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Sara Kennedy Offers Valuable Insights to Women in Tech

As an individual not in the trenches of the tech world, but still highly dependent on capable IT professionals for the Midlands Anchor’s success, I discovered a deepened respect for this important industry following Sara’s story. Sara Kennedy is an IT professional from Unum/Colonial Life and Chair of Columbia’s 100 Girls of Code Chapter. She was also a presenter at the first Midlands-based Women in Tech networking seminar on August 30th.

SOCO and The Iron Yard partnered to host the event, designed to equip attendees with the tools, skills and resources needed to meet challenges in the workplace and thrive in the technology career field.

Heather Dughaish, Campus Director for TIY, took a commanding role in recruiting passionate attendees and crafting a strong first program that included a compelling presentation from Sara followed by breakout sessions.

Here are some major takeaways from her presentation. Those wanting to hear her full story are encouraged to watch the presentation in the video below.


On Pursuing a New Career in Coding 

After eight years in arts and non-profit administration, Sara packed her belongings and headed to Greenville to begin a three month web development program at The Iron Yard in 2014.

Realizing she was a quick learner and had great potential to advance her career in the tech world, she courageously shifted gears to re-enter the fast paced educational environment that would consume the next several months of her life.

Sara noted, “basically [The Iron Yard] was the most foreign and difficult experience I’ve ever been in. I’ve been to Japan, I travel a lot. And going to Japan is super cool, you don’t know what anybody is saying and you can’t read anything; it’s amazing. This was similar but so much more intimidating. I put up so much time and effort and money to be there. It was scary, I had a lot on the line.”women in tech 1

Like many of us who pursue our passions, myself included, we generally equip ourselves with mentors and other resources needed to help make the best possible decisions and take appropriate actions. However, without that ability to take risks, we can’t break through the mold. That’s why we so often find ourselves in environments that are more overwhelming than we originally anticipated. Sara continues:

“My mind was telling me you can’t do this. You’ll never be able to do this. You’ve made a huge, expensive mistake. That was my second day. I went to my car. I let all these emotions I was feeling come to the surface. I needed them to be there at the surface and I needed to experience them and acknowledge them and give them the respect they deserve. I was trying to come up with a pep talk. All I could say was ‘give it time’.

“As my education with the Iron Yard progressed, I realized that my pep talks got better. I was able to start looking at examples of work that I was producing and tell myself, ‘wait a second, you can do this because you’ve already done versions of this’. It was just building on top of building.”

As time passed, Sara’s vulnerabilities and willingness to grow produced a strong foundation to properly address and overcome present and future challenges. Through those vulnerabilities, The Iron Yard was teaching her how to approach problems in strategic and creative ways. She explains:

“I started to realize there was something more I was supposed to learn from this experience besides just the code. I didn’t understand that I needed to learn how to learn.”

Key Takeaways from The Iron Yard

Sara provided three major objectives that helped her make the most of her education and experience at The Iron Yard:

  1. Tech expertise will manifest over time

Sara explains that the fast-paced program will feel overwhelming: “you’re not going to be able to commit it all to memory. Stop worrying if it didn’t stick today, it might stick tomorrow.”

  1.  Progress should be measured individually

“Progress of other student’s does not matter for your success. Stop paying attention to other people’s progress and pay attention to your own.”

  1. Develop a mind that’s comfortable in a state of duality

In the tech world, confidence is extremely important. Sara insists that individuals in the tech industry need to be willing to quickly accept all size and type projects to stay ahead of the curve. However, she explains that flexibility and willingness to ask for help are also crucial to success:

“We have to be honest with ourselves and honest with those around us that hold us accountable. We have to tell them I need help with this, I’ve got to ask a question, I need a training tool, I need more time. Often times… they’re willing to work with you to make that space for you as a developer because they know that your learning is so valuable to what we’re producing. I was learning to let my mind grow and be comfortable in this state of unknown and not cling so much to what I know and what I don’t know. Be comfortable with the unknown. That’s a good thing because pretty much every day as a developer is one unknown after another.”

Key Takeaways Post Iron Yard

Sara has continued to build on her experiences at The Iron Yard and has picked up some important takeaways for those interested in a career in tech.

  1. Don’t sweat the learning curve

Sara explains that many people will feel underprepared in entry level tech positions, but need to expect that there will be a learning curve that employers will recognize. She says, “it’s important to be comfortable taking on the challenge but be honest when you need help, be honest when you need time to research, and be honest when you need time to complete your project. As long as you’re setting proper expectations for the people that you’re accountable to, it shouldn’t be a problem. And if there is, the people you’re accountable to will surely step in and help you to figure out how to get more resources to get your problem solved.”14215353_10210110898030125_1523011574_o (1)

  1. Be honest about your skill-level

“Admit where you’re at in your learning. If it’s not coming along as well as you thought it would, accept it. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

  1. Don’t strive to be like others

Sara encourages tech enthusiasts, “don’t be intimidated by other developers you’re around”. She believes the tech industry is not very competition-based, which can be an advantage for growth within the workplace:

“It’s much more supportive than I thought it would be. I’m very pleased by that. Everyone’s usually pretty open armed about helping you to come on in. It’s fun!”

  1. Expect to fail

“If you expect it and accept it [failing], you can learn how to deal with it and not stay down as long as some people do when they fail.”

“Give it your best try, and if your best try isn’t good enough that day, the good thing about it is there’s always tomorrow and you can try again.”


We’ll keep our reader’s posted on the next Women in Tech event. To watch Sara’s full presentation, view the video link below. To read about another local woman in tech’s incredible story, click here:

Heather Dughaish Help Leads Growth of Columbia Tech Scene


Sara Kennedy’s full presentation at Women in Tech event

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