Oops I Got a Degree In...

December 14, 2020

Is your degree not getting you the job prospects you hoped for? Having doubts about college? Accidentally study Wizardry for four years? We have heard many stories about degrees that didn’t pan out long term. At our event “Oops I Got a Degree In…,” Codeup Data Science alumni Nicole Garza and Jesse Ruiz were living proof that your degree doesn’t have to box you in. Our Director of Marketing and Admissions, who studied Health and Exercise Science, led a discussion on how their seemingly non-relevant degrees got them to where they are now. Keep reading to see how Jesse went from Ivy League graduate to Codeup alumna, and how Nicole went from interning for the mayor to building up a data science department.

What did you get your degree in?

Nicole: My name is Nicole and I have a degree in Political Science with a minor in Sociology.Jesse: I'm Jesse. I have an undergraduate degree in Philosophy, then studied Fine Arts in graduate school.

What did you do after getting a degree, and what made you realize it wasn't for you?

Nicole: I interned for the mayor’s office, but you need a certain personality type to do politics. I’d rather be behind a screen.Jesse: I was an artist and taught art. It was a really fun and amazing opportunity but it wasn’t financially secure.

Why pursue a career in tech?

Nicole: I did some jobs where I had to work with data, descriptive statistics, and a database. Then I got interested in pursuing that at a higher level.Jesse: With my degree in Philosophy at an Ivy League, I got lots of training in analytical thinking and study habits. I did well in calculus and physics, and being an artist took a huge amount of self-discipline and creativity. I see all of those things largely in data science.

What helped you know if data science was the career path for you?

Nicole: Both my brothers are developers, and software developers are a great resource to help understand the coding part of data science. Some courses in my undergrad had a heavy emphasis on research, data, and statistical analysis and I remembered that I enjoyed those.Jesse: I started searching for other career opportunities and took a lot of quizzes about what the best career is for your personality. I did a lot of research in the field and consulted my cousin who is a software developer. It took me about a year of part-time self-teaching for me to actually understand the field.

How would you recommend for someone else to decide on a career path in tech?

Nicole: Take a short online class to see if it’s something you’d perhaps enjoy. Something very simple and basic. Talk to people in the field. Think about past courses or experiences that you enjoyed or were good at. Jesse: Take a predetermined period of time taking some courses and harnessing your network. Talk to your cousin that’s in the field, or the career services at your alma mater to think through your options with someone else.

What made you want to quit your job and go all in?

Nicole: The job I was at before Codeup wasn’t for me. It was very repetitive and I wanted something different, more creative, something that would get the wheels of my mind turning. I started researching options and wanted something that started at a beginner level. Then shortly after, Codeup announced their new data science program. I did some research on it, took the tests and the rest is history!Jesse: It takes a leap of faith. At the time, I was going through some health issues. I was worried about not having health insurance and living at home with my mom and barely making enough money. Codeup has done a great job of helping students work through even the really serious aspects of the decision-making process. I gave myself a year of researching and studying, and then I got funding. When I got funding there was no turning back, I was gonna do this. I think about if I would have done the program if I didn’t have funding, probably. The cost is scary. But if you spend enough time thinking about it, considering the field, and introspecting about where you want your personal life to go, I think that’s what it takes

When you actually started working as Data Scientists, did you ever feel like you weren’t “good enough?”

Nicole: When I first started at the company I’m at now, they were just using Excel to do everything and used zero coding. So, I came in and they really relied on me to help innovate and change things. I started changing a lot of the processes from Excel over to Python and R but I was afraid that I was not doing things correctly because I was new to the field. I was scared I was kind of leading the company in the wrong direction or something. But I double, triple checked everything I did and made sure it’s right. Now, we’ve been growing and the company has more than doubled in size!Jesse: Finding a job afterward is very stressful and uncertain. Once you start working, you kind of go back to lots of learning and adjusting. Sometimes in my new team that I’m on, I feel like there are moments I don’t really know what I’m doing. But it’s obvious to me that no one knows everything, and I can know things that more experienced or senior people might not know and that’s okay. So no, I haven’t experienced it that much.

And finally, what are you doing now?

Nicole: I work at Guardian Premier Solutions. I think they found me through the Codeup Alumni Portal and contacted me. We interviewed for 30 minutes, and within one week they asked when I can start. We monitor psychological and physiological data through devices and tests to determine the best type of military training candidate. That’s something I’ve really been enjoying, and I really enjoy my coworkers as well. They really value input and new ideas, and I love that. Really grateful for this job, it’s been really great.Thanks, Codeup! Jesse: Initially out of Codeup, I worked with a small boutique consulting firm, I was a contractor developing Excel macros. I was there short term and then got a job at USAA, also as a contractor. I was working on a team that was doing some design work and making presentations. Then, I transferred to a team that did data reporting, then to a team that did machine learning. I became a full-time employee and now get benefits. Honestly, everything’s been great and I’ve achieved everything I wanted to out of Codeup, which includes moving out of my mom’s house! I’m living a more stable life now. Overall, it’s been really great. Hopefully, these stories serve as inspiration to not put yourself in a box simply based on your degree! The tech field is welcoming to anyone that can learn the skills, no matter their educational background. If you’ve been wanting to pivot to a different field than what your degree is in, Codeup is the perfect place to start! Learn more about which of our programs is best for you here.