Long-time Indianapolis resident Becky Tarnowski had her heels dug into the public school education system for years, from teaching elementary-aged children to instructional coaching. During her time on the education career track, Becky would occasionally find herself popping into the technology and programming world, leveraging tools like Excel to enable her instruction. As the years went by and she found herself engaging more deeply with tech tools–and thoroughly enjoying it–she began considering a completely different career path: software engineering.
This exploration eventually landed her in Ironclad’s internship class of 2023, sitting on our engineering, product, and design (EPD) team as a software engineering intern. We recently sat down with Becky to chat through her winding career journey, the double-edged sword of Imposter syndrome, how Ironclad has influenced her professional growth, and what’s on her horizons next. Let’s dive in!
You started your career in education. What did you like about teaching?
I had the privilege of working in the Indianapolis Public Schools district for seven years, initially as a teacher and later as an instructional coach. The schools I was a part of–The Butler University Laboratory Schools–had a project-based approach to learning, and I enjoyed the creativity involved in incorporating students’ interests into the curriculum. One of my favorite projects started when one of my 4th grade students asked, “What happens to water when it goes down the drain?” During this project, we explored the water cycle, watersheds, and even took a field trip to the local wastewater treatment plant.
At the end of the day, though, what I loved most about teaching was the students. They brought so much joy, energy, excitement, and laughter to my days, and I am honored to have gotten to be a part of their lives.
When did you start thinking about making a shift?
The decision to make a shift in careers was a gradual process that spanned over a few years. It was marked by lots of small moments that built over time where I noticed my passion for using technology to solve problems.
One of those pivotal moments was when I was leading a research study on the impact that representation in our school environment had on students’ sense of belonging, and I developed a spreadsheet that disaggregated data in a digestible way. I loved the rush I felt when successfully getting Excel functions to work and ended up building lots of different spreadsheets for our school to help discover trends in data. It got to the point where it became a running joke within our staff about how much I loved making these spreadsheets… I really loved it!
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we had to figure out how to make school happen virtually. I quickly learned new technologies to help make that happen and created training and enablement sessions for our teachers and staff. I began to wonder if I could use these skills and interests in technology as a career.
Once you decided to make a shift, how did you go about it?
After the 2022 school year, I made the hard decision to not return to teaching, though I didn’t know what I wanted to do next aside from a gut feeling that I might enjoy doing something related to tech. I listened to podcasts from former teachers who transitioned into different careers and took a variety of online classes to see what I enjoyed.
As it turns out, I couldn’t get enough of the coding classes. I took introductory HTML, CSS, and Python classes and an introduction to computer science class. I also started attending a friend’s Code and Coffee meetup. This friend just so happens to be one of Ironclad’s amazing engineering managers, Michael Welling! He and the Code and Coffee community were so supportive, and their encouragement gave me the push I needed to pursue a software engineering bootcamp.
When exploring different bootcamp options, Michael connected me with a former Ironclad software engineer who was also a bootcamp grad. She told me about Hackbright Academy, and that is the program I ended up attending. From the beginning, Ironclad’s Cladiators were helping shape me into the engineer I am today.
What was it like starting out on this new journey into software engineering? What challenges did you face?
The full stack software engineering bootcamp I completed was an intensive and transformative experience. During the span of three months, I went from having a very basic understanding of programming concepts to being able to build my own full stack web application, which is a site that allows people to discover children’s books with diverse characters, tying together the research I did on representation and belonging, my passion for education, and my passion for engineering.
Learning so much at such a rapid pace posed a unique set of challenges. I found the most challenging part to be figuring out how to process and retain everything while drinking out of a firehose. I discovered that I was able to best make sense of all of the information through lots of repetition with the content and taking the time to apply it to my own projects.
Another challenge I faced when starting out (and still face) was imposter syndrome. I found myself doubting my abilities and feeling insecure about my non-traditional path to engineering. I have come to realize, though, that my different background allows me to bring another set of skills to the profession– lots of patience, strong collaboration and communication skills, and an ability to address problems with a growth-mindset.
How did you end up at Ironclad?
I heard about the internship opportunity at Ironclad from my friend and mentor Michael Welling, and I was blown away by the candidate experience during the interview process. The first step in the interview was a welcome session paired with a product demo. What a great first impression! During the technical interviews, the engineers I worked with were collaborative, kind, and gave on-the-spot feedback in regards to my code.
My last interview with who would become my manager–Parm Rane–solidified for me that Ironclad was the place I wanted to be. He asked me questions about my learning style and shared how the internship experience could be supportive of it. He also shared with me how he saw my background in education as an asset, and that made me feel seen and valued for my unique background.
What has your experience been like at Ironclad?
The internship experience at Ironclad has been such a positive one, and that is largely in part due to the people here. Everyone I have met at Ironclad has been so generous with sharing their time and knowledge and has been exceptionally kind.
My mentor for the internship program, Kelvin Jue, has been an incredible teacher and endlessly patient. He taught me how to navigate working in such a large codebase, how to branch and merge code, and so much more. I have also had the opportunity to work with many other engineers on both my immediate team and on other teams. From pair programming to debugging, I gained valuable experience learning from others.
Also during the internship program, we had the opportunity to meet with members of the executive leadership team. Jason Li, the Chief Technology Officer, shared some great advice in one of these sessions. He said, “Just try, and know you can fail safely.” As a perfectionist, having permission to try, fail, and learn from my mistakes was freeing. Oftentimes, the problems we are solving as engineers do not have immediate, clear solutions and involve a lot of trial and error, and “just trying” is a simple yet powerful reminder and mindset shift.
What are your top 3 takeaways?
1. In the words of Ironclad’s VP of Engineering, Jiahan Ericsson,“Believe in your ability to transform.”
There is a lot to learn in engineering. Resist the temptation to compare yourself to others. If you’re not yet understanding something, trust that you have the power to grow, learn, and transform. Take a deep breath and know that with time and effort understanding will come.
2. Ask questions!
There is a time and a place for trying to solve things on your own, but if you’re feeling stuck for too long, reach out to your team. We all have a lot to learn from others!
3. Build relationships.
Reach out and schedule 1:1s with your immediate team members and members of the company as a whole. Not only do you learn more about people, but you also gain a more well-rounded understanding of the company and product.
Any last thoughts?
Overall, I am very grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow alongside the incredible team here at Ironclad.To anyone else out there who is thinking about making a career change or learning something new, channel Jiahan’s words and believe in your ability to transform. You’ve got this!
Ironclad is not a law firm, and this post does not constitute or contain legal advice. To evaluate the accuracy, sufficiency, or reliability of the ideas and guidance reflected here, or the applicability of these materials to your business, you should consult with a licensed attorney. Use of and access to any of the resources contained within Ironclad’s site do not create an attorney-client relationship between the user and Ironclad.
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