Lina Sachuk was juggling jobs as a Red Lobster waitress, Costco clerk, and catering company go-fer when she stumbled upon the Galvanize website in the summer of 2015. An immigrant from war-torn Ukraine, she was still perfecting her English, and she only used a computer occasionally, to surf the web or check email. But while attending an open house at a Galvanize Denver campus, she decided to take an unexpected career leap anyway, and sign up for the 8-week Zero to Web Designer Workshop.
“I remember taking the first step onto this beautiful balcony that night, and seeing a huge rainbow over downtown,” Sachuk said. “I thought ‘this is a good sign. I’m going for it.'”
One year later, within days of graduating from the six-month Web Development Immersive Program, 36-year-old Sachuk started a new job as a software developer with Denver-based Fast Enterprises. Now she’s earning a salary that will help her support her mother, sister, and nieces back in Ukraine, pay off her student loan within months, and live comfortably with, as she puts it, “just one job.” Her head is still spinning.
“My life has changed 180-degrees,” Sachuk said. “It’s mind-blowing.”
Sachuk’s journey was not an easy one. Growing up in Zhytomyr, Northern Ukraine, she studied computer science at the local university in the 1990s, learning mostly theory and history, with little attention paid to hands-on programming. Students took turns on one outdated desktop computer, doing the bulk of their work with pencil and paper. Until she moved to the United States, she never used a laptop.
After years working as a radio DJ in Ukraine, Sachuk came to Denver at age 30 to learn English, fell in love with the city, and decided to stay. She proudly became a U.S. citizen in early 2015. But still, she says, something was missing. “When you’re an immigrant from another country and can barely speak English you have to pick up any type of job you can to survive. What I wanted was a career.”
She started with Zero to Web Design, a twice-weekly two-hour workshop that would introduce her to basic programming languages while still enabling her to work full time. On day one, her instructor asked her to download a “code editor” and get to work using “HTML” and “CSS” to craft a rudimentary one-page website about herself. The string of foreign concepts – file organization, file naming, syntax, etc. – felt overwhelming.
“She struggled at first,” recalls Galvanize instructor Matthew Leach. “But she had the grit and determination to keep failing and just keep saying ‘It’s OK. I’ll get this.'”
By class two, she was transforming strings of letters on a black screen into a crude web page featuring her bio, photo, and pictures of her favorite Ukrainian foods. By class 8, she had created a fully functional multi-page site from scratch. “It was like pulling back a curtain,” says Sachuk. “I’d used the internet before but had no idea how it all worked.”
“I won’t lie. It was super intense,” she said. But it was also less expensive, faster, and more focused than returning to a traditional university. “I needed knowledge that I could apply right away in the workforce.”
Immersive program instructor Wes Reid says that’s precisely what makes Galvanize unique. Students with myriad backgrounds, ages, and careers often come in with a dream of a career in web development, but without the time or money to spare on a multi-year degree. There, they hit the ground running, with classes light on lectures and heavy on hands-on coding. Instructors also keep in touch with leaders in the rapidly evolving industry, adjusting curricula when needed to be sure they’re teaching relevant skills students can immediately put to use. Most importantly, Reid says, they “learn to be good learners” so if they walk into a new job that uses a program they’ve never been exposed to, they can pick it up quickly.
“Students like Lina can come from a career that maybe they are not totally satisfied with and get empowered to own their career choices,” he said. “That’s incredibly satisfying to watch.”
As Sachuk settles into her new job, she stresses that what she gained in the past year is about much more than money.
“What Galvanize gives you is the self-confidence that you can do whatever it takes to succeed,” she said. “That’s what changes people’s lives.”