Sara Peña is a musician by trade. She moved to Boston to pursue her dream of being a professional musician and attended the Berklee College of Music. But even with financial aid, scholarships, and parental support, Peña still graduated with insurmountable debt. She taught music and performed across the world, but she discovered music was not her dream after all—nor was her career sustainable.
She started working a variety of customer-facing jobs, and one role in sales exposed her to data science, which piqued her interest in technology. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Peña found herself in the worst financial crisis. Then, when looking on the Camp Harbor View Foundation’s website, she came across Per Scholas.
Peña applied to the software engineering program and never looked back, becoming a software developer at defense and space company nou Systems Inc.
She spoke with Profile about her interest in software development, her successes during her first year as a software engineer, and where she wants to be in five years.
What interested you most in pivoting to a career within tech?
Before the pandemic, it never occurred to me to pursue tech in any way. I had worked as a channel operations specialist, in which role I initiated the search for more ways to grow revenue. Through this exploration, I came across tech tool MySQL, an open-source relational database management system. With MySQL, I unearthed thousands in revenue per quarter through product upgrades for our entire customer base. The language was unique, and the findings were vast! It was then that my interest in technology was piqued.
So, when the pandemic hit, I—like most—lost my job and was in a financial crisis with no way out. It was then that my circumstances beckoned me to take a deeper dive into what opportunities technology could offer.
Of the different programs Per Scholas offers, why did you choose software engineering?
Though Per Scholas had several intriguing programs, when it came to it, my previous exposure to MySQL was more aligned with software engineering. After a little practice to prepare for my assessment test, I knew this program was best suited for me. And sure enough, I passed!
What have been some of your successes in your first year as a software developer?
One success that particularly stands out is the plethora of opportunities I’ve been given within the tech world. I was originally hired to be a front-end developer, but from the first few months of my new role, I’ve been encouraged to learn more in tech and am currently in training for cloud technology and developer operations.
Though this may be very different from creating unique and interactive features for a client’s website, these technologies teach me the principles and importance of processes and cybersecurity for interactive SPA [single-page application] web applications before their release and amidst their performance.
Who have been your biggest supporters and mentors during your pivot into tech?
Next to my faith in Jesus and his providence in my life, Per Scholas has played a major role in my career change. It is no secret how daunting it is to switch from a career you’ve led so well for years only to start anew in a career you never thought yourself capable of.
Chelsea Clarke, in particular, has been in my corner from the get-go. Because of her, I’ve even got to meet more of Per Scholas’ team, including CEO Plinio Ayala at a fundraising event in Los Angeles in 2021 where they invited me to share my story. This amazing team has changed my life for the better, and any successes I have from here on out are theirs just the same.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years, I want to progressively complete and hold AWS [Amazon Web Services] cloud certifications and successfully build and manage CI/CD [continuous integration and continuous deployment] pipelines. Plus, I’ve always had a knack for project management, and it would be one of my top career goals to be a scrum master for a program while still contributing to code bases as a full-stack developer. And ideally, I’d like to work abroad for a couple of years.