From Supermarket Cashier to Coder
September 20, 2017 | Express Scripts
Gail F. is an associate programmer analyst supporting the supporting the Specialty team as they transition to newer architecture.
One year ago, I was a supermarket cashier with a bachelor’s degree in English, taking software development classes at a local community college. Today, I’m a programmer for Express Scripts – a Fortune 22 company. How did I make such a career jump? With a lot of help from an organization called LaunchCode, an educational nonprofit that provides learning resources and job opportunities to students in the technology field at zero charge.
After hearing about LaunchCode on the radio, my mom suggested I sign up. Thinking the organization strictly connected technology related employers with potential candidates, I brushed it aside. After all, I was still a long ways off from earning my associate’s degree in software development. But then, I discovered that LaunchCode taught a Python class. I knew a little bit about Python and thought it was a good language for beginning developers to learn. After doing more digging I discovered the class also taught Web essentials. Safe to say, I was hooked.
I applied to LaunchCode in the spring of 2016 and passed the screening tests, which determine applicant’s aptitude and problem-solving ability, not computer knowledge. In July 2016, I officially enrolled in LaunchCode’s coding class, which was provided at no charge and came with a bonus: I earned 12 credit hours at my local community college. This helped me stay on track to earn my degree. (Thanks to the training LaunchCode provided, I don’t need a degree to be a strong performer in my current role with Express Scripts, but I like to learn and finish what I start.)
LaunchCode’s coding class was intense, and moved at a brisk pace. For 20 weeks, I spent six hours a week in class. The rest of my time was spent reading assigned materials, watching videos and working on practice exercises and coding assignments. By the time the class ended, I not only knew Python, but Java as well. This allowed me to build simple web applications and successfully write code.
After completing the course, LaunchCode worked with me to find a job. That’s where Express Scripts comes in.
Express Scripts needed Pega developers, so they partnered with LaunchCode to help them find this talent. LaunchCode created a short Pega class to identify a group of potential candidates. I was selected to take the course – and when I finished, I was hired along with 23 of my classmates as a paid apprentice.
During my 90-day apprenticeship, I was paired with a programming partner to help me navigate my day-to-day work, as well as a buddy that helped answer basic questions, like how to find the company gym. During this time, I was amazed by how receptive and responsive the company was to change. It was also an amazing feeling to know that the work I was doing was actually helping improve someone’s life.
When my 90-days came to a close, I was offered a full-time position. As one could expect, I was quick to accept. My current position has allowed me to quit the supermarket and do something I’m truly passionate about – programming. I’m a problem solver, which is what a programmer is tasked with doing every single day. In my free time, I am also a teaching assistant for LaunchCode because, without them, I wouldn’t have landed my dream job so quickly.
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