By Julia Ferraioli
I sat in my shared office, staring blankly at the screen of my laptop. I had just made the call to leave my PhD program. It wasn’t a good fit for me: I didn’t love the coursework, I felt socially isolated, and I missed the home I had made for myself in Seattle. Leaving was the right call, but I was suddenly faced with the bleak prospect of finding a job in a depressed economy when I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to do.
Sure, I thought about teaching. I liked explaining concepts, loved seeing eyes light up as comprehension dawned, and took a great deal of pleasure from the success of others. I knew that in K-12 education, I could have a real impact encouraging girls to get into STEM, which is still a passion of mine. I did my research about certification and crafted resumes and cover letters, but it turned out that teaching positions had been among the hardest hit in the economic downturn. Teachers were being laid off, not hired.
I encountered a dead end.
I had come to graduate school after working as a software engineer, and realized that I didn’t want writing code to be my only job. I wanted to engage with people, teach, architect, and write code. I wanted to give back to the community and make technology an awesome way to turn ideas into reality. My dream job was a unicorn.
There I sat, in front of job search sites, drawing a complete blank. It had come time for something drastic, something outside of my comfort zone, something terrifying. It was time to take a chance.
Clearly, companies weren’t posting for the type of job I wanted on the usual sites. Where were tech companies advertising their open positions? Well, it turns out that quite a few of them posted their listings on Craigslist, of all places. I found one that was almost too good to be true: one that was described as part coding, part design, and part outreach. I had found my unicorn, and it was under the job title of Technical Program Manager.
The idea that my dream job actually existed floored me. It also raised the stakes quite a bit — what if I couldn’t land the job? Or even worse, what if I did, and completely failed at it? That thought alone almost prevented me from applying.
There were so many reasons not to pursue it. I didn’t fit all of their criteria, my open source involvement had been minimal at that point, and I wasn’t very well known in the community. In the end, the pursuit of the dream outweighed the risks. I took the chance, sent in my resume, and went through a day of intense interviews that tested everything from coding proficiency to communication abilities. Two weeks later, the job was mine — except with the title of Technical Evangelist, a title I didn’t even know existed!
It’s been nearly four years now, and during that time I’ve changed companies and am now working as a Developer Advocate for Google Cloud Platform. There, I help developers build scalable applications on top of Google’s infrastructure. It truly is the job that I envisioned years ago as being a wonderful blend of the technical and non-technical.
Taking a chance and changing careers paid off in ways I could never have anticipated. I’ve met some of my computer science heros, engaged with so many amazing developers, and seized the opportunity to develop a wide variety of technical skills. It doesn’t stop here though; the dream is constantly evolving.
My winding path has also provided me with experiences to share with women early in their careers. I try to shoot down the “one true way” mentality that seems to pervade tech culture. Detours and changes in direction are neither inherently good or bad; they simply add to a person’s valuable experiences and perspectives.
Think of when you’ve seized an opportunity that seemed risky. What came out of it, and how has it changed your path through life? When life presents you with your next chance, how will you respond?
Will taking a chance in the future be any less scary, now that I have a success story under my belt? Absolutely not! Would I do it again? Certainly.