Purpose with a Paycheck: How One Grad Went from Uninspiring Jobs to a Meaningful Data Career
When Antonio graduated from Duke University in 2014, he found himself in the position that every student dreads. He had an impressive degree in biophysics from a prestigious college, but the job market wasn’t kind.
“It was miserable,” he recalled. “I realized that even though biophysics looks really nice on paper, it’s not really job applicable. There are limited options for what you can do with a biophysics degree, at least at the undergraduate level. And I had to start working.”
After stumbling from one uninspiring job to another, Antonio discovered The Data Analysis and Visualization Boot Camp at Texas McCombs and decided it was now or never. He threw himself wholeheartedly into the course, making time around two restaurant jobs and a packed tutoring schedule. Along the way, he discovered the passion, motivation, and direction he’d been searching for since college.
Better yet, Antonio’s experiences at boot camp helped him land a job that’s truly meaningful to him—helping make homelessness a thing of the past in Texas. His story is one that countless grads can relate to—and one that shows it’s never too late to find your path.
An overqualified cell phone salesman: Antonio’s first jobs out of college were nothing to write home about
When Antonio decided to major in biophysics at college, he wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do with his life. He knew he liked math and science, but like many students, he didn’t have a clear career path in mind.
That decision would haunt him soon after graduating. Upon moving to Texas, one of his first jobs was selling cell phones door to door.
“That was the biggest wake up call,” he said. “I was like, I’ve got a Duke University degree but I’m out here selling cell phones on the street.”
After a series of low-paying contracting jobs, Antonio grew tired with the lack of job security and health benefits and began working as a broker at Charles Schwab. But this work made him even more unhappy.
“I was just thinking financially at that point,” he said. “And my time there was even worse. The pay was great—I was paying back my student loans, and I had health insurance. But essentially, I was on the phones all the time talking to angry people. When I was there, I was doing the bulk of my thinking about how I couldn’t do this.”
Easing into tech: the first months of boot camp were full of challenges and rewards
For Antonio, a brief contracting gig at Apple first planted the seeds of an idea about working in tech. But it was only after hearing about a boot camp from a coworker at another job that those seeds finally took root.
“I figured I’d take a look at it,” he said. “I signed up for the Data Visualization course because I have a stats background, so I figured I’d be able to use some of my background experience hopefully.”
Looking back, Antonio views the boot camp as one of the best career decisions he’s ever made, saying that if he had never taken it, he’d still be “going in circles.” But it took a little time for him to get to grips with the teaching style. For the first few months, he was frustrated by the instructors’ insistence that students read all the documentation.
“In my head, I was like, he just doesn’t want to teach us—he wants us to read it!” Antonio laughed. “But that was just me being lazy. Afterwards, I realized he kept emphasizing reading the documentation because really, that’s where the answers are. That was one of the big things to learn. Coding isn’t something you just figure out—you’ve got to read, and you have to know how to read and use those resources.”
Before long, Antonio grew to appreciate the nuances of the boot camp—so much so that he continues to tutor students. In particular, he valued the business-focus on the coursework, which he says helped better prepare him for the job market. He also loved working closely with the other students.
“The greatest thing I took out of the course was the portfolio,” he said. “In each group project, I was lucky to have worked with some pretty good teammates who had really good perspectives. A lot of projects we did were really marketable—that got me a lot of interviews.”
Finding meaning: boot camp helped Antonio understand what he wanted to do in tech—and how he could use his skills to help others
While boot camp opened the door to many new opportunities for Antonio, he didn’t find a job he truly loved right away. One thing the course gave him was a new perspective on the tech industry, and he realized that some of the jobs he’d once romanticized now held far less appeal for him.
But after discovering a call on Craigslist for a data specialist at the Texas Homeless Network, Antonio found a job that gives him a sense of purpose in his work—and which helps him make a real difference in the world. He’s excited and proud to help the non-profit adopt more technology to help secure more funding, support homeless shelters, and more.
What’s more, he knows that by using data, he can help policymakers better understand the scope of homelessness in Texas—and influence positive change.
“I can see myself in this position for years to come,” he said. “We’re supporting organizations in Texas to make homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring. I find that very rewarding.”
Patience in the process: to get the most out of boot camp, you have to trust, listen, and learn
As a part-time tutor, Antonio is eager to help other students find their unique paths in tech. He advises anyone considering taking the boot camp to “just jump in,” and to start thinking right away about what they want to do after the course, tailoring their work towards those goals.
He also emphasizes the importance of patience. The learning curve can be steep, and as Antonio found, you might not understand the method behind the madness right away. But if you put in the work and listen to the instructors, the results can be life-changing.
“You have to trust the process,” he said. “I have a great love for the boot camp. After the course, I can definitely say I have a direction in my career. I’m no longer grabbing at straws.”