Mother, Helper, and Certified Coder: How Carla Cox Upskilled to Earn Triple Her Salary

Many women choose to put their careers on hold after having a baby, at least for a little while. For Carla Cox, this was only partly true. Hailing from Argentina, Carla was on a student visa to get her degree in computer engineering in the U.S. Just when she finished college (in fact, it was on graduation day) she gave birth to her first child with her husband. But while waiting for her green card, she wasn’t permitted to work, making it impossible for her to take advantage of her new-grad status.

“I wasn’t able to work until January 2016, almost two years after graduation. By that time, in the eyes of employers, I wasn’t a fresh graduate anymore and I didn’t have enough experience in software,” she said. “Plus, I found that a lot of what I learned in college was nearly useless by the time I graduated.”

Carla realized the best way to provide for her family was to upgrade her tech skills. So she enrolled in the University of Richmond Coding Boot Camp.

“I didn’t know at the time, but it was way more than just a course: it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” she said.

Facing challenges head-on

Once eligible to work, Carla started tutoring, and eventually landed a gig selling insurance at State Farm. “The only problem was that the salary was not that high and I had a husband, daughter, and another baby on the way,” she said. “$30,000 was not going to be enough anymore.”

Carla came across the boot camp and was intrigued. “It was the fastest solution to acquire the skills I need to go back into the market,” she said.

The decision wasn’t easy. It was going to be a big commitment—not just for Carla, but for her family, too. When Carla wasn’t in class or studying, she would work part-time at State Farm, tutor, and care for her two kids—one of whom was only four months old.

“The biggest challenge was my youngest baby. She was still very dependent on me and it was hard going the whole day without seeing her,” she said. “But my husband was very supportive. I was able to get through everything and graduate because of all the help he provided.”

Leaning on her support system

Beyond her supportive husband, Carla relied on help from her instructor and TAs.

“I found the course material incredibly relevant because it’s taught not by professors but by people in the field,” Carla said. “They’re doing this in their job and they come to the class with all this experience and all of these concepts.”

Her Student Success Manager was especially helpful. “You could tell she really wanted to see us succeed. She went above and beyond,” Carla said.

The group dynamic also helped her in the course, and Carla often found herself studying with her peers outside of class. And this proved to help her when it came time to create projects.

“In the beginning, being in groups was weird because we didn’t know each other,” she said. “But we all needed that help and encouragement from one another. Collaboration is really important and there are several skills I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have the help of a team.”

This idea of camaraderie and help really resonated in her third group project. She built a MERN app, called Samaritan, to connect people to others in the community who could lend a hand with various tasks.

“I think everything I do is really to help others,” Carla said. “If we all have that feeling the world will be better.”

Learning to help herself

To help others—like her family—Carla had to first help herself and find a job. To get used to the daunting task of interviewing, she relied on guidance from the career services team. “I did at least six remote practice interviews,” she said. “It was a great way to break the fear of being interviewed and gain confidence.”

This practice paid off. In November 2018, Carla was hired at Power Distribution, Inc. as an Embedded Software Engineer—a job that earns her almost triple her previous paycheck.

Since starting, Carla has thoroughly enjoyed her work. “I’m learning a lot. I’m doing the perfect hybrid between what I went to school for and what I learned at the boot camp,” she said.

“Making a big decision that will really shift your career path can be daring. But surrounding yourself with people that really want the best for you can make the difference,” Carla said. “Those are the types of people I found at the boot camp.”