3 Tips for Pivoting to Tech with a Non-Traditional Background
Health and fitness is at the core of Kathy Le’s being.
On any given day you can find her working out at her fitness studio or playing rugby for a league in New England. And when she isn’t training her body, she’s training her mind by learning new skills as a Software Development Engineer 1 at Audible.
In 2020, Kathy made a career pivot from full-time fitness to tech. We sat down with her to learn about her challenging, yet rewarding transition into the engineering field. Keep reading to hear her story and her advice on how to combat imposter syndrome and achieve professional growth.
Making the Leap into Tech
Boston native Kathy completed her Bachelor of Science in Health Studies at Boston University in 2016, which she immediately put to use as a health and fitness personal trainer and eventual fitness studio owner. For 4 years, she followed a defined schedule based on her 1:1 training sessions with her clients in the gym studio she opened.
But when COVID-19 hit, her business came to a halt. “One of the first industries to disappear was fitness and health,” says Kathy. “We couldn’t social distance. I needed to act quick.” So she began researching different jobs and potential career paths. One of Kathy’s social media friends posted about a bootcamp they were doing. “It's a nonprofit based out in Boston called Resilient Coders,” explains Kathy. “They serve people of color and people from low income backgrounds and put them through an 18- to 20-week bootcamp.” Without hesitation, she signed up and embarked on a three-month journey to learn full-stack development skills.
Audible hired Kathy directly from the bootcamp as an apprentice Software Development Engineer. From the start, she was assigned a mentor, and began working on exciting projects with full support from Audible throughout the transition. “I’m very lucky. I feel like it's been a dream where my background has never been a problem,” Kathy explains. “My favorite thing about working at Audible is actually my team. They just welcomed me like anyone else. [They’ve been] super open, accepting, and very fun, so I never feel like I'm actually at work.” From the beginning, Kathy felt at ease asking for help, and received the necessary support and encouragement from her team members and leadership.
Transferring Skills and Reaping the Rewards
Transitioning to the tech field with a non-traditional background requires pulling from skills acquired in other professional experiences.
Kathy was able to transfer many of her skills from fitness to her new role as a software engineer. “In physical training, you have to break information down, especially depending on who you're talking to. If I'm trying to break down a specific exercise for someone, I have to try different ways, because one person might not understand it the way that I'm teaching it,” she says. “Coding, in a way, is similar. It's very systematic and requires breaking information down. I’m always trying to analyze how to get from Point A to Point B. I think of the steps and try different ways until I achieve my goal, like I do when I train people.”
And, similar to training, she also loves seeing the results of her work. “'I’m working on Audible on Alexa devices. So, I can immediately turn on my device and say, ‘Hey Alexa, play Audible.’ And then I can literally see my work playing out in front of me.” The same sense of pride she feels when one of her trainees reach a fitness milestone is reflected in her engineering work.
“We launched a new product in India. [GR2] It was my first time leading a project and I was very afraid, but I had a lot of help from my team and we were able to launch it on time,” she explains. “Now, it’s available in the whole country and it’s a very exciting new way of listening. So I'm amazed how my code is touching so many people.’”
So far, Kathy has been enjoying the benefits of making the switch over to tech, such as the flexible work time, Audible’s Hub+Home hybrid model, the snacks and cold brew at the office, and the company’s multiple reimbursement plans, such as for learning, travel, and fitness. She also continues to participate in a mentorship program, even after completing her apprenticeship. Switching to tech has given her the space and resources to work as she sees best.
Combatting Imposter Syndrome and Building Confidence
One of the hardest things Kathy has experienced in her career pivot has been dealing with imposter syndrome. She explains that, “when you start, you feel like a fraud. Like you don’t have enough knowledge or experience to be able to fill the role.” When dealing with imposter syndrome, Kathy credits intrapersonal skills and the work environment for helping her gain the confidence to accelerate in her tech career.
“One thing that I really enjoyed about this experience is the fact that I came in as an apprentice,” she elaborates. “It takes that pressure off of knowing what to do. You know you’re there to learn and it gives you comfort to ask a bunch of questions.”
At the start of apprenticeship, Audible hosted a workshop that taught newcomers all the basics, including non-tech skills required for the role, such as knowing how to work on a team, introduction to different roles, and how to break down tasks. By the end of her apprenticeship year, Kathy says, “I felt really solid in my skills. I thought, ‘Imposter syndrome, who?’” Apart from the support of Audible as a “safe and welcoming place to ask questions,” she shares that self-awareness and open communication have also helped her build confidence in her role.
Three Pieces of Advice for Pursuing Growth
In her first year at Audible, Kathy has been promoted and led multiple projects. Drawing from her career transition experience, she gives us three pieces of advice for pursuing career growth.
- Be fearless in putting yourself first. Keep your career growth top of mind. “Don’t feel guilty about advocating to be on a different team if it means growing your skills,” says Kathy. “The teams you switch from will be able to adapt without you, so just focus on your goals and pursue the opportunities that will help you first.”
- Ask for help. When switching careers, being open to learning is key for a smooth, successful transition. “Have the awareness to know what you don’t know and be confident to speak up, collaborate with others, or ask for help as many times as you need to,” Kathy advises.
- Set clear, measurable goals, and communicate with your manager. “Clarify your goals by setting benchmarks or guidelines with your leadership. That way when you ask for a promotion, you can point out the specific tasks you’ve accomplished and how you’ve reached certain goals for the company,” Kathy explains. “That is a good way to figure out if you are ready for the next level.”
If you’re interested in working at Audible, check out their roles!
Learn More about Audible's "Next Chapter" Returnship Program and How to Prepare for the Interview Process
Audible’s ‘Next Chapter’ Returnship program is a 16-week paid full-time internship for experienced professionals returning to the workforce after taking time off for caregiving.
The program is open to professionals who have at least 5 years of professional experience and have been out of the paid workforce for at least one year to focus on caring for a child or other dependent.
Join us to learn more about our distinctive returnship program and how to prep for the interview. You’ll hear from our Program Manager, Supriya, who will give an overview of the program and interview process, a returnee-turned new hire, Archana, will share about her personal interview and returnee experiences and from a mentor, David who will discuss the importance of mentorship and it’s impact on returnees in our program. We hope you’ll join us!
Start Your Next Chapter After a Career Break: How You Can Get Back to Work With a Returnship at Audible
If you've stepped back from your career to take care of a loved one, you're not alone. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, millions of individuals have left the workforce to become stay-at-home caregivers. Unfortunately, this decision doesn't only affect monthly income; it can also create a hole in your resume that makes re-entering the workforce a challenge.
However, some employers are starting to realize the importance of looking past resume gaps in order to assess the holistic experience of applicants. A CBS New York article reports that "there are a growing number of corporate programs aimed specifically for [returnees]."
These programs—returnships—are basically mid-career internships that offer training, experience, and networking opportunities to professionals who have been out of the workforce for an extended amount of time.
CNN puts it this way: "There are lots of exits off the highway of our lifetime work, but very few on-ramps. And returnships are one of those on-ramps."
In essence, the goal of these programs is to give qualified individuals a jump start to pick up their career where they left off. The returnship experience gives hiring managers a reason to look past resume gaps and hire qualified people that they would otherwise overlook. And they're working pretty well. The New York Post explains that, upon successful completion of these programs, roughly 80% of returnees get offered a permanent job.
Are you looking for a returnship?
Premium audio storytelling company Audible launched their Returnship Program, Next Chapter, in 2020 and recently announced new opportunities for applicants. The program offers experienced professionals who have taken a career break for caregiving a full-time, paid remote internship over the course of 18 weeks. It gives participants a chance to return to the workforce by revamping skills, updating their resume with new experiences, and making connections with other professionals.
"We're helping people bring the skills that they have developed in the past, and put them back to work," said Anne Erni, Chief People Officer at Audible. "This is an incredible opportunity to show women and men who choose to opt out that they can return, and they can return and have successful, highly paid careers."
Audible's returnship program is open to professionals who have:
- 2 to 5+ years of professional experience
- Been out of the paid workforce for at least one year to focus on childcare or other dependent care.
- Upon successful completion of the return ship there is a possibility of an offer for full-time employment.
If you're interested in returning to work with Audible, you can read more about the Next Chapter Returnship Program here.
Anshika Priyadarshee knows how to make anywhere feel like home. She grew up living in India, Kenya, and Canada before moving to New York for a job with Audible, where she now works as a Senior Software Engineering Manager.
"It's probably the longest I've spent in one place," says Anshika of the six years she's been living in the city and working from Audible's Newark headquarters. "It's been a nice way to get to know what is a pretty beautiful city."
Anshika started her career journey at Audible through their internship program, and she's long been an advocate of educational opportunities for women interested in engineering. At Audible, she participates in their Impact Group for Women in Tech and hosts field trips for organizations like Girls Who Code.
We sat down with Anshika to hear more about her work, why it's important for tech companies to reflect the diversity of their users, and how she works to make that possible.
Making tech for real people
As a software engineer, Anshika enjoys writing code that brings a new feature or product alive. But what she's come to love even more is the opportunity to see how her work impacts Audible users.
"A really big piece of fulfillment for me is seeing customer feedback," she says. "Recently, we launched a new type of product offering, something my team has been super involved in, and it was so exciting to go on Reddit and see the reactions of people who were really excited to use our product."
Anshika knows that in order to create products that work for everyone, tech workforces need to include people from different backgrounds and with different experiences. "Tech is influential. Depending on who's participating, it can shape how the future generations see things," she explains. "It's important to have that representation because if you don't, you have a whole segment of the population that gets left behind. You want to address the needs of each group," she says, highlighting how employee resource groups, called Impact Groups at Audible, such as Women in Tech, which she's a member of, as well as others like AudiblePRIDE, Unidos@Audible, Women@Audible, Moms@Audible, and the Black Employee Network provide vital perspective on Audible projects.
Bringing in the next generation
When Anshika first started her career, she had a preconception that computer science was something dry. "Once I got into it, I recognized there's actually so much more you can do with it. There's an element of creativity that wasn't necessarily conveyed," she says.
That's part of what inspired Anshika to get so involved with Audible Cares, her company's community giving efforts, and to lead specific projects through the Women in Tech Impact Group like field trips with Girls Who Code. "I'm hopefully changing the dialogue on what CS means to everyone else," she says.
As part of those community service initiatives, Anshika and other engineers at Audible mentor young women interested in tech, encourage their studies, provide advice, and give them a glimpse into different career paths. Anshika and her team participate in panels, where they talk about topics like building a spirit of resiliency, recognizing the power of failure, and building careers that work for them. "It's pretty impactful, especially meeting students who are a bit closer to making their decisions for which careers they want and being able to take part in their journey," says Anshika. They also host workshops for students to experience hands on code writing in a terminal while working from a set of prompts.
In pre-pandemic times, the field trips also included a tour of the Audible Studios where the magic happens. "It's pretty exciting for them to see how we actually go from book to voice experience," says Anshika, whose personal favorite listen is When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi.
But despite the pandemic, Anshika continues to make connections with the next generation and encourage their dreams. "A different type of barrier has gone down because we don't need that physical presence, so it opens up the door for a lot of other people to participate," she says. She's hosted virtual workshops and partnered with college students as they consider careers in tech. "Ideally, [we'd] give everyone exposure to it," she says.
"Giving back is good for the future of tech," says Anshika, and it's also good for Audible as a company and its employee satisfaction and retention. She really appreciates how the opportunities she's had to participate in community involvement and community service have enhanced her career. "It's been a great way to meet people [at Audible] I wouldn't have normally connected with if I just stayed within the scope of my team," she says. "Whether it's meeting with principal engineers in Seattle to get their ideas on effective workshops or working with our executive sponsors to get input on our direction, it's been very impactful career-wise, and a different way of understanding how people learn and work at Audible."
Combining her engineering work with her community work has empowered Anshika to ensure that the future of tech is a diverse, representative, and inclusive one. If you're interested in doing the same, check out Audible's open roles here.