My path into tech isn’t what most would call “straightforward.” Growing up as a first-generation Moroccan immigrant, I never envisioned a career in this field. Although both of my parents had college degrees and strongly valued education, the tech field was never on my radar. I wasn’t offered programming classes at school, and although I knew a few people in the field, none of them were women or looked like me.
An Ambitious Caregiver
My dream as a child was to be a doctor, which at the time made sense. One of the people I admired most, my dearest uncle, was a doctor and as the eldest sibling of four, I was always playing caretaker for my younger brothers and being a doctor seemed to be the ultimate caretaker profession.
Fast-forward to my second year in college, my husband and I had our first baby (yup, we got married young). But to my surprise, I found my interactions with the medical world throughout my pregnancy and delivery to be rather impersonal, and even patronizing at times. Sure my son and I were healthy, but the experience didn’t feel good and for the first time I began to question my path.
Making It From Scratch
In 2009, my daughter was born and I decided to take a break from the working world to spend time with her. It didn’t take long before the usual monotony of being a stay-at-home mom kicked in, so I started digging around for some excitement. At the time, it came in the form of an old childhood hobby: cake decorating. It seemed like every day there was a birthday party or playdate necessitating some baked goods (mom life, am I right?). So, what started off as making birthday cakes for my kids turned into cake requests from friends and family and eventually a little business. Through a few Facebook posts and word-of-mouth, I began receiving more and more requests for wedding and special occasion cakes.
Running a small business has numerous challenges (lack of funds, stress, endless amounts of work, etc.), but I was in my element and enjoyed my work. Building a business is already like one big DIY project and to see what started out as a hobby turn into a real-life business was absolutely exhilarating! I realized then what I should have known all along — I’m an entrepreneur at heart.
Building a business is already like one big DIY project and to see what started out as a hobby turn into a real-life business was absolutely exhilarating!
After a couple of years in the cake business, I got the itch to branch out. I came across a paleta recipe (Mexican ice pops) and a light bulb went off. I was already making real-fruit popsicles at home for my kids, so I started experimenting with ingredients and flavors, and in 2012 I launched FRESH BEETS Gourmet Ice Pops. The business ultimately did pretty well, and we managed to turn a small profit in the first year. But one thing that I never had time to focus on was our website. We were a mobile business, so a strong web presence was crucial, but the day-to-day operations took up most of my time.
Transition To Tech
In 2015, my family relocated to Kansas City so that my husband could continue his education. I packed up the business and started making plans for a relaunch. I had learned so much throughout the years of operation and my plan was to carry FRESH BEETS over to Kansas City’s larger market. Number one on the list: Create that stellar website I’d been dreaming of. I started looking into online web development courses and a LaunchCode ad popped up in my Facebook feed. I read about the program, which honestly sounded too good to be true. A nonprofit that provides FREE programming courses with mentorship and the follow-through with career placement? Yeah…right. But the risk-taker in me decided to apply and before I knew it, I was attending evening classes as an LC101 student.
Straight up, that class was no joke — I didn’t come from a tech background, so the computer science concepts were brand new to me. Between class and coursework, I probably put in 20-30 hours a week and still felt overwhelmed. But the challenge was addictive and I soon found my passion for coding. It felt good to push my brain to its max again; to know that I hadn’t lost the ability to learn. But what really hooked me was how the world of development really scratched my entrepreneurial itch. I was building useful things from scratch, problem-solving constantly and getting ALL the feels!
By the time my LC101 graduation rolled around, I had decided to pursue a career in the field. My friend worked for a tech startup at the time and approached me about an internship opportunity with her company, LeaveLogic. I did some QA work for them and had my first taste of working at an agile, scaling business. I knew that LanchCode’s apprenticeship program partners with several KC tech startups, so I applied. After a few rounds of interviews, I was fortunate enough to land a job at Topbox as a Business Intelligence Developer.
Prior to starting my job, I was a bit anxious about what the transition would be like. I mean, moving back into the workforce in a brand-new field after years of being a stay-at-home mom and small business owner, there’s no handbook for that. The learning curve was steep, of course, but my team was supportive and understanding from day one. LaunchCode does an excellent job of establishing their employer partnerships and ensuring that expectations are clear on both ends. At this point, I’ve acclimated to my new role, but I still continue to learn every day. That ever-evolving aspect is one of the most fulfilling things about tech — not only does your day-to-day change, but your role can too. You’d be hard-pressed to find an industry that isn’t touched by tech these days, so there’s a multitude of directions that your career can go. You can be face-to-face with clients or not, go to the office everyday or work from home — there are so many ways to be involved in the field.
You’d be hard-pressed to find an industry that isn’t touched by tech these days, so there’s a multitude of directions that your career can go. You can be face-to-face with clients or not, go to the office everyday or work from home — there are so many ways to be involved in the field.
If you’re at all interested in a career in tech, I’d absolutely recommend it. Minorities and women reading this – don’t let the outward appearance daunt you, there is diversity in tech and I’ve met some amazing people from all walks of life since beginning this journey. Look up local tech groups for women and minorities and start attending their learning and networking events. As a minority woman, meeting others who are successful in the field was pivotal for me and the folks at LaunchCode work to foster diversity in the Kansas City tech industry. Reach out to them, as they provide an invaluable service that can really change the trajectory of your life — just as they did for me.
Written by Maroua Jawadi
Topbox, Business Intelligence Developer