Maria Dahlquist used to rise in the wee hours each morning to arrive by 5:30 a.m. at a job she hated.
“I would wake up and just have this feeling of dread,” she recalls.
Those dark days are now just a memory as she’s no longer a hotel manager earning $9 an hour, but a savvy tech professional charting an ambitious course on a career path she never thought possible.
Before Dahlquist began living the dream of working remotely in her comfortable and personalized home office featuring two computer screens and a dream commute in Northwest Kansas, she had to find the path that would change her life.
“I had an outdated bachelor’s degree in computer science and hadn’t worked in the industry for probably about 16 years,” said Dahlquist who remembers seeing an article about Rural & Remote on the news page of a local radio station.
A self-proclaimed homebody who felt career options for her were all but extinct, Dahlquist initially thought she might at least be able to learn more about possible ways to work from home. Instead, seeing her experience, the coordinators at Rural & Remote reached out and asked Dahlquist if she would be interested in earning a certificate from its coding academy.
“I was so excited,” she said. “It gave me hope for the future. I felt like I was stuck and honestly felt like I would never have a good job again.”
While it was an incredible opportunity, Dahlquist notes the path was not easy. She had to continue her full-time job while completing her coursework for the Rural & Remote Coding Academy offered by Bottega.
“I was working and would come home exhausted and have to spend my evenings and weekends studying hard and completing my school work,” she said. “It was a struggle, but it was well worth it.”
The self-guided instruction takes students through curriculum and then tasks them with projects to build. Some of the experience includes coding along with videos.
“It’s fairly easy from that aspect,” explains Dahlquist. “The work gets increasingly difficult as you advance. But it is very intuitive and the tech support is amazing. They were always there to help me with any issues I was having an answered me very promptly.”
She graduated the course after 10 months of study in March 2020 and began a 500-hour apprenticeship with Bottega on the tech support team. The transition from student to apprentice brought her skills and technique full circle.
“It solidified everything I learned because I was then helping students,” she said. “It was hands-on learning that helped me to put my troubleshooting skills to work. Communication is such a vital piece as well, which is wonderful for me because I love working with and helping people.”
The weeks of her internship quickly passed and Dahlquist found herself looking for a full-time job in early June in the midst of the COVID pandemic. Initially, she worried about finding a tech job and took on some flexible work and a landscaping job as she searched.
But then, Dahlquist’s story got even better.
When Rural & Remote forged a partnership with Cloud County Community College to offer coding classes, there was a need for someone to fill the role of Northwest Kansas Technical Lead. And the astute tech professional who had once feared all her career opportunities would lead to a dead end turned onto what could be described as a yellow brick road.
“I was offered the Technical Lead position to basically build the curriculum for Cloud County Community College’s coding classes,” says Dahlquist, admitting she sometimes has to pinch herself to believe it’s all real. Her role also involves working with Rural & Remote coding academy students – knowing all too well the path they are traveling. “It is so incredibly gratifying … all my hard work sturggling to learn the coding, going through the course, now it’s benefitting others. I am getting to help students build a bright future for themselves. I really like to see other people succeed. It truly is serendipitous.”
The alarm that wakes Dahlquist these days is no longer the start to another day of hopelessness and a dead-end job. It’s the signal of a new day and the possibility of what can be.
“If I would have custom built a job for myself – it would be what I am doing now.”