A former English major and freelance writer and novelist for the past two decades, Dormont’s Sean Rogers never had a big interest in computers or technology.
But he got there eventually: His new book “Refactored: My Attempt at Breaking into Tech During the Rise of the Coding Boot Camp” details how he found success in Pittsburgh’s tech sector after over 15 years in retail.
Following his graduation from Ohio University in 2002, Rogers started working at a Barnes & Noble location in Bethel Park. He kept that job while writing on the side until February 2018, when the bookseller announced mass layoffs. Though Rogers soon found new work at a local grocery store, he quickly realized he wanted a career change.
“I felt like the skills that I had, I didn’t want to use them anymore,” he said. “The resume I’d built up over the last 17 years didn’t lead anywhere I wanted.”
He heard an ad on the radio one day for Tech Elevator’s three-month bootcamp offering to train students in coding and career skills. The Cleveland-headquartered org boasts 98% graduation and placement rates for its Pittsburgh location, as well as a median starting salary of $60,000. Tech Elevator also helps connect its Pittsburgh students to jobs through hiring partnerships with PNC, BNY Mellon, Dick’s Sporting Goods and other prominent local companies.
Despite never having worked in software before, Rogers was fascinated by these statistics and the opportunities that came with coding. He looked at the bootcamp as a sort of trade school that could help him make the career shift he wanted.
“To a degree, it almost seemed too good to be true,” he said.
Rogers started the bootcamp with 30 other students in January 2019, spending his weeks learning about web development using C#, and using those new skills to work on mini capstone projects like building a vending machine app. But what Rogers found the most helpful was the Tech Elevator’s Pathway Program — a set of career skills trainings like resume workshops and interview practice with mentors.
“That was the most valuable part of it,” he said. “Other bootcamps I’d looked at didn’t have that, and it just sort of scared me to have the skills but then not be able to convince anywhere to hire you.”
But that fear never materialized for Rogers. Through a career matchmaking event the bootcamp held with its hiring partners, he was able to get a job at PNC as an automated tester in software development before the program even ended.
Rogers wants people to know about his experience so they can change their career paths, and potentially double their salaries, too.
Rogers has now been at PNC for two years, using his foundation from the bootcamp to continue his own professional development. Working mostly in Java, he’s applied the basic coding skills he learned to software delivery pipelines and quality assurance testing. He’s also had the chance to manage a small team of quality engineers since being promoted to test lead after his first year with the company.
Being a writer, Rogers started documenting his career shift on a blog when he started the bootcamp. Each day, he wrote down a few paragraphs about what he learned or what he found challenging, keeping track of the details of his experience. And now, he’s turned that blog into a memoir.
Published as an ebook and paperback version by Oregon-based Onyx Neon Press this spring, “Refactored” tells Rogers’ career change story, and shows just how accessible his pathway can be for those who want it.
“I feel like a lot of the people I know and have worked with in the past have the potential to do something like this,” he said, noting that the barriers to entry for tech have decreased as the industry’s expanded. “Maybe 10 or 15 years ago it was difficult to get into tech, or you needed to be particularly good at math or logic
“But since it’s spread out, there is a way bigger umbrella than there used to be,” he said.
Rogers wants people to know about his experience so that they can change their career paths, and potentially double their salaries, too. But he also admits that the journey wasn’t easy. He remembers long days of homework during the bootcamp — and some initial difficulty adjusting to his new job afterward.
“That was a struggle,” he remembered of his first few months at PNC, “particularly for someone who has never worked in an office environment before, let alone the agile structure in the software of a bank.”
Despite the challenges, Rogers says he wouldn’t change anything about his bootcamp experience and the opportunities it gave him. He encourages others coming from similar backgrounds to consider these trainings as new career options, particularly if they aren’t interested in college. While there are still plenty of jobs in tech, like software architects, that might require a degree, Rogers thinks that in general, the college system is becoming antiquated.
“I have a 10-year-old daughter,” he said. “And I will certainly encourage her to look at training programs rather than college.”
Here’s Rogers’ tech stack:
Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments. -30-