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!