By Padraig Ryan

Nancy Lukas, who retired in 2015 after spending 20 years as a teacher, always loved technology. She was one of the first teachers to have her own website, loved using a SmartBoard, and made her fourth grade students create podcasts about important environmental issues.

Still, Nancy, who has always liked a good challenge, never thought this lifelong interest would take her on a totally different career path. That was until her daughter told her about the Rutgers Coding Bootcamp, an intensive program offered by the Rutgers Division of Continuing Studies that provides the skills needed to become a “full stack” software coder. The Bootcamp is offered at the Rutgers Somerset campus for either 12 or 24 weeks, and can be taken either full or part time, offering students a convenient way to learn on their own time. It is taught by industry professionals from companies such as IBM, Disney, and Riot Games, who offer both technical and career instruction to students who graduate with the full capabilities to take on their dream role. 

“There’s no way I ever pictured myself going in a different direction,” said Nancy, 52, who taught high school, middle school and elementary school students in both English and math. “I imagined teaching for 20 more years but I decided that I had other talents that I needed to explore.”

At first, the Belmar resident spent time tutoring, writing, editing, and substitute teaching. She even did social media coordination for local businesses. But her daughter knew Nancy needed something more.

“She encouraged me and I never looked back,” said Nancy, the mother of two adult children. “I wanted to spend the second half of my professional life doing something related to technology.”

It’s a field that Nancy has always embraced. When she was growing up she wanted to be an air traffic controller. As an undergraduate at Rutgers, Nancy at first thought she wanted to become an engineer. But she looked around and couldn’t picture herself in the field.

“I had uncles and brothers in the field but no female role models that were engineers,” she said.

After being in front of the class for two decades, Nancy never imagined that she would be the one going back to school. But when she learned about the Bootcamp program at Rutgers, and realized that she could be trained to write computer code in a relatively short period of time, she jumped at the opportunity.

It was a way to combine her love for language and her desire to get a job in computer technology. “I love the English language and finding just the right way to express something that is grammatically correct, yet in a creative way,” Nancy said. “Coding works the same way.”

From April through October, Nancy spent two evenings a week and four hours on Saturday in class where she teamed up with four other women who will be trying to break into what has traditionally been a male-dominated field. The rest of the time she did her studying and work at home, feeling happy and challenged.

“Teaching and coding both require attention to detail because in both you have to be able to envision the final product,” she said.

Although most people think about the millennial generation when it comes to high-tech computer jobs, Nancy never gave much consideration to her baby-boomer age. A decade-long study by AARP following workers over age 50 like Nancy, in fact, found that 91 percent were glad they made the change and enjoyed their new jobs.

With technology jobs expected to be among the most in-demand careers through 2022, Nancy and the 374 other students who have graduated from the Rutgers Coding Bootcamp are now qualified to fill these high-paying web development jobs.

Nancy isn’t exactly sure what area she wants to pursue. What she does know is that she wants to use what she learned at the coding bootcamp to encourage more women and young girls to obtain the skills needed for these high-tech computer jobs.

“I feel pretty strongly that technology is at its best when it provides a service for people and enhances their lives,” Nancy said. “I hope to land somewhere that is making a positive impact on our world.”

To find out more about the Rutgers Coding Bootcamp, or to enroll in the program, call 732-430-2144 or visit the Rutgers Coding Bootcamp website.