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While many mothers dream of self-fulfillment, childcare can often stand in the way of their career growth. Being a mother and a researcher, Yuliya Khilko was struggling to find a role that offered this, decent pay, and flexibility. Yuliya’s efforts to find the right fit had finally come to a satisfying halt once she discovered the many opportunities available for her in the IT industry. Here’s how Practicum provided her with knowledge, skills, and support to help her realize her potential. 

A drop of courage

As a biotech engineering graduate, Yuliya moved to California together with her front-end developer husband ten years ago. Yearning for advancement in the research field, she returned to school to get a master’s degree in chemical engineering, a much sought-after background in Silicon Valley. 

Just as Yuliya was approaching graduation, she learned she was expecting. Though it made her a liability to many potential employers, she was never one to give up. Since her master’s thesis focused on DNA assembly research, and her project was based at Stanford University, she landed a research associate role at one of Silicon Valley’s biotech startups. 

Sounds like a mission accomplished, right? However, when it was time to start, Yuliya and her husband realized it just wasn't an option. “It was a hard decision to make,” she recalls, “but having a two month-old child meant we had to either hire a nanny or ask someone from our family to come from overseas to babysit him.”

This meant Yulyia’s career plans had to be put on hold for another year and a half.

But a random conversation gave the determined mother a spark of hope. “There was this party at my husband’s office, and we were talking to his colleague who used to be a musician. He said he went to a coding bootcamp and became a front-end developer. I thought: what am I afraid of? I should try it as well.” Better income and job security were also enticing prospects, for research positions were scarce and low-paid. “It was disheartening to see this pay grade for work that takes a lot of intellectual effort… It was killing me because I knew a lot and was worth a lot.” Besides, she wanted more job flexibility and security. “I realized that if I made this step, I’d be able to work in any industry. Devs are needed everywhere.”

She tried her hand at front-end development and it was an instant match. She could see the results of her work, which was a goal she had long hoped for. “In research, I could be carrying out an experiment for a week and have no idea if I was doing it right. Here, I [could instantly] see the result. [That’s] very important to me.”

Decision made, Yuliya started learning. At first, she took advantage of the many free online courses. “My husband helped me pick the good ones,” she says. After she spent six months learning the basics, she felt she needed a more structured approach. She was considering different bootcamps, but with a toddler on her hands, she couldn’t spend twelve hours a day in a classroom. 

“I signed up for the Women Who Code newsletter and saw a Practicum scholarship ad,” she shares. She liked that the course structure included building a business-related project portfolio. Yuliya had tried to build a portfolio on her own, but discovered that writing code and coming up with business ideas were different things. “Coming up with an idea and design is very hard, and when you’re not skilled at it, it becomes a nightmare,” she says, So it was great that the course would help her build a portfolio from scratch. So Yuliya applied. Once she got a positive reply and went through an intro course, Yuliya realized it was exactly what she needed.

Per aspera

The course consisted of a number of two week-long sprints. Yuliya had to submit projects on time, but was free to read up on theory and do practical tasks at her own pace. With her kid at daycare, Yuliya could study during the day rather than late at night. Her enthusiasm surged, “The turning point was the conversation with my husband’s colleague. He showed me that You don’t necessarily have to [complete four years of college to] get into IT and become a good professional.” Her engineering background was a huge help, too: she had acquired a high knowledge of math and a logical approach to problem solving.

However, things got less sunny once their family moved and the pandemic hit. My kid didn’t go to daycare and it was [difficult], she laughs. She had to cram in some studying while he slept, or take shifts with her husband. Her determination, though, only intensified. “I would lock myself in the study as soon as my husband was done with his work. I studied CSS at night because I really wanted to finish the course.”

And the course was flexible enough to make it happen. “I liked that they stretched the course to ten months, unlike other bootcamps. They realize that people have other things to do — they work, care for their children or something,” she says. The density of the course and constant interactions with real experts, such as in code reviews, helped her progress as well. “My biggest challenge was that I had to ask about my code issues in the Slack channel. My professional vocab is better now, but at first I had no idea how to describe my problems in a way that other people would understand… I’m grateful for that channel. It’s an important skill now since all work is remote.”

Also, it was nice to get an idea of what the web development cycle entailed. “In U.S. schools and colleges, all projects are done in groups where every person only does their part,” explains Yuliya. “But it’s not very convenient because you don’t cover the entire stack of app development… When you’re learning, you need to get to know everything and touch every single part.” In the Practicum software engineering course, however, the students had to complete each project on their own, from start to finish, so Yuliya got the whole picture.

She also appreciated that the course stimulated her creativity instead of giving her strict directions: “I liked that I didn’t just sit and do one tutorial after another. You apply your knowledge, but nobody tells you how to do it exactly, either. They give you tips, but you need to think really hard to do everything by yourself from start to finish.”

Ad astra

Once the course was finished, Yuliya joined Practicum’s career track where coaches reviewed her resume. However, her job search didn’t go the traditional way. 

“I didn’t apply to 50 roles a week like I was supposed to; I applied only after thorough examination,” admits Yuliya. But she leveraged the undeniable power of networking, and that was her key to success. 

“I tried to be present everywhere — I joined Facebook and LinkedIn groups, looked for opportunities, messaged my friends who worked at startups… I decided I should do more networking. Sometime later a recruiter messaged me on LinkedIn, I think because my activity made my profile more visible to other people.”

The recruiter connected her with the team that had a junior software engineer role at Lululemon — a leading North American sportswear retailer. Yuliya passed three interviews and got a job offer in less than a month. “The process went very fast. They hired me in two weeks… de-facto after my third interview.”

Did her portfolio work in her favor? Yuliya definitely thinks so. “One of their questions was to describe my work experience or the parts of my work I’m proud of. When you have a portfolio, you can rely on it and say you’ve built an application. So I told them I developed an app, did the front and back parts myself, and deployed it to the server myself. Because no matter beautiful your code is, a recruiter can’t have a look at it. Yet they will look at your portfolio, and if they see a beautiful design that works, and if they like it, then your resume will land onto the stack that will be moved to the next round.”

Did Yuliya’s story resonate with you? Practicum may have a program that can suit your needs. Check out our website to explore!

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