Self-taught coder and career changer Ashley Jean, ’14, works to inspire others interested in STEM
August 27, 2018
Ashley Jean earned her Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Accounting and Information Systems from Loyola in 2014. After attending the B’More on Rails Workshop for Women, she was inspired to pursue a career in coding. While working in the accounting field, she taught herself how to code on weekends and evenings. Today she works as a software developer for mdLogix where she writes and maintains the code base. In her spare time, Ashley remains involved with Baltimore area organizations that inspire individuals interested in STEM.
Loyola magazine recently talked to Jean about how Loyola’s professors and Jesuit values helped her pivot her career to the STEM field.
What made you decide to enroll at Loyola?
I originally applied because of the Sellinger School’s high rankings, and I really admired Loyola’s Jesuit core values. However, the moment I stepped foot on campus during my Accepted Student Day visit, I knew Loyola was the right fit for me. It felt like home!
Was there a specific experience or class that encouraged you or inspired your career?
I look back fondly at my time as a student. I was a double major in accounting and information systems. My favorite classes where the ones taught by Paul Tallon, Ph.D., professor of information systems. He brought a fresh perspective to the curriculum and always encouraged his students to be creative and think outside the box. Additionally, he opened my eyes to the different career opportunities a major in information systems offered and how the industry was rapidly changing. Though my career has taken me out of my original field of study, I do attribute my career switch to his classes.
Were you involved in any organizations or clubs on campus?
I was an Evergreen, involved in Campus Ministry, served as a hospitality member at Masses, attended and led retreats, and worked at the Loyola University Maryland Department of Recreational Sports and library. I also took part in an immersion program called Rostro de Cristo in Ecuador the summer of my graduating year.
What was it like to return to Loyola to be a part of the STEM panel?
Incredible! I enjoyed being back home on Loyola’s campus. It was great to speak with high school students about my experience and the career opportunities in STEM. The students are in such a pivotal part of their academic lives, so I wanted to illustrate some of the careers STEM could offer them.
Can you describe the switch from your career in accounting to your work as a developer?
A few years ago, I went on a whim and signed up for a weekend workshop called B’More on Rails Workshop for Women. The workshop is catered to showing women in the Baltimore community the basics of computer programming. There was something so empowering about being in a room with 70+ women for a weekend, learning to code… I fell in love with the power of code and how it could translate your ideas into real applications.
After that weekend, I started to teach myself how to code during evenings and on weekends after work. I had fallen in love with it. Though I was working full-time in finance, it didn’t stop me from wanting to chase this dream. I had to work as a software engineer one day. I started to attend local meetups on weeknights and connected with folks in the community who ultimately became my mentors. I watched videos, completed online tutorials, listened to coding podcasts, and built small applications. Additionally, I started to give tech talks at the meetups I was attending.
Once I had the fundamental knowledge, I applied and was accepted to complete a part-time fellowship called Rails Girls Summer of Code. The fellowship is a three-month program aimed to provide mentorship to women programmers while they work on an open source project to expand their skills. So, while I was still working full-time in finance, I completed this fellowship program. After the program was completed, I began to apply for software engineer positions… and the rest is history.
Now I work as a software engineer for a company called mdLogix, and I am a part-time graduate student at Towson University working towards my master’s degree in computer science.
What is your favorite aspect of your work as a volunteer in the Baltimore community?
I am the co-organizer for the Baltimore Hackathon, a weekend event of social productivity where participants work on technical and creative projects in a 50+ hour time period. The best ideas win prizes that are judged by representatives from the Baltimore tech community and sponsors.
I volunteer as an instructor at the same workshop I first attended, B’More on Rails Workshop for Women. This workshop laid the foundation for my tech career in Baltimore, so it means a lot that I can now help others who are where I once was.
Lastly, I serve on the Industry Advisory Board for Code in the Schools. This organization is helping to expand access to quality computer science education programs in Baltimore City through in-school, after-school, and summer programming for youth age 4-21, as well as professional development for educators throughout the region. The advisory board meets to discuss how to ensure the CS curriculum in schools will meet the demands for jobs in the STEM career field.
What advice would you give to a Loyola student?
Above all, I would tell students to think about others and serve your community. Take advantage of the holistic experience Loyola has to offer, and don’t be afraid to try something outside of your comfort zone. Take a leap of faith.