In the 90’s, when Sara Kennedy was in middle school, her parents bought their first home computer.
Wanting to learn how it worked, Kennedy soon found herself disassembling the machine. She started by simply taking off the CPU’s cover and looking around before closing it back. Then she graduated to taking out the disk drives, putting them back and testing if everything still worked.
“I used to get excited, probably too excited, about taking care of the operating system updates,” Kennedy admits. “I loved waiting to put in the next CD from the collection of Windows upgrade disks.”
Despite her interest and abilities in technology, it was difficult for anyone in her family to think of computers as anything more than just home entertainment, so neither she nor her parents considered a possible career path in computers or IT.
“It’s hard, sometimes impossible, to imagine how a piece of technology will evolve, and I think most parents and children during that time didn’t expect computers, software or the internet to become what they have become today,” Kennedy said.
So after finishing her fine-arts degree, she worked eight years in arts and nonprofit administration in the Midlands before taking a career and life leap into The Iron Yard’s fast-paced, three-month web-development program in 2014. It was one of the scariest and most-difficult things she’s done in her life (so far), Kennedy said.
“All I had to do before enrolling was prepare to put my regular life on hold, give up all sources of income for three or more months, take out a substantial loan, become a 30-year-old student, and trust that someone would want to hire me when it was all over,” she said.
But Colonial Life did.
The past two years, Kennedy has worked on the Unum UX (User Experience) Team as a front-end developer, and has contributed to Colonial Life’s login/password update and Electronic Claims initiative. She is currently working with other UX team members to develop a collection of resources, including a component library, that can be used by other developers to create high-quality interfaces.
Away from her “day” job, she’s volunteered with Colonial Life’s Tech Day to introduce middle-school students (primarily girls and minorities) to tech fields available to them and she currently chairs Columbia’s 100 Girls of Code chapter.
Her career path and volunteer work to introduce opportunities available in tech to new people has brought with it deserved attention. She was recently featured in an issue of Fig Columbia focused on Columbia’s creative class, and in August, she was the keynote speaker at the inaugural Women in Tech Columbia meetup. The goal of this event was to equip women with tools, skills, resources and support needed to meet challenges in the workplace and the technology field.
Kennedy shared with the audience how intimidating it was to enroll at The Iron Yard and to start her journey into a brand new field. The experience at the coding school was overwhelming, she said. In order to take in all of the information she was being taught, she realized that first she would need to learn how to learn.
During her time at The Iron Yard and her two years in her new career, Kennedy has picked up several important takeaways for those interested in a tech career:
- Don’t sweat your learning curve
- Be honest about your skill level, to yourself and those you work with
- Don’t strive to be like others
- Expect to fail so you can be prepared to try again
“I believe these ideas are beneficial in all aspects of my life. But in web development, things move very fast and I am often prone to feeling left behind,” she said. “So keeping these ideas in mind help me focus on continuously moving forward – no matter how small a movement it may be.”