Caryn Carter didn’t know she had a passion for technology. Until it landed in her lap.
She was working as an Assistant Program Director at the University of Chicago when the school canceled an IT contract, leaving a handful of technology tasks to Caryn and her teammates. Suddenly, she found herself exploring alumni databases and CRM systems—and loving every minute of it. “I found it fascinating,” she said. “The more I learned about IT and software development, the more I liked it.”
That enthusiasm helped her land a Business Analyst position at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College IT. It was there that Caryn realized her love for technology was growing, but her skill set wasn’t keeping up. “When I started working with developers on projects, I felt ignorant,” she said. “I didn’t know how problems got solved, or projects got built. I wanted to stay relevant in my work and wanted to get more knowledgeable.”
Little did she know the chance to level up was about to arrive—right in her backyard.
In July of 2017, her very own Northwestern University partnered with Trilogy Education to host a six-month software development boot camp—and Caryn leapt at the opportunity. “You can only learn so much by osmosis. As much as my colleagues had helped me, I still couldn’t have meaningful conversations about what they were working on because my knowledge gap was so big,” she says. “I thought boot camp would be a great way to get my feet wet. I didn’t realize how intense it would be!”
Dauntless, Caryn dove headfirst into the rigorous curriculum, while continuing to work full-time. The struggle to balance both? She used it as fuel. “I never want to shy away from challenges,” she said. “I always want to see how much I can do, and how good I can be. And if a challenge ends up defeating me, I want to feel that I did my absolute best.”
Development gets real
Part of Caryn’s interest in technology is about helping solve real-world problems—specifically, in the field of medical technology. “There’s so much movement right now in medical IT,” she said. “So many new apps are getting created and so many people are trying to solve human behavioral challenges and logistical challenges. Health care is a really big mess!”
She rallied her boot camp teammates to join her in creating several medical IT projects. These included a chat app that used Google Translate to help doctors communicate with patients who didn’t speak English, and a doctor search app that would make it easier for patients to find the exact specialist they need.
“Those projects brought what we were learning out of the abstract, out of the classroom, and into the real world,” she said. “I loved that element of the program.”
Showing off her chops
When you’re buried deep into a project, like the apps Caryn and her team were building, it’s easy to lose perspective. “You’re working so hard, trying to get it all done in a limited amount of time,” she said. “After a while you question yourself: Is going to work? Is it good enough? Do we have to scale back? You’re so lost in the specifics that you forget how cool what you’re building actually is.”
On demo days, she got her reminder. “Doing the demos was a high,” she said. “You see everyone’s wide-eyed awe. It’s a great moment to step back and show off what you’ve built. That feeling of accomplishment was amazing. I never would have thought at the beginning of the boot camp that we could get so much done in just a few weeks.”
New skills—and a new perspective
In the end, Caryn got what she wanted—and those meaningful interactions with her fellow technologists at Northwestern are now a part of her daily work. “The boot camp dramatically changed how I work with my team,” she said. “My level of understanding has gone from 20 percent to 100 percent. I can look at backend code, test things out, make tweaks, use GitHub, push updates, and submit issues. I’m very much part of the developer team now.”
Beyond enabling her to take a more hands-on role in the tech culture at Northwestern, Caryn has something that’s arguably even more valuable: a new perspective. “The experience opened up a whole world to me of what I’m capable of doing and learning,” she says. “It’s elevated my confidence level. I know that I can do whatever I want to do.”
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