Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Mónica Polanco Fabián is an expert at adapting to change — and recognizing when it’s time to pursue something new.
After graduating from college, Mónica embarked on a winding journey through three different fields: education, then law, and finally social work. Although she loved helping people, Mónica realized what her career was missing was the ability to learn new things. With that in mind, she set off to find a field that combined her passions. The journey took her to North Carolina, where she enrolled in The Coding Boot Camp at UNC-Chapel Hill.
“I wanted to find a way to create change in a bigger way,” said Mónica. “I thought that would be most doable through technology.”
What’s Mónica up to now? Since completing the program, she’s landed a job as a full stack developer at IBM, where she learns new concepts every day. To help future students make the most of their time in the boot camp, here are three lessons she picked up along the way.
1. Work hard and create a strong peer support network
Beyond working hard during class, Mónica credits her success to the many hours she spent honing her skills outside of it — and the time commitment is a serious one not to be taken lightly.
“You need to do everything in your power to continue to learn, practice the skills they teach you, and supplement your education,” she said. “That’s what made me competitive at the end of the day.”
Of course, consistently practicing isn’t easy. The key is having a group of people to keep you on track. Luckily, the boot camp involves three group projects that help you meet classmates. Mónica formed a close bond with her teammates and, in turn, they helped each other learn new concepts and stay motivated.
“I met a lot of people that had a lot of the same interests, and we even formed a group outside of the boot camp,” she said. “Even now, we continue to code and keep our skills up.”
2. Take advantage of the boot camp’s resources
Before the program ended, Mónica began concentrating on the job search ahead. Robin, her career services advisor, was instrumental in helping Mónica connect with other tech professionals. The boot camp also provided resume help, which she used to get her own resume ready for potential employers.
“They don’t just give you the material and say ‘good luck,’” she said. “They walk you through the application process for three months after the program ends. That was one of the reasons that I decided to do this program over others. The boot camp really gives you a lot of resources and I took full advantage of them.”
3. Apply, apply, apply
When it comes time to actually find a job, Mónica has some advice: submit as many applications as possible, and take every interview you’re offered.
She estimates that she applied to hundreds of companies, adjusting her resume and cover letter for each one. From the 10 that she heard back from, she received interviews with three. Even when an opportunity wasn’t her first choice, she still took the chance to interview and learn from the experience.
“My teachers encouraged me to interview for everything because they said I’d learn so much,” she said. “I one-hundred percent agree with that.”
For instance, despite wanting to stay in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, Mónica interviewed for a position in Georgia. What followed was an extremely difficult, multi-round interview that ultimately served as a valuable learning experience.
“I had to answer tough questions one after the other,” she said. “That was the most difficult experience ever, but it really taught me how to interview and know what they’re looking for.”
“At the end of the day, I think the reason I didn’t last very long in those other jobs was because, although I learned so much about all those industries and worked with amazing people, there was a limit to how much you could grow,” she said. “As a software developer, your whole job is to continue to learn because the industry is developing every single day.”
Ready to start learning? Explore the boot camps in coding and data analytics at UNC-Chapel Hill.