Finding Her Future: How Layla Rivera Changed Careers During COVID-19

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Layla Rivera is no stranger to the classroom. After obtaining a Master’s degree in teaching, she worked in education for 17 years — most recently as an instructional coach with Durham Public Schools.

As an instructional coach, Layla enjoyed collaborating with teachers to improve short- and long-term curriculum planning. But when COVID-19 struck, the career she’d known and loved for so long became completely unpredictable. 

When schools finally resumed in-person teaching, Layla was hesitant to return to the classroom due to health concerns. At a crossroads, she decided it was time to leave the field of education and embark on a new professional journey

Seeking a fresh start

With nearly two decades of experience working in education, Layla wanted to find a job where she could apply her existing skills and continue growing teams and managing large projects. 

While researching potential careers, she stumbled upon technology project management and decided to look at online courses. Eventually, this search led her to the Technology Project Management Boot Camp at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Eager to find her future, Layla enrolled — then started counting down the weeks until her first day of class.

Feeling lost and finding support

From the beginning, the boot camp was a big shift for Layla. Working full-time at Durham Public Schools while also being a student herself, she had to buckle down and focus on time management.

“I would definitely say the program is challenging,” said Layla. “They weren’t joking when they said you need to be able to dedicate at least 10 to 20 hours outside of class to your work. As an educator, I started my day at 7:30a.m. and worked until 3p.m. Then, I would quickly work out and come home, cook dinner, and sit down for class from 6:30 to 9p.m.” 

The transition wasn’t easy, and Layla recalls feeling lost early on. From time to time, she even questioned whether she had made the right decision in switching careers — and whether she could handle the coursework. But after a couple of weeks of hard work, Layla found her footing and started marching forward with confidence.

Passing with flying colors

Looking back, Layla credits her supportive instructors and classmates for helping her find the self-confidence needed to succeed. 

“The boot camp community was great,” she said. “Everybody was there because they wanted to learn, and it was a really supportive environment. From the professor to the TA, everybody was very encouraging.”

Before long, Layla was using every resource at her disposal. From reviewing slides before class to staying after lectures to ask questions, she took initiative to make sure she truly understood the course materials.

While putting in the work was challenging with an already packed schedule, Layla’s biggest hurdle was believing in herself. However, her persistence soon paid off — although she had once doubted her abilities, Layla wound up completing the boot camp with straight As.

“It was a matter of getting over my own fears and realizing that I did have what it takes,” Layla added. “In the beginning, I had wondered: Was this the right decision? Can I really understand and learn this content? But by the end, I realized that I could do this.”

Taking the next step

After 18 weeks of hands-on learning in the boot camp, Layla has now started her search for a job in tech project management. Although her classes are over, the program’s Career Engagement Network is still there to support Layla through this exciting transition.

“I’ve been taking advantage of the Career Services resources, because everybody on that side is just so phenomenally supportive, nice, and encouraging,” said Layla. “It’s so hard to switch careers — it’s almost like saying, ‘Alright, I’m going to hang up my hat and try something totally different.’ With the support from Career Services staff, I feel like I have a bunch of cheerleaders in my corner.”

As she applies for new jobs, Layla is grateful for the deep technical knowledge she gained in the boot camp. “It feels so good to be able to say I’ve learned something new,’” she said. “And it’s not just a superficial understanding — it’s deep, lasting knowledge.”

Looking to make the change to tech? Explore UNC-Chapel Hill Boot Camps in coding, data analytics, and technology project management.

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