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Breaking the mold of a “typical” technician

Although she grew up in a family of technologists, Laura Krey never thought a career in software engineering might be for her. She considered herself a creative person, interested in fashion and music. Krey studied fashion business at the Fashion Institute of Technology and dreamed of one day opening a retail store or becoming a personal stylist. After college, she worked at an online DJ music store and a Los Angeles-based clothing brand. “I didn’t identify with what most of the tech moguls out there looked like, so I never thought I could do a job like them. I thought software engineering would be simpler and drier,” says Krey, “Coming from a creative background, with different skill sets, allows me to excel in areas that don’t come naturally to the typical computer science graduate.”

JPMorgan Chase Emerging Talent initiatives aim to break the mold of the “typical” candidate and recruit people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to work within the company. The Emerging Talent Software Engineers (ETSE) program encourages anyone with basic coding skills to apply, regardless of education or training background, work experience, or life stage.

We sat down with Laura Krey, who attended ETSE, to find out how it’s been an important part of her journey to becoming a software engineer, without sacrificing who she is outside of work.

What was your path to becoming a software engineer?

I grew up in a family full of techies. My eldest brother, Peter, always built robots and then studied physics in one of the best institutes of technology. My other brother Matthew went on to found a health tech start-up after working at a large consumer electronics company. My dad actually worked in technology for the Corporate & Investment Bank at JPMorgan Chase. Since joining the bank, I’ve learned how accomplished he was here, solving problems that were long before his time.

I’ve always been the most creative. There were no public figures in the industry that I could identify with or see myself in, especially as a queer woman with an interest in music and fashion. Then my childhood best friend, who also worked in fashion, decided to go to a coding bootcamp and ended up working as a software engineer at a big tech company. I remember looking at his new job description and was blown away. I asked him: how did you do that? Do I need a university degree? Do I need certain things to apply? Turns out the answer was no. I started with free courses to try it out. From there, I enrolled and completed a bootcamp in the Grace Hopper Program, and began my job search.

Do you find that non-traditional paths are still rare in the field of software engineering today?

I think non-traditional mediums are becoming more and more accepted in technology.
Women in tech are definitely still an emerging demographic. This is another reason why I wanted to pursue this career, to encourage other women to do so. I never saw myself growing up in this industry because I couldn’t see a way to make it. If I had, I might have started earlier.

How did you find your way to Emerging Talent Software Engineers? What made you want to apply?

I found the program through LinkedIn. These programs are really appealing when you just got out of a bootcamp. It’s easy to feel pressured to have a computer science degree from an Ivy League college to get a software engineering job. Many bootcamp graduates think they can’t find jobs at big companies. But programs like Emerging Talent Software Engineers say if you’re a hard worker, we’ll teach you what you need to know. It gives you a chance to prove yourself if you have a non-traditional background.

What does the application process for the Emerging Talent Software Engineer program look like?

It’s a pretty unique application process because the final round is a hackathon, so you can meet the other people who apply. You are divided into teams to find technological solutions to a global problem. One of the big things I saw in the assessment besides technical skills was communication: how do you communicate? What do you do under pressure? How do you handle situations where not everyone comes from the same technical background?

What other opportunities does ETSE offer its participants?

The biggest advantage is the network of people it gives you. Generally, when you start a new job, you are not part of a cohort of people who follow the exact same orientation for the same job as you. In this program, you are connected to this group of people in the same boat who go through the same integration as you. You don’t feel like you’re all alone when you show up on the first day. This program also gives you plenty of opportunities to learn and grow along the way. There really is no limit to your career growth here, the opportunities seem endless.

When did you start imagining yourself at JPMorgan Chase?

There’s actually a mentor available during the hackathon for one-on-one meetings, and the woman I spoke to, a software engineer at JPMorgan Chase, really made me feel at home. I asked her all the questions I had about being a female tech in the company and about diversity within the team. She said something to me that really stuck with me: if you don’t feel welcome at any time while you’re working here, you have the right to feel that way, to talk about it and to remedy.

You stay true to your creative roots while working as a technologist. How does JPMorgan Chase help you bring your authentic self to work?

There are a bunch of employee resource groups available here. I’m part of Women on the Move and PRIDE, who had a whole employee event in June. I thought it was so cool that I could wear a Chase t-shirt and walk in the New York Pride Parade.

How important is it to you to work for a company that makes an impact?

I had a big internal debate when I applied for jobs. I thought a lot about the type of company I wanted to work for. Should I work for a non-profit organization, whose sole purpose is to help solve issues within the LGBTQ+ community, or should I work somewhere with less queer representation? Working at a large company may be outside my comfort zone, but there is definitely a need for more representation and diversity within the tech industry. Just by being here, I have an impact.

Can you give advice to those considering a career change?

There’s no better time than the present and half the battle is mental. If you decide it’s something you can do, no one can stop you. For me, society had built these imaginary walls that said I couldn’t do something, and I allowed that to stop me from trying. But everything is impossible until someone does it. And my motto is, why can’t it be me? Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Stay focused. Keep on going.

To hear from other ETSE participants like Laura Krey, click here.

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