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Jaia Bautista’s story reveals the many hardships immigrants face daily: navigating the U.S. legal system, abuse, sexism, and so on. Just as important, however, it shows how curiosity and perseverance can change your destiny, even when the odds are stacked against you. Jaia shares her experience in hopes that it will inspire other women.

Down the rabbit hole

Jaia became a refugee at a very early age, when her family moved from increasingly dangerous Colоmbia to then-peaceful Guatemala. Planning to study criminal justice, Jaia wanted to dedicate herself to a good cause. Unfortunately, just as she was coming of age, her new homeland was becoming a more hazardous place to live, and Jaia no longer felt safe.

Her family decided to move to a new peaceful place — the U.S. Unfortunately, this also meant starting from the ground up. Jaia was unable to continue her studies because of delays in working through the complex immigration system. Without laws giving her the legal right to work in the U.S., Jaia had to look for other means to survive. 

“Being an immigrant here is really, really hard, because you can’t go to school. It's already really expensive for natives and even more expensive for foreigners without rights like I was at the time. Money is a big obstacle and the ins- and outs of the student visas made things even more difficult. I worked so hard for justice back in Guatemala, but in the end what can you do? I had dropped out of school there because I had already seen a glimpse of the corruption and the legit danger involved in my career choice (I was majoring in Criminal Justice). It was a waste of my time and my life. I decided to go somewhere else [the U.S.], see other types of life and cultures and see what happens!”

It took Jaia over ten years to get a new legal status and a work permit. Until then, she had to provide for herself in a country where she couldn’t secure a legit position. Additionally, legalizing herself was only half of her battle.

Several years after immigrating, she married a person who turned out to be abusive. At first, she couldn’t believe her situation. “I felt guilty for being stupid and not realizing the danger, and I felt ashamed because I didn’t want people to know what was happening to me,”she says. But once Jaia realized she had to literally fight for her life, she decided to contact the police and not give up, regardless of the outcome.

Incredibly, taking action against domestic violence and overcoming it became Jaia’s window of opportunity. She found out she was eligible for the “U” visa, granted to victims of certain crimes, and her application was approved. 

But how did she make it before she was granted the right to legally work? Her creativity. “I took courses for makeup artistry because I realized that, even with my friends, it came naturally to me. It was fun and I just really liked it. I was always very artistic.” Gradually, an attempt at survival grew into a diverse skill set, recurring clients, and an established career. “I worked as a makeup artist for six years — I did fashion shows, bridal parties, and worked with celebrities. The only thing I didn’t do was film.”

Just as her life began to stabilize, another disruption lurked around the corner: bloggers. Suddenly, Jaia’s industry was overflowing with YouTubers and Instagrammers who either posted unrealistic pictures or believed they didn’t need professional training to call themselves makeup artists. “Clients who didn’t know how makeup worked wanted to look like these fake people, because everything is photoshopped. I saw what the industry was becoming, and I said you know what? This is not me. I want to do something else, something with more substance. I wanted to challenge myself.”

Jaia always had an affinity for the arts, so exploring graphic or digital design seemed like a natural next step. However, once she started searching, she came across other terms, like UX design and coding. This period of her life coincided with the boom in coding. “I was like, what is this coding thing? Which is funny because I never thought I’d enjoy it. I never even liked computer classes, they were so boring.”

She stumbled upon a small online ad that led her to a web app where she could learn Swift. Before she knew it, she was engrossed in the process. “I felt real enjoyment from solving challenges,” she shares, “I was obsessed with it, and when I finally did it, it was the best feeling.” This experience sparked her curiosity, and eventually led her to front-end development. “I was super excited because I saw it was a combination of creativity and solving complex problems!” Motivated, Jaia started learning skills on her own. She tried both well- and lesser-known platforms and any free resources she could find. Soon, her interest was rewarded. After spotting a Facebook-funded scholarship for a local UX design bootcamp, Jaia applied and won.

The bootcamp, however, didn’t turn out to be her goal, rather the doorway to it. After finishing the bootcamp she discovered her newfound passion for front-end development. “There was an opportunity in the bootcamp to apply both UX and front-end: the role of UI developer. That’s what I wanted to do. It was the best of  both worlds,” she shares. She finally found the perfect role; and as if on cue, she found Practicum.

Curiosity rewarded

Typically, time management is a difficult skill to master. But given her years of self-employment, Jaia had plenty of experience managing her schedule by the time she enrolled in the Practicum Software Engineer course. It also helped that Practicum’s curriculum allowed for flexible planning. She could read up on theory and do coding tasks, provided that she submitted the projects by the end of each sprint. This left Jaia with room to study and take on small UX consulting jobs to support herself. 

“Scheduling has helped. Like, from this time to this time, I’m sitting down and coding, and from this time to this time, I’m tackling this specific part of the UX project. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be able to do it.” However, you should know your limits, she warns, which isn’t always easy if you’re in charge of your time. “When I was doing Practicum I was so immersed that I would barely take care of anything else. I realized that if I didn’t stop and take breaks, nothing’s gonna get into my head.” She used the same tactics when choosing projects to work on — “If it’s a big project, I knew my limitations and I wouldn’t take it.”

Besides, it’s always easier to complete your tasks when you enjoy them, right? According to Jaia, the material was delivered in a clear and structured way, making it easier to grasp concepts. She tried a lot of free and paid resources while she was learning front-end on her own, “but when I found Practicum, from the very beginning I was in love,” laughs Jaia. 

Communication was one of the best things that the program offered, she notes, because she could talk to real people if she had any questions or felt stuck. Having this feedback aided in her progress tremendously.

“In other places, you don’t know if you’re doing things right. Here [at Practicum], it's like you have friends you can talk to, you have a tutor, you could even contact the support team on the platform - which to me was amazing because all these other platforms didn’t have it.”

She was also amazed by the fact that the Practicum team was invested in upgrading and refining both the learning process and the platform. “Everyone on the team cares — code reviewers, tutors, even the platform team. These people have my best interests at heart, unlike other bootcamps. At Practicum, they make sure you’re set up for success. That’s a big, big deal for me.”

Due to this, she even enjoyed the process disliked by so many new and experienced web devs: code review.

“Code reviews helped me grow. I love them a lot, because I realized that my pet projects were so messy! How did this even work? What did I do here?”

The constant feedback helped her adopt a holistic view and structured approach to the front-end. Jaia realized that in her industry, there were methodologies and protocols for organizing the development process. “After Practicum, you start realizing there’s a certain way of doing things, even some aesthetics to it. Practicum taught me more things than I'd be able to find on my own.” Also, Practicum’s environment allowed Jaia to get a glimpse of what it’s really like to work in her position.

Overall, Jaia was so impressed by the program that she chose to become a Practicum ambassador, communicating to others the value of Practicum and the opportunities that it offers.

“Now that I think about it, perhaps my experience will give hope to other women,” she explains.

“I am very inclined to the social space. This is why I really would love the opportunity of working with a startup, company, foundation etc., that will have a positive impact. I know what the ride is like as a domestic violence survivor, an immigrant, and a woman. That’s why I want to help others — to give them hope, empowerment, speak up for people that can’t, and to share a little of what I know, or simply to listen.”

Giving back

So what’s next? It looks like Jaia wants to find a way to combine her desire to build things with her highly-sought after technical skills. “My plan, ideally, is to have a role where I work with a cross-functional team, and I really enjoyed doing usability testing. I'm a geek, it’s very interesting to me. But also I want to be a part of building that thing and hanging it up to the backend,” she says. 

Did Jaia’s story inspire you to give software engineering a try? Start learning for free with us and decide if it is the path for you.

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