This guest blog post was written by Marceia Egler, Software Engineer at 4C Strategies
In the Fall of 2015, I made one of the scariest decisions of my life. I decided at the age of 43 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. I had spent my adult life moving between blue collar and low to mid-level administrative jobs. By 2015 I was 9 years in with a large used car retailer and I knew this was not how I wanted to spend the rest of my work life.
I decided to enroll in the Computer Science program at Harvard Extension for a few reasons. First, it was almost completely online which gave me the flexibility to fit classes into my crazy work schedule. Second, I felt the name recognition of Harvard would help me get a foot in the door when the time came to start my job hunt. In the tech world, you’re considered old by 30 so I felt I needed every advantage I could give myself!
With a work schedule that averaged 60 hours a week, I started plugging away with 2 classes at a time. It felt so overwhelming, but I just kept putting one foot in front of another and chipping away at the degree requirements. My advisor Mark Ouchida helped me pick classes that optimized the most requirements per class to move forward a little faster. Having an advisor who cares about your progress is a great benefit of going to the Extension School.
In 2017 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and took a year off for treatment. I hated losing that year, but Mark and even some of my professors from the previous semester stayed in touch and checked in on me. I truly felt their care and concern and looked forward to returning to school!
Fast forward to September of 2021. Still chugging away with 2 classes at a time, I could finally see the end. I found myself at a crossroads. I had been with my employer for 15 years. I knew I needed to take some time to get my coding skills job ready, but there was no way I could maintain my work schedule, school schedule, put together side projects and do a programming language deep dive to pass the inevitable technical interview I’d surely face.
I made the next scariest decision in my life. I quit my very secure job with a laser sharp focus on starting a new career within 9 months. My spouse and I cut our budget as much as possible to live on one income and a little savings.
I started working 8 hours a day with school and a self-paced coding bootcamp. While the bootcamp helped refresh my memory on skills I hadn’t used in a few semesters, Harvard provided a deeper understanding of problem solving with code. This allowed me to build advanced projects for my portfolio that I could showcase to a potential employer.
Once I wrapped up the bootcamp, I reached out to Harvard’s Office of Career Services and started attending their webinars. CARC career webinars helped me create a resume, build out my LinkedIn profile and learn how to network. Further, OCS provided virtual office hours with one-on-one career assistance. I met with Amanda and along with our email correspondence, she helped me create a job hunt plan personalized to my specific needs.
With Amanda’s guidance, I created a spreadsheet of the top 100 companies I wanted to work for. While I didn’t want to relocate, I was still open to the possibility for the right job. Plus, with so many employers offering remote work, I cast my net wide.
One of the activities OCS recommends is to reach out to people in your new field, connect with them on LinkedIn via a personal message, and from there request informational interviews. It can’t be stressed enough this is not to ask for a job. The informational interview is to simply make a personal connection and ask questions about their career that may help you gain useful insight for your job hunt.
I connected with a teaching fellow who works for one of the Big 5 in tech as well as a local developer who had just entered the workforce for a local company. Both were very gracious with their time and really helped me get a grasp on what my new career would look like from both a junior and senior developer point of view. That information was invaluable as I moved into the next phase of interviewing.
My job search led me to a Swedish company called 4C Strategies. They were hiring locally, and I felt my skills fit the requirements. I messaged the hiring contact who turned out to be the HR Manager for North America. I introduced myself and let her know how much I’d love the opportunity to interview and join the 4C development team.
Within 24 hours I had a response and within a week I was set up for an interview! I absolutely believe reaching out and introducing myself helped me stand out from the other candidates. It was the foot in the door I needed!
Amanda and OCS also helped me prepare for my interview with pre-recorded webinars and printouts I could review. The people I had done informational interviews with on LinkedIn also helped me put together an interview strategy.
All of the preparation paid off! I received an offer and as of July 18, 2022, I started my new career as a software engineer! Working for 4C Strategies has been a dream come true. The work environment is highly collaborative and has been very supportive as I make the transition from academic to enterprise coding. After many years in a job I did not find rewarding, I am now excited every day to go to work, contribute and make a difference!
Harvard Extension and OCS helped me achieve a dream I thought would never be reality. With a lot of hard work and an outstanding support group, my dream became reality. To anyone who finds themselves wondering if they can do it or if getting a degree at an older age is worth it, I say absolutely. I am now 50, graduate next Spring and work for my dream job in my dream industry. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s definitely been worth it!