From Rocket Science to Rocking Code: Leslie’s story

Leslie Brown grew up in Orlando with a grandfather who worked at the Kennedy Space Center as a mechanical and systems engineer. As a kid, she often watched shuttles as they launched into space from Cape Canaveral. Excited and inspired by space travel, she ended up studying aerospace engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After graduating, she worked as a systems engineer for a defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, where she first started learning some code.

TLeslie-Iron-Yard-Orlandohough she says Lockheed Martin was a great place to start her career, it was not a great culture fit for her. She really wanted to work with a smaller company, with less red tape and the ability to see a project through from start to finish. So after leaving Lockheed Martin and teaching high school math for a year and a half, she did simulation work at another company using C++ knowledge she’d learned on-the-job at Lockheed Martin. This solidified her desire to learn web development and led to an extensive research phase.

“I am a Google fiend,” she said, referring to the hours spent discovering the most relevant and in-demand web development languages and how she could learn enough to transition her career. She found she could teach herself online, or do a part-time, mentored program, but she knew based on her university days that immersive learning was the best route for her.

“Thinking about my days in college, the times that I thrived the most and that I really felt like I was learning and making a lot of progress in a short period of time were the times where it was like you’re drinking through the fire hose. You’re with a group of people, it’s every day, it’s really intense, you’ve always got something to do, you’re always moving forward, there’s accountability.”

So when she found The Iron Yard, which was located only a few miles from her home, it felt like exactly what she was looking for — except for one thing: the next Ruby on Rails class wasn’t starting for several months. She decided to wait for the next class at The Iron Yard. In the meantime, she got married and traveled extensively around South America with her husband, Pedro, who has since graduated from The Iron Yard’s Mobile Engineering with iOS program. She happily proclaims that it was worth the wait.

“I’m really glad that I waited,” she said. “It has 100 percent turned out the way I wanted — like even better.”

She describes her cohort of classmates as “a really good mix” with a variety of levels of knowledge from people who had done some programming before and some who were just starting out.

“The questions that someone who had never written code before in their life would ask might be stuff I had never stopped to think about before, and they were good questions,” said Leslie, who enjoyed being a part of a team that helped each other push forward. “It was fun to answer questions and give secondary explanations and draw stuff out on white boards to solidify concepts. I found that when I explained things to other people, it really, really helped me. If you can explain it to someone, you really understand it.”

As a former teacher, she respected her instructor Brian’s ability to guide self-learning. “When you asked questions, he would never give you the answer straight out.” He’d ask questions such as: What about this? Did you think about this?  “You would go through the problem-solving process on your own, but you wouldn’t just hit a wall,” she explained.

When it came time to do her final project, she loved being able to create a practical web app from scratch applying everything she’d learned the past nine weeks. “It was awesome. It was just really satisfying to plan something out and see it through to the end.” It gave her confidence to see how the pieces of information she’d learned all fit together and to figure out how to join the pieces she didn’t yet know how to combine.

After graduating in August 2015, she was hired by a startup, Modernmeal, three weeks later through a connection she’d made on campus at The Iron Yard. She now works out of the coworking space across the hall from The Iron Yard when she’s not working from home.

Leslie laughs about a recent conversation she had with her mother, where she’d expressed excitement about her ability to still work and stay connected with her projects if she goes on vacation. Her mother was baffled at Leslie’s desire to work while on vacation, but for Leslie it makes sense. She finally loves what she’s doing.

“I love my job so much right now it’s crazy,” she said. “I never thought I’d like a job this much.”

When asked where she sees herself in five years, she acknowledges her horizons have expanded exponentially. Ideas like starting her own business, which never occurred to her before, now dance in the back of her mind. Although she doesn’t have specific visions for where she sees herself in the future, she thinks that’s probably a good thing. She doesn’t have to look toward her future career as much anymore since she’s so content with where it is right now.

2 Comments

  1. Is there an Iron Yard in Orlando? I know there was one here for a minute but is it back?

  2. Hi Aidan! Great question. We’re hoping to announce our next round of classes in Orlando soon! Our final regulatory approval is pending. Stay tuned!

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