When I was envisioning my glorious future in high school, a technical college was never part of the picture. I was an academic snob. I had to go somewhere where people would say “Oooo,” after I revealed my alma mater.
I ended up going to school at BYU. I studied music and French, convinced I’d go to graduate school afterward. But many a good-looking man has ruined the best-laid educational plans, and I was not an exception. After my own graduation, I got my PHT (putting husband through) degree, and then the kids came along, and soon my degree became as outdated as it was impractical.
Alongside my kid-raising activities, I did all I could to keep myself sane and relevant. I picked up some occasional work as a freelance writer, started a website, volunteered as a copywriter, learned some coding skills, and more. These were good things to do, and I felt more confident that I could at least get some kind of job if I ever needed or wanted to do so.
Sometimes, though, it takes tragedy to create clarity, and that’s what happened to me. My sister died, and all of a sudden, I needed something more. Staying in the house all day left me too much time to think. I didn’t have the energy to write blog posts or send out queries anymore. I wanted someone to tell me what to do rather than having to figure out how to spend my time on my own.
I decided to go back to school. It didn’t take me long to figure out what to study—I’d already learned some coding online. Since I had a writing background, the added skill of website creation would be a perfect fit. Nearly every business needs a web site, so it’s always in demand (and well-paid).
I considered attending a coding boot camp, and I found a local one. But it would cost thousands, and while it would be over quickly, I’d have to go to class from noon to 8 pm five days a week. Luckily, not far from me, there’s a school that teaches digital media design—DATC (Davis Applied Technology College). It meets my needs much better than a traditional school.
I take my classes one at a time. I work independently, though I do have to attend class during the times I signed up. I can choose my schedule. Tuition is much cheaper than it would be at a regular university. I pay for my classes as I go, rather than at the beginning of a semester. I can sign up for as many or as few hours as I need.
Right now, I’m just beginning my electives for my program after finishing the core classes. Though I’m sometimes frustrated when I can’t figure something out, most of the time I feel like I’m playing. I really liked learning what Photoshop can do and confronting design challenges (Create a web site that breaks design rules! Start with a medium shade as your background and then add darker and lighter shades to create your image!). I haven’t determined yet whether I’m going to follow a design or a development track, but there are enough classes to offer me plenty of choices, and I’m confident I’ll figure out what I like best as I explore those options.
For some fields, a technical college degree won’t work. Some employers require the credentials only a four-year institution can offer. But in the field of web development and design, a degree matters far less than your ability to produce good work.
Currently, I attend school for fifteen hours a week. I hired a teenager to look after my kids, and I’m home by 11:15 every morning. I estimate that I’ll be done in about a year. If I reach that goal, I’ll be prepared for a job close to the time that my youngest child will begin first grade. I’ll emerge with the skills and the portfolio employers are looking for. Not only that, but I’ll have a much higher earning potential with very little, if any, debt.
I freely admit now that my snobbery was misplaced. I found a school that meets my needs and allows me to have a life at the same time. It’s given me something to look forward to and something to think about besides all the sadness in the world. It’s great to be ambitious, but for me, the practicality of everyday life has focused my goals on things that matter more to me than the ideals of my starry-eyed teenage self.
A passionate believer in the rights of women (especially mothers), Kaylie Astin is the founder of www.familyfriendlywork.org, where she blogs and raises awareness of work and family issues. She is also an aspiring novelist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in publications such as Fast Company, Boys’ Life and Children’s Writer. Kaylie received a bachelor’s degree in music and resides in Utah with her husband and three children.