going through this journey together and knew that for this thing to succeed, we all needed to succeed.”
Pulled Back By Broadway
Through the course, Carla learned something about coding that she hadn’t expected – it was creative.
“No one ever tells you, or at least no one ever told me, that software engineering is creative. It’s complex and requires the ability to imagine something that doesn’t yet exist and create it using code. The similarities between coding and art amazed and inspired me.”
In addition to her enjoyment of the material, the successes of others in the school assured her that she had made the right choice in attending Flatiron School.
“Our teachers were an inspiration, as many of them had gone through the program and already seemed light years ahead of us. When we heard about friends finishing the program and quickly landing a new job, we knew we had chosen the right path.”
Job Searching During The Pandemic
Carla graduated from Flatiron School at the end of 2019, just a few short months before the beginning of the COVID pandemic. She credits Career Services with keeping her moving forward in her job search, even in the face of an unprecedented year like 2020.
“While everyone was on a hiring freeze, I worked with my career coach and continued learning on my own and taking classes online to keep my skills fresh,” she said. “Having a structure for how to proceed helped remove some of the unknowns about getting a job. The weekly blog posts, continued self-learning, and spreadsheet that tracked all the people I was reaching out to could be overwhelming at times, but I look back on all the hard work I did and I see how it paid off.”
Despite all of the hard work Carla put in with her career coach after graduating, the pandemic raged on, severely limiting her prospects as the world shut down and companies did damage control.
“I had a few interviews that ended with being told how much they wished they could hire me, but unfortunately, they couldn’t take on junior devs at that moment.”
Pursuing A Tech-Adjacent Role
Determined to break into tech one way or another, Carla pivoted into searching for tech-adjacent roles.
“Learning to code proved that I could pick up skills fast and that having a job in tech was better than not having a job in tech,” she said. “I started looking at customer success and solutions engineering roles where I could flex my soft skills and build up my experience in the field.”
This time, she found success and in mid-2020 took a job as a Customer Success Associate at a startup in NYC. Looking back, she does not lament the fact that her first post-Flatiron job was tech-adjacent and instead highlights that it actually checked most of the boxes that were empty in her previous career field.
“It’s important for folks getting into a new field to really think about what’s most valuable to them when they finish a bootcamp,” she said. “Spending a year as a Success Associate allowed me the comfort of having a stable income, health insurance, and remote work so my husband and I could leave New York and buy a house in Chicago. This job, while not what I had intended, gave me a lot of what I was looking for.”
Carla also stresses the importance of stepping stones, and not putting too much pressure on finding the perfect first job.
“Your first job does not have to be your forever job. It doesn’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to love it,” she said. “The first job is to get your foot in the door, start building your resume, have experience working in an agile environment, learn how to communicate over Slack, and just exist in this new industry.”
Landing Her First Engineering Gig
After moving to Chicago, Carla resumed her search for a software engineering position and accepted a position as a Junior Software Engineer at G2. The difference the past years have made, she said, is almost indescribable.
“I cannot begin to tell you the number of things I’ve learned in the past year and the amount of confidence I’ve gained as a developer. The imposter syndrome never really goes away, but I’m better suited now to quiet the voices that tell me I can’t or I shouldn’t, because I’ve proved that I can and I did.”
Despite the grind it took to get her to her current position and the hurdles along the way, Carla is thriving.
“It might’ve taken me longer than expected, but I love my job and couldn’t be more grateful for the life that attending Flatiron and learning to code has provided for me.”
Ready For A Change, Just Like Carla Stickler?
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Read more stories about successful career changes on the Flatiron School blog.
*Course no longer offered