From Petri Dish to Professional Coder: How this Lab Tech Changed Careers to Land His Dream Job

When Kevin Lee landed a job in biotech right out of college, he was excited. He’d worked in the field as a researcher before graduation and had high hopes for his career. But after five years in the lab, Kevin was slowly learning that his “dream” job wasn’t exactly what he expected.

“I realized after just a couple of years that I’d need a PhD to get where I really wanted in my career,” said Kevin. “The lack of that degree meant I got stuck in management, and I just didn’t have the time or the money to go back to school for such a long time.”

Kevin struggled with spending several years getting an expensive postgrad degree. That’s when he realized his actual dream job might not be in biotech.

“This just wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Kevin said. “I was tired of the lab setting. I wanted to do something I was actually interested in.”

Luckily, finding his new career was faster and easier than Kevin could have ever imagined. He just had to revisit his first passion—computers.

Rediscovering his first love

Before long hours in the lab with beakers and centrifuges, Kevin had been a fledgling coder.

“I remember building computers and opening up electronics just to see what they were made of,” Kevin said. “I even took a Java course in high school where we made little Flash games.”

After a little online research, Kevin found The Coding Boot Camp at UC San Diego Extension and decided to reignite his passion for coding. Within a few weeks, he was on his way to a new career path.

“I took the part-time 24-week boot camp while still working full-time at the lab. So the boot camp felt like it moved quickly,” Kevin said. “It was tough to go through a full career change in six months, but that’s what it takes to change course.”

Kevin credits his success to the extensive help he received from his instructors and fellow students, but mostly to the extensive career services available for all boot camp students.

Help finding a new direction

Even with his background in computers, Kevin relied on the extra assistance outside of class to stay focused on his goal of landing a new coding job.

“I really lucked out with some great helpers,” said Kevin. “The one-on-one tutoring really helped me nail the server-side coding of React, and the career services were a lifesaver when it came time to build my resume.”

According to Kevin, this extra assistance and professional development are some of the biggest strengths of the boot camp program. Kevin’s advisors helped him build the online portfolio and updated resume that helped him land his new job as a front-end developer for Plaza Home Mortgage.

“I had bi-weekly meetings with my advisor where we conducted mock interviews and ran over opportunities like industry networking events and meet-ups,” Kevin said. “I actually got the call that I was hired during one of our meetings!”

Since that call, Kevin’s professional life has completely transformed.

From petri dish to pet dish

“In the lab, I didn’t have any kind of flexible schedule,” Kevin said. “I was a manager, and the position was client-facing and extremely time-sensitive, so I didn’t have any give to do things my way. I couldn’t bring my dog to work, for example.”

But Kevin quickly learned that your schedule and work environment can be a lot more flexible in the tech world.

“My life completely changed at my new job,” Kevin said. “My job is five minutes from home so I don’t have to fight traffic, and I can work from home or come in at different times, depending on the day. We actually share our facility with Google so I have access to all of Google’s employee perks. I’m a lot happier. I can even bring my dog to work now!”

The blueprint for change

Kevin’s rapid transformation from lab rat to software developer, while impressive, isn’t unusual. In fact, it’s the way the boot camp was designed. And Kevin felt that energy throughout every phase of the course.

“At my current job I have to all the time read code from people I’ve never met,” Kevin said. “But every group project felt like it was preparing you for full-time work. During our final project, I actually felt like a developer.”

Despite the extensive development, Kevin’s biggest takeaways from the course weren’t just skill-building.

The power of connections

“The boot camp isn’t just for learning coding. It’s a network builder,” Kevin said. ““There were people just like me—motivated people looking for change. I felt really good in that environment. I wasn’t alone in wanting to change. It was really positive and reassuring. I still talk to my classmates on Slack and share info and tech trends. Everyone in class was on the same page the whole time.”

According to Kevin, this community and connection are both key to staying plugged into the tech field.

“You have to look at code every day,” Kevin said. “Subscribe to coding and tech newsletters and skim them every morning for a few minutes. Even if you don’t fully understand it, just knowing what’s going on—including hot industry keywords—helps a lot. The industry changes every month. You need to keep up.”

Kevin’s final piece of advice for anyone thinking about becoming a developer is quite simple. “This program changed my life. If you’re really interested in tech—just do it,” Kevin said.

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