A Change of Pace: From Aspiring Psychologist to Front-End Developer

Renée Grinnell isn’t shy when it comes to speaking out about changing her mind and making a career transition. She attended Cornell for her undergraduate in psychology and went on to receive her masters in clinical psychology at VCU. Originally intending to become a psychologist, she was two years into doctoral work when something changed.

“As I went through my program, I realized for numerous reasons that academia wasn’t for me,” said Renée. “I had a couple of friends who had participated in boot camps and all had really positive experiences. Then I saw the boot camp in Richmond, and I decided that this was a sign and I went for it.”

While working as a practice manager for a former supervisor’s private psychology practice, Renée signed up for the part-time University of Richmond Coding Boot Camp and started the process of completely changing her career path. 

Letting go of the past

Though coding was always something that Renée had thought about, she never really considered it for herself at the beginning of her career. Having never seen a woman working in coding when she was younger, she didn’t consider the industry an option for her, which was what made leaving psychology all the more difficult. 

“I had to suppress for so long this feeling like this wasn’t right for me,” said Renée. “I had never quit anything before. I was always straight A’s, an overachiever. I went to an Ivy League for undergrad. I was on this track and thought I would stay on it, no matter how unpleasant it was. But I knew I had to make the change, and I try to be open about why I did.”

Learning the ropes

When the boot camp started, Renée was determined to put the work in to get everything she could out of the program. She narrowed her hours at work and made sure that she put the time in on weekends to brush up on homework and practice coding. 

It didn’t come easy, though, even with a software engineer boyfriend who could help her at home.

“I think anyone that says they didn’t have a big learning curve isn’t telling the whole truth,” said Renée. “At the beginning of that six months, I told the people I was close to that I wasn’t going to be as available as usual. I wanted to put this front and center and be in the right headspace.”

While boot camp certainly wasn’t easy, Renée found solace in her classmates and instructor, who were willing to help her anytime that things got too challenging. 

“I really had to work at some things to get my head around a new concept,” said Renée. “It was really good for me to stretch my mind, and my classmates were always there to help me when I needed it. We all got really close.”

One of Renée’s favorite parts of the course was working on one of her first group projects, JAMR. JAMR is an audio/visual experience that allows multiple people to collaborate and make music on a virtual keyboard at the same time. Users are allowed to play together and experiment with a variety of different synth tones. She enjoyed working with her group members to create something that she was really passionate about. 

“This allowed us to get our feet wet with how you go about talking tech with other people,” said Renée. “It prepared me for questions and how to improve your work.”

Exploring the possibilities

After completing her boot camp, Renée took on a new role as a technology apprentice with MAXX Potential, which helps people new to the technology space gain valuable experience to put on their resume. The apprenticeship allowed her to continue broadening her coding knowledge and to work on new projects that kept her engaged. Maxx Potential placed her with a local digital agency, where she got started in her dream role as a front-end developer. In August, she took a position with Capital One, where she does front-end email design, development, and UI/UX work.

“I wake up every day and I love going to work and thinking about work when I come home. I hadn’t been able to say that in a long time,” said Renée. “I’m so glad I did it. I would strongly encourage anyone who is considering making a career change to explore their options, even when it’s frightening.”

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