This content was created by Girlboss in partnership with General Assembly.
Since the pandemic began, roughly 22% of all workers in the U.S. considered a job change—and that stat goes up to 30% once you look at those aged 18 to 39. But a major career pivot almost always requires learning a new skill—or several. And that can feel like an insurmountable obstacle to many. From finding the time to paying for classes, the path to a new career starts to look pretty uphill.
For Mocha Brown, learning a new skill was the key to a new opportunity. A creative person by nature, Brown always saw herself as a professional artist. To support her dreams, she worked in retail, spending extra income on art supplies. Quickly, she realized she was becoming burned out while working as a cashier at a health-food store. One day in early 2020, a long-time customer told her about learning to code in his free time and encouraged her to consider learning a new skill and pursue a future in tech.
“My introduction to tech felt more accidental than anything,” says Brown, who’s based in Michigan, adding that it was what she needed to hear. Brown enrolled in a 12-week tech bootcamp with General Assembly, the online courses provider that has graduated more than 40,000 alumni from full-time and part-time courses and prepared them for a job in today’s fastest-growing tech roles in Coding, Data & UX Design. “I wanted to gain a skill set that would give me the chance to enjoy my work, create something special and useful, and get me the heck away from entitled customers. Now, I'm working from home for a great company. I'm able to focus on my mental and physical health, enjoy my personal life and hobbies.” How did she do it? We’ll let Brown tell you in her own words.
Getting Started with General Assembly
“The pandemic hit Michigan hard. I was feeling stuck and disposable and I knew if I didn't take a chance and try to pursue tech, I would stay stuck. I left my awful job and ended up at Trader Joe's which was an amazing place to be working part-time and learning. My co-workers were extremely supportive of my decision to enroll. I decided to enroll through General Assembly after a very long back and forth with myself. Initially, I was going to go with another bootcamp but they wanted $1000 as a down payment. As a retail worker living paycheck to paycheck, I didn't see that happening. General Assembly had the best options for my financial situation and I thought, "If this bootcamp is willing to loan me this money until I get a decent job, they must really believe in their program."
On The Bootcamp Process
"Getting through a bootcamp is tough—fast-paced is a bit of an understatement. But if you can really commit to learning, you'll be okay. I basically lived, breathed and dreamt code for all 12 weeks. Things felt like they were happening at lightning speed when I didn't understand something, but the key is repetition. Once you begin to repeat things, you'll pick up on patterns and concepts will begin to click. Experiencing those "a-ha" moments were amazing and those really keep you going. My instructor accurately described the experience like a rollercoaster. The breakthrough moments are you at the top, and then you start learning a new concept and you're right back at the bottom, confused and wondering if you can really make it. I had to really find my learning style and focus on understanding the 'Why', before the 'How'."
On Getting a Job
"When I finished the course, I felt a bit like a deer stuck in headlights. I didn't really know where to focus, I just started applying. I had to increase my hours at work a bit, so I went to work, came home and applied to jobs. I looked on Indeed, Hired, LinkedIn, and through the General Assembly job board. I wrote a lot of cover letters and did a lot of research on the companies. After about 2 months, and 4 interviews, I heard back from Lob to schedule an interview. The process was about a month and when I got the offer, I was in disbelief. I was interviewing with one other company at the time, but the interview experience with Lob was amazing and told me all I needed to know about working there. I took it. Up until that very moment, I was still pretty skeptical that I could really go from a cashier at a grocery chain to a software engineer in 6 months. I continued to really stress myself out about not having a degree. A lot of students will finish their 12 weeks at GA and think "Am I really ready? I don't feel ready.". But you won't be ready unless you just go out and apply. You'll start to understand what skills you may be missing, and you can work on building those."
On Always Learning
"I learn every day at my job. That's the beauty of tech, you're learning all the time. It's not just because I'm early in my career, it's at all career levels. There will always be some new technology that's catching on fast and could help make your job easier, and you'll learn it. The great thing is because of this, we can all learn from one another. A junior may know how to use a brand new technology and a senior has no experience with it, and they'll get to exchange information. You realize that everyone is still stumbling over something. No one knows everything. When you think of it that way, it helps with imposter syndrome as well."
On What’s Next
"I try not to have expectations for anything. I didn't expect my career to take this turn at all, so I try to be flexible in my expectations and know that plenty of things could happen. This pandemic has especially shown that. I may end up wanting to pursue a different path in tech or I may not stay in tech for the rest of my career."
On Advice for Anyone Looking for a Career Change
"It’s easier said than done, but trust yourself and what you know. I knew that I didn't have a degree or prior experience in tech, and that others will notice that. I also know myself and know I'm a quick learner, passionate, smart, compassionate and capable. As a woman, and as a Black woman especially, there are assumptions people may make about me and there are even assumptions I have made about myself. It can be hard to put down that protective barrier, the one that saves you from the disappointment that you assume is coming. The truth is, you may end up making a mistake, or several along the way, but you learn from it. And if you don't ever take the opportunity, the chance of disappointment is 100 percent."
Inspired yet? Take the General Assembly Career Quiz to find your next career path, or download the Career Change Guide.