From Tutus to Tech: How a Ballerina Became a Front-End Developer With Kara Luton (S8E7)

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Kara Luton

Kara Luton was 17 years old, living on her own in New York City, and was on her way to becoming a professional ballerina. However, the competitive nature of the dance world brought her elsewhere – to the music industry. But, similar to her previous career, she got burnt out. In her search to find something else, Kara stumbled across coding.

After pursuing a career as a professional ballerina, Kara moved back to her hometown of Nashville, TN to work as a music publicist. A life of pitching journalists and walking red carpets left her feeling unfulfilled and she made the switch to being a software engineer. She enrolled in a boot camp, and everything started to fall into place. Kara is now a software engineer working as a UX engineer at CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity company, and she has a passion for introducing others to this industry and showing them they can succeed.

In this episode, Kara talks about how she went from ballerina to front-end engineer, how her athletic training helped her in her tech career, the importance of networking, and much more.

This episode was transcribed with the help of an AI transcription tool. Please forgive any typos.

Laurence Bradford 0:08
Hey, welcome to another episode of the Learn to Code With Me podcast. I'm your host, Laurence Bradford and today's episode is all about someone who started off pursuing a professional career as a ballerina, and now works in front end engineering. All that is coming up after a quick word about this season's wonderful sponsor.

Laurence Bradford 0:36
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Laurence Bradford 1:15
And we're back in today's episode I talk with Kara Luton. Kara is a software engineer currently working as a UX engineer at CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity company. I wanted to reach out to Kara because she has a very unique background. And the path that she took to get into tech is anything but ordinary. she pursued a career as a professional ballerina until the age of 18. She then switched to music publicity for several years, and now works as a UX engineer. And that's what we're going to be talking about today. How Kara went from ballerina to front end engineer, how her athletic training has helped her in her tech career, and how to spend skills and experiences from previous careers to land a job that you don't have a traditional background in. Our conversation also touches on the importance of networking and what it's like to work as a UX engineer. If you want to make the switch into tech from a completely unrelated field, then this episode is for you. Enjoy.

Laurence Bradford 2:24
Hey, Kara, thank you so much for coming on the show. How are you doing?

Kara Luton 2:27
I'm good. Thank you so much for having me.

Laurence Bradford 2:30
Yes, of course. So where are you located right now?

Kara Luton 2:34
So right now I am right outside of Nashville, Tennessee.

Laurence Bradford 2:38
Oh, okay. Awesome. Have you been living there for a while?

Kara Luton 2:41
Yeah, I pretty much say that. I'm a Nashville native. Because I've lived here the longest my family was in the military. So I kind of moved around a lot. But Nashville is really home for me.

Laurence Bradford 2:50
Okay, awesome. Well, I was just like to give listeners like a sense of like, where you're coming from, and all of that. But I just want to dive right into everything. Could you tell me a bit about your background and what you were doing before you got into tech?

Kara Luton 3:03
Oh, gosh. So I got into tech about five or six years ago, I went to a boot camp. But before that I was working as a music publicist here in Nashville. And Gosh, before that, I was pursuing a career as a professional ballerina. So I did ballet my entire life. I was really passionate about it, especially in high school. And my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to move to New York City on my own, do High School online. And I was a trainee with the Joffrey Ballet School, which is kind of like one of the first steps in becoming a professional. And I really loved what I was doing. I mean, it was amazing being 17 living on my own in New York City. But I'd always known I'm wanting to go to college. So when that decision, when I had to decide what I really wanted to major in in college, if I wanted to major in ballet, or if I wanted to major in something else. I kind of decided you know, I'm gonna drop ally for now, I wasn't as passionate about it. I was getting injured all the time. And honestly, it's just not a great environment to be in. It's very competitive. So I was like, you know, I'm gonna move back home Nashville. I enrolled for my freshman year at Belmont University. And I was a public relations major. And the reason I chose that was honestly because of the hills with like, Lauren Conrad. She made it seem like super cool. And originally, I wanted nothing to do with the music business. But obviously being in Nashville and thalma is a school that's really known for their music business program. I got drawn into it. So I was really lucky to land a job in the music industry, right out of college. It was everything I'd worked forward towards college because I'd done a bunch of internships and this was my my big goal. So I was really kind of living out my dreams after I graduated. But I did that for several years, and I was getting burnt out really quickly. And that's when I was sitting there to myself one day and I was like I need to find something else either. I do. Kind of

Kara Luton 5:00
Normal PR something outside of music, or I need to find something else. And I actually stumbled upon code, CAD me and started teaching myself HTML and CSS and was like, Oh, this is a lot of fun. I started you know, I'm a very type a person. So I was like researching everything and reaching out to people doing coffee meetings and kind of learn that it's, it seemed like a pretty cool job. And because of my time at Joffrey when I was doing online high school, I knew that really teaching myself was not not an option for me. And I didn't want to go back to school because I already had so many school loans. So I found a boot camp and enrolled in that. And now I've been in tech ever since.

Laurence Bradford 5:41
Wow, well, great story very, like concise, like, Yeah, awesome story, that you did such a good job delivering that Oh, my gosh. Okay, so I definitely have a lot of things I want to go back on and ask you about. The first though, I think is just like being a ballerina and what that was like, so when before I advise you to come on the show, I was thinking we never had anyone I think on the podcast that was like a professional athlete that I know of. And I consider you know, being a ballerina and doing that like full time your senior year to be like, basically professional athlete. Is there anything from your time of being a ballerina that you see, like from your ballerina training that you see helping you today in your tech career?

Kara Luton 6:22
Oh, my gosh, there are so many things from doing ballet that I use daily in my tech career, kind of the first one is just always practicing and never giving up. You know, ballet is so meticulous, the littlest of things come into detail. And you got to keep practicing over and over again, even when you are professional. And you're in a company, you're not just doing these ballets every single day, you're taking your technique classes, kind of building upon the foundations. And that's something that we do in tech all the time. You know, especially as developers, we're you know, you don't do a JavaScript tutorial. And you're amazing at it overnight. Although I wish that was the case, you are always doing these tutorials, you're learning about the newest things, learning about new languages or technologies. And you're kind of building upon that throughout your career, not something I'm really grateful that ballet taught me is just kind of to keep learning and keep evolving on your talent and never giving up on it. But I think ballet also was really good at teaching me about like paying attention to little details, which is something I talk about a lot for people that are new to tech is there's so many small details and you can get frustrated, there's been so many times where I get frustrated because I've either misspelled something and I've overlooked it or forgotten to semi colon like the you know, the traditional error when it comes to programming. And taking steps. You know, when I was doing ballet, if I was having trouble with the move, I would break it down little move by little move because each move kind of builds upon itself. It's the same thing with code. Like if I'm stuck, I'll comment everything out and break it down line by line and make sure to dive in and see what's wrong. So when I took a step back and kind of compared ballet and code, I was amazed to see it like how much they had in common really, two things that you would never think would be similar in any way.

Laurence Bradford 8:06
Yeah, I've interviewed a lot of people on the show before who've worked in other creative professions, maybe not like physical, so much fun, like music and art and whatnot. And especially with music, I feel like there are a lot of similarities. I'm not a musical person. But from the people that I've spoken to Who are you can read music, play music, they always said it was that there were a lot of parallels between the two things like writing code, reading, writing music, and I always thought that was really interesting. But are you still dancing today? Like in any way?

Kara Luton 8:39
No, I'm not. I wish I was, you know, kind of at the height of the pandemic, I took advantage of it. And I was doing some ballet classes over zoom from home. And it was really nice doing that. But my problem with ballet doing it now is one classes are very long. They're like an hour and a half. So to take that time out of my day. It's a lot. But also, I just remember being able to do all of this stuff in ballet, like being able to lift my leg all the way up and being able to do these complex moves. And now I mean, I'm not that old. I'm in my late 20s. But I can't do that stuff anymore, because I haven't done ballet in a long time. So it kind of makes me sad. I do it. I've looked into I think I want to take up tap dancing because I used to do that when I was a kid but I wasn't that good at it. So it's like now if I did it's not I don't have to compare myself to how I was because I was never that good.

Laurence Bradford 9:30
Yeah. Oh my gosh. So I was thinking don't a lot of ballerinas retire really young, right? Like they only

Kara Luton 9:37
Yeah, they do. So ballet is a pretty short lived career. Like you're lucky if you get into like your mid 30s. And you're still doing it.

Laurence Bradford 9:44
Yeah, one of the most common questions I feel like I get asked is am I too old to transition into tech? You know, if someone's in like their 30s or 40s or 50s even? And I feel like the answer is no, it's just you know, how hard Will you work? You know, you're you're getting You're learning by feel like with some things like being a ballerina, if you're in your 50s, you know, kind of you could do, you could do it recreationally, but the chances of being a professional ballerina or really with any, like, professional, athletic endeavor, it's kind of generally possible.

Kara Luton 10:16
Yeah, it's crazy how young ballerina start training. I mean, I was, I think I was around four or five, a lot of girls around that age. for boys, it's a little bit older, like, you can honestly be like, 10 and start doing it. But yeah, it's definitely a lifelong endeavor. If you want to get into a professional, you can definitely always start it recreationally at any age. It's a great workout, too. Yeah, they

Laurence Bradford 10:36
have ballet classes on the mirror, I have one of the workout here. I've never done one. I do some of her other dance classes. Not ballet, though. But maybe I'll try it one day, I just like things a little more fast paced, and I started a few and it seemed a lot slower. But anyway, I don't want to talk too much. Doing dansa as a workout, I would love to hear more about your experience working in PR and music, because I also feel like that must have like that, like the skills you gained and things that you did there must help you out today in tech as well, right?

Kara Luton 11:09
Yeah, of course they do. So my time as a music publicist, like I said, I worked all towards college for I started interning this summer after my freshman year, and really enter into every semester to be able to get that job in the music industry. Because no PR is really competitive itself. And then when you want to do a niche, like music industry, PR, it's even smaller. So especially getting that kind of assistant entry level role was really difficult to come by. And so I was really grateful that I got that role pretty quickly out of college. But the biggest thing I think PR for is one my writing skills, because as developers, you know, we're not just writing code every single day, we're kind of explaining that code writing documentation, all of that. So I'm really grateful that PR kind of honed to my writing skills and made them more impressive than they were when I was in college. But the second thing really is it got me out of my shell. You know, before especially before college I was, I'm still an introvert but I was very shy. And throughout my time in college, I kind of got more out of my shell. But PR really kind of busted that open for me because I had to go and network with so many people and just say hey, you don't know me. But I'm Kara, I represent X and Y artist, you're a journalist love to go get coffee with you. And a lot of times these people were a lot older than I was because I was in my early 20s doing this. So it's like I had to kind of relate to these people and get on their level. And that was something that was extremely uncomfortable for me. But now, especially because I'm really big into promoting especially getting more women into tech and showing them that they can do this. I feel like that's really helped me put myself out there and show them like, Hey, I'm doing this. And I'm from a really weird career path. But now you can too. And I really think PR for that for it kind of pushing me and getting me out of my shell.

Laurence Bradford 12:52
Yeah, definitely. So you mentioned how you started learning with Code Academy, but then you ultimately decide to go to a coding boot camp. What year was this? Like? How long ago was that?

Kara Luton 13:04
I went to my boot camp in, I started in September of 2016. So it was kind of around the start where boot camps still really weren't a huge thing. It was kind of I remember interviewing, and people were still very weary of boot camp grads, and kind of what their capabilities would be.

Laurence Bradford 13:22
Gotcha. So how long have between like starting to learn Code Academy and then deciding to go to a boot camp? Was it like were you noodling around for a few months? Or was it a couple years? Like, I feel like once you decide to go to a coding boot camp and commit to that, I imagine it was probably a few months, right, like three months or so. It's a pretty big decision, right? Usually full time. There's obviously the pay for it. There's the financial side, like how long does it take you to know? And was there something that kind of like clicked where you're like, Okay, I have to do this, or I'm gonna do this.

Kara Luton 13:52
So I normally am very, like very Taipei, I look into every single thing. I do research and make sure it's the right path. But for some reason, with coding, once I started on Code Academy, and I started teaching myself, HTML and CSS, I was like, yeah, this is what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna start looking into it. And I'm lucky that I have a cousin who also works in tech. He's a developer as well. So I reached out to him and was like, Hey, is there anybody I can talk to you? Or if you want to chat? Can I talk to you about this kind of what the day to day is like? So I did dive in. During that, I would say the process of starting at Code Academy and then actually enrolling in my boot camp was probably like four months. Yeah, it was kind of mostly it was once I figured out I liked coding, it was making sure the boot camp was the right one for me and kind of talking to people that had already gone through the boot camp and making sure you know, this is going to be a worthy investment because it was a lot of money and I quit my full time job that I worked for so hard during college to do something completely different and I'm thankful my parents and he was my boyfriend at the time. But now my husband was so supportive of everything. It's we were actually talking about the other day, my Parents were laughing How? When I came to them, I was like, hey, by the way, I'm quitting my job, I'm gonna go to this coding boot camp. And they're like, What? But I'm thankful that they, they knew I had it in me to get through it and to land a successful career.

Laurence Bradford 15:13
Yeah. So like, it's obviously super important to have a strong like community and support network around you when well in life in general, and especially during big transitions, right? So at the coding boot camp, what technologies and skills were you taught?

Kara Luton 15:28
So I went to the iron yard, which sadly isn't around anymore, but it was a 12 week program. And unlike some other boot camps, you exclusively focus on either front end or back end. So I focused on front end. So we learned HTML, CSS, we started with just you know, plain old vanilla JavaScript. And then we jumped into different frameworks. So I learned view, and I actually learned Ember as well, which is what I use at my current job, which was really funny that I learned it so many years ago. And now here I am jumping into it again, it was really cool to kind of see the progression it's made between the time that I started, so it was still early on. And that is where it's at now.

Laurence Bradford 16:06
And I think you said this, but if you can remind me how long was the bootcamp for? It was for 12 weeks? Okay, perfect. And then after the coding boot camp wrapped up, how long did it take you to get your first full time job or client if you freelanced first or you know what have you?

Kara Luton 16:24
Yeah, so after ending the boot camp, we ended in December 2016. And then we kind of had our demo day in January, just because of the holidays. So I was still going to their location online, just kind of working on side projects here and there and putting together my portfolio. But I got my first full time job in May of 2017. So it took about five months for me from the time of ending my bootcamp to actually getting that first full time job. And I was actually I wasn't picky with where I was applying. Because obviously, I wanted to get my name out there and talk to as many different companies as I could. That was really particular with offers I got, because I did get a couple offers before accepting where I did. And it was mostly because when I was interviewing boot camps are still a new thing. So I was trying to leverage being like, Hey, you know, I come from this PR background. And that ballet background, I have so much to add to what I'm can do for you. So a lot of places were like, okay, that's cool. You can do a hybrid developer and public relations role. And they'd offer me a job. And I was like, Ah, that's not why I went to this boot camp, I'm getting rid of PR. So I was really picky about where I finally ended up. But I'm the company I ended up that was a small advertising agency here in town in Nashville, and it was a great first job, I was really thankful that I ended up there.

Laurence Bradford 17:43
I've never heard of something like that, like a hybrid PR and developer were these like, really small companies or agencies or something.

Kara Luton 17:51
Yeah, it was really small agencies, I think kind of the way it came about was I had met this woman at a local meetup. And she was super nice. And we just got to chatting. And she was like, Hey, I'll send your your resume out. And it she sent it to a marketing group, because obviously, sometimes marketing agencies are going to be hiring developers. But once they heard that I had that PR background to it, they're like, okay, let's make this a hybrid role. And you could do both. And I was like, no, we're not doing that.

Laurence Bradford 18:18
Yeah, yeah. I can't really envision I feel like it would be hard to, to have that be hybrid rocks. It feels like they're two very, you know, different separate sort of things. Oh, yeah. It'd be so much context switching, it would be impossible. Yeah, it feels like that would be good way to you know, burn out or something. Right. Like all the as you just said, context switching that could be challenging for sure. So when you were doing your job hunt during those few months, aside from just applying to jobs, and like sending out resumes, what were some other like important things that you think you did during that time that helped you get to where you are today,

Kara Luton 18:53
going to meetups was probably the biggest one, you know, just saying, Hey, I'm here, I'm looking for a job. If you have any leads, like, let me know, like I said, I just sat down at a table one day and started talking to someone and she sent out my resume to a lot of people. And you know, it did end up leading somewhere, which is really nice. So you never know who you're going to meet. The other thing I did during my job search was, even though there are a lot of tech jobs out there that need people to be interviewing and to hire, you know, a lot of people are applying for those same roles. So one thing PR kind of taught me, especially when I was reaching out to journalists, because these journalists, I would email when I was a publicist would be getting literally 1000s of emails a day, and I somehow had to stick out for them to open my email and say, hey, I want to interview your client. So when I was applying for these jobs actually put together a very looking back, they probably look terrible, but it was a custom HTML and CSS email template. So it would have like my name a little bit about me some projects I did at my boot camp, and I would do it all with like the company's logo and their brand colors. And a lot of times when I go to these interviews, and I'd be like, so why did you pick me out of Like the stack of applicants to interview, which is a great interview question to ask, they would say, you know, it was because that email, like I'd never seen anything like that It stood out to me. I wanted to kind of get to know you more. So I think that was the biggest thing is meetups and then trying to stand out in some way against all these other applicants.

Laurence Bradford 20:16
Oh, yeah, I love that with the email. I don't think I've heard of anyone in the past that I've interviewed or just in general, who has done something quite like that. But I know people who would build like, a custom website landing page, maybe with their resume or something like that on it, but just for that specific job that they were applying to, I'm curious, how long would it take you to, like, do one of those emails like for a specific company,

Kara Luton 20:41
you know, once I got this template down, because after I did the initial building of it out, and I had to learn about email templates, because they're a lot different than just like normal coding, I, once I got it done, the template done, it was pretty easy to switch out when I was applying different places, because I just changed like the color, the background color of the email and the logo, kind of change a couple of text things. But I think it took me probably like a day or two to build out. And that was mostly because I had to figure out, I found a tutorial online that actually showed me how to do the email templates. And that's what I went off of, and that was kind of like messing with it to make sure it looked okay on different screens. And like I said, looking back, it's not the most advanced or beautiful thing, but it got the job done.

Laurence Bradford 21:24
Yeah, well, I I'm not by any means an expert in like HTML, CSS and emails. But I know from what I know, it's very difficult. And it's not like normal HTML and CSS, I feel like it's really challenging. And then I remember just with my last job, because I would sometimes help with things related to this, it could look so different on different devices. And you would have to, like do all this testing, because like, maybe this button looks good on, you know, Gmail on my phone, but then you open it up in another email application, it just looks like a disaster. So I remember being very tedious. So I could definitely see that taking some time, like a day or two, just to figure it all out and get something working heck even longer than that, honestly. Because it's Yeah, it's not an easy thing. But I feel like aren't there jobs? I mean, maybe maybe you don't know, this is like, aren't there? There's there's jobs that are just like an email developer or email designer, right? Yeah, there are. I've

Kara Luton 22:19
met a couple I run a local women programmers meetup, and there are some women who do just email development. And that's all they do. And I'm like, you have a tough job. Because you because like you said, email developments. So different, like, I think it's all in line CSS and things like, I don't think Flexbox or CSS Grid or anything like that works with it. So it's really trying to go back in to the basics and kind of figure out what will look good on each thing. And like I said, I'm sure there's some people opened up my email, and they couldn't read it. And they're like, What is this, but at least it worked for some.

Laurence Bradford 22:50
Yeah. And also thinking about like, in emails like accessibility, and then I know there's things that if you do it, like in the email body, it can trigger like a spam filters are something so you also have to be like aware of that not because you obviously if you're sending an email for a company, you don't want to going to a person's spam folder cuz they won't see it. So yeah, it's definitely a lot of different things to think about. And there really aren't that many courses on it, though. Did you say you found a course or a tutorial? Who taught that taught you?

Kara Luton 23:19
Yeah, I found a tutorial online. I think it was, I can't remember if so medium or something like that. But I think I just googled, you know, email templates, HTML, and basically just followed that and tried to make mine as simple as possible.

Laurence Bradford 23:31
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Laurence Bradford 24:58
Okay, and we're back So, Kara, I want to talk a bit more just about your job search and standing out in applications and interviews and all of that. And I was curious, since you do have this non traditional background, you know, you don't have a computer science degree or information science or one of these, you know, tech degrees. And at the time, as you said, already, coding boot camps were not brand new. But you know, in 2016, versus 2021, there are a lot more I think a lot more people know about them today, especially employers, was that ever challenged, like not having a computer science degree with some of the jobs that you were interviewing at,

Kara Luton 25:37
Oh, my gosh, coming from my boot camp, and not having that CS degree was a huge challenge. So I remember one of my job interviews, I had gone through like five stages of an interview like it was, they had me do like a personality test. And then it was kind of the initial getting to know you interview and then technical interview and take home project. And I remember I did the take home project. And I thought I did really well on it. And I did the review and all sounded like I did a good job. And I was really excited. And then I got an email. And it was like, Hey, we're so sorry. But we're going with a different candidate. And I was really shocked. So I reached out. And this is something I definitely recommend anybody doing in job interviews, reach out and ask for feedback, because you want to grow from those interviews or their learning process. So I asked for feedback. And they said, you know, you did actually the best on the take home test than any of our other clients, but you're too green. And I was like, why it's, so they declined me the job, because this would be my first job in tech. And I was just so shocked, because, you know, they said I did the best on the take home project. So why Aren't I the one that is being hired. So it was a really big stigma against boot camps at that time. And you know, I still think that stigma exists. And those companies looking back, I'm so glad I didn't get that job, because I don't want to work somewhere where they say, Oh, you don't have a computer science degree, you don't have this tech degree, you're not as good as, as other people. Because I honestly think people from non traditional backgrounds bring such a diverse point of view to your company, and they're just gonna make your product better, because they come from those different backgrounds. They're not just computer science minded, they honestly are taking the point of view of some of your customers that are using it. So they really can bring a new point of view. And I think really, I mean, obviously, I wish I had gotten a computer science degree. I wish I'd started this career earlier. But I'm so grateful for the path I took. Because if I hadn't done ballet, and if I hadn't done PR, I wouldn't be where I am today with kind of a stronger what people always call soft skills. And I'm really grateful for that.

Laurence Bradford 27:41
Yeah. So on your resume or in the job applications cover letter, whatever. Did you talk about like being a ballerina and then working in public relations?

Kara Luton 27:52
I think at the time, I was mostly focusing on PR, since that's kind of like the real job experience that I had. You know, I didn't talk about ballet a lot until I was taking a step back. And I did a talk at underground j s, which is a conference here in Nashville, Tennessee. And I did this Gosh, back in 2019, where I was talking about my career transition. And I was stepping back. And I was like, oh, ballet has a lot in common with PR. So I kind of or Gosh, not PR with developing. So I wish I had kind of taken that step back and shown it but kind of the big point of view I took was showing how similar PR and development really are. And I was like, Hey, you know, I learned how to code in three months, like imagine what I could do in three months at your company. And that's kind of how I positioned it is I've learned so much and so fast. And really the whole point of a boot camp is yes to learn how to code, but also kind of how to teach yourself because that's honestly the number one skill developers need to have is how to teach themselves and continue learning.

Laurence Bradford 28:52
Oh, yeah. 100%. So you would like reference experience with being a public relations as like learning a lot in a short time? Not so much the ballet?

Kara Luton 29:03
Yeah. And I kind of wish I would have referenced ballet more, because you know, there is so much in common, like I said, the paying attention to little details always being able to learn. But yeah, I really, and especially when I went into interviews, I always knew they were going to ask me about my career transition. It's something I if I was doing job interviews, now I know I'd still get asked about it, because it is still a little uncommon. But you know, I would really try to weave a story into it. And that's another thing that PR taught me is I was always coaching people how to do these interviews, my clients. So I kind of got good at doing interviews myself and kind of knowing what they're going to ask ahead of time knowing they're going to ask about my career career transitions and kind of you normally that first question like, oh, tell me a little bit about yourself. I'm giving them a little bit of details. But then I'm also saying, you know, this is why I decided to learn how to code. This is why I'm passionate about it. And that's kind of like the points I continue to hit on throughout the interview.

Laurence Bradford 29:57
Oh yeah. I love that tip about weavings stories into it. So like before interviews that you would have, would you practice like telling the stories in a mirror? Or did you like plan on a writing or whatever, like different stories you can tell for different interview questions?

Kara Luton 30:14
Yeah, I did. So I would kind of sit down before an interview, and I do this before I'm an interview. And I would write down kind of what I thought they were going to ask. So especially, obviously, it's harder during a technical interview and technical interviews I still struggle with, but that initial kind of getting to know you interview I feel like is where I really excel, and I would sit down and be like, Okay, I know, they're gonna say, tell me a little bit about yourself, because that's something. First question always is, they're gonna ask about strengths, the weaknesses, they're gonna ask about kind of like a hard time at a job I've had. So I kind of plan those out. And like you said, I'd weave my story into it and talk about my strengths or weaknesses, you know, this is what I learned from PR and how I use it now. And kind of all of that, I think, for me, I like being prepared ahead of time, because it makes you feel even more confident in the interview. And then when you do kind of get asked a question that maybe you weren't as prepared for, you kind of have this backlog of Okay, I can kind of pull a little bit this question and this question and weave them together, and kind of really tell your story throughout it, because that's what an interview is. They're just wanting to get to know more about you. And it's, you got to put together your story for them.

Laurence Bradford 31:19
Yes. What's that saying? It's like failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Is that Yes. No, but I 100% agree. I mean, when you go into anything, any an interview for a job, or you know, something else, that you maybe have some nerves about, I feel like the more preparation you do, the more it eases your nerves, at least for me. And then for me, I feel more confident than going into it. Because otherwise, yeah, otherwise, it's just yeah, it's kind of like an anxiety inducing, but when you practice a lot, yeah, makes you feel more confident. But how many interviews did you go on before you landed? Like that initial job, which was at an advertising agency, I believe you said,

Kara Luton 31:58
Yeah, oh, my gosh, I have no idea how many interviews went on, I know that I applied Gosh, probably to over 100, something places I had a, the nice thing about going to a boot camp is my boot camp also had courier prep for you. So they sat us down and helped us with our resumes, our applications, things like that. And then one of the big things that they really helped with was, we made Trello boards when we were there of our job searching process. So we would have different columns for here's job listings I need to apply for here's ones I've applied for, here's where they've reached out, we're in first step, second steps, and then waiting on like an offer or rejection. And I remember having so many little cards off my Trello board. But it really helped because you know, when you are applying for that first job, there's so many you apply for you forget to follow up, things like that. And stuff like that really makes a difference. Just keeping you organized, knowing where you are in each and you can kind of make little notes like who did I talk to you? Here's the questions they ask. And that really just preps you future interviews, too.

Laurence Bradford 33:00
Yeah, I love that. So I used to use, I think, a spreadsheet, but it was in a very similar manner. Were like the columns, were kind of tracking the status, like the date I applied. And did I hear back? Yes, no, J move forward? Yes, no, and so on, and so forth. Because Yeah, when you're applying to so many jobs, it's easy to lose track. And actually, I'm really glad you said you applied to so many like hundreds or whatever you whatever it was, because I know there's some folks that I interview that ended up getting like their first job really quickly through someone that they know, but I think it's also just as common or even more common for someone like yourself to have to apply to tons and tons of jobs to finally find that right fit. And I'm imagining during this few month period, this was like your full time job, like applying to jobs was your full time job, right?

Kara Luton 33:45
It was I was really, like I said, really lucky to be able to do the whole boot camp thing, quitting my full time job and focusing on learning how to code and then focusing on getting a job. I was really grateful that my boyfriend husband, at the time was really supportive. And my parents were really supportive. Because you know, it is hard for some people to be able to do that because of the expense. But yeah, looking for a job was my full time job. I'd wake up every morning, get ready. Like I said, if I was going to a job and then I'd be on my computer searching, either applying for new jobs, going to job interviews, anything like that. And I was really grateful I finally landed that one at that advertising agency.

Laurence Bradford 34:23
So did you end up having like any interviews that just really didn't go well at all, like you kind of bombed? And then if that is the case, like what you learned from it after that happened?

Kara Luton 34:34
Oh my gosh, yes. Like I said, I struggle with technical interviews just because for those it's harder to prep. And especially that was something I had to do in my past careers, you know, PR interviews are you do one maybe two interviews and that's it's basically that getting to know you interview you're showing kind of pieces that you've gotten written about clients before, but that's really it. There's no technical aspect of it. So that was really nerve wracking to me. I remember One job interview, I actually had to delay it, because on my way to the first interview I was supposed to go to, I got rear ended on the highway. So that was interesting because I had to call them and be like, explain what happened. And then I went in the next day. Yeah, luckily I was, I was fine. My car was all messed up. But that was it. And I went in the next day. So it's kind of like that's looming in the back of my mind. And then they sat me in a room, and basically how to test for me, of all these different concepts that I didn't know. Like, I remember, I never really worked with regex when I regular expressions, when I was in my boot camp, and they sat me down, and they like, figure out this reg x and all these other technical questions. It was honestly like a little mini essay T for web development. And I was like, I walked out of there. And I was like, I completely bombed this like, because I was already under stress, because everything that happened the day before, and everything else and but honestly, and I didn't get that job, which is totally fine. But those are going to happen. But like you said, you you learn from them. And nine, I actually looked into regex after that, and I was like, Okay, here's something I know, I need to look into, and kind of learn about. And that's kind of what it is, is when you don't do well at an interview, I still take it as a learning experience, because now you're more prepped for future interviews that may ask the same thing.

Laurence Bradford 36:17
Oh, yeah, most definitely. So when you ended up then of course, landing this first job, how long did you work there for? And correct me if I'm wrong, but your current role at CrowdStrike is just like your second tech job after that initial one

Kara Luton 36:30
it is. So now that I'm at CrowdStrike. This is my second tech job and working as a UX engineer there. And so my first job I was a web developer, so we were basically making marketing sites for their different clients. So I was just writing like HTML, CSS, a little bit of JavaScript, here and there. But I was there for almost two years before I switched my job at CrowdStrike.

Laurence Bradford 36:51
Okay, nice. And then what? Because you work in UX? So is your role today? More like design related? Or is it more front end? Or is it kind of a blend of both.

Kara Luton 37:01
So it's definitely more front end. So kind of the way UX works at CrowdStrike is we have basically our UX team that's comprised, of course, our managers and our engineers. But we also have writers, researchers, and designers. So we're all working collaboratively on getting the front end for our product up to par with either improving current features or adding new features, fixing bugs, customer issues, things like that.

Laurence Bradford 37:25
Nice. So you work. I mean, obviously closely with other people, but like designers, and when you say writers, do you mean like a UX copywriter? So someone who writes the copy on like an interface? Yeah. So

Kara Luton 37:36
there's both the UX copywriters on our team. And then we also have technical writers who are writing up the docs for our customers to use.

Laurence Bradford 37:44
Yeah, that's really cool. I always thought like UX copywriting was really interesting, because you don't it was something I never thought about, like who writes like, who like literally on any on any website you're on like, or like, think of social like, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, it's like, it's someone's job to write and label all the buttons and all the links, like the footer links, and the menu items and something. And yeah, it's really it's really interesting. And just the whole idea of user experience in general. So do you take part in like, any kind of user research? or What the heck is it called, like the user experience testing and things like that? Yeah, so

Kara Luton 38:22
we actually CrowdStrike and I know it's different at every company. But we have our own researchers who are the ones kind of talking to the customers doing meetings and saying, here's what we're proposing, or tell us what you don't like about this, tell us what improvements we can make. And they're the ones working with the managers have the higher ups and figuring out what we're going to work on for the year. But it's really interesting. I never knew that was a thing. Just like with copywriting. I never knew that was a thing. I think if I had known that UX writing was like a real job. When I was doing PR, I probably would have transitioned into that. Because honestly, my writing skills could have really transitioned to it. But it's really neat seeing all the different kind of functions of UX, and what the different things that really go into making a product what it is.

Laurence Bradford 39:09
Yeah, and I should have totally asked this like a few questions ago, but what exactly is CrowdStrike? Like, what is the product? Yeah,

Kara Luton 39:15
so CrowdStrike is a cybersecurity company that stops breaches. So basically, we're helping companies keep themselves safe from attacks and various things like that. I have no cybersecurity background, actually, a lot of us on the UX team don't come in having that cybersecurity background because you x is a specific niche. And then cybersecurity is another niche. So to kind of combine those two together to find that in a person, it's really rare. So a lot of us come in not having that background, but we've learned so much. I've been there for a little over two years now. So I've learned a ton about cybersecurity and it's a really interesting thing and something that's just continuing to grow in our society in our world today.

Laurence Bradford 39:55
Yeah, oh my goodness, of course. So with like the part of the process That you're working on? Is it for customers of CrowdStrike that are like logging into their admin area or something like that?

Kara Luton 40:08
It is. So it's our customers are logging onto our user interface and kind of interacting with it. And that's the part that I'm building is that part that they're interacting with various different functions of the product. And I'm working together with our sensor team, who's the one actually making the sensor that's fielding getting all of this information of different detections and things like that. And then also working with our cloud engineers, who are there one's kind of the middle people between the sensor team and us UX engineers, there's taking what the sensors getting, and then translating it into a way that our UX and our API's can understand. Yeah, that's really

Laurence Bradford 40:45
fascinating, especially because, as you already mentioned, cybersecurity is such a growing field, do you see yourself like staying with that in the future, like in the realm of cybersecurity,

Kara Luton 40:57
I think cyber security, it's still growing a ton. It's really interesting. I feel like I haven't gotten bored with it in the past few years, because I'm still learning so much. But I think like, ultimately, my career goal is to become an engineering manager. I really love helping people in their careers and helping them progress further. And I like the idea of being a manager and kind of seeing the higher picture and kind of helping that and really getting the satisfaction of building up your team and having them be the ones that are really being successful and kind of promoting that. So ultimately, that is where I want my kind of career path to go is to be more on the manager side of things.

Laurence Bradford 41:35
Nice. Nice. So I'm switching gears here. But I saw on Twitter that you're the organizer of the Nashville women programmers meetup. Yes. Could you tell me more about that, and when you started it, or when you start working with them if it was already established previously?

Kara Luton 41:50
Yeah. So when I was at my code school, my friend and I, who actually went to college together and just happened to be at the same code school in the same program, we kind of saw this need for, especially women in tech to kind of get together in in Nashville. And we had found out about a national program called tech ladies, which is still in existence. They're amazing. So we have actually started a local meetup chapter of tech ladies. And we're doing that. So that was more for women in all areas of tech, not just developers, focused on kind of building their careers, things like that. So now tech lady is is still around. They're an amazing organization, Allison and her team are amazing women who are just supporting other women in tech, but they're more focused on online events now. So we took a break from our individual chapter events. And I was still wanting to help out in town and Nashville women programmers, I've attended their events in the past, they had been around for several years before I joined and they were looking for other organizers to help out. So I reached out and started hosting events. And now Lisa, who is the founder of Nashville, woman programmers actually moved to Chicago. So she had me take over kind of the main point of contact for the group. And now we've been online and virtual for more than a year because of the pandemic. But hopefully, we can get together in person soon. But it's been great. I've, like I said, I really love just helping other women realize that, you know, tech is a career for them. And so anyway, I can help out, I've always really been drawn towards user meetups, because that's kind of how I have, especially how I found out about a lot of jobs and got a lot of leads. And so anyway, I can kind of contribute back to the community is when I want to do and so that's kind of why I was really drawn to Nashville woman programmers and helping them out.

Laurence Bradford 43:39
Yeah, so we actually had Allison from Tech ladies on the podcast. Yeah, a few seasons ago, I believe. I will link to the episode in the show notes on the website for anyone who's curious to listen to that interview or learn more about them. But yeah, that's really that's really great. And like, how many hours a week or whatnot? Are you working on the the meetup organization because I feel like a lot of people like are really interested in doing something like that, you know, wherever they live, but then it's also like, wait, but how much time does it take? How much work is involved? Like, what the balances? How do you kind of go about that?

Kara Luton 44:14
So the way Natural Woman huggers is set up is we have different roles. So it's not just me, that's an organizer. We

Unknown Speaker 44:20
have, I

Kara Luton 44:20
think around six women now that are organizing it. So we have two that are focused on getting our speakers. We're a monthly meetup. So they're organizing our speakers every month getting their topics arranging that they're kind of the point people for that. I'm more so the point person for logistics, and I also host our meetups along with one other woman, Sydney, she also helps host them so every other once we kind of switch off. So honestly, it's not too much of a commitment a couple of hours every week when you have kind of that team around you. When it was just myself and my friend Stephanie doing tech ladies, our local meetup. It was a lot more because it was just us too. So we We're trying to go out and find speakers for we were originally doing monthly and then we switch to quarterly. And then we'd have to figure out locations. Thankfully, especially with the pandemic, now, it's been a lot easier to coordinate because everything's online. But natural women programmers before the pandemic had a sponsorship for to host our meetup every month. So that was nice that we didn't have to organize that. But honestly, when you're doing it all yourself or with one other person, it's a lot to handle but just knowing that you're kind of giving back to community when you hear about someone finding a job because of someone they met through your meetup. It's it's an amazing feeling. And it makes it all worth it.

Laurence Bradford 45:37
Yeah, I'm not savvy in the in person run. And there is there was one time I kind of went about trying to organize something in person that never actually happened. But yeah, it was overwhelming for me because there were like, all these things I never thought about just like, oh, where to have it and just like snap like that. I was like, Oh man, this is this is not something I think I'm naturally good at like the kind of in person event coordination. That's really what it is. You're like planning events and yeah, I like I like the online world by really admire people who can do the in person planning because it's a Yeah, it's a different different beast. I think.

Kara Luton 46:15
The funny thing for me is when I would go to meetups, I would be really intimidated, because I don't know how to kind of like I said, I'm an introvert. So initiating that conversation with somebody else was kind of a big thing for me. But when I'm hosting them, it's another world because people will come up to you and ask questions. So for me, it was just another way of making networking honestly a little bit easier on myself. And with PR, I was always having to do kind of these events and things anyway. So it was really also taking that into it and kind of making it honestly networking a little bit easier on myself, I think.

Laurence Bradford 46:46
Yeah, that definitely makes sense. Well, unfortunately, we're like, basically at a time, but I want to ask you one final question just to help the folks that are listening. And that's just if there's any advice that you can leave listeners with about transitioning into tech, especially if they don't have a technical college degree or background, so on and so forth.

Kara Luton 47:07
My biggest piece of advice would be just to have that confidence in yourself that you can do it it may take a while you may apply to 100 or something jobs, but you can do it you can take even if you come from the strangest career path like I would never believe that ballet and music publicity has something to do with the tech world. But take a step back and kind of find those comparisons and show these people that you're talking to and interviewing with that. You know you are Junior today but in a few years you're going to be senior and you're going to be mentoring their juniors and really helping to build up their company.

Laurence Bradford 47:41
Awesome. Well thank you again Kara for coming on the show. Where can people find you online?

Kara Luton 47:46
Yeah, so you can find me on Twitter my username is @karaluton. And then you can also find me on my website

Laurence Bradford 47:56
Perfect. Thank you again.

Kara Luton 48:01
Yeah, thank you so much for having me. This was great.

Laurence Bradford 48:09
Thanks for listening today. If you missed anything, or would like a recap, you can find the show notes at If you're listening to this episode in the future, simply click the Search icon in the upper navigation and search for the guests name. If you enjoyed this episode, and are interested in learning how to code, there's no better time to start than right now. To help you out we have a free downloadable resource with our 10 learning strategies for new coders. It's perfect for beginners, no matter your experience or background. And you can download your free copy at learnt It was great to have you with me on the Learn to Code With Me podcast today. I'll see you next time.

Key Takeaways:

  • Practice and never give up! Kara was used to practicing as a ballerina and used that same tenacity to learn how to code.
  • It’s fine to be picky when you’re going to start your tech career. Kara didn’t want to go back to her PR days, so she didn’t look into companies that offered her a “hybrid” role.
  • There’s an immense value to attending meetups. Just by sitting down and talking to one person, Kara’s resume got sent out to many others.
  • When you get rejected from a job interview, make sure to reach out and ask for feedback. Use it to be better for the next one. 
  • When preparing for an interview, one way to overcome nerves is to practice. Instead of only practicing technical answers, practice telling stories that can help you get your message across.

Disclosure: I’m a proud affiliate for some of the resources mentioned in this article. If you buy a product through my links on this page, I may get a small commission for referring you. Thanks!

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