From Teaching Math to Landing a Role at a Shark Tank Startup: Eric Cadena’s Road to Career Fulfillment in FinTech

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Eric Cadena was on the brink of uncertainty. He was days away from his college graduation, expecting his first child, and needed to secure a job. At the time, his next move wasn’t about passion, it was about necessity. Eric connected with his education professor, interviewed for a role at one of her contacts’ schools, and was in the classroom as a math teacher the next day.

“I just rolled with the punches,” said Eric. “After a while, the job started wearing on me. I wasn’t receiving the respect, responses, or recognition that I sought.” Eric started a master’s program in computational finance, hoping it would spark something new for him, but remained disheartened.

One day, an advertisement for Rice University FinTech Boot Camp flashed across his screen. Intrigued by the idea of exploring the technology behind his finance tools — and interested in gaining more momentum to enter the finance field — he applied.

Finding his motivation and catching steam

“I had been told before that Python was a hole in my resume,” said Eric. “This was the perfect opportunity to fill that hole and get my foot in the door of the industry.” Between teaching full-time, completing his master’s degree, and pursuing the boot camp, Eric was juggling way more than the average student — but he was propelled by his drive to make a career change for the better.

In the boot camp, Eric maintained his motivation thanks to the active mentorship of his instructor. Even though Eric didn’t enjoy teaching himself, he was inspired by the skill and passion that his instructor was bringing to the table, and as topics got more rigorous, Eric became increasingly invested. He gained even more steam during his first collaborative project, where he worked with fellow classmates to develop a program that scored the quality of living in different geographical area codes based on factors like food index, health scores, business success, and more. 

“At first, the dynamic was a little awkward,” said Eric. “But eventually, we came to realize each other’s strengths and created a really strong project. The same went for the class as a whole. It became much more collaborative over time, to the point where everyone was asking questions, participating, and focusing. If all classrooms could be more like ours, I think everybody would learn a lot more. I realized what a collaborative workplace should be like, and what I wanted to experience in my day-to-day job.”

Putting himself out there and reaping the rewards

About halfway through the boot camp, a friend circulated a job posting for a role at Cheers Health, an established, accolade-studded startup featured on Shark Tank. At first, nobody in his cohort felt qualified enough to apply. But Eric was encouraged to give it a shot, assured by his friend and his instructor that the list of qualifications was more of a wishlist than an absolute requirement. They were looking for someone with a startup mentality who wasn’t afraid to learn quickly and rise to a challenge — and after a rigorous two month interview process requiring multiple stages of Excel, coding, and finance testing, Eric earned the position. 

“I wouldn’t have gotten this job if it wasn’t for the boot camp,” said Eric. “This type role — Manager of Finance and Analytics — is exactly what the boot camp is preparing people to do. The job falls right at the epicenter of finance and technology. Every day, I manage and report the company’s KPIs and other financial data to my superiors so that they can make better management decisions. I use Python, R, Excel, AWS, and whatever else I can learn in a given day to get my job done. The boot camp taught me to do this — to be comfortable being uncomfortable — to take the time to sit down and learn something quickly.”

Reflecting on what’s changed and how he’s grown

In a true fintech position, bridging the gap between his Director of Finance and his CTO, Eric is finally fulfilled by his career. He remains inspired by his colleagues, and he’s driven to continue lifting himself up to a higher level of work. He’s smarter and tougher than he’s ever been.

“I went from a dark place, stuck in a job that was weighing heavily on me, to here,” said Eric. “If you want something to change, you have to do something about it. Trilogy is giving students the skills they need to make those changes, and I’m fully behind it. Dollar for dollar, I got just as much — if not more — out of this boot camp as I did from my master’s program. It’s not about being book smart, it’s about being skills smart and investing in yourself. I saw students who didn’t have college educations soar beyond students who did. It brought all types of people together, and I was really fortunate to experience it.”

Interested in tapping into your full potential, regardless of your background? Explore Rice University Boot Camps.

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