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Ashley Mikkola - From Economics to Tech

Written by Carolina Veloso, Campus Manager at Wild Code School

After completing a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in International Economics in the US, Ashley Mikkola travelled the world furthering her skill set which ranges from economics to language and translation and most recently tech. She’s currently in the UK on an Exceptional Talent visa, a few weeks away from graduating from Wild Code School, the technology educator nurturing today’s digital talent. Here she tells us about her motivations and hopes for the future.

What made you move to languages after studying Economics?

I had always been good at languages but hadn’t considered it as a career. I studied Economics because I thought it was a safe degree, and one that would open up opportunities for a good career – but I didn’t have a plan as such. I had work experience in the German Parliament, so as part of my degree I spent a year in Germany, and decided to enrol on an MA in economics there. I switched to an MA in Translation Studies after the University asked me to do some translation work, and I realised how much I enjoyed the patterns of languages. It’s also a love for language patterns that later brought me to coding – they are called computer languages for a reason!

What did you do after the MA in Translation Studies?

As a result of the switch to the MA in Translation Studies, I ended up in the UK in August 2015, where I got a job in a Translation Agency based in Farnham, Surrey.

How did the Exceptional Talent Visa come about?

Desperation! I had graduated on a student visa, then went onto a general working visa. After three years on a working visa, you count as ‘experienced labour’ and you are expected to be earning ‘experienced’ money – which wasn’t the case for me; being in my early 20s and working outside of London. I certainly was not going around thinking I would be deemed ‘exceptionally talented’, but I knew the visa existed and thought I would apply – then at least I would know that I had tried every option. I applied and they endorsed it – which I honestly didn’t think would happen, I really felt like an imposter! What I’ve learned from this is that you always have more potential than you think and you don’t have to be Michael Phelps to be considered talented.

Where did tech come into the equation?

During my stint at the translation agency I noticed an industry trend surrounding Neural Machine Translation, and I realised that machine learning is going to be a huge part of so many industries and it’s critical to understand it. As a result of this, I started to attend free courses in London in programming to get a basic understanding. I had thought of coding as being like something out of the Matrix; complicated, mysterious and outside of my skill set. I think the media perpetuates this, with coders and programmers in films and TV often positioned as super-intelligent, and usually men. I discovered that coding was much more attainable and accessible than the genius activity I had thought it to be – it’s very much like learning a language; applying logic and patterns to communicate instructions and ideas.

Why did you decide to do the Wild Code School course? And how have you found it?

I started to realise that web development would make for a flexible and rewarding career and wanted training that would provide a gateway into a tech career. I chose the part-time course as I wasn’t in a position to be able to quit my job, so instead I have been travelling into East London’s Shoreditch, where Wild Code School runs its night courses. It’s a lot to take on with a full-time job, but I think you can endure anything so long as you know it’s going to be both worthwhile and temporary. Lecturers and staff are also very supportive, striving to provide a first-class experience in a relaxed learning environment.

What’s next?

The end result is that I am fully qualified in front and back end technologies and even before completing the course, I secured a job as a Junior Developer which I started in January. With 90% of people who complete the Wild Code School course working in tech, I was confident I would get a job, but I was really pleased to secure one so quickly – overall, I believe the course has changed my career forever! With the course ending soon, I’m looking forward to having a bit more time, perhaps taking up a hobby, maybe dreaming up ideas for a mobile app, but certainly relaxing a little!

Do you think it is important for the industry to attract more women?

It’s important for the industry, but I think the responsibility to attract women into tech stretches far further than the industry itself, and needs to start far earlier than when we start to look at careers. I think schools and communities should be offering technical classes and encouraging young girls with information on what jobs are available in tech, why the industry is so important to our modern world and what opportunities there are in tech careers. Are we making sure that young people actually know what coding is? Rather than positioning it as another-worldly job option for the hyper-intelligent? Artificial Intelligence and the digital world are critical in so many industries now – and early school curricula need to reflect that.

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