This story was written for WRAL TechWire Advisor partner Momentum Learning.

When we’re young, we are often asked what we want to be when “we grow up.” Perhaps you wanted to be a teacher or a doctor. Some of your schoolmates may have aspired to be astronauts, singers or firemen. But, it’s probably safe to say that few — if any— of your elementary school friends piped up and said they wanted to be a software developer.

Coding and software development isn’t necessarily new, but the exposure to the field as a career has taken off in the past two decades as technology becomes faster, smarter and more accessible.

Software engineering can trace its origins back to the 1960s and emerged as a profession alongside computer science and traditional engineering in the 1980s. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that IT jobs will grow by 22 percent by 2020.

Molly Brown was working in various capacities and roles at the Museum of Life and Science when she decided to enroll at Momentum Learning, a coding school in Durham that teaches adult students the skills they need to become developers.

With a degree in biochemistry, STEM was already of interest to Brown. After seeing the impact of a code school education on her wife, who took a course at the Iron Yard in its early days, Brown began to consider software development as a potential career change.

“I have always been very interested in science and math, and enjoyed my formal education in the physical sciences,” Brown said. “I found my way to the science museum, where I could still engage with science but in an extremely collaborative, creative and fulfilling way. More recently, I have found myself wanting to do more science-based thinking in my work and even considered returning to the physical sciences, but that’s when software engineering occurred to me.”

Brown said that development seemed like the most ideal combination of her creative and collaborative values, but in the context of an analytical and scientific process.

She described her time at Momentum as “really enjoyable” and is now a software developer at Spreedly, a cloud-based payments infrastructure company that enables businesses to work with several payment gateways simultaneously.

“Something I really appreciated that is unique to Momentum is the focus on career placement,” Brown said. “Throughout the 12 weeks, in addition to learning how to code, we had guests from local technology companies visit to give tech talks, we went on field trips to visit area companies, and were also given many networking opportunities and one-on-one meetings. Momentum uses its connections in the region to really benefit its students.”

Momentum graduate Parker Preyer agreed.

“If you take advantage of the career services and the networking side of [Momentum], you really have an opportunity to set yourself up, not for your first job, but for your second and third,” he said. “I know so many more people in the Durham technology industry as someone who had just moved to the area and didn’t know that many people beforehand.”

Knowing the up-and-coming potential of tech opportunities in the area, Preyer returned after years away in San Francisco to attend a code school in the Triangle.

“I worked for a [San Francisco-based] technology start-up company called Okta. That was an amazing experience because I got to see a company grow from 60 employees [to more than] 2,000,” he said. “While I was there, I was doing sales and marketing. I really enjoyed those roles, but I found myself really interested in product innovation and kept looking over the shoulders of some of my engineering friends.”

Momentum Learning Coding Education

Coding and software development isn’t necessarily new, but the exposure to the field as a career has taken off in the past two decades as technology becomes faster, smarter and more accessible. (Photo Courtesy of Momentum Learning)

While still at Okta, Preyer took online tutorials and realized he really liked coding and programming. With intentions to return back east to be closer to family, he kept reading about “how amazing the Raleigh-Durham technology scene was.”

Preyer applied and was accepted to the Iron Yard coding school, but in the midst of his cross-country trip, the school shut down. That’s when he got in touch with Jessica Mitsch, co-founder and CEO of Momentum.

“I knew I wanted to go to code school, but with the Iron Yard closing, I was just a little bit in limbo,” he said.

It wasn’t long before Preyer was enrolled at Momentum, of which he has “nothing but positive things to say” about his time there.

Preyer recently began his new role as a software developer at Adwerx, a digital advertising company for real estate and local businesses. Even though the learning curve is large, Preyer has no qualms that this is a career he wants for life.

“I haven’t second-guessed the decision to go to Momentum at all,” he said. “I’m really excited to be at Adwerx, and I’m learning a ton every day.”

Momentum graduate Crystal Mackey Free is a newly minted software developer at Spoonflower, a Durham-based software company that helps produce custom fabric.

She began at Spoonflower “cutting fabric and shipping it” before working in the customer service department. Free soon realized she wanted to be able to address problems that customers raised by solving the issue on the backend.

“I was very drawn to the problem-solving aspect of programming. I worked in customer service, so I was constantly hearing about problems that our customers would have, but I would have no way to correct those problems because I didn’t know how to fix certain stumbling blocks on the website or in the experience,” Free explained. “So I started teaching myself to do very simple things in my off time.”

Her piqued interest lead her to Momentum, and with the skills she learned there, she is back where she started — at Spoonflower — but in a completely new role.

Brown said the cool thing about code school is that everyone there is “making some sort of significant change from their pre-code school life.”

“Every person in my cohort had different motivations for being there and came from different types of careers,” she said.

During her time at Momentum, Free felt supported by Spoonflower, her family and the Momentum staff as she was learning the intensive curriculum. A big takeaway for her, other than the technical skills she learned? The importance of teamwork.

“I felt like I was learning so much, not just programming, but how to work on a team, how to project manage — all of these great skills that I don’t feel like you can get in a traditional, computer science course,” she said.

Preyer added coding is an “awesome career path” because you don’t necessarily need a formal degree.

“I really like that each day is new,” he said. “Every morning that I’ve come into the office so far, I’ve gotten a new task … you’re just constantly problem-solving. It’s been an amazing way to exercise the brain.”

Added Brown, “Coding is awesome. I’m surprised it has taken me so long for me to find it. It is at once analytical, creative and mysterious.”

This story was written for WRAL TechWire Advisor partner Momentum Learning.