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Kelsey Johnson: Taking a Chance on IT

Sometimes life challenges you to take your own advice. Data analyst for Optum healthcare, Kelsey Johnson, knows this to be true.

Born and raised in a small Mississippi town, Kelsey Johnson only ever saw herself as a teacher. 

“Kids grow up to be who they see in their community,” Johnson said. “Most people from my town grew up to be teachers, nurses, police officers, etc. I always enjoyed learning, so I decided to become a teacher without much thought.”

Once in the classroom, Kelsey thrived. But something was missing. She felt her students needed to understand concepts and careers beyond civil service. 

She began incorporating beginner coding concepts into her classroom activities through Apple’s Swift Playgrounds. Later, she began inviting her college friends to share about their careers in various fields.

“I wanted to encourage my students to explore things in their free time,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have anyone showing me what it means to be a computer engineer, coder, or whatever. My goal was that when they left my classroom, they’d have a greater awareness of their interests and identity.”

In learning alongside her students, Kelsey discovered something unexpected. These topics interested her too. 

I absolutely loved working with young learners,” Johnson said. “But after a decade of telling them that they could be anything they wanted to be if they worked hard enough, I decided to take my own advice.”

In 2021, Kelsey decided it was time to leap into the unknown of a new future. After stumbling across an ad online for Tech901, she enrolled in our Data Analytics course.

Initially, she was nervous. With no previous experience in the field, she wondered if she’d be able to keep up. Those anxieties were quickly put to rest.

“My instructor, Trey, encouraged me from the start,” Johnson said. “In our talks, I learned that some classmates already worked in IT and wanted to add certifications. I was keeping pace with them, which opened my eyes to IT being something I could thrive in.”

After graduation, Kelsey was contacted by our partners at York Solutions about their Barriers to Entry program. A 12-week paid program, York’s B2E cohort is designed to guarantee job placement for those who pass their course.

“It’s a grueling process,” Kelsey said. “I was critiqued heavily at the start, especially on JavaScript, as the only Java I knew at that point came with cream and sugar. But those critiques were not attacks.”

Like our Tech901 team, York instructors know that most incoming students will only be adept at some aspects of their coursework on day one. It is a process. And part of the process is learning to push yourself past the mental barriers that house the unknown.

“My instructor told me that he expected me to struggle at first and that it was part of the process,” Johnson said. “We went from learning what functions were to understanding various data types to building a fully functioning web page with a place to store data on the back end, all in two and half months. It was a whirlwind but taught me tenacity.”

After passing the B2E course, Kelsey was evaluated on her strengths and interviewed with partnered organizations. Now, she’s working from home as a Data Analyst at Optum Health, a drastic - but welcomed - change from life in the classroom.

“Honestly, I love waking up and not having to get dressed up to go to work,” Johnson said. “But in all seriousness, I love puzzles, and now my job every day is to solve problems.”

When reflecting on her journey since starting her position at Optum, Kelsey knows she wouldn’t have embarked without learning about other opportunities and fields beyond her bubble. She wishes to share that lesson with others unsure of their career path or looking for a change.

“Expose yourself and explore branching paths,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have a background in what I do now, but I made it anyways. Take chances on new opportunities, as you never know what's on the other side.”

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