Alumni Stories Category Archives - General Assembly Blog

Alumni Success Stories: From Healthcare to HealthTech

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After investing years of expensive education in a career, it can be disheartening (and terrifying) to learn that it’s not what you wanted. But it doesn’t mean that your dream career isn’t out there — or even just around the corner. That was the case for Stephanie Johnson, who made the switch from healthcare to healthcare technology through General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) program. Learn how she knew it was the right time to finally pursue a new, fulfilling career.

What were you doing before you came to GA? What prompted you to make a change?

I was working with individual patients as a diabetes educator and dietitian at a Denver community clinic. The way the pandemic changed the work dynamics there really fueled the fire for my change; it was really the last straw. I knew back in 2017 that I wanted to make a change; I felt like even though I was helping people, I was missing some key things I wanted in my career, including challenge, creativity, collaboration, and potential for growth. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you’ve worked so hard to get where you are, but I felt like there was nowhere to go. Fast forward a couple years later, I discovered UX. Now, the work I do is focused on improving workflows for clinicians so that their quality of life and impact on patients trickles down. It felt like an incredibly long journey to find it, but it was very well worth it from where I sit now. 

What was it about UX design specifically that intrigued you to explore it as a career? What was the defining moment that pushed you forward?

I volunteered for a program in Denver called 10.10.10. It was essentially a 10-day sprint for 10 serial entrepreneurs, focused on finding a new business venture within the context of 10 wicked problems that exist in the healthcare space. I went through those 10 days absolutely loving the exploratory exercises, the interviews, and — most of all — the excitement and energy of those around me. Little did I know that those 10 days of activities were all design thinking (AKA UX)! I knew that if something brought me to life this much, I needed to research and explore it further as a potential career. It was after having my daughter and returning to work when the pandemic hit, and my work situation was not what I signed up for. I just knew in my gut and my heart that I couldn’t be stagnant any longer. I thankfully have a wonderful, supportive partner who encouraged me all throughout the career transition, and was all for me enrolling in the GA bootcamp.

What motivated you to choose GA over other programs? 

I chose GA for many reasons. From my prior engineering bootcamp experience, I learned that the self-study program wasn’t for me. I needed a more focused, guided, and live class to fully immerse myself in UX. GA is one of few schools (if any) that offer both live and remote classes. I also loved that GA is worldwide and, therefore, has a large network of alumni that have successfully transitioned careers — many who are happy to help another GA alum. Additionally, I had been exposed to GA through the local meetups I attended in the past and felt the events and topics were really valuable. All in all, it felt like the best fit for me and what I needed.

What was it like taking a remote course and being a mom during a pandemic? 

Like I mentioned, my husband was so supportive throughout. When I had tons of work to do after class or had a project deadline, he would take over parenting duties so that I could have the time to take care of my work. We were also fortunate that our daycare remained open (mostly) throughout the pandemic. 

What surprised you most about learning in a remote format? Was it what you expected?

I was nervous about it, but my instructors made it so engaging. Their passion came through in every lecture and every one-on-one chat I had with them. I was surprised with the diverse backgrounds they each brought to the table too: a Michelin star chef, a cheerleading coach, former politician — all in all, I would say that it exceeded my expectations. I really feel like I was prepared well. 

What was the best thing about UXDI for you and the GA experience overall?

The best thing about UXDI and GA overall was that I was successful in landing a great role with a company I’m proud to work for. It’s the most rewarding feeling to accomplish your lofty goal. Going through the GA bootcamp really gave me the confidence, knowledge, and language I needed to get through all those interviews and even in my day-to-day work now. 

What advice do you have for people transitioning into a career in UX? 

It’s certainly not easy, but it is completely worth it if you know in your gut that this is where you want to be. Persist and — as my instructor Chris would say — “bet on your work ethic.” 

How did the skills you learned at GA help you in your current position?

Collaboration and the ability to give and receive feedback are extremely important. It’s very much part of the culture of my company, but it’s also essential to do well in UX. I really got to experience this during the group projects. When you and your team have the same shared goal, you know you’re in it to make something great together. 

How has the pandemic influenced how you view your work? 

The pandemic has made me see that my work is important. People are stressed out because of their work, and my job is to alleviate that. If we all don’t try to take care of our clinicians, we won’t have anyone to take care of the rest of us! 

Looking back 10 years ago, did you think you would be switching to a career in tech?

Funny thing is that 10 years ago, I was fairly new in my healthcare career. It felt like the only place I wanted to be and where I felt I would stay, but I was a lot younger back then. I didn’t really evaluate what I wanted in my career beyond just wanting to help people and make a decent enough living to be comfortable.

Since graduating, how has GA made an impact in your life?

It’s been part of the journey to landing my dream role, so it’s made a huge impact. The advice and feedback I received from my instructors while at GA are invaluable, much of which I take with me to this day. GA has helped me solidify that I belong in UX because I want to be here. It’s truly opened my eyes to how important design is in so many aspects of life, technology, and everything in between. 

In respect to UX, what do you want your legacy to be? Is there a change you want to inspire or a mission that defines the work that’s important to you? 

What has resonated with me in UX is the topic of accessibility. We need to think about who we are including and who we might be excluding when we’re designing. Technology is for everyone. It was intended to improve our lives and make things easier so that we can spend more time doing things we enjoy. Every single person — regardless of disability, age, etc. — should be able to reap the benefits. 

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Alumni Success Stories: This Single Mom Lost Her Job — Then Found a Career

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When Noemi Romero — a single mom with two kids — lost her job as a nanny, she did what she has always done: solved the problem. With her drive and practical mindset, it’s no surprise that she found a perfect fit in General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive1 program. Now, she’s a GA grad and customer quality engineer at Chicago-based startup 4Degrees. Learn how she overcame every obstacle to find security for her family and a new, fulfilling career.

My technology journey has been non-standard. Early in my childhood, my family brought me to the U.S. in pursuit of economic opportunity. I dropped out of high school to care for my first child and earned my GED a few years later. Then, I worked full time as a nanny to support my family as a single mother — this is when I had my second child. I also attended a bootcamp and some internships to learn how to code — I always had a dream to work with software after having been exposed to programming in school. In March 2020, my efforts paid off as I began my first paid position as a developer at 4Degrees, a Chicago-based software startup. I am thrilled to finally have the opportunity to pursue my career goals, and I am determined to make the most of it through continued personal and professional growth. 

In my new role, I have learned that there are many skills necessary for success in a tech career — I am both eager and determined to develop them. I feel that I have so much to contribute, but I’m not always sure how to frame my ideas or communicate them effectively. I want to grow professionally and learn to speak my mind. I want to help push 4Degrees forward by learning how to best utilize my natural strengths, talents, and unique perspective. I want to be a better teammate and bring more value to the company by sharing my ideas and asking more questions. I want to be able to create new initiatives for the company. I want to learn more about my own strengths and how to best use them to give that same assistance to others who need it. I want to connect and support other single moms or women in similar situations — because everyone deserves a chance at a better future.

What were you doing before you came to GA? What prompted you to make a change?

I was working as a nanny, but when the kids got older and no longer needed a nanny, the family gave me three paid months to find a new position. What motivated me to make a change was that I always wanted to enroll in college — I had to drop out of high school when I became a teen mom. Being a new mom in high school, my priority was to take care of my daughter, so I became a nanny to provide for her. But I always had the dream of finding a career for me.

What was it about web development and software engineering specifically that intrigued you to explore it as a career? What was the defining moment that pushed you forward?

I did a summer programming course when I was a freshman in high school. I fell in love with taking the computers apart and reprogramming them. I knew right then and there I wanted to be a programmer or in a field related to technology.

What motivated you to choose GA over other programs? 

I chose GA because I liked the curriculum and resources they offered. The timeline of the program was perfect for someone like me. I thought to myself, “I can’t afford to go to a four-year college — but a three-month course, I can manage.” As a single mom, this was just what I needed to be able to make the career transition. They made me feel welcome and supported. They gave me an opportunity by awarding me a scholarship, and I will always be grateful to everyone at GA.

Can you tell us more about your scholarship? What was the application process like and how did you feel when you learned you received it?

The application process was very thorough, and the people were very friendly. I learned about the scholarship when I was looking to go back to college and learned about bootcamps. I called GA and asked if there was any chance someone like me could take the program. I was very happy to learn that GA was offering a full scholarship for one person at that time. They told me that it was a very thorough process, and it would take time. The interview was amazing. I got to be myself, and they made me feel like I belonged there from the beginning. I felt so blessed when I got the email — I thought it was almost impossible for me to get it because so many people deserve an opportunity.

How did you balance your life as a mom and GA Immersive student? 

It was definitely not easy. I felt like I was not spending any time with my kids. But I had a conversation with them when I learned I had received the scholarship. I explained that it was going to be hard for everyone but that we all deserved a chance at a better future — and that this is what I wanted to do. They were very supportive. They did get overwhelmed at times, but they saw me staying up at night, sleeping very little, running here and there. I guess they saw how much I wanted it, so they helped me by stepping up and becoming a little more independent. I also had a friend who helped me make lunches and pick them up from school. 

There was also a lot of support from everyone at GA — inside and outside the classroom. They helped me keep going even when I felt like I was never going to get it. It was a combination of support from my kids, friends, GA staff, and fellow students, and my dream for a better future that kept me going.

When you have loved ones to support, it can be harder to take that professional risk to change careers. What would you say to other parents facing this decision?

There will never be a perfect time if that is what we wait for. We have to fight for our dreams, and we all deserve the chance at a better future. It is better to struggle temporarily in the pursuit of a better life than to struggle for the rest of our lives because of temporary obstacles.

You are a problem-solver — both as a developer and a parent. Do you find that the program influenced you as a parent? A person?

It definitely did. It helped me have a different perspective on a lot of things. It helped me look for more solutions and possibilities when I encountered a problem. It also helped me want to become better every day because I saw what we accomplished as a class. If we learned so much in three months, imagine what we can learn afterwards now that we have the learning skills we need.

What kept you going? What would you say to a student who is afraid they may need to quit?

I kept going because I was doing the program for my kids and my dream of a better future. They were my inspiration and motivation to take the risk — they were my FUEL. This was an opportunity that I was not going to take for granted. It is very hard to make a career change, but you are worth the hard work. In those moments when you feel like quitting, remember why you are doing it.

Since graduating, how has GA made an impact in your life?

I have been able to connect with incredible people because of the networking skills I learned at GA. I have been able to provide a better education to my kids, and I have been able to continue to grow professionally.

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1 General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive (WDI) was updated and relaunched as the Software Engineering Immersive in 2020.

Alumni Story: From Idea to Kickstarter Sensation

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Student Chris Place

Many people have creative product ideas, but don’t know how to turn them into a reality. That rang true for Product Management grad Chris Place, who wanted to solve a common problem: People aspire to bring lunch to work, but often fail. He turned to GA’s Product Management course in Hong Kong to give him the tools to create and launch Prepd, a sleek lunchbox and companion app that aims to make meal prep fun.

“GA helped me understand marketing and creative storytelling,” Place said. “How can I tie together my product skills with a compelling marketing plan to bring my product to launch?” After the course, he leveraged his learnings to launch a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $1.4 million to make Prepd a reality. “We never expected this to get this big,” Place says.

Explore Our Product Management Course

Making It in UX: New User Experience Designers Share Lessons From the Field

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UX Design Denver Jobs General Assembly Students

Every industry — from tech, to finance, to retail — needs user experience (UX) designers. These master problem-solvers work to create on- and offline experiences that put users’ wants and needs first.

Harnessing skills like user research, wireframes, and prototyping, UX designers have a unique perspective when it comes to understanding the interactions between users, business goals, and visual and technology elements. For companies, their work fosters brand loyalty and repeat business. For consumers, it means frustration-free online experiences, intuitive mobile apps, efficient store layouts, and more.

When you have the perspective of a UX designer, “you start to see design gone wrong everywhere,” says Beth Koloski, who has taught the full-time User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) course at GA’s Denver campus. “You stop blaming yourself for not understanding badly designed software.” She says she admires when someone gets design right because she knows “how incredibly hard it is to make something easy and seamless and actually get it out into the real world.”

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How Raaka Chocolate Uses Storytelling to Shape Their Marketing Strategy

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Raaka Chocolate Storytelling

William Mullan graduated from Digital Marketing at General Assembly New York’s campus in 2015. Since joining Raaka Chocolate, he’s developed the company’s marketing efforts and advanced from an intern into the Director of Marketing. Now, William blends his passion for chocolate with marketing skills and techniques to share Raaka’s unique brand story in a way that is honest and engaging. Continue reading

Meet Prepd: A Sleek Product That Raised $1.4 Million on Kickstarter

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Prepd_Prep_Share_Your_Creations_1_21

We all know that bringing lunch to work is the smart, healthy, and financially responsible thing to do. We want to bring delicious lunches to work, but then motivation is always low. So we end up buying something or settling for whatever boring thing we could find in our fridge, wishing we could be better.

Enter Prepd, a lunchbox with modular containers and a corresponding app to help us be the lunch-bringer we always knew we could be.

We spoke with co-founder and GA Hong Kong alumnus Chris Place a few days before his goal-busting Kickstarter, which raised over $1 million, closed.

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20-Year-Old Entrepreneur Is Using Data to Retune The Music Industry

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Raffi Khatchadourian, COO of indify

Raffi Khatchadourian is a Mathematical Economics major and incoming junior at Colgate University. A self-starter and talented entrepreneur, Raffi has established himself as the COO of indify, an emerging music startup, before many of his peers have even declared their major. Back in January, Raffi attended GA’s week-long Business Accelerator program in partnership with Colgate University. Since then, he and his co-founders have gone on to win $10,000 in funding from Colgate University’s Entrepreneur Weekend Shark Tank and $15,000 from Colgate University’s Entrepreneurs Fund. Read on to learn how this young entrepreneur transformed his passion for music and data into a successful early-stage startup.

Follow Raffi @DeadliestKhatch and his startup at @_indify. Continue reading

Digital Marketing Skills Give Journalist a New Angle on Her Career

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Armed with an MSc from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Lauren decided to add digital marketing skills to her tool-kit to make herself even more competitive. Now, Lauren works for Aha! leading their content strategy and marketing.

Follow Lauren on Twitter: @laurenmaffeo

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Laugh & Learn Newsletter Lightens Up The Tech Conversation

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Salman came to General Assembly as an engineer looking for a tech community to jump into. He ended up as a beloved Back-End Web Development instructor, both in New York City and San Francisco. Realizing the importance of “soft skills” for developers, he started the Laugh & Learn newsletter to provide a well-rounded continued learning experience for his students and job-seeking techies. 

Salman will be teaching Building Startup Ideas at our San Francisco campus on Thursday 7, May, 2015.

Follow Salman on Twitter: @daretorant

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Can Coding Be Creative?

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Stephanie SiawFrom a humanities graduate to a full stack web developer, General Assembly Hong Kong’s WDI graduate, Stephanie Siaw hopes to break the myth that coding is a  scientific, mathematical skill. She hopes that others like her can embrace its creativity.

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