From Publishing to Web Development: How Ryan Campbell Upskilled to Land a New Career

Ryan Campbell is a jack of all trades. After graduating from college in 2012, he worked in several different industries — from agriculture, to medical devices, to international customer service. However, despite his success in these roles something just didn’t feel right. 

In 2017, Ryan published novels he had been writing in his free time, including Accounting for It All and Imminent Dawn, which debuted as the number one new release for its genre on Amazon. He transitioned into writing full time, while also working part-time and teaching in the writing program at the University of Wisconsin Continuing Studies. He spoke at various conferences, seminars, and other events in the Madison, Wisconsin area as well. 

When the pandemic hit, the writing department dissolved, and an avenue Ryan really loved was suddenly no longer available to him. His speaking appearances went virtual, and he was left managing his social media presence while simultaneously running Kill Your Darlings Candle Company with his wife. They made candles for writers, tying in references from popular books and using skills from Ryan’s background in publishing.

“As much as I loved writing and the creative process, I don’t like the social media management part that came with it,” Ryan said. “I knew that would slowly become a huge focus of what I would be doing, because there wasn’t that in-person connection anymore.” 

Unsure of his next step, Ryan started to brainstorm a new career path. Since he was interested in web development after putting together the candle company website, he thought: “Wouldn’t it be cool if I learned how to do this line by line?” Soon after, he enrolled in University of Wisconsin Coding Boot Camp.

Collaborating with classmates, one app at a time

Over the following months, Ryan was able to demonstrate his new and existing technical skills through several boot camp projects. First, he and his classmates created the app Who Would Win?, a combat simulator that determines who would win in a fight between a randomly selected Pokémon and Dungeons & Dragons character. 

“I really enjoyed the first project,” said Ryan. “It was so JavaScript-intensive. The point was to familiarize yourself with the language and make sure you’re using it to the best of your ability only a few weeks into the boot camp.” 

Next, he created Volley-All, a full-stack app that helps taverns and bars manage their recreational volleyball leagues. It was designed to get management off the pen and paper system and into an online scheduling portal for league members to see who’s on their team and how to contact them. It was also meant to help those running the league schedule games, add new teams, and see league standings. 

For the last project, Ryan designed an inventory management app called Regular Warehouse to help users manage various inventory criteria across industries. After the user is on the site for about one minute, a popup of a dancing cat appears with the words, “Is the coast clear?” The cat then throws a dance party with a short video. “People seemed to like it,” Ryan said. “It took a serious project and gave a little flair to it. My group had fun with that one.” 

Life-long learner goes virtual

While Ryan enjoyed the boot camp’s collaborative nature, he was concerned about how virtual classes would work. Once classes began, however, he learned that he had more in common with his classmates than he had originally thought. 

“I didn’t know what to expect, but I quickly realized a lot of people were nervous and tentative,” he said. “I knew someone had to break the ice and ask questions to drive conversations forward. Not only did I learn more, but I also stimulated conversation to help classmates out.” 

Ryan had some prior experience with web design and implementation, but the boot camp provided him with the perfect opportunity to sharpen his technical skills. During the course of the program, he familiarized himself with core website-building tools including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. 

“Mastering JavaScript was like getting over a really big hill. It was a new world for me,” Ryan said. “I took advantage of my tutors and instructors, meeting with them weekly to discuss anything I was confused about. They were a big help.” 

From one job offer to another

From the start of the boot camp, Ryan knew he wanted to pivot into a new career and get back into full-time work. He sent out his first job application five weeks into the program, and dedicated his Saturday mornings to working on his resume and sending out more applications. His boot camp’s Career Services team helped make sure his resume was well put together, accurately conveying his voice and potential. 

“Career Services was able to assist me with the foundational aspects of applying for jobs, and they helped a lot,” Ryan said. “But leveraging connections and networking made the most significant difference in my job hunt.”

Through a series of coincidences and referrals, Ryan was able to secure three job offers halfway through the boot camp. In a 72-hour span, he had to accept one role between PlayStation, Northwestern Mutual, and a window design firm. Ultimately, Ryan accepted an offer as an associate software engineer at Northwestern Mutual. He couldn’t turn down the opportunity to grow with a company that’s committed to helping junior developers learn as they work. He was also able to relocate to the Milwaukee area, where he grew up. 

“I’m very happy with the decision I made,” Ryan said. “My philosophy when I started the boot camp was to learn new things and apply for jobs after. I never imagined I would have three job offers before the program ended and wind up working for a company that I really enjoy.” 

Are you interested in changing career paths? Check out University of Wisconsin Boot Camps today.

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