How one lifelong learner without a computer science degree studied deep learning with Udacity and landed an engineering job!

Kelcey Morton - Udacity - Student Success

There are many ways to launch, advance, or change a career. Earning a four-year degree in a related field has long been considered the “traditional” approach, but it’s certainly not the only option. This is particularly important to understand when considering technical jobs, or jobs in technical fields, because what used to be considered “alternative” paths are fast becoming viable norms.

Kelcey Morton knows this firsthand, because she found her own unique path to a technology career. She doesn’t have a computer science degree; she majored in International Relations as an undergraduate.Yet today, she works at HackerOne in an engineering role.

This is the story of how she did it.

First Career

Kelcey’s focus in her major was on statistical analysis, and after graduating, she got a job that enabled her to put her data skills to work. In three short years, and with two important promotions behind her, she earned a role as an Operations Analyst. This new position opened her eyes to sides of the business she hadn’t been familiar with before. In particular, she started working closely with the software development team. This would prove to have a profound affect on her career path.

Starting To Code

The more she worked with technical projects, the more curious she became. In an effort to understand more about the work her colleagues were engaged in—and to better understand the conversations happening in the meetings she was now a part of—she began trying to learn some basic coding skills in her free time. Right away, she got excited. With just a bit of time spent in a handful of free online coding courses, she was able to start successfully writing code, and the experience electrified her. She began spending her evenings trying to learn languages like Python online.

At a certain point, she realized she needed to be honest with herself. She was excited by what she was learning. She was getting really passionate about it. But it was taking up a lot of her free time, and she was stretching herself thin. What was the point? She didn’t have a computer science background. This wasn’t going to lead anywhere.

A Strategy For Career Change

But Kelcey wasn’t ready to give up. True, she didn’t have any experience as a software developer, and she wasn’t about to try and go get a job coding. She was still working through the basics. But she saw a way forward all the same. She had great analytic skills, and she determined that she could leverage them to get a job with a technology company, even if she herself wasn’t ready for a technical role.

A Job In Technology

Kelcey focused her job search on tech companies looking for analysts. It wasn’t long before she found and applied for an open role at HackerOne. The company’s story really appealed to her; they were a tech startup based in the Bay Area (where she lived), and they were focused on leveraging the power of “ethical hackers” to provide cybersecurity solutions using a crowdsource model. She applied, and was hired as HackerOne’s only Senior Business Intelligence Analyst.

Working for a startup meant hitting the ground running, and that’s exactly what she did, initially working on data integration projects, and compiling data for the company’s app. What she also did, was make clear her desire to learn about the technical side of the business:

“I expressed interest in understanding company projects and efforts outside of my own role. I was lucky, in that my mentors within the company, along with the leadership team, encouraged me to learn as much as I could.”

The Udacity Deep Learning Nanodegree Foundation Program

Fueled by this encouragement, she started asking questions, joining meetings, and digging further into projects outside of her scope. One topic she kept coming across was deep learning. She was really drawn to it, and decided this was where she wanted to spend her extra learning time. As she’d done before, she started researching online. That’s when she discovered Udacity’s Deep Learning Nanodegree Foundation program.

“Initially, I thought the program was beyond my reach, but my friends and coworkers reassured me that I would be ok—it was going to be stressful, but ‘you can do it’ was the support they offered. So I did it!”

She took the plunge and enrolled. She loved the use of videos to share content and concepts, and the feedback she received from project reviewers helped her understand what she needed to do to advance successfully through the program. It was hard to manage the coursework while maintaining a full-time job, but she worked through it project by project, and her confidence grew with each success:

“The program required lots of self-motivation, but I realized I could literally learn an entirely new set of skills.”

Her manager encouraged her efforts, and exactly as Kelcey had hoped, he told her that if she could acquire the necessary skills, he would consider her for a technical role. With this verbal commitment from her company, Kelcy continued with her Deep Learning Nanodegree program, and also began to learn and work with the engineering team at HackerOne.

A New Technology Career

Kelcey successfully completed the Deep Learning Nanodegree Foundation program this past July; an amazing accomplishment! But that’s not the only good news:

“I recently moved over to the engineering team with a new title, Data Engineer, and a few weeks ago I checked in my first production code! Looking forward to advancing my tech capabilities even further in 2018!”

We applaud Kelcey on her tenacity and determination to learn an entirely new set of skills and create her own new opportunities. We are excited to see how she continues to grow and where her career takes her next. Congratulations Kelcey!