Rachel Pavilanis: From Ada Developers Academy to Avvo intern

Rachel Pavilanis is a software development intern at Avvo and student at Seattle-based Ada Developers Academy. This is her first post in a three-part series.

I took my first class in HTML as a freshman in high school almost fifteen years ago. I still remember my excitement at the sheer creation of writing code and seeing it transform into a website. Over the next three years, I enrolled in C++ programming and several introductory graphic and web design courses, but it didn’t occur to me that I could make a career out of this work.  It wasn’t until many years later, after my second year as a school psychologist, that I had time to further explore this interest. I started by teaching myself about WordPress, and within weeks I began customizing themes for family and friends. Before long, I had my first paying customers.  During this time, I spent a lot of time huddled over my computer working on websites, regularly calling out to my husband so that I could show him whatever new feature I had created. He is the one that noticed how much I seemed to like this work of problem-solving and creation, commenting, “Do you know how many times I’ve seen you get this excited about something at work? Never.”

After creating a number of websites, I realized the limitations in my skill set, so I took some online tutorials from websites like CodeAcademy.  Through these tutorials, I learned the basics of HTML and CSS so I could make small modifications to the WordPress themes.  About two years after building my first WordPress website – almost five years into my career as a school psychologist – I decided to look into options for jumping into web development as a career.  I researched a number of boot camps in Portland, with the idea that I might be able to commute from my home in Eugene to take a class or two in the evenings, while still keeping my day job.  However, boot camps can be really expensive: $2,000+ for most 8-week courses that are ten to 12 hours per week.

Around this time, I discovered Ada Developers Academy, a year-long tuition-free software development program in Seattle. Their mission is to diversify tech by providing women and non-binary people the skills, experience, and community support to contribute to changing the world with software. I felt like it was too good to be true. Students receive intensive instruction on various programming languages by going to class from 8:00 to 5:00, Monday through Friday, are then given an internship at a Seattle-based tech company – and it’s free?  Then I found the catch: it is highly competitive, with over 400 applicants for 48 positions.

Regardless, I felt like I had to apply.  To arrive at my goal (well, in all honesty, at this point it was more of a far-flung dream) of being a software developer in only one year?  And to do it in a collaborative setting with other women?  Yes, there was the downside of living apart from my husband and pups for a year or more, and the fact that if I was accepted I would need to quit my job. But that seemed like nothing in comparison to what was being offered.  I took a leap and applied.

The application involved writing my resume in a basic coding language called Markdown and posting it as a gist to GitHub, responding to essay questions, and completing some analyses on .csv data sets. I have never worked with large data sets, unless you count data entry for psychology research projects as an undergrad.  And that is not the same thing.  My data sets were weather patterns for the United States in 1957 and 2007. The questions were deceptively simple.  For example, “How many counties in the state of Washington remained storm free in 2007?”  It was only after diving into each one that I realized the many steps involved in coming to an answer.

The next month and a half was intense. After several weeks I learned I had made it past the first phase and dove into Phase 2 – a coding challenge. I was asked to build a program in Ruby, and then complete a technical interview about the code I had written. Through this project, some of the most important things I learned weren’t directly related to the skill of coding.  I learned that I really enjoy writing code – I sat at my computer for six straight hours after a full day of work as I finished the program, and I found that I was actually having fun in spite of the pressure I felt to complete the program.  Coding combines my analytical/problem-solving brain with my desire to be creative, and also allows me to use some of my previously less-than-useful research skills (I say this because I often find myself researching down a rabbit hole; I start on Pinterest and three hours later find myself purchasing a Bullet Journal and two sets of premium pens).

Only a day after my Phase 2 interview, I learned that I had made it to Phase 3 – a final interview with staff and stakeholders at Ada.  A week after my interview, I learned that I was accepted to the program as a member of Cohort 6!  In the months leading up to the program start date, I experienced a lot of ups and downs as I prepared to move away from my husband and dogs for a year, leave behind my career and friends, and start a new career in a new city.

Ten months later, I am in my second month of my internship at Avvo. I believe Ada surpassed every expectation I had in terms of the educational support they provided, the supportive and inclusive community they foster, and the opportunities they provide around launching into a career.

Look for Rachel’s next post in April, where she will discuss her experience at Ada Developers Academy. For more information about careers at Avvo, please visit www.avvo.com/careers.