The Road: My Journey From Consumer Care Advocate to Front-End Dev

This is the story of Seattle-based employee Heather Palmer, who is the first participant in a pilot program that trains non-tech employees for tech roles.

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We’ve all done it: Glanced at a job posting, decided we didn’t meet the minimum requirements, closed the posting and moved on.

But Heather Palmer didn’t move on – at least not for more than a few seconds.

In early 2016, Heather was working in a Consumer Care role that she deeply enjoyed. She was in her second year at Zillow Group, and was building relationships throughout the company.

“I was passionate about the customer service work I was doing with my team and made a habit of always saying yes to every ZG opportunity,” Heather recalls. “Being involved in all things Zillow helped me develop relationships with people on other teams and to share more about the large impact of Consumer Care with people who were not familiar with the team.”

When Heather learned that a friend was leaving the company for a position elsewhere, she decided to look up the description for his role. It was filled with unfamiliar terms like “Python,” “Data Analysis” and “SQL.”

She was intrigued but then thought, “I’m too old at 38 to learn something so wildly unfamiliar,” Heather says. She closed out the job description but quickly reopened it. “I reminded myself that there is no reason I could not learn a new skill. I could totally do this!”

Heather started to explore what it would take to learn how to code on her own. At first, she focused on Python, completing self-taught lessons through online resources such as Coursera and Codecademy. She then transitioned to weekend classes at the University of Washington and started attending meet-ups where women coders shared their experiences.

Over the course of a year she also continued to network internally, booking coffee dates with employees throughout the tech org to learn more about their day-to-day activities and how they’ve learned to code. Each coffee chat would end with another suggestion of someone she should meet. She eventually attended a PyLadies event hosted in our Seattle office and connected with Zillow Group VP of Product Teams Rebekah Bastian.

Heather didn’t realize it at the time, but momentum was already building within Zillow Group for creating a pilot program for employees like her – highly motivated culture carriers who are interested in transitioning from non-tech to tech roles.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about how to hire more women into technical roles. I started thinking that in addition to looking externally, maybe we could train our own employees to become programmers,” Rebekah says. “Heather was a great person to try this with, because she was so passionate about coding, and already exemplified our core values.”

As a part of the program, the company paid for Heather to take classes at General Assembly, where she switched gears and focused on front-end development. Heather was thrilled to discover that front-end coding was more exciting than the exploratory work she was conducting on her own.

“My class was two nights a week with about 15 hours of work outside of class, for 10 weeks,” Heather says. “Even with my long commute and working a full day, I couldn’t wait to dive in and learn how to code! Early on, I had one assignment that took me 6 hours to complete. I was challenged with coding a box to move to a different position on a webpage. It sounds simple, but to a brand-new developer it seemed impossible until I actually figured it out. I cried with complete awe and excitement when I completed the task.”

Heather’s hard work and determination paid off. The day she graduated from General Assembly, in January 2017, she began her new role as an entry-level front-end developer working on the Zillow style guide.

“I love coding because it allows me to be creative, solve problems and work with amazingly talented people,” she says. “Zillow was instrumental in connecting the dots for me. I was determined to learn to code, but Zillow saw my drive and helped me turn my skills into a career with mentorship and a great deal of support. Now every day, I really get to live out one of my favorite core values — Own It.”