After Boot Camp, This Artist Found New Creativity Through Coding

Katie Higgins never thought of herself as a “math person.” Then, after studying art in college and finding a restaurant job that left her hungering for a more dynamic role, she realized sharpening her technical skills might help her get there. Katie wanted to find a position rooted in creativity—whether that meant using the artistic training she acquired in school or gaining new skills to accomplish the job.

Katie left the restaurant and began working at a call center, but the new gig still left her restless to make a bigger impact. She became interested in the world of coding and decided to enroll in the SMU Coding Boot Camp. The transition from problem-solving in the service industry to problem-solving on JavaScript projects was a leap, but she was up for the challenge. Katie hasn’t looked back since.

Today, Katie works as a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist at Mansfield Marketing LLC in Houston, Texas, where she gets to be creative each and every day. But before she got to where she is, she had to learn to tap into her various experiences to realize her potential as a coder—in and out of the classroom.

Entering a new kind of classroom

Katie was nervous about starting boot camp. As a newbie with average math skills and absolutely no coding experience, she sometimes felt like an imposter. However, as the lessons and projects began to unfold, coding just started to click. With every lesson she mastered, her confidence grew, and she started to see herself not as an art student in a coding classroom but rather as a creative coder building skills.

Katie was wowed by the way her skills surpassed her own expectations. “Boot camp was empowering,” she said. “When I started, I wondered if I would even be able to do it. But before long, I realized I was more than capable.”

Katie’s instructors and teaching assistants instilled the importance of self-sufficiency in students. When they had questions, they were encouraged first to search for the answers independently, then reach out to other students, and only then, if they still couldn’t find the answer, approach a teaching assistant. This motivated Katie to become a fast and savvy problem solver, nurturing her newfound independence and confidence in the process.

“Anytime I finished a project or a piece of homework—especially when I was able to figure it out on my own—I felt a sense of accomplishment,” Katie said.

The boot camp was entirely online, so it was easy for Katie to integrate into her schedule. Although she didn’t show up to a physical classroom every day, she built strong connections with others in the programs—both instructors and peers.

Finding the art in coding 

Creating art, working in a restaurant, and taking on life’s challenges all require excellent problem-solving skills. Katie found that boot camp was no exception. 

One of the biggest lessons Katie took from studying art is that in art, there’s no right answer. There are always ways to improve or evolve a piece when it isn’t coming out as planned. Coding is similar.

“Art and coding go hand in hand,” Katie said. “One thing I really learned to love about coding is that it is its own art form. There are always multiple answers to every question, and there’s always more than one solution. Everybody has their own way of approaching a problem.”

The skills Katie developed as an art student—like logic—helped her approach each project like a blank canvas. While the connection between painting and JavaScript may be difficult for others to see, Katie’s backgrounds positioned her well to inject creativity into her new career. 

Turning skills into projects

Katie worked closely with other students on group projects that enabled her to use her new skills and build functional and fun products. 

Her personal favorite is an app called “You Hungry?,” which is designed to plug in all the ingredients a person has in their kitchen and generate a recipe that draws from them. Many people buy produce without a recipe in mind and then watch it go bad—or buy more food than they need to make specific recipes. Katie and her team saw an opportunity to curb food waste and the waste of money that consumers often experience. 

The project evolved through several iterations before it was complete. Katie reveled in the ability to work in a collaborative group and to return to what she does best: creating. 

“My favorite part was the creative freedom,” Katie said. “At the beginning, we had free rein to come up with any concept we wanted. The display of skill was important, but the innovation factor was the highlight.”

Looking forward

In her role with Mansfield Marketing, Katie continues to harness this innovative spirit by making websites and other marketing posts for clients, and optimizing them with the tech skills she acquired in boot camp. Because the company is relatively small, she takes on a lot of responsibility. The quick-paced nature of boot camp and the versatile skill set she has developed help Katie feel confident and self-sufficient in juggling what’s asked of her. 

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