My Professional Odyssey from the Classroom to the C-SuiteFeatured

My transformation from public school teacher to tech CEO was hardly the career arc I once envisioned. Yet, looking back, I realize the path that took me from the classroom to the C-suite was paved with many of the skills, ideals, and values that supported me throughout my teaching career. From this experience, I’ve drawn a conclusion that I hope is helpful to women who are beckoned by a new calling but feel held back by doubts. As daunting as a radical career change may seem, the strengths and aspirations that have brought you to where you are—combined with a willingness to seek and offer support—can lead you to professional fulfillment in unexpected places. But a generous dose of thoughtful planning is also strongly recommended.

My current career evolved organically from my quest to acquire data science skills to help me discover insights into how to improve educational outcomes. In the process, I found a void in resources for professionals seeking this kind of training, and my desire to fill this void was the seed that grew into my current venture.

I would later realize this drive to solve problems and surmount challenges translates well into successful entrepreneurship. This was one of many examples of natural inclinations steering me in the direction I ultimately followed. However, successfully reaching a new career destination would still require me to overcome several hurdles and learn new skills.

Breaking through self-imposed and externally-imposed barriers was necessary to succeed as I navigated unfamiliar terrain. As it happens, helping clients overcome these hurdles is also a fundamental goal of our company. Although I know each individual has unique circumstances and different levels of access to resources, I can offer some general advice based on approaches that worked well for me:

  • Approximately 57% of employees surveyed reported that financial insecurity was the main issue preventing them from making a career change. If your situation allows, save money to launch your new venture. Also, consider if it is possible to work a part-time job until you get your new career off the ground. If it is feasible for you to fund this transition in any way, be sure to make a solid financial plan.
  • Don’t shy away from reaching out to varied sources for assistance. Learning to code once seemed out of reach, but it was empowering to discover that it was much like learning a foreign language and, therefore, accessible to me. The open-source community and resources such as Stack Overflow helped me gain the knowledge I needed in my new professional field.
  • Allow the challenges you encounter to guide your vision for serving others. My experience with feeling intimidated by technology—or any unfamiliar territory—helped me and my co-founders develop our company as a resource that encourages learners to venture beyond their familiar boundaries.
  • Cultivate support networks. A 2019 survey found that lack of connections in the field was the top obstacle to a career change. I established associations through Meetups, LinkedIn, cold outreach, and co-working spaces and relied heavily upon them to garner support and even nurture early sales leads.
  • Give yourself the benefit of careful advanced planning. Identify milestones and timelines to reach them and create contingency plans in case you don’t.

As I progressed toward my new goals, I drew courage and confidence from the knowledge that the skills that served me well in my past professional experience transferred smoothly into my new endeavors. There are many qualities that effective CEOs and classroom teachers share, including staying calm when things get chaotic, thinking on their feet, communicating effectively and at the appropriate level for the people in the room, and coaching team members about best practices. Also, using chocolate as an incentive is almost always an effective tactic.

Whether in the classroom or the workplace, the motivation to help learners overcome self-doubt and expand their educational and professional horizons springs from the same fundamental spirit. While guiding and advising others, you develop your skills, learn more about yourself, create positive relationships, and gain validation of your expertise. Embracing my passion for helping others contributed to my professional growth and ultimately to the enterprise's success. Likewise, I believe other women embarking on a new career path can also benefit from following their innate sense of purpose.

Charting a new professional course takes courage and determination, with perhaps some serendipity. However, it is possible. If a calling that you truly believe in presents itself to you, you can leverage your life experience, personal strengths, and professional background to follow it to success, and remember to:

  • Be kind to yourself along the way.
  • Plan thoughtfully.
  • Be charitable with your expertise to boost others toward their goals.
  • Don’t hesitate to reach out for support. By accepting and offering help, you often gain the confidence and encouragement you need to persevere and thrive.

Most importantly, always keep in mind that it is never too late to become what you might have been.