Finding Excitement in a New Career: Neha Nautiyal’s Journey from Teaching to Coding
A high school chemistry teacher for eight years, Neha Nautiyal thought that educating young minds was her calling. But the summers in between school years were hard with Neha’s natural inclination to learn and grow. To help Neha’s quest for knowledge, her husband suggested she try coding. While it was something that she had never before considered, she thought Why not try it?
Her husband asked around and received a rave review of the Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp from a friend. Neha liked that it was a six-month, part-time program that allowed her to take care of her two young daughters and continue teaching for the rest of the school year.
While in the boot camp, Neha learned valuable lessons that enriched her career in ways her past experience hadn’t. Here are some of the lessons she learned in the transition to coding.
1. Lean on your team for support
Neha was enthusiastic to dive right into being a boot camp participant and learning again after years of guiding others. For her first group project, her team created a text sentiment analysis app, called Lost in Textlation, that could analyze the tone of a user-inputted message. “The app can analyze the tone to tell if the message is positive, neutral, or negative,” she said.
Her team was motivated to create this app because they knew frequent misunderstandings occur when communicating through email with a boss or through text with a partner. Conflict resolution and communication challenges are things Neha knows well from her time as an instructor, so the project was very personal. “We’re using so much written technology that we’re losing the personal touch. It’s hard to tell the tone of your message through text—so we created this app to ensure the tone is not lost,” she said.
Despite having a limited coding skill set at the time that included only front-end concepts, Neha was able to push through because of her fellow teammates. “I worked with an amazing team,” she said. This type of teamwork helped Neha and her peers stay committed to the success of the project and communicate effectively—making the end result that much more gratifying.
2. Every bit of homework counts
iBetYa, a platform that can track user bets with friends, was Neha’s second group project. “How many times have you said I bet you’re not going to the gym next weekend or I bet it’s not going to rain? It’s a way to keep track of silly things to increase your accountability,” she said.
With this project, Neha got to explore adding notifications and other user-focused attributes.
These features ended up being an obstacle: it was difficult to code the login feature because it was something the class hadn’t learned. Neha also encountered other problems like figuring out the connection between front end and back end. “It was difficult figuring out all the different components. We worked both front end and back end, so figuring out what the user sees versus what the server has to see—managing all the different pieces was difficult,” she said.
Encouraged to spend hours outside of class mastering coding skills, Neha and her classmates were able to overcome these challenges by siphoning out any errors in the code and putting in extra work to learn user experience skills.
3. Soft skills are just as important as hard skills
In addition to technical coding skills, Neha learned other valuable lessons from the boot camp that she plans on taking to her next role. “I learned a lot about working with other team members, project management, and pseudo-coding to map out accomplishments,” she said. (Pseudo-coding is a high-level method to break code down into individual steps in plain English—as opposed to code—to create a plan before beginning.)
These additional skills helped her connect what she learned in class to the real-life job market. “We talked about how different companies use different coding languages for different reasons. Even though we’re not learning all of the languages in the boot camp, the discussion about what companies could be using helped me self-learn,” she said.
4. Never stop learning
Neha recommends fully tapping the resources available to participants: the instructors, TAs, career services, and classmates. “Everybody is a wealth of knowledge,” she said.
She also stresses the importance of being an eager learner—no matter how advanced you think you are. “My instructor and TAs recommended Pluralsight, SoloLearn, FreeCodeCamp.org, and Exercism.io to help preview and practice the material,” she said, adding that she would read these extra materials on top of doing homework.
On top of the intensive material, the time management was a struggle for Neha. “We were learning something new every week and touching the surface of new technology. The hardest thing was figuring out how everything connected,” she said. She admits that she struggled with finding the time to do the homework, read extra material, work a full-time job, and take care of her two girls—but she pushed through, and it paid off in a major way.
5. A network is the best support system
By utilizing the boot camp’s career services and leaning on her family for support, Neha was able to land a role as a developer for investment management company Vanguard—one month before she even completed the program. “I achieved this new career and am so excited to start,” she said.
Neha was extremely delighted with the guidance she received from her Career Services Director, Kyle, and student profile coach, Zo. “Kyle was so supportive and amazing. He answered every single question in such a timely manner and went above and beyond,” Neha said. In addition to being fully supportive, he provided her with invaluable resources including templates for thank-you emails, a list of questions to ask her interviewer, and tips to negotiate her salary.
“My student profile coach, Zo, provided incredibly detailed and helpful feedback after looking through my resume, LinkedIn, GitHub, and my portfolio site. To any question I had, she would always respond within 24 hours,” she said.
6. Saying yes to new opportunities
Neha was ultimately able to make the transition out of her teaching career thanks to the encouragement she received from her instructors and TAs. “My instructor really saw my potential and challenged me appropriately. He convinced me to look for new opportunities, and mentored me throughout,” she said.
Above all, Neha is grateful that she can set an example for her two young girls and show them that anything is possible. “I wanted to show my kids what commitment and success could look like. The sacrifice as a working mom and student was temporary, but it has been incredibly worth it in the long run,” she said.