Frankly Speaking - Adventures in Tech Apprenticeships

Episode 08 – Planting the Seeds for a Tech Career

Episode 08 – Planting the Seeds for a Tech Career

Melissa shares her experience making the leap into a new career in tech with Franklin’s Network Engineering Pre-Apprenticeship. Around twenty years ago, Melissa started her career with a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Horticulture from the University of California Davis. She had several different kinds of jobs over the years – from working with animals to customer service – and also became a mom. Then, a life event prompted her to re-evaluate and discover she wanted to make a switch to tech.  

“I didn’t really feel like I was reaching my full potential,” she explains. “I wasn’t growing every day. It didn’t feel like the future that I wanted to build for my family. And so I started looking at technology and it just kind of checked all those boxes for me, all the things that I was looking for.” 

Melissa considered a degree but decided to pursue an apprenticeship instead as she wanted to start working and learning in the real world. She reflects, “I didn’t know if I wanted to pursue a degree. I didn’t know if I wanted to put in the time. I just wanted to get in there. I wanted to get working. I wanted to get the experience.” 

Through Franklin’s Pre-Apprenticeship program, she fell in love with Network Engineering. “My kids just think I’m the coolest when I can pull up a command line and do something, they think I’m like a hacker!” she joked. 

Melissa also developed a passion for the coding language Python, which prompted her to launch a YouTube channel called “Pea Sized Python”.

At the time of this interview, she was actively pursuing a full-time position and has since been hired in her first Network Engineering role.  


Melissa S., Network Engineer Pre-Apprenticeship Graduate

Melissa S. holds a Bachelor Degree in Plant Science, has worked in customer service and cared for dogs, but decided to change direction when a personal event caused her to evaluate where she wanted to be in life. Fueled by the desire to always be learning and provide a good future for her family, she realized that technology was the answer.  After overcoming her doubts, she earned a Certificate in Computer Information Systems. Feeling a little lost on where to go next, she then decided to pursue the Network Engineer Pre-Apprenticeship at Franklin Apprenticeships to further pave her way toward working in the field of technology. She continues to learn everyday, with additional coursework and online platforms and was inspired to share her learning with world on her YouTube Channel, Pea-Sized Python.  


[00:00:00]  Melissa: I had a personal event in my life and kind of forced me to reevaluate where I was. I didn’t really feel like I was reaching my full potential. I wasn’t growing every day. It didn’t feel like a future that I wanted to build for my family, and so I started looking at technology, and it just kind of checked all those boxes for me, all the things that I was looking for. 

Presenter: Welcome to Frankly Speaking, the podcast that explores how tech apprenticeships really work. [00:00:30] As a Franklin Apprenticeship Professional Success Coach, our host Cable Rose gives us an insider’s view from the real people and businesses who are using tech apprenticeship programs to develop the technical skills that the American economy so desperately needs. 

Cable Rose: Welcome to another episode of Frankly Speaking – Adventures in Tech Apprenticeships. I am Cable Rose, your host, an uberfan of all things; tech apprenticeships. This week on [00:01:00] our episode we have Melissa.  

Melissa comes to us from the upper West Coast. She has many, many years in her experiences in life. She had a full career in full education and decided at some point in her life she wanted to pivot and start a whole new career in tech. Now she has gone through her Franklin Pre-Apprenticeship. She has some certificates and some schooling. 

She’s right now in some Python as well as some network and firewall and securities.  

[00:01:30] Melissa is on the episode today to give us her experiences to what it was like during her Franklin Pre-Apprenticeship. Welcome to the show today on Frankly Speaking. We’ve got Melissa with us. Melissa, how are you doing today? 

Melissa: I’m doing well, thank you. 

Cable: Well, thank you for being here. I know we’ve had just a few minutes here in the pre-show just talking and kind of getting to– actually just meet each other. If nobody else on the episode understands this, I don’t know Melissa. This would be our first time really having a conversation. The only thing I know [00:02:00] about Melissa is that she went on a little bit of a journey with us here at Franklin Apprenticeships, and I wanted to capture what that was like. One, Melissa, tell us who you are and what brought you to Franklin Apprenticeships. 

Melissa: Well, I started out with a degree in Plant Science long ago. I’ve worked in customer service, I’ve worked with dogs, and I had a personal event in my life and kind of forced me to reevaluate where I was.  

[00:02:30] I didn’t really feel like I was reaching my full potential. I wasn’t growing every day. It didn’t feel like a future that I wanted to build for my family, and so I started looking at technology, and it just checked all those boxes for me, all the things that I was looking for. 

I don’t know if I just hadn’t thought of it before because I didn’t think I could or because there aren’t many women in the profession but suddenly a light went off and I was like, “I need to pursue this.” 

 [00:03:00] That’s when I started looking at how I was going to do that. 

Cable: Well, let’s talk about that. You’ve got a whole life behind you, you said you worked with dogs, you had plants, you were in Education for a while, you’ve done customer service. You’ve kind of done a little bit of everything and then you said, “Well, wait a minute, I want to do more. How do I get to do more.” Right? Technology, said it spoke to you, and then how did you land at Franklin’s doorsteps? What was that like? 

Melissa: Well, initially, I started with– Because I already have a [00:03:30] degree, I started looking at a master’s degree, but I got into it, and I was just overwhelmed, since I’m coming from a non-tech background, so I pursued a certificate, and after that, I started searching for jobs, started getting more present on LinkedIn. Everything that I was seeing, everything that I was hearing, says, “You need to pick a focus.” IT is so broad. There’s so much to [00:04:00] pursue. You can be in one section of it and have no knowledge of what someone else is doing and they’re also in IT. 

I didn’t know if I wanted to pursue a degree, I didn’t know if I wanted to put in the time. I wanted to get in there. I wanted to get working. I wanted to get the experience. A friend of mine said he was doing an apprenticeship, so I started looking into apprenticeships, and Franklin had a few different options. There was a cybersecurity one that [00:04:30] piqued my interest, but when I was earning my certificate, I really enjoyed networking, and they had a network engineer, so I thought, “Well, this is great, I’ll focus in this.” I contacted Franklin. It was really easy to get set up and get the process started and it felt like a good way to just focus my energies into one area. 

Cable: Melissa, it’s a great observation, when people say, “I work in IT,” and they go, “Okay, computers.” You’ve got firewalls, you’ve [00:05:00] got cyber, you’ve got long haul, you’ve got– there are so many different aspects of what IT encompasses, and you’re absolutely right. Do me a favor, Cyber, Software, Helpdesk, IBM Roles, Network, why did Network speak to you? Or you said even in your certificate, you were in a not a focused area maybe, but you said you got into something that you saw. Why network engineer? 

Melissa: I guess networking just made sense to me. I mean, maybe the way my brain works. [00:05:30] I had a teacher who was going over the physical aspects of computing, and they were preparing us for the A+ exam, talking about ports and cables and whatnot. He said, “Oh, I hate networking because you can’t touch it.” I don’t know. That just didn’t deter me. I started learning about it. It’s a lot about numbers, IP addresses, and command line, and it just seemed super cool [00:06:00] to me. It seemed like I was learning a new language and also overseeing the construction of things in a virtual manner. That seems just really neat to me. 

Cable: Well, I’m going to take a wild leap here. Is there any correlation in your brain? Because, Melissa, you said, like, “Well, maybe my brain just– it resonated this way.” Is there any correlation to your, you said you had a Plant degree or you have a– is it a biology background? What was that that you came from? 

Melissa: Yes. I have a degree in Plant Science. 

Cable: [00:06:30] Plant Science. I don’t know what the heck that means. Even I’m already that much more, but is there plant science like you have to know the plants and then you have to know what the plant does and where the plant is and then how it interacts with the other plants around it. Is that something that is in Plant Science or am I completely off base? 

Melissa: I’ve never really thought about it, but I guess that’s kind of a similar thing. You have networks, you have to approach it like a whole living thing [crosstalk] because it has branches. [00:07:00] Yes, just like a plant, I don’t know, like a human body, it’s living and it’s progressing. 

Cable: All right, so that’s where my brain went as soon as you gave me those two bookends, you said your plant and then now how it’s laid out, I wondered if that may have where your brain went to, and it may not have, and I’m just making it up. I have no idea. We’ll have to figure out what that looks like, but I love the fact that that’s where that went because you found something, you got into it, and the instructor gave you that one little, “Oh, you don’t get to touch it.” You’re like, “Wait [00:07:30] a minute. I want to go do that.” 

There’s two parts of networking, you’re right, there’s the ones and zeros, there’s the language, there’s the IP addresses, and then there’s the part where people actually are architects and they go in and get to build and actually connect all that infrastructure and do that. I think that’s a wide spectrum of offerings from the network engineer role. I like that. I love the fact that you said you found us and then what was that like? You said it was easy to get connected to, it was easy to [00:08:00] get in, but tell us about your actual– Was it a class? Was it a self-learning? What was your Network Engineer Pre-Apprenticeship like? 

Melissa: Well, once I got connected with my Success Coach, she set me up for a start date. It felt similar to joining a degree program. I was a little unsure how intense it was going to be because I was also working, but it wasn’t overwhelming. It felt good to be part [00:08:30] of a group, like working towards a common goal. We had reading, we had assignments and quizzes, and then we had hands-on activities with Cisco Packet Tracer. That was really neat. We also had our weekly sessions with the live instructor. I think that was my favorite part. Really knowledgeable, great instructors. 

The first day of the week we did a lecture, and they helped us focus on what was important, what we needed to really understand. [00:09:00] Then the second day I thought it was going to be lecture, and it ended up being question and answer. That was really cool for me because I already had a little bit of background in networking, and this gave me a chance to really dig deep on what I wanted to know more about and what I hadn’t understood. It was just like, “Floor is open, what do you need to know? What do you need to understand?” 

Cable: Wow. Okay, how many people were in this cohort? 

Melissa: Oh, I’m [00:09:30] not exactly sure. The lectures, I think probably around 15 to 20 people, I would say, at a time, but I don’t know about my numbers. 

Cable: Okay. No, that’s great. I appreciate that. We have different cohorts starting right now. One of our most recent ones just topped off at 50 plus for going into networking. I know that you’ve already been graduated and had already gone through our program here recently, right? 

Melissa: Yes. 

Cable: I figured you were probably Cohort 3 or Cohort 4. I don’t know what that looks like, [00:10:00] and they’ve been continuously growing as we’ve gone through, but I understand that process is exactly that. You’ve got 15, 20, 30 people, you’re all going through the same goal. You said resources, what other resources did you have as an offering? 

Melissa: Well, the live instructors were amazing. I always felt like, when I asked them a question, they had all this experience to draw on, give me a thorough answer, very helpful, very nice, but also the Professional Skills Team was really [00:10:30] great. They did weekly webinars usually on résumés, building your résumé, or interview help. I’ve worked in customer service for so long, it’s uncomfortable with people, but when I get into an interview, I choke, and so it was great to get that extra help with what to do if you get really nervous, what to do if you get a question that you don’t know the answer to. 

That was really helpful and just to check in with them every week and feel that support [00:11:00] and be with the other people who are in the same position as you. We’re all working towards this, and we’re all making ourselves better. 

Cable: I love it. Did you guys have Slack communities and did you have groupings where you all could get together as apprentices and still communicate and try to help each other through some of those technical learnings other than the classroom instructor and other than live sessions? Did you guys have a group of communications? 

Melissa: We did have a Slack group, yes. Mostly [00:11:30] it was the Professional Skills meetings, but if you had a question or if you were confused and you didn’t reach out to your Success Coach or it was more appropriate for the Slack forum, that you could ask any questions you wanted to there. 

Cable: That’s pretty awesome. Melissa, you and I have a few days on our tracks here. We’re not fresh out of a high school setting or anything like that, but the idea that somebody can go and just pivot midlife, mid-career, mid-decision [00:12:00] and just say, “I want to try something new,” and then to show up and have no clue what you’re getting yourself into. Right? 

You probably had a little bit because you said you had just recently had a taste, but now what does an apprenticeship look like, what does a Pre-App look like, what does all that mean? I really think it’s interesting that you can just pivot, show up on Day 1 and start that journey. Tell me one thing, good, bad, ugly, doesn’t matter, tell me one thing that really stands out to you during your pre-apprenticeship. 

Melissa: [00:12:30] One thing that I think I realized just with tech in general is, like you said, you’re hopping into something you have no knowledge of, and technology is just constantly changing, which is why I love it, which is why I’m pursuing it, but you frequently get to a point where you have no idea like where to go next, and there’s nothing in the book, [00:13:00] there’s nothing in your instructions that tell you how to do that, and you have to go out there and you have to find that information. 

That was a little bit of a struggle for me at first because I’m used to, “Okay, this is how you do it, and this is the protocol that we follow,” but it’s always changing in tech, so you have to adapt and you have to pursue the information that you need, but after you do though, after you get over that hump of “Oh, okay, this is how it is,” once you [00:13:30] find what you need, it’s so much more satisfying that you ran over those barriers to get there. 

Cable: I love it. Everyone’s journey is a little different and everyone has a different sense of how to get from point A to point B. I was a classroom instructor, and I always drew a line on the board, and I always had this image, and for me, it was just my image that worked for me and then some people found that it resonated, but there’s a thousand different ways to get to that line. The line is the standard, you have to do this, you have [00:14:00] to at least get to this point in your journey, but there’s a thousand different ways to get there. 

Like you said, the joy of being able to go, “Okay, I’ve got to go find this next step, Step C, I’ve got to go find it,” and then to go, “Okay, well, now I have to go and figure out that that is a normal process. Okay, wait a minute, I got that. I’m good. This is a normalcy here, this is comfortable.” Then just continue from that point on. At that point, it’s just rock and roll and kind of just go wherever you go. 

Melissa: Definitely. Yes. 

Cable: The idea of [00:14:30] you coming into an apprenticeship, what your family and your friends say about, like, “Melissa is in a pre-apprenticeship,” what’s that like? 

Melissa: My family has always been supportive of whatever I pursue. My dad is a little bit into computers, and when I started to talk to him and found knowledgeable about what I was talking about, I think he got really excited that we could have conversations, and my kids just think I’m the coolest when I can pull up command line and do something, they think that’s like– like I’m a hacker [00:15:00] if I can do that. 

Cable: [laughs] I love it. Well, it’s always good to have a supportive family, supportive network around you. What’s next? We’ve got you to this point. I understand that there’s some measures in place, we do a pre-apprenticeship here at Franklin because we want to make sure that the men and women who are coming through, that they’re ready for a full career or full support as they go into their next step. 

I know you just recently graduated. What are some other things you’ve been doing in between there? You said you had résumé, you had [00:15:30] interview, you had a lot of support from the Pre-App side of the house to get you prepared for this window. What else are you doing in this window right now? 

Melissa: Well, I’m on the Talent Team’s radar should any apprenticeships arise in my area, but I’m also applying for network-related positions on my own. The Professional Skills Team said that a lot of people in the program end up finding a job on their own, so I’m applying every day. I’m continuing to learn too. When I started the apprenticeship, I enrolled in some classes [00:16:00] at a local college to kind of supplement my learning because I already felt the need to just keep learning, but the Professional Skills Team also encouraged, “Just keep learning, just keep moving forward,” so I’m always working on that. 

Cable: I love it. I’m a lifelong learner. I don’t have any degrees. Most of my audience knows I’m not a degreed person, but I’m a lifelong learner. I’m always trying to be involved in something new that betters myself or betters the people around me, and so I really like that mentality, Hey, I got my Pre-Apprenticeship. [00:16:30] You’re not just sitting waiting for someone to hand you something. 

You’ve gone out, you’ve done some additional learning. You’re going to go towards applying for some of your own roles out there as well, as well as when the apprenticeships are available, if you’re still in that window, then we can slide you into some of those interviews and support you into that next step as you go into a full apprenticeship, if that’s where you choose to go. I also, and we don’t have to, I can edit this, but I also want to talk about other things that you’re doing inside the tech space. [00:17:00] Would you like to share with us how I found you? 

Melissa: Yes. One of the classes that I’m taking at the local college is Python. I started learning that, and I just got really excited about it, kind of like networking. I feel like it’s got a similar very logical method about it, and I always enjoy working with people, helping them, teaching them, so I decided to start a YouTube channel, it’s called Pea-Sized Python, and I am releasing videos every couple weeks, [00:17:30] kind of teaching as I learn because I think that it’s hard as a beginner to learn sometimes from someone who has been doing it for 25 years. 

You don’t really speak the same language all the time, and it helps me reinforce what I’m learning, but I think I can also speak to the beginner and be like, “It’s not really as hard as you think it is. Let’s just take this little by little,” and all of a sudden, you’re coding, which is awesome. 

Cable: Right. [00:18:00] I love it, Melissa. I found you on LinkedIn. I’m scrolling through my LinkedIn usually once or twice a day. A lot of my connections are now through either IBM or languages or securities and tech, and I’ve got all kinds of connections, and I see this Franklin Apprenticeship that had said you’d gone through your pre-apprenticeship, and I saw you, then I started seeing some things you were posting, and I was like, “Okay, what is this, Melissa?” Then I went to your YouTube, and I’m watching Pea-Sized– Do it again. Pea-Sized Python? 

Melissa: Yes. 

Cable: I’m watching Pea-Sized Python, [00:18:30] like what is this? You’re going through step by step, and I’m like, “She is producing, she is recording, she is doing her own stuff.” That right there tells me you’re a lifelong learner. It tells me you’re pay-it-forward kind of mentality, “Hey, I understand this. It helps me reinforce it, and I want to share it to somebody else that they also can learn from these bite-sized nuggets, these bite-sized learning applications.” I love it. The last thing I want to talk about, Melissa, that’s a huge spectrum. 

[00:19:00] You’ve got a background, you pivoted midlife, you decided, you got into something that interests you. You’re having great conversations with your father now because you guys can talk tech and have these additional deep-dive moments between you and your family. Your kids think you’re a hacker. I mean this is great stuff, but I want to tie something at the end of this to something you really said in the very first 10 seconds. If nobody on the episode heard this, if they aren’t paying attention, you had said that you didn’t feel like you were reaching your full [00:19:30] potential. Here at Franklin, our tagline is Potential Unlocked. 

That is how our hashtag, boom, Franklin Apprenticeships’ Potential Unlocked, and I couldn’t have asked for a better episode to line me up to this question because what you’ve shared is your personal journey. You shared with us your learnings, you shared with us your passion for going into this new field, this new space, and you shared with us that you’re sharing it with the world as well, so as you move forward, you’re bringing people [00:20:00] with you. If you have two words, potential unlocked, what do those mean to you and how do you see that coming as something you want to share? What does Potential Unlock mean to you? 

Melissa: For me, I think it’s not letting your doubts get in the way of what you want to accomplish. I mean, we all doubt ourselves. We all think we’re not smart enough or we’re not whatever enough. Whatever you’re trying to pursue, if it’s tech, [00:20:30] you are smart enough. You will get this and you will succeed. Keep pushing. Have faith in what you can accomplish. 

Cable: I love it. It’s a great way to line up and set up the opening and the end of this, Melissa. It’s a wonderful share. It’s wonderful to hear from someone who has gone through the pre-apprenticeship. You’ve got technical support from someone who can help you. You’ve got your Pre-App team with your webinars [00:21:00] of– and you said it earlier, what was the phrase you used? For the Professional Skills webinars? Right? 

Melissa: Professionals skills, yes. 

Cable: You’re going to go to a live session with the classroom instructor. You’ve got a Slack Channel community. You’ve got people who are supporting you in your corner. You’ve got Franklin out here trying to encourage you to move forward. You did it. That is your unlocked potential, was the day that you clicked on Franklin Apprenticeships, and it’s just basically going to rock and roll from this point forward. 

Melissa: Yes, [00:21:30] that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Definitely. 

Cable: I love it. Melissa, thank you for being here. Are there any final thoughts? Anything else you want to share with the world as you gave us your story? Anything else you want to share with the audience? 

Melissa: I think that’s it. I just really appreciate my time with Franklin and my continuing relationship. It’s been awesome to be a part of it and watch myself get stronger and get better. 

Cable: Well, to everybody out there listening, Pea-Sized [00:22:00] Python is out there on YouTube. You can check out Melissa and what she’s sharing with the world. Melissa, you’ve had a hell of an experience coming through here, great time coming through Franklin Pre-Apprenticeship. I told you on Mondays and Fridays we bookend our week with a Success Coach meeting, and we name-dropped this morning. 

I said, “I got Melissa on an episode,” and they all perked up and said, “I know Melissa.” Pre-App team, they remembered you, they knew you, and like you said, you’re in the Talent Team’s purview right now, that you’re one of the available Network Engineers [00:22:30] ready to go into an apprenticeship or roll out there. Sorry, employers, Melissa has already been hired, but we do have hundreds of awesome candidates like her who are ready to get to work, so reach out to Franklin Apprenticeships and see if we can help align someone into your organization. 

That’s awesome, Melissa. Melissa, thank you for being here. Thank you for being on Frankly Speaking, and to everybody else listening out there, I will catch you guys on the flip side. 

Melissa: Thank you so much. 

Presenter: Thank you for listening to Frankly Speaking – Adventures in Tech [00:23:00] Apprenticeships. This podcast was produced by Franklin Apprenticeships, a woman-owned tech apprenticeship company on a mission to unlock the potential of the American workforce. Franklin offers apprenticeships for a range of tech roles such as cybersecurity, help desk, IBM Z, network engineering, and software engineering. Help us spread the word about tech apprenticeships by leaving a review and telling a friend about our show, and don’t forget to subscribe to be notified of new episodes. [00:23:30] 

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