Every software engineer can name college dropouts who went on to do incredible things in the tech world: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey. These individuals have become emblematic of the idea that a degree doesn’t define you, and they’re often touted by aspiring tech dudes as their inspiration for diving into the fray.
The problem is the obvious lack of diversity on that list.
Growing up in the Bay Area, I found that there were far fewer high-profile examples of women who had diverged from their academic path to find success in tech. I was only a year and a half away from earning two liberal arts degrees, in economics and psychology, at Barnard College of Columbia University when I took the introductory computer science course that ultimately altered my career path.
This course sparked my curiosity in computer science and led me to explore a subject I’d never previously been encouraged to pursue. While it was too late to change majors, I’d finally found a technically complex, creative, and mentally stimulating job–in an entirely different industry than the ones for which I was trained. Despite having no clear path forward, I decided to pursue my new passion. Looking back, I’m so glad I did.
Today, I’m a software engineer at JPMorgan Chase & Co., and I love the work I do every day. Getting here wasn’t easy, but I’m proud of how far I’ve come. If you find yourself in a similar position and want to take the plunge into tech without a computer science-related degree, this is how I did it.
Take a coding boot camp
After discovering my passion for coding during an introductory class, I knew it was too late to pivot my collegiate efforts away from my dual major in economics and psychology. Instead, I applied to an immersive summer boot camp at Fullstack Academy of Code, which helped me develop the necessary skills to become a full-stack software engineer outside of my university’s academic term.
These boot-camp-style programs are incredibly useful for honing functional skills, building a portfolio, and connecting with other aspiring tech professionals. During my time at Fullstack Academy, I got tons of hands-on experience building apps and writing code. Rolling up my sleeves and diving into this work further solidified my interest in pursuing software engineering as my full-time career.
There are countless options out there for these types of programs. Some traditional universities such as the University of California at Berkeley offer coding boot camps both in-person and online, and there are plenty of other options that are suitable for a range of budgets.
Do your research
As soon as I set my mind on software engineering as a career, I began using platforms such as Handshake to research what recruiters were looking for in an entry-level software engineer. Because Handshake is specifically designed for college students and new grads, the listings on the platform helped keep me informed about which desirable skills and characteristics would make me a competitive candidate when I was applying for a first job. I used these learnings to tailor my résumé and help it stand out from the crowd.
Seek out opportunities for practical experience
During my senior year at Barnard, I participated in JPMorgan Chase’s Code for Good Hackathon event. This 24-hour hackathon presented an opportunity to use my new skills for a worthy cause: developing innovative technology for deserving nonprofit organizations.
The team-based format of the event also allowed me to work alongside technology experts, as well as college students who studied computer science. These professional connections are extremely valuable when one is navigating the hiring process; in my case, they led to my being invited to join JPMorgan Chase’s full-time Software Engineer Program after graduation.
Highlight your “unrelated” skills
I’m not going to lie—applying for software engineering roles without a related degree certainly isn’t easy. I spent countless hours sitting in the library studying for technical interviews by teaching myself advanced CS concepts from a textbook. Although I enjoy coding, practicing for hours on end every day for months can be tiring, to say the least. But persistence and commitment to continuous learning is the key to reaching your goals, so don’t give up.
If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that women shouldn’t shy away from pursuing their ambitions no matter how daunting they seem. Embrace being uncomfortable and push yourself to try new, potentially intimidating things. After all, it could lead to your dream job.
Céline Chu Gauchey is a software engineer at JPMorgan Chase & Co.