Dana needed a change of career, and with her STEM background, coding was just the sort of thing she was looking for. But the surprise costs of attending coding school landed her in a tough spot, putting her newfound dreams at risk.
LoanWell: What were you doing before you decided to attend coding school?
Dana Walker: I wanted to do genetics. I have a math degree because they didn't offer genetics at my undergrad at the time, and then I got to work in genetics at UNC for a couple of years. And that was great -- except, I didn't realize [until later], "Oh, hey, I love the science, but I don't like the lifestyle."
I got a job in food service because I thought, "Well, I already know how to run a business. Maybe I could start a restaurant or food truck or something. I just need more hands-on on that side of things.”
I worked at, you know, [various food service locations] and just got to experience front of house and back of house and waitressing and all of that. But the reality was coming down that, since the recession, banks like Wells Fargo were just not willing to give loans -- especially for starting up businesses. So it was time to re-evaluate.
LW: So what made you decide on coding?
DW: I wanted to be able to pay off my debt. I wanted to maybe have kids someday and these things just weren't happening. And I also wasn't getting any closer to my dream of owning a business anyway.
I found that the Iron Yard* [Footnote: A now defunct coding academy located in Durham, NC] was offering classes and I had taken computer programming back in high school college, so it was not my first time, or first exposure or anything. But [I thought] it would be nice to have more recent certifications in order to have a more recent resume, to help me change careers and go into computer science as a software engineer/software developer.
I signed up for the Python classes. And then the catch became, "OK, well, how do I pay for this?"
LW: At what point did money become an issue? Was it a surprise?
DW: They needed a thousand dollar deposit that couldn't be wrapped up into the student loan, and I didn’t know where to go.
It makes it really hard, especially for diverse candidates from different backgrounds, to just take a class that requires a thousand dollars upfront. And that wasn't very clear until I already signed up and had been approved and got the student loan, and then found out that I needed it separate.
So it was very sudden, like, needed-in-a-week-or-two kind of thing.
LW: And how were you able to get help?
DW: I just happened to reach out to [LoanWell CEO and founder] Bernard [Worthy] and a few others because they had been advising me, having been previous Iron Yard graduates themselves. I'd run into them at the bakery where I worked and had gotten some advice from them.
So once I ran into this problem I reached back out to them like, "Hey, I just got approved and all but this is really a hurdle. Can you help, or do you know anyone who can help?"
And luckily for me, they got back to me, and they were well enough off as developers themselves that they wanted to kind of pay it forward and help the next student.
LW: When did you first hear about LoanWell?
DW: Bernard said, “It just so happens that our project has been this [friends-and-family lending], and we're turning it into an actual company, an actual business.”
So I would kind of be like their beta test, or one of them. I'd be an early testing person for them and I would get my loan at the same time. It was mutually beneficial for all of us.
LW: So what happened next?
DW: I started [attending the Iron Yard code school] February of 2017 and finished in May, and then got an internship in September at the Cactus Group in Durham. The internship was a four month internship, so that was September through January 9th. Then I applied for a full time job I didn’t get there.
I applied to a few other places, then got in at Red Hat starting in March of 2018. I've been with RedHat ever since then. I love it. Now I'm finally able to start paying down debt and having savings and looking forward instead of constantly just struggling to stay afloat.
They're very flexible and have a great work life balance and flexible vacation and very supportive management for just whatever you may need. I've really appreciated that.
Previously I never heard of having a weekend off. [I had] long hours, sometimes at minimum wage, sometimes better, but still not at a living wage, and this is very different.
It is my first time having insurance in the better part of a decade. I haven't had insurance since I was with my ex in 2010. And this is the first time a company that I have worked for [has provided] insurance.
LW: What was it like using the LoanWell system?
DW: I was immediately on board. I was thrilled -- for one, I was thrilled to get help, and two, being into coding myself, I was thrilled to participate in the beta testing for someone else who was doing a coding project.
They've done a good job; not just with the service, which is phenomenal, but they've done a good job on the site as far as the user experience. It is very easy to use. It is very approachable and welcoming and diverse.
And it comes across as something not like a bank -- it doesn't come across as something closed off and scary, or something like big that you might not qualify for. It's an arrangement among friends and this is just a facilitator, and the LoanWell platform makes the process so easy.
I think it's invaluable for someone who's going through this, and trying to get any sort of loan from friends and family, to use this platform to assist them.
LW: What did you think overall?
DW: I've had nothing but a good experience through them. I highly recommend it to others.
They've really tried to set it up to be as available as possible for a diverse set of needs, whether you need it for a project or a trip or class you're going to take.
You can arrange with your family or friends to get funding and have it already handled for you. It will do the calculations to figure out principal and interest and then you can set it up for just regular monthly drafts from your account. It's completely hands-off.
I look forward to being on the other end of it, and helping others when they apply for funding for classes, and then I can be in Bernard's shoes for funding them through this wonderful platform in the future.
I think this is gonna help a lot of people.