Meet Kate: A Conservationist Who Found New Passion In Code

Kate Zurlo-Cuva moved to Seattle for family, only to discover her love for front-end development, and a new career as a Technical Project Manager.

Kate Zurlo-Cuva
Image source: LinkedIn

What were you working on before Code Fellows?

Previous to Code Fellows, I worked for the state of Wisconsin in their parks department, and transitioned out of that to non-profit work in land conservation. I didn’t get into conservation because I had a biology, natural resources, or academic background—it was more because I like working with people and being outdoors. I like camping, hiking and going outside with my kid. It resonated with me and my sense of Wisconsin heritage.

I moved to Washington State for my husband’s job, and that move provided an opportunity to rethink not just where I wanted to work, but how I wanted to work. That’s how I started to think about programming.

What made you consider a career change to tech?

Besides there being something in the air in Seattle, I just really like puzzles. I was ready to use a different part of my brain in the workplace. I love doing puzzles with my kid and wanted to figure out how to do that all the time. We like to put on music and do a puzzle at night after dinner. I found myself thinking, “If I work hard at it, maybe I could do this for my next job.”

What made you choose Code Fellows?

The biggest thing was that Code Fellows offered me a chance to immerse myself with the 101 [workshop]: get a sense of what a change in industry would look like, then cracking open a laptop and getting to do some code.

In the 101 session, there was a female TA who spoke up. She had a background in science and talked about how she pivoted away from science into programming by going through Code Fellows. Afterwards, I ran into her and Stephanie (a Code Fellows instructor). We chatted about working in tech, what it’s really like to be a women in tech, going back to school in your 30s, and how the brain shift happens. They both used the phrase, “change in mindset,” and asked me to really consider if I was ready for that. Those conversations and the fact that I was able to reach out to people who had similar experiences to me really made the difference, and encouraged me to move onto the 201 and fully commit to this career change.

It had been 15 years since I’d been in college, so I didn’t really know if my brain was going to work in that way anymore. Code Fellows offered a taste before I had to commit full-time.

What was challenging about attending Code Fellows?

It was hard work, it takes a lot of grit and determination! It took a minute to pry open the chambers of my brain but once they were open, it was like I became a sponge for all the information I was learning. It was exhausting every single day, and I was hard on myself.

But learning with a community really helped me. Code Fellows creates a supportive and inclusive environment that is very friendly and open to questions. The general support offered to students is invaluable, and the individual attention made a huge difference in how much I was able to do and learn.

Tell me about your decision to not take 401.

As I went through 301, it became clear that front-end development was more in my nature and also the timer was up in terms of me needing a job to support my family. I finished 301 and started looking for jobs immediately. I sussed out whether I wanted to do my own thing, like a consultancy.

Brandy, the Campus Director at Code Fellows in Seattle, was really helpful in getting me back into the daily discipline of networking. I learned to treat networking like a job and I learned what the job market was like in Seattle at the time and what was available. I realized that I shouldn’t abandon the idea of being a Technical Project Manager. It was what employers understood when they looked at my resume and ultimately it was something that I liked. Project Management turned out to be a right fit in terms of getting a job.

Where are you working now?

I’m working at Eventcore as a Technical Project Manager. I get to do a fair amount of front-end code but also some deadline wrangling, project scoping, and writing. The job keeps my mind active and is fun.

How have your new-found technical skills helped you build scope around projects?

Over the past few months, Eventcore has been implementing agile development for the first time. The company has its developer side, but it also has a pretty heavy customer-facing side, so Agile development wasn’t an immediate fit.

It’s taken some really smart attention and strong leadership to bring agile to the forefront of Eventcore. Having had agile experience at Code Fellows, and learning how it all fits together in terms of making projects happen, has been really helpful to me. I learned to envision how projects can come together [and] how people prefer to be communicated with based on their roles in the project. I’m able to scope tasks based on the size of the proofs rather than the amount of time it should take. Things like that.

What would you tell someone who is considering attending Code Fellows?

Code Fellows has facilitated a huge life pivot for me and has brought me so much career and individual happiness. I get to use my brain in new ways on a regular basis and am indebted to Code Fellows for that. Also, the career coaching is invaluable. I’m so grateful to the instructors for the time they took to coach me on how to network effectively and get a job with my new skills.

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