Vanessa Mack’s path to a technology career is a great example of the phrase “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” She is currently a software developer at Barclays Investment Bank, a leading international financial services company, and to get there she had to overcome rejection with patience and determination.
Ms. Mack grew up at Ravenswood Houses in Queens; her family also lived at Todt Hill in Staten Island for seven years. After graduating from SUNY New Paltz in 2012 with a degree in international relations and political science, she began her career in the non-profit sector.
During an eight-month period of unemployment between jobs, she began exploring opportunities, weighing whether she would continue to work in the non-profit sector or apply to law school. She also reached out to her network of associates.
A career coach she formerly worked with who knew of her interest in programming recommended a software developer fellowship program with Pursuit. Based in Long Island City, Queens, Pursuit trains people with the highest need and potential to get their first tech jobs, build long-term careers, and become the next generation of leaders in the technology industry – all with no upfront costs.
Ms. Mack applied, but didn’t get in. “I was really heartbroken, but I didn’t get discouraged.”
Instead of giving up, she enrolled in a program with Per Scholas, a non-profit that provides free training for entry-level careers in information technology, cybersecurity, and web development, so that she could build a foundation of technology knowledge.
When the applications for Pursuit re-opened the following year, she applied again and was accepted into the organization’s four-year fellowship. Pursuit fellows begin with an intensive 10- or 12- month training course that prepares them for their first tech jobs. After the training, fellows enter a three-year phase of career advancement services that helps them move up in their careers. Pursuit fellows only pay for their training if they get high-paying tech jobs; if they don’t, they pay nothing.
While enrolled in Pursuit, Ms. Mack interviewed at Barclays and landed a software developer position. Since 2018, she has been responsible for the maintenance of a risk management platform in the Risk, Finance, and Treasury Technology department. She helps build programs and messaging bots that will monitor and display a dashboard of changes in the pricing of equity derivatives.
Being employed at Barclays allowed her to move out of Ravenswood and into her own place, help her family with finances, and give more to the causes she cares about.
“I’m very passionate about helping other people with similar backgrounds, helping people get out of poverty. In the future, I want to find ways to use my technical skills to do this.”
Ms. Mack wants young NYCHA residents to learn from her example to reach their dreams. First, she stressed the importance of building a healthy network, citing the career coach who told her about Pursuit.
“It’s always best to establish and maintain healthy relationships and seek out opportunities to serve others. I’m committed to service, and even while unemployed I volunteered at Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement, doing senior engagement and U.S. naturalization tutoring. This helped me gain a wider scope of the communities’ needs and ways I can contribute and grow.”
She also urges young people to complete their education and, just as important, have hope.
“There’s always hope, we just have to continue to hope and continue to believe that we can do it. Sometimes people don’t see that there is a world outside of poverty – they feel very limited – but I would advise young NYCHA residents to be limitless in their thinking.”
Pursuit and Per Scholas are NYCHA partners in Tech51, a City Council funded initiative that connects NYCHA residents to training and job opportunities in New York City’s growing tech sector. The collaboration is managed by NYCHA’s Office of Resident Economic Empowerment & Sustainability. Register for the next info session on September 26 here. For more information, visit http://opportunitynycha.org/workforce-development/tech51/.