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

A lot of companies talk about investing in their employees, creating a more diverse work environment and growing the workforce, but too many times these are just bullet points in a company handbook. That’s not the case for Raleigh-based software company Pendo, which is working to deliver on those promises.

“Pendo is full of people with unique backgrounds and perspectives, and we are always looking for ways to add to that diversity,” said Leslie Neitzel, vice president of people at Pendo. “As we set hiring plans for the year, we identified some roles in our organization where we could create opportunities for people from underrepresented backgrounds just coming into the workforce.”

Neitzel, who serves as the head of HR, added, “It is important for us to reflect the places in which we live and serve.”

This year Pendo piloted its first student sponsorship to Momentum Learning, a coding school in Durham, complete with a job offer for the student upon the successful completion of Momentum’s program. Pendo and Momentum are no strangers to collaboration as they have previously partnered for events like tech trainings and seminars.

Neitzel said the scholarship is a platform that gives someone from an underrepresented community an opportunity to pursue a career path they may not have considered otherwise.

This year’s lucky scholarship recipient was 23-year-old Jocelyn Casanova, who recently joined Pendo as a technical success engineer after her cohort wrapped up.

Casanova, as a woman and a Latina, represents something that is often missing in the dev industry — the presence of females and minorities alike. It’s estimated that less than 20 percent of tech jobs are held by women. Additionally, there are half as many Hispanics and African Americans in tech compared to the rest of the private sector.

“I’ve always been a person that has a passion for creating — I love making things, whether it’s through art or something else. To me, coding is like a form of art. It’s also complicated and abstract and takes on a different meaning from different angles for different people,” Casanova said. “Coding is something that I can take with me anywhere — it’s a universal language.”

The application of a coding education across several industries and even borders is not lost on Casanova.

Though ambitious and intelligent, Casanova’s post-high school journey has not been easy. After graduating from high school with honors, a personal situation made her ineligible for in-state tuition, throwing a wrench in her university plans. Unable to afford the cost of out-of-state tuition, Casanova enrolled at Wake Technical Community College part-time while simultaneously working several jobs to pay her way through. But the cycle of missing school for work and starting class again only to find herself financially overwhelmed never seemed to let up.

Around that time, her mother saw an ad for Code the Dream, an organization that offers computer programming classes to people from low-income and diverse backgrounds, and encouraged her to look into it.

Casanova learned Ruby on Rails (a coding framework) and was hired to work on staff at Code the Dream. Juggling the course work and multiple jobs again proved to be challenging and Casanova wasn’t able to complete the entire program. However, Code the Dream heard about the Pendo scholarship opportunity at Momentum and encouraged her to apply.

“Jocelyn was like many of our students; she was an amazing high school student and was very involved, made great grades … but she couldn’t get federal financial aid [for college]. Students like Jocelyn are a big part of why we started Code the Dream in the first place,” said Dan Rearick, executive director of Code the Dream. “She did our initial classes and did well, but she wasn’t able to keep going and complete our entire program. In some ways, it’s all the more wonderful that she’s been able to get this opportunity with Momentum.”

Rearick said Casanova lit up the room every time she was in class and calls her an “amazing people person.” Her affability will be an asset to her job, as successful developers tend to work well with others, building strong teams that foster collaboration and the exchange of ideas.

Even though Casanova was fortunate to have a full-time job lined up for her after she finished Momentum’s program, she put pressure on herself to succeed.

“Pendo is the reason why I had the opportunity to enroll at Momentum, and I need to make sure that I am representing them well; and not just them, but myself and my family,” she said. “I’ve gone through lots of ups and downs being an immigrant, and I’m just trying to be an inspiration for my little sister.”

Momentum’s rigorous program was Casanova’s full-time job before starting at Pendo and she absorbed as much as she could, as fast as she could. She said she was “sleeping, breathing and thinking about coding” all day.

“I did everything I could, made friends and tried to understand the concepts — I’m happy that I’m able to learn and be here,” said Casanova, who frequently took the opportunity to communicate how grateful she was for Momentum. She mentioned the intense nature of the program and the adjustment period she had to go through, but said a positive mindset made all the difference.

After being selected from a group of scholarship applicants, Casanova’s optimism and perseverance came through in her interview with the Pendo team. In addition to the diversity component, Neitzel said Pendo was looking for someone who was curious, interested in technology and passionate about serving customers. Neitzel said the team was impressed by Casanova’s passion and her desire to “leave the world a better place than she found it.”

“She has a very strong work ethic,” Neitzel said. Diligence is a trait all Momentum students must have in order to get through the courses. “We’ve hired previous Momentum graduates who have been successful here at Pendo. We know this program prepares its graduates for both the skill requirements and demands of today’s tech jobs.”

Neitzel emphasized the Pendo-sponsored Momentum scholarship is just one step in the company’s effort to continue to build an inclusive workforce.

“I’m thrilled that someone like Joceyln has the opportunity to contribute to that,” Neitzel said. “Our culture is not something that is defined by HR or even the leadership team. Our employees are the co-creators of our culture. When you continue to bring diversity into an arena, you become a better reflection of society.”

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