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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Discovering a Gold Mine of an Opportunity

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by Kara Kavensky

Whitney Harden was born in the Highland Park neighborhood in inner city Detroit. Her dad was an accountant and he had an old school laptop in the 90s. This is where Whitney’s interest in computers began. In elementary school, Whitney was the only student in the Computer Club. She made fliers in a basic graphic design program, as there were not a lot of options.

When Whitney was 14, she moved with her mom to Gary, where she attended Wirt High School. She had interests in marketing, business, and technology and had a lot of great teachers. At Wirt HS, the Business Club was really popular, at at that time, there typical “exec board”type roles. A special role of “Marketing Secretary” was created for Whitney, since her interests didn’t necessary fit into the traditional positions offered.

Track and field was Whitney’s main sport and after graduating from high school, she ran track at Manchester University, where she majored in athletic training. Initially, Whitney wanted to be a doctor, then changed to Physical Therapy, but soon realized that she did not want to have a career in athletics. It was her junior year when she had changed her mind, but she decided to finish her course, as it seemed daunting to switch up direction at this point.

Whitney worked hard to become an academic advisor, adding an additional course work and commuted from Gary to South Bend three days a week for a job as an advisor. This position transferred her to Indianapolis, where she continued to enjoy being a mentor to others.

“While I enjoyed mentorship immensely, I am a problem solver and analyzer. I missed doing math and technical stuff,” says Whitney. She took the very career assessments that she encouraged her students to take and “technology” propagated to the top of her personal list.

Whitney looked into coding classes and tried out several online options and learned enough to begin consulting on websites. She became quite busy with this side hustle and put out something on LinkedIn and a Marketing Director at a financial firm offered Whitney a position as a web developer. She accepted the position, but two months later, the firm restructured the marketing department and Whitney lost her job. A LinkedIn a recruiter reached out to Whitney and she was placed with an IT consulting firm.

Eleven Fifty Academy had been on Whitney’s radar for a couple years. She really wanted to attend the immersive coding bootcamp but cost seemed like a barrier. Besides, as a single mom with an eleven year old son, she couldn’t just give up her job. Then the pandemic hit and she was let go. Whitney’s mom sent her some information on the CARES Act funding available to Eleven Fifty Academy students and Whitney was enrolled into the UX | UI (user experience, user interface) course within a week.

During a breakout session in the UX | UI course, Whitney spoke with an instructor for the web development course and she got really excited about web dev. Whitney spoke with Senior Admissions Advisor Alex Volyk who helped get her enrolled in the immersive 12-week web dev course.

Whitney had tried the UX | UI first because she had done some grad work at DePauw Univeristy and was familiar with it and wanted to further explore the concepts. She was already experienced with a little knowledge of this area and wanted to sharpen some of her skills. Whitney enjoyed the structure of the course and the guest speakers, which enabled the students to engage with companies. She learned new design skills, which helped give her some great ideas for her career path.

“The web dev course was great and my ‘imposter syndrome’ diminished during the course after seeing that everyone else was at the same level. I gained more confidence,” says Whitney, who is now earning $20k more than she did before attending Eleven Fifty Academy. “Eleven Fifty helped me to fill in so many gaps, I did not realize just how much I would learn, and on the first day, I knew it was going to be worthwhile.”

The web developer course helped Whitney explore opportunities to be a designer and a developer. She is now a Campaign Operations Associate with Wunderkind.

“The tech industry is a gold mine that people may not understand,” says Whitney. “Speaking the language of coding is such a valuable skill and being in the Black community, there are many people who are unaware of this. If they just knew how much it [accelerating to a career in tech] could boost their salary and change their lives very quickly — tech can be a game changer.”

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