A move from London to California offered a great deal of excitement for Lucia Gonzalez and her husband, but getting her career going in a new country proved harder than expected—and then she found Udacity!

Lucia Gonzalez - Udacity - Career Change - Student Success

When Lucia Gonzalez’s husband was offered an exciting new job in San Francisco, the couple leapt at the chance to start a new chapter in their lives. They packed up everything in London and headed to the US. But while they loved their new home, Lucia couldn’t land a job in her field. She searched for six months without success.

Lucia felt stuck, so she started looking outside her comfort zone. It being the Bay Area, tech was everywhere, and she started to think about learning programming. It was a new field, but Lucia was curious. She took some free programs, learned a few basic skills, and was quickly hooked. At the same time, Udacity announced its new Grow with Google Scholarship, offering the opportunity to earn a full scholarship to Udacity’s Front-End Web Developer Nanodegree program. Lucia applied immediately and was ecstatic when she got accepted.

Half a year later, Lucia is a Nanodegree program graduate, and she has landed a Front-End Developer role in the San Francisco Bay Area! We spoke with Lucia recently to hear how she successfully navigated the experience of transitioning careers.

Hi Lucia! Can you start by telling us what you were doing before your move to the US?

I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area about a year and a half ago. Before that, I was working in London in a business operations role. My husband was offered the opportunity to move to the Bay Area with his work, and we thought it would be a really good move for us.

That sounds like it was an exciting opportunity for both of you. But I gather your experience of looking for a new job in a new country wasn’t quite what you’d expected?

When we first got to the US, I spent about six months trying to find a new job in business operations, but I just couldn’t find anything. Opportunities were really limited and it felt like all the positions I was seeing were in engineering and tech. There were almost no roles in operations!

It must have been difficult to accept that you’d given up a good job in London, only to struggle to find a new one in San Francisco. What did you do next?

We were surrounded by people working in tech, so I started to think about learning programming. It seemed like an interesting idea—I’m good with numbers and enjoy solving problems. And in my operations work, I had worked closely with engineering teams, and really liked that they could actually build solutions to different problems. So I thought it was worth exploring.

Did you have any prior programming experience?

No. I have an Economics degree, but programming is quite a different subject. There is some crossover, but it’s really a different way of thinking. They are both technical fields, and I have a lot of math and statistics experience, but programming was very new for me.

Having chosen to explore programming, what did you do to start building your skills?

I started with Udacity’s free program, Intro to Programming. I wanted to see if I liked programming, and the Udacity learning experience, before I committed to paying for a Nanodegree program. And I wanted to be sure coding was really for me, before I committed to any kind of career change.

And?

I really liked the experience! That was ultimately why I decided to change careers.

That’s fantastic! Is it this newfound passion for coding that led you to finding the Grow with Google Scholarship opportunity?

Just as I was finishing the free program and thinking, “okay, what do I do next?” I heard about the scholarship. It was perfect timing! I applied, and got accepted to the Challenge phase. I was so pleased!

I understand you actually did a little preparatory studying before starting the Challenge phase of your scholarship?

Between finishing my free program and starting the challenge, I had about a month. So I tried some different online programs from other companies to prepare myself. They were okay—I knew a little about Javascript by the time I started—but they were more about theory and solving small puzzles, not learning how to actually perform skills.

What did you think of the Udacity learning experience when you started the scholarship?

It was really good to start work on it. I think because I already had some background, the learning curve was manageable. I really liked the videos and how the program was structured. For me, the most challenging part was always the projects because they aren’t directly what you’ve just studied.

“You need to go further, explore on your own, and find out how to solve an issue. But that’s a really good experience to go through, because you’re going to need to be able to do that in the real world.”

It sounds like you really took a lot from the experience of working on the projects?

For me, the best thing is to see you can build something. At first, when you’re learning something difficult, it obviously feels very new and strange. But when you see that you CAN build something with it, that you CAN complete the project and see the result, that’s amazing. It makes what you’re learning so much more tangible.

Your hard work in the first phase paid off, didn’t it?

It did! I was so happy when I got the acceptance email for the full Nanodegree program, and I threw myself into studying. I wasn’t working at that point, so I could focus on the Nanodegree program full-time. Sometimes I would spend a number of hours each day studying, then even more when I was working on a project. Whatever I was working on, I tried to do something every day. It really helped me to stay immersed in the program.

Are there projects you especially enjoyed?

I really enjoyed working on the Memory Game project. It was the first project I found really challenging, and it was the first one using Javascript. I spent a long time perfecting it. I actually shared it with my family and asked them to test it. They still play with it now! And the final project—building a neighborhood map—was also great. It was super, super difficult, but I really liked it and think it was the one that was most useful during my job search. It was a full project that you start from scratch, and it had lots of different components to think about. When I was looking for a job, it was the project that I referenced most often to demonstrate my practical skills.

At what point did you actually start looking for a new job?

I started looking for a job about two weeks after graduating my program, after I’d prepared my resume and made my own online portfolio. I had a couple of interviews—actually I think about 10 or so. But I struggled to get beyond the first round in many of them. The hiring people would say things sounded great, but then reject me for lack of experience.

So how did you adjust your job search strategy??

I really started to network—going to meetups and conferences. And I tried to reach out to everyone I knew—my friends, my husband’s friends, everyone. At first I was really shy about doing that and didn’t want to bother people. But I saw other people in the same situation having success with that approach and it encouraged me to try. That was how I got referrals for different roles, which was so important. For me, it was nearly impossible to get a positive response from a company without a referral. It meant I could at least make it to the phone screen, and feel more confident that people valued my skills.

You eventually got an interview with a small, exciting startup. How was the interview experience with them?

In one of my previous interviews, I had actually made it to the final round, and, I had talked about my neighborhood map project and done a small demonstration. So I was very prepared to do that again. When I interviewed with the company that would become my new employer, they actually pushed me even further, and had me make a tic tac toe game from scratch, and showcase that during the interview. It was like completing another Nanodegree program project for me!

You must’ve really impressed the recruiters, as they offered you the job. What did you do when you heard the good news?

I couldn’t believe it when they sent me the offer. I was crying. I couldn’t believe it! I’d made a career change, and all my effort had paid off!

You’re now a Front-End Developer. How’s it going so far?

My new employers are awesome. They know I have limited work experience in the industry and they’re keen to help me grow. We’ve made a spreadsheet with all the steps I need to do, with work goals for each week, so I have a plan for growing my skills.

What does your husband think of your incredible career transition?

My husband, family, and friends are all very proud.

“It’s really important to have people around you that will support you during a transition like this.

Especially as some of them worked in tech, and could help mentor me and give me advice when I got stuck! And I also shared my experiences on Twitter. It was really amazing how people you don’t even know will support you and empathize with you, and get inspired themselves!

Congratulations to you Lucia! We’re so pleased to see that you’ve landed on your feet, with a new job in an entirely different industry. Your success has come from hard work, a commitment to networking, and the support of your family, and we’re sure it has set you up to enjoy your new life in California to the fullest.