Training & Development

How a Bootcamp Helped This Museum Educator Change Careers

Mari Gajonera
Mari Gajonera

Mari Gajonera worked for several years as an education interpretation manager for a museum in Anchorage, Alaska. After a while, she felt she’d gotten the most out of that job. So she planned to start a PhD art history program in Virginia.

Then, her mother fell ill. “It made me reflect a lot on my priorities,” Gajonera says. “I hadn’t quite factored family responsibilities into my seven-year PhD program.”

In the end, she chose to defer admission. “I thought about what I wanted,” she says. “Essentially, it was the ability to write and learn continuously.”

Choosing a New Career Path

Gajonera looked around for other solutions, and a friend mentioned Flatiron School, which offers in-person and online intensive programs in software engineering, data science, cybersecurity analytics, and (at the time) UX/UI design.

“I was feeling a bit stuck and unsure if I could have a successful move from Alaska to a different field,” Gajonera says. “My software engineer friend said that UX/UI design might be a good fit because of my art history and museum background. He mentioned that the research and art education and the facilitation I do are transferable skills for designers.”

Gajonera researched UX—user experience—design and the more she learned, the more interested she became. UX design involves the interaction between products and services (often websites and apps) and their users. “An app or a website like Facebook has UX designers who do research and try to pinpoint what you and I would find frustrating, or what we like about it, and improve on that product based on real human feedback,” she explains.

students with laptops sitting at a counter in the cafe at Flatiron School in Austin
Flatiron School’s Austin campus (Photo: Mack Eveland)

Finding the Right Bootcamp

Gajonera picked the Flatiron School because of its intensive curriculum, which includes the opportunity to work with a client for four weeks. “They get to spend that phase working closely with a client to create an app or a product, or to redesign their website,” says Shelley Richard, Gajonera’s career coach at Flatiron School. “It helps these students get some real-world experience on their resume that they can put in their portfolio.”

Flatiron School has campuses all over the U.S. and in London, but Gajonera chose the one in Austin, in part due to the Texas climate. “I was living in Alaska and I went to school in Massachusetts, so one of the things that really piqued my interest—other than the cool music scene and emerging tech scene—was the fact that I wouldn’t be experiencing a traditional winter,” she laughs.

Gajonera began her studies last August and found UX design to be a good match. “I see it as a way to make a positive impact in our world—by designing experiences to be thoughtful, accessible, and intuitive,” she says. “It’s a challenging and exciting process with new technologies and trends.”

Built-In Assistance

Three weeks before graduation, Flatiron School connects bootcampers with personal career coaches. Students work with their coaches one-on-one until they land a job, walking through a career development curriculum focused on effective job search. It pays off: Flatiron School had a 93% employment rate for job-seeking on-campus graduates included in the 2019 Jobs Report, including full-time salaried roles; full-time contract, internship, apprenticeship, and freelance roles; and part-time roles, with an average starting salary of $76,000 for on-campus students who accepted full-time salaried jobs during the reporting period and disclosed their compensation. The average starting salary for students who took full-time contract, internship, apprenticeship, or freelance roles and disclosed compensation was $32/hr. Average pay for a part-time role was $28/hr (see the full report here).

To help anyone going through a career transition, Flatiron School also recently released a free online curriculum called How to Land a Job in Tech.

“Something we talk about is wanting our students and graduates to be no-brainer hires,” Richard says. “We work with them on developing a resume that really reflects the new skills they’re learning at Flatiron and we take a look at their online presence, especially their LinkedIn profile.”

Coaches also help students hone their interviewing skills. Students participate in mock technical interviews with working developers to help them sharpen their self-presentations. “We work with them weekly through video chats and Zoom meetings,” Richard says. “We’re accountability partners—we help keep them motivated and we help them strategize on different ways to find opportunities to network.”

students in a classroom
Students at Flatiron School’s Austin campus (Photo: Mack Eveland)

In Gajonera’s case, networking has been as much about finding her community in Austin as about finding a job. “One of the things we tell people, when they go to meetups and networking events: ‘You’re not going there to find a job. Go with the intention of making a new friend, meeting some new people,’” Richard says. “Mari has really embraced that on her own. She went to one meetup and had her yoga mat with her, and it started a whole conversation with a group of people.”

Students at Flatiron School have many financing options, including an Income Share Agreement (ISA) in certain states that allows eligible students to defer a portion of tuition until they’re making a minimum monthly income and scholarships like the Access Scholarship, which is now open to all COVID-affected individuals. Students can also apply for loans through Skills Fund and Climb, two accelerated learning financing companies.

Gajonera graduated mid-February, and she’ll continue working with Richard as she finds a permanent position.

“I had a very fulfilling career at the museum, but looking back on it, I had achieved what I wanted to do,” Gajonera says. “UX design and technology offer me a way to change subfields. I could focus on design problems in technology, in healthcare, I could even move toward nonprofit. I think it’ll always feel like a new challenge and there are many paths I could take.”