Megan Meyer

Kirsten Stemmet: Turning Walls Into Doors

From despondency to planning to buy her first home, Kirsten has turned her life around through the opportunity she has received in the Life Choices Academy. Twelve months of a coding learnership has changed Kirsten’s attitude and life style.

Kirsten (22), from Strandfontein, found herself drifting unhappily through life.  “After finishing high school, I felt stuck and unhappy and was sick often. I didn’t feel like I was contributing anything to society and felt worthless”.  Kirsten realised she needed to change something so she began a process of reflecting on what her passions were – design and fashion were two of her key interests and in her heart, she knew that a career in one of these fields is what she wanted to pursue.

“One day my mom came home from church with a pamphlet advertising a coding course run by Salesian Life Choices.  It was the last day for submission and she encouraged me to apply. I felt excited when I read the pamphlet, so I applied. I had not considered coding before but one thing I enjoyed was being able to help people with their technical problems, at times I even felt like a ‘technical genius’.”

Two weeks after applying, Kirsten received her life-changing call.  “I was invited for a boot camp, where we learnt more about what Life Choices Academy offered and I completed a few online assessments to see if I met the miniimum criteria for the course”.

“I passed the necessary coding modules and I was accepted into the full time 12 months coding learnership. It meant that I needed my parents help so they agreed to sponsor my transport for the duration of the course. I knew then my life was about to change and I couldn’t wait”.

Life Choices Academy offers young people that have finished high school the possibility of gaining hard skills that allow them to enter the workplace. It combines a 6-months full-time course that leads to a 6-months paid internship opportunity.  In that time, aside from the hard skills taught in coding, students were also exposed to self-development trainings.

“The Life Skills component was incredible. Immediately I could feel myself changing inside and began learning that if you are unhappy in a situation, you have the inner power to change it. A big revelation for me was the concept of turning walls (self-limiting thinking) into doors (creating opportunities).”   Kirsten realised that her biggest wall in life was a fear of making the wrong career choices.  “I didn’t want to reach the age of 30, still doing the same thing and still being as unhappy as I was. Life Choices helped me to be aware of this fear and assisted me in making changes to turn this fear into doors of possibility.”

In addition to life skills, students are also offered access to a Life Choices therapist to help deal with more personal issues on a one to one basis. “I was nervous at first as I didn’t think I had anything to talk about but as soon as I sat down, it was like I already knew the therapist. She helped me realise what was holding me back and she was always there to listen to me. Through my sessions, I realised I was seeking love from others but actually I could find self-love and self-confidence within myself. This, coupled with the other things we were taught in the course made me more independent, more in control of my own success.”

The Life Choices Academy also incorporates professional development and Design Thinking Skills, Kirsten highlighted the effect that the Pomodoro Technique had on her.   “Coding is intense, and it is easy to get caught up in a problem for hours and not make much progress anywhere. The Pomodoro Technique taught us to work intently for half an hour and then take a 5-minute break. This has been such an important skill for me to master and has served me well in my internship. There have been many times when I’m stuck on a problem but, after taking a break, the solution comes quite quickly and you’re back on track.”

In order to prepare students for the working environment, an integral part of the course is to teach problem-solving techniques and empower learners to be self-taught.  “There was always a strict process involved when you were stuck. First, try your best, then do a google search, then ask your peer (giving them further opportunity to learn and grow). If your peer cannot help you only then do you approach your coach and if it really cannot be solved then we would go to the lecturer. By following these steps, again and again, it helped me take more responsibility for my own learning.”

Kirsten excelled in the course and graduated in January this year, successfully gaining a paid internship at BNRY for 6 months.  “On my first day, I was excited to be using what I learnt at Life Choices. With my JavaScript skills, I felt ready to tackle whatever came my way only to find out that the company used other libraries or frameworks. I quickly realised that what we had learned was just a stepping stone or spark into a much bigger world I was yet to learn about.” Kirsten has immersed herself in learning these new technical languages which have substantially added to her growing skill set.

During the internship, Kirsten has been focused and committed. “A big lesson for me during my internship was learning to ask the more experienced team members for guidance and technical support when I was stuck. I wanted to prove myself which stopped me from asking for help, but after some coaching from my mentor, I realised I needed to be honest when I didn’t know something and just ask.  Now, when I have a problem and I have exhausted all my options, I know I can ask and help will be there.”

“This experience has developed my self-confidence even more and developed my ability to work in a team. I am learning new things every day which keeps me motivated and I feel part of a large network and community of people.”

Kirsten expressed her gratitude at being on a trajectory which will offer continuous learning and new career opportunities and is looking forward to sharing her learning by paying it forward. She has decided to become a mentor to new students on the Coding course at Life Choices on Saturday mornings.   “Life Choices has added huge value to my life – it has changed my life.  I tell everyone about it, and whenever I received a Life Choices Academy recruitment brochure, I what’s app it to all my friends and post it at the corner shops and around my local area. One of my best friends is doing the course now!”

Whilst sharing her story Kirsten was bubbling with enthusiasm and confidence, and she is in the process of repaying her parents which makes her feel good about herself.  Her efforts have paid off resulting in Kirsten being offered an extension on her internship into a 3-month probation period, where she will have the opportunity to prove herself on various projects with the possibility of an offer of a permanent job.

“It feels ‘amazing’ to be financially independent and going to work is something I am excited about each day. I am thrilled about my future, I want to move closer to the city and for the first time this feels like a real possibility. I am considering buying a house and it is a goal I know I can now achieve.”

For Kirsten Walls have indeed opened into exciting Doors.

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