From Law Graduate to Full-Stack Engineer: How Winning a Lottery Changed Roxana’s Life

Roxana Milea loves to challenge herself. When it was time to decide on her high school path in her native Romania, she chose to study computer science because “it was the most difficult subject,” she said. 

Roxana excelled at coding and enjoyed the tech world, but it was just one of her many interests. So when it came time to choose a career, she wasn’t sure computer science was for her. “I had just as much ability as the best students in my coding classes, but I wasn’t as passionate about it as they were. I thought that meant I wouldn’t be as good,” she said. Ultimately, she decided to pursue a career in the law.

Roxana had earned a master’s degree and was on her way to becoming a judge when her world was turned upside down by an amazing stroke of luck.

A green card and a perfect opportunity

In Romania, many people routinely apply for the “green card lottery” every year, hoping for that long-shot opportunity to come to the United States and start a new life. Roxana remembered her parents applying when she was a child. So when she got the chance as an adult, she did the same. “I never thought I’d actually win,” she said. But she did—on her first try.

In 2015, she made the move. Newly arrived in New Hampshire, Roxana had a decision to make. If she wanted to continue to practice law, she’d have to go back to school and essentially repeat her law education. Besides that, she knew the US was already “saturated with lawyers,” she said.

Roxana thought back to high school and how well she’d done in computer science classes. She’d already learned C++ and knew she had the mind for coding.

So when she heard about the University of New Hampshire Coding Boot Camp from a colleague, something clicked. “It seemed like the perfect opportunity to see whether I still enjoyed coding—and whether I was still good at it,” Roxana said. “It was an instant decision. I decided to go for it.”

Ready for a challenge

When she enrolled in the boot camp, Roxana was already working two jobs: as a program coordinator at a nonprofit organization and as a loan processor for a mortgage company.

But in spite of her jam-packed schedule, Roxana was excited and energized when it was time for class. “I looked forward to it because it made my brain work,” she said. Roxana loved researching new topics and asking questions—maybe too much. “I was trouble in class,” she laughed. “I wanted to know what was behind the code. I wanted to understand everything. I was thirsty for that kind of experience.”

Roxana found the whole boot camp team to be amazing. The instructor and TAs always understood what she was asking, even when she couldn’t quite articulate her questions. “They were patient and thorough. They explained the architecture behind every project and walked us through examples of difficult technical questions we might be asked at job interviews,” she said.

Her biggest challenge, though, was that she wanted to tackle all the hardest homework assignments—but had to accept easier projects as well, because of her work responsibilities. Still, whenever her classmates had trouble, Roxana somehow found the time to assist them; she loved collaborating and knew that helping others would only fortify her own skills.

An unexpected proposal

At the boot camp’s post-completion ceremony celebration, Roxana was chatting with her colleagues when she was called over by members of the instructional team. “Okay, now I’m in trouble,” she thought.

Far from it. Her instructor and the TAs had noticed how often Roxana’s classmates turned to her when they had questions. They asked whether she would be interested in coming on board as a TA. Her leadership qualities and level of dedication, along with her mastery of the material, made her the perfect candidate.

Her first response? “You’re crazy, you’re all crazy!” she laughed. Not yet working in the industry, Roxana didn’t feel qualified. But at the same time, she was grateful—and determined to work hard and rise to their expectations.

A universal language

Flash forward a few months and Roxana is now working as a software engineer at Benu Networks and a TA—two things she couldn’t have done without the UNH boot camp. “Those six months were the best investment of my life so far,” she said. “I learned so much from my colleagues—about problem-solving, not giving up, and using different resources to find answers.”

When her students are overwhelmed, Roxana tells them to keep in mind the satisfaction that comes from conquering a difficult assignment. “It’s okay not to know the answer. But stick with it. There’s a certain kind of joy that comes from solving a problem,” she said.

Roxana’s says the best thing about learning to code is that it gives you access to a universal language. “You can use it everywhere, not just in a certain country,” she said. Now Roxana speaks five languages: English, Romanian, French, Spanish—and JavaScript!

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