MEET CAITLYN HALLETT
Apprenticeship: First Orion
MY BACK STORY
I’m actually the first in my family to graduate college. We moved around a lot but I mostly grew up in Vilonia with my mother and spent my summers in Delaware, which is where my dad lives. So, I’m 80 percent Arkansas and 20 percent Delaware.
I remember doing a lot of academic things on my own. I started Quiz Bowl in fifth grade and it wasn’t like I had a helicopter parent. I just knew I needed to get something good on my resume. And my mom actually said, “Are you sure? I mean, you’re a nerd, and if you want to go through Quiz Bowl….” And I’m, like, I’m sure. And through my friends on the Quiz Bowl team I found out about ASMSA, the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts in Hot Springs. I went there junior and senior year, and the summer before my junior year they had an extra class in computer science and that was really my introduction to programming and doing anything with computer science.
When I graduated from ASMSA I had earned 40 college credits. I also had a fellowship to the U of A, but Fayetteville ended up not being a good fit for me. It’s a big state school that felt almost generic—I can imagine many college teen movies playing out there. I mean, you show up to a lecture and you’re in an auditorium with 400 people. I like smaller classes. I stayed in Fayetteville only a semester, and ultimately I graduated from UCA in Conway with a degree in computer science.
MY WORK LIFE (Part 1)
When I got to UCA I needed a job, but I didn’t have a car. I was also living with my uncle at first, so I needed a job that was located in walking distance between my uncle’s place and the university. That’s how I came to be working at McDonald’s. I was typically the service person who had to deal with most of the customers—you know, smile and be nice to people. It was just terrible. So I pestered them to put me in the kitchen. “I promise I can be fast enough,” I said. “It’s not a hard task. I’m capable of it.”
Eventually they did transfer me to the kitchen, which I want to say is closer to cooking. McDonald’s has everything in plastic, and you just stick to your ritual. At first I was scheduled five or six days a week after school, which would’ve been like 4 to 10 p.m. Later on I sometimes worked the late shift—in a college town, 1 to 2 a.m. is actually your peak time. That was super destructive to the sleep cycles. Between working and class, you’re just a drudge. But I needed the hours because I was at the minimum wage of $8 at the time, and when I moved out of my uncle’s house my rent was like $500 a month. And you have to eat outside of that.
I worked at McDonald’s for several months after graduation. I had a couple of friends who had jobs in, like, Jonesboro, and I applied there—anybody I had gone to school with I put in an application where they worked. But there came a point when I found it hard to gauge what a company means by the term “entry level.” What kind of experience do they expect you to have with the languages that they list? Academic programming was completely different from industry programming, and it was difficult to tell an interviewer that I had no industry experience in any of these languages, but that I certainly had familiarity with writing it. It was taxing trying to convince them that my skills would roll over to their requirements, that I had the capability to pick up this industry programming fast enough to be worth their investment. In other words, for them to shell out a full salary for some McDonald’s employee. I began to feel very disheartened by the interview process.
MY TURNAROUND MOMENT
I was searching on Indeed, Monster, Glassdoor—any job website that would come up—and I saw First Orion’s apprenticeship post on Indeed, that they would hire me and teach me what I needed to know. First Orion is active at the job fair at UCA, so I had seen their name and knew it was a real company and not a scam, or some underhanded place where I would get paid in Cash App or something like that. So I submitted my application.
I was, of course, still at McDonald’s and I remember their recruiter reached out to me. We had endless missed calls because she’d always call during the afternoon when I was at work and it’s so hard to say, oh, I need to step out for a minute, it’s another potential job calling. In fast food, you’re just continuously bombarded. You don’t get time to consider any possibility but moving. But once we actually got a moment to talk it was great. This is a company with a very progressive atmosphere.
I was in First Orion’s second apprenticeship cohort, which was dedicated to Android. And Java was actually the language that we were taught in that pre-junior year summer course at ASMSA, so I’d been comfortable with Java for a long time. The actual apprenticeship training was definitely self-guided, doing online courses at our own pace though within a time frame set by the company. It was good learning the Android stuff and we were doing projects along the way.
MY WORK LIFE (Part 2)
I’ve now been at First Orion since the summer of 2018. I work with the mobile data team, which is comprised of a small number of people, and there are so many projects that we’re almost a shared resource. So when a product needs a mobile application, we’re almost for rent. I feel like there’s a lot of decision on what I can work on, which I love.
And we’ve got another Android apprenticeship cohort coming up, and it’s fun getting to have input on that. Now I have some skills to pass on.