How one Udacity student built her self-confidence to face the unknown

Virtual Reality Career - Udacity - Student Success

As an elementary school english teacher in Phoenix, AZ, Kristin was in constant search of new ways to further engage students through the use of technology. But she didn’t think of herself as a “technical” person. That role belonged to her husband, a software developer. All the same, she was surprisingly proactive on her student’s behalf. In her spare time, she started both a coding and a robotics club. But her motivation was rooted in curiosity—for her, technology was more of a hobby. She never considered a future for herself in the tech industry.

“I had this false perception that I wasn’t very good at math. But, I realized over time that computer science is really less about math and more about logic—which I’m good at!”

First Steps

Kristin’s husband encouraged her to take a more serious look at technology, and the possibility of changing careers. Although initially hesitant, she ultimately decided to take a break from teaching to pursue computer science. Her husband recommended a local coding bootcamp. She enrolled, and loved it. Over the course of four months in early 2015, Kristin worked through the bootcamp, and built confidence as she honed her skills. Her sense of self began to shift, and she came to believe in the possibility of a new future for herself. She decided the best way to prove herself was to try and actually get a job as a software developer.

She applied, and she got hired!

Discovering Virtual Reality

Over the next year and a half, Kristin continued to build upon her existing skills, and her confidence continued to grow. So did the range of her interests. One field in particular really intrigued her—virtual reality. When Kristin’s husband was offered a job in the Bay Area, Kristin decided to leverage the change as an opportunity to explore a new path.

Discovering Udacity

This was easier said than done. She quickly discovered there was very little in the way of quality instruction available for this emerging technology. But then she found Udacity’s VR Developer Nanodegree program. The format immediately appealed to her; learning the concepts and then actually putting them to use through challenging projects fit her learning style. Plus, Udacity didn’t require that she have years of experience in the field. She could learn what she needed to learn in the program.

The Udacity VR Developer Nanodegree Program

The opportunity was almost irresistible, but her family was about to make a major move, and despite the self-confidence she’d earned for herself, it was a big leap to think she could establish a rewarding and secure career in this cutting-edge space:

“I kept going back and forth on enrolling…cost was a huge factor because we were moving to one of the most expensive areas in the US. Ultimately, I decided this was going to be my new job … that after arriving in California, I would not go back to a traditional job. Udacity was going to be my job”

Kristin enrolled in the VR Developer Nanodegree program in December of 2016. She did exactly as she planned, spending full days every day working through the course material. She successfully completed the first couple projects, but also experienced the nagging reappearance of self-doubt. Other classmates had extensive backgrounds in computer science and programming. She wondered if she was in over her head.

The Power of Community

Sharing projects with the student community provided the tonic she needed, and the feeling of being commended for her unique approach to problem solving and projects energized her. She was quite surprised by the effect the community had on her—total strangers were telling her that she was skilled, valued, and doing well, and she was deeply moved by this. She was also motivated, even going so far as to take on mentorship responsibilities herself:

“Hearing what other people were doing and sharing my own progress was so motivating that I wanted to become more involved. I ended up becoming a mentor in March 2017, so I could help inspire other students in the course. It paired well with my teaching background. My non-Computer Science background also is an inspiring story for other students switching careers. I get to say, if I can do it, you can too. It helps me empathize with students that are struggling with their own self-doubt and the very logical thinking that coding requires.”

Building a Virtual Reality Career

Parallel to her coursework, Kristin began researching industry jobs and thinking about what she could do after graduation. She applied for a handful of open virtual reality jobs, but was discouraged by the responses she received:

“One recruiter got back to me and said he wanted someone with 5-10 years of experience. I tried to explain to him that it’s literally impossible to find someone with that much experience in Virtual Reality—it’s too new!”

This was a problematic new version of an age-old paradox—instead of needing experience to get experience, she was being expected to present experience that it wasn’t possible to have! The challenge for Kristin became a question of determining how best to leverage her existing skills in the service of building a career in this space.

She would eventually come up with a brave and brilliant solution, but first, she needed to complete her studies. She did so, and Kristin graduated from the VR Developer Nanodegree program in June of 2017!

Next Steps

Kristin Dragos - Udacity - Virtual Reality Career - Student SuccessSo, what is she doing now? Something incredible, but worth letting her explain in her own words. Stay tuned for Kristin’s upcoming post!

As for today, all of us here at Udacity celebrate you Kristin, for having the courage to reimagine the person you could be, and for putting in the hard work to make your dreams a reality.