App Academy Alum Spotlight: Custora Engineer Lora Lee

From legal briefs to code debriefs.

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When she got out of college in 2012, Lora Lee knew she wanted to find a challenging career. She’d been a good student at Dartmouth so had several options available to her. Since she’d always thought she’d become an attorney, she quickly latched onto a paralegal job at a top firm. And she was doing well, eventually assisting a team of 16 attorneys with discovery and deposition prep on a litigation team. Despite her early success, though, Lora wasn’t happy.

“I wanted to see what it would be like before I made the commitment [to a life in law]. I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she told us in a phone interview.

She realized a more collaborative career was more her preference, with some expectations of creativity and an intellectual bent. Being in the hypermedia environment of New York at the time, that made her turn to advertising for a couple of years. But she also didn’t love it. While she liked the organizational and deadline-driven aspects, she felt her smarts were not being used as much. At the same time, she was hearing a lot of happy stories from college and city friends about programming.

“Friends that were programmers all said they really liked the job. And I had [experience] working closely with developers on a website launch at my advertising job, so I decided to jump into programming,” she said firmly.  

At first, Lee decided to learn the intricacies of coding on her own, while still at her 40-hour-a-week ad job. She learned Javascript and found the solving-puzzle aspect of it fun and challenging. More importantly, though, she liked that a particular aspect of the language also had a common feature her previous professions had originally attracted in her: a need for logic.

LoraLee_appacademy_bwThis made sense, of course. After all, it’s not like she’d been totally wrong for pursuing law and advertising — both of those professions also involved a ton of logic. But this was different now. Programming sparked something in her that really spoke to her so she decided quit her job and enroll in App Academy, the coding bootcamp. Within three weeks, she was interviewing and taking tests to get in.

When Lee started the cohort in May 2017 in the New York office, she says she realized how high-pressure the environment would be. The learning was fast-paced, her fellow students were dedicated, and the constant assessments pushed them all hard. But she wasn’t intimidated. Instead, she was buoyed by the fact that, she says, the curriculum was “great” and that the teaching assistants were “so intelligent.” Oh, and by the way, we didn’t make her say any of this.

Being around that environment, she finally felt like she had found her passion in coding, not just a place where she could do a job. “I loved it so much because I was getting fed new information every day. [I liked it so much I stayed on at App Academy] after graduation to work as a Jumpstart teaching assistant. Being able to teach others who are new to coding to teach fundamentals was rewarding.”

As a teaching assistant, Lee says the concepts she learned at the school were reinforced every day and helped her when she was ready to get her programming wings to the outside and look for a regular job at a tech company.

She hit the ground running, sending off several resumes and getting in contact with recruiters. In the first couple of weeks on the job search, she got a couple of offers but turned them down because she didn’t feel like they were the right fit. After a few more weeks, she ended up getting one she really liked from the advanced segmentation platform Custora. Interestingly, while the financial offer was important, a cultural connection with the company’s values really made the decision for her.

“I got the sense that they value their employees and care about culture and made sure every new hire is a good fit. They have a values book that resonated with me. I was excited,” she said.

After taking off a couple of weeks for a quick trip to Maine to get Lobster and to support a friend at a Muay Thai match, she started her job in early October 2017.

Now that she’s been at her job for a few months and getting comfortable as an engineer, she has a bit more time to pursue some personal goals.

“I’m also thinking about taking up Muay Thai or jiu-jitsu!” she told us.

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