Professional Development
Career development / Delaware

3 Delawareans on how tech skills can help you create, find or grow into your dream job

They used tech savvy to build a business, lock in their dream job and scale a career, respectively.

Online courses will help students move toward tech careers. (Pexels/Christina Morillo)

“The traditional method of learning is valuable, yes — high school, college — but for the motivated person, so many opportunities are waiting for you,” said Jessica Sweeten. And she should know: her tech background still helps her in her current role as cofounder of Buttercup Baking Company.

Over half of employees today are actively or passively job-seeking, and they’re looking for more money, better balance or growth opportunities. Stuck at an impasse yourself? To spark some motivation, asked three Delaware professionals about how they harnessed tech and personal skills to craft a rewarding career path.

From tech support to cookie company co-founder

Buttercup Baking Company cofounders Jessica Sweeten (left) and Jo Anna Popielarski.

Buttercup Baking Company cofounders Jessica Sweeten (left) and Jo Anna Popielarski. (Courtesy Jessica Sweeten)

From a young age while growing up in Hartly, Kent County, Jessica Sweeten was already grocery shopping, planning family meals and using a computer.

“Those things fed the curious parts of my brain,” Sweeten says.

Her career oscillated between tech and food passions. During her time attending University of Delaware, she worked in the college’s technology department and trained teachers how to successfully leverage tech in the classroom. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English in 2009, she spent four years as a private chef. For the next nine years, she worked her way up from tech support to handling all tech contracts for Red Clay School District — the largest school district in Delaware.

During her tenure at Red Clay, Sweeten met Jo Anna Popielarski, a food scientist who was working on an egg replacement. One of the models used to highlight the egg product was cookies, which quickly stole the show with customers. The two quickly bonded over a love of food and decided to take the whisk.

“We both reached a transitional time in our careers, where we could continue on the paths we’d been on or create something for ourselves,” Sweeten said.

Together, Sweeten and Popielarski started Buttercup Baking Company, based in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Launching the company made quick use of Sweeten’s technology training as they set up logistics, security and inventory management.

Sweeten shared how tech skills benefit the baking mix:

  • Using foresight to avoid issues: “A lot of my career is putting out the fire we didn’t see coming or creating solutions for the problems we can see coming,” Sweeten said.
  • Driving efficiency: “We’re not wasting time, we’re clear on what needs to be done and what we have. It [technology] brings a clarity to most jobs, but definitely this one, where those who aren’t as technically inclined would spend a lot of time.”
  • Being scrappy and resourceful: “When you’re starting out and trying to grow in a sustainable way … our best asset is our time and our capacity to learn,” Sweeten said. “You can’t help but know there’s a solution to the problem, and you’re a couple tutorials away from learning the skills you need.”

From delivering ice cream to delivering value

A need to spend more time with his children had this hardworking Delaware dad jump into remote tech work and skyrocket his career.

Xavier H. of Kent County took on several jobs to support his family. He worked at banks, drove for rideshare companies, held a driver position for Schwann’s Home Delivery (popsicle, anyone?) and even locked in a remote sales position with ADT Home Security.

But, simply put, something was missing. He previously ran paintball tournament events and had a vision for bringing people together for thrill-seeking activities.

He shared this vision with a friend, who started sending him links to LinkedIn positions. One day, a link came with the message: “NBD, just found your dream job.” It was for remote startup Bucket Listers, a digital media brand and event production company.

He had never considered himself part of the tech world. But he leaned on his remote experience and customer-facing finesse. Now, he works as a partner success manager, managing nationwide accounts like rooftop wineries and themed cafes.

He took risks that ended in reward:

  • Share your vision: “There are always more resources available than the ones that you know. If you speak about what you want, people that are aware of resources you’re not aware of can connect you to those resources.”
  • Be industry agnostic: “You don’t owe your loyalty to anybody. Simply put, these jobs are not offering the kind of benefits that warrant loyalty. You’ve got to do what’s right for you at all times.”
  • Embrace the unknown: “Be okay with leveraging your skillset in ways you haven’t done it before. My transition to Bucket Listers took me totally out of my comfort zone.”

Using X-ray vision to build a scalable career

You don’t always have to leave your organization to reinvent yourself, and the career of Christopher S. career is a testament to that. He went to Delaware Technical Community College for radiologic technology. In his thirteen years at a Delaware medical organization whose name he declined to share, he started out in a patient-facing position running X-rays and exams, then shifted strategically to a more flexible systems role.

“I was considered someone who was ‘good with computers’ in our department, and every time there was an opportunity to leverage my knowledge using them, I jumped on it,” he said. He took on any chance to get more responsibilities and access to the software. Then, with the experience he accumulated, he was well-poised to apply when an administrator position became available.

Today he works as a primarily remote RIS/PACS administrator, maintaining the system for several applications supporting the radiology department.

His path shows the importance of strategically surrounding yourself with opportunity.

  • Recognize your impact: “I remember vividly not thinking that I had necessarily made the right career choice when I was a student and sitting with a patient while the tech went to go check on her order.” He listened to the patient talk about her life, and later she commented on how much it meant to her to talk to someone and ease her mind. “That was really when I decided that maybe there was something that I could contribute, and I chose to really embrace the path I had chosen.”
  • Pay attention to your options: Spellman was well aware of the hospital’s great track record of cross-training opportunities and managers being promoted from technologist positions: “I think it’s extremely important to work for an organization that has room for growth within the company.”
  • Tell your employer what you want: “I encourage anyone that feels like they have more to offer to not be afraid to share that with their employer and seek out opportunities to further utilize your skills. By doing what you’re best at, not only do you become a stronger asset to your employer, but it also helps you do something that you enjoy.”

Feeling stuck? Check out the job board, and learn from other professionals’ career journeys through our “How I Got Here” series.

Updated May 2024

Companies: University of Delaware

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