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Meet Trailblazer Melanie Ryan

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melanie Ryan.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Cheesy as it sounds, it all started in my parent’s basement. No, seriously!

One of my most vivid memories of childhood is playing computer games in my parent’s basement. I was completely infatuated by how my favorite Disney characters and Carmen San Diego were appearing on my screen. I actually remember peeking behind the monitor trying to figure it out! I would wake up and go straight down to the computer, install my games without their help, and play out each programmed scenario over and over looking for hidden easter eggs in each frame. I loved the endless possibilities.

I went on to be a bit of tech nerd & early adopter of social media. I played A LOT of Tony Hawk Underground and Call of Duty on PlayStation. I was on everyone’s MySpace Top 8, and created Xanga skins in my spare time, learning HTML & CSS before 13.

Despite dreaming of a future in technology, I doubted my future in software because I wasn’t a star math student, and was under the impression this was an absolute dealbreaker to enter the field. Furthermore, I went to college and took some bad advice, deciding not to pursue a Computer Science degree because I was told it was “useless” (it’s not) and I could learn it on my own (I prefer the classroom).

After graduation, I spent over five years working in startups as a catch-all. While I was constantly drawn to technical projects, building technical skills, and learning new programs, I was pushed into projects that came easily to me. I came to the realization that while startups are great for advancing skill-sets and careers, the skills I was building supported someone else’s dreams instead of my own.

I was unsatisfied with my life, in general, and I didn’t feel challenged in any way that would make me grow or that inspired me to be the best version of myself. I needed to take ownership of my future.

After my employer went through a mass layoff, I had the opportunity to be deeply introspective and ask, “Am I living the life I envision for myself?” The job market in San Diego is TOUGH, and I was killing myself trying to find jobs in career paths I was impartial to.

So, I made a timeline of milestones I wanted to hit in my life. I made a list of dealbreakers in my career – team setting, location, pay, industry. I mapped out my ideal life and strategized how to get there.

I kept coming back to the software and realized the only reason I hadn’t pursued my childhood dream was fear of failure.

I signed up for the UCSD Bootcamp, completed it with an A average, and found employment. I am now part of a team where I have the opportunity to be truly full stack – from requirements to development, and post-launch user support.

Now, I am using skills from my past professional life, expanding my new skill-set on an incredibly supportive team, and – over 2,000 end users use my code.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome? Any advice for other women, particularly young women who are just starting their journey? 
Figuring out your path in life can feel like climbing monkey bars, blindfolded, with missing rails. If you had told me two years ago that I would be a software developer I would have laughed – I’ve been around software development my entire career but never believed I could create the software myself.

My advice is to listen to and trust your instincts. I tried to pursue software several times over the years. I kept listening to bad advice, doubting myself, and procrastinating on learning new skills. I self-sabotaged and couldn’t get it out of my head that I “didn’t belong” in software development – I’d be the only woman, I wasn’t smart enough – that my ego must’ve been inflated to think I could make the pivot.

Make no mistake – learning to code can be challenging, frustrating, and it won’t happen overnight. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. As a woman pursuing coding, you’ll probably be one of the only women on your team. You’ll need to be comfortable being uncomfortable, being wrong, and not knowing everything. If you’re a chronically unsatisfied person who seeks out challenges and truth, who wants to get paid to learn every day of your career, you’ll be a great fit.

If you’re curious, but not completely sure you want to learn to code, I recommend starting with HTML & CSS – these aren’t programming languages, but if you’re itching for more after delving into these, you should move onto JavaScript and give coding a try! And a warning – the first day of learning JavaScript will probably be one of the most stressful days of the entire journey. Whatever language you’re curious about, there’s plenty of online tools, tutorials, and certifications to get you started.

At the end of the day, you’ll know you found your passion when you are inspired every day to wake up and get closer to where you want to be tomorrow. If you’re thinking of making a big change in your life, make a very honest list of dealbreakers for yourself. Be realistic but also ambitious. One tip I can give from personal experience is to estimate the effort and time it will take to get where you want to go – then double it. Are you willing to work that hard for that long? My answer was yes.

Please tell us more about what you do, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I am very proud of making the pivot in my career, especially as it turned into one of my greatest strengths.

With over five years of experience in software startups under my belt, I offer a competitive edge in the job market. In addition to my technical skills in both front and back end, I have marketed both B2C and B2B applications, worked cross-departmentally with Agile/SCRUM teams, managed testing programs and projects, contributed to website revamps and creative collateral, and have developed the ability to manage heavy workloads in fast-paced environments, pivoting at the drop of the hat.

I have both a creative mind and technical skills, so am able to communicate technical jargon to nontechnical colleagues and always consider the end user perspective. These skills have been useful in my current role where I am responsible for everything from determining requirements with nontechnical team, to UI/UX design, and development. I’ve had a taste of every side of the development lifecycle, which is pretty rare.

Do you have any advice for finding a mentor or networking in general? What has worked well for you?
With the job market being flooded with entry-level software developers, networking proved absolutely key for me. Fresh out of my Bootcamp, I had a ton of anxiety about having to continue my job search. What ended up landing me a position was being myself and playing up my strengths and experience instead of worrying about my portfolio and programming languages. Because my employer was seeking a candidate for their incubator team, they were looking for someone with start-up experience with a propensity to push their limits. I landed the job!

I have been lucky to have amazing mentors throughout my career who taught me priceless and always-relevant skills. I have to at least *somewhat* chalk it up to my good attitude. I have worked in some high stress, high-pressure environments – but I always tell myself that even the most difficult moments are just stepping stones to where I want to go. I always keep an open mind, leave ego at the door, and am LOUD about my desire to learn. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t want to share their wisdom with the willing. So be yourself, and show up. But show up as your best self.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Alina Mariah Photography

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