COVID-19 Changes: How Chea Cliatt Went From Running a Restaurant to Co-running a Tech Consultancy

Countless Americans have struggled since the pandemic hit, but few have found work as challenging as those in service industries. With restaurants shuttered and tourism in a free-fall, the future for America’s 16 million hospitality workers seems bleak.

That’s what Chea Cliatt had decided, anyway. A literature graduate and restaurant general manager, he wanted a change — especially given the state of the economy. “When COVID hit, I knew my industry wouldn’t hold up,” Chea remembered. “It became a crisis for me to get through.”

After discovering Georgia Tech Coding Boot Camp, Chea knew this was his chance to escape hospitality for good, even if his experience with coding had been limited to some basic HTML.

Making a change 

Having made his move, Chea took his new education seriously. That began with a strict schedule, one that had him working at least eight hours each day  — though he was normally careful to start his morning with an invigorating cup of coffee. 

And though the pandemic had proved a curse in his previous job, all that spare time meant Chea could throw himself into his studies, even after hours. “I had to make sure not to stay up past midnight, and to keep up on a sleep schedule.” 

That wasn’t always easy. Chea recalled one especially intense night, when he and a fellow learner ended up in hysterics over Zoom, spending hour after hour trying to figure out a seemingly impossible algorithm. “We put everything against the wall,” he remembered. “He and I couldn’t stop laughing, because we were working so hard and were both so passionate.”

This hard work didn’t go unnoticed by instructors. As Chea explained, he once got “chewed out” after his teacher caught him posting code at 3 a.m. 

In fact, you get the sense that Chea’s wellbeing — academic or otherwise — was always at the forefront of his instructors’ minds. “I really appreciated working with them,” he said. “I would hit them up anytime on Slack, and they always worked with me through things.”

Even after completing the boot camp, Chea continued to have an excellent rapport with his teachers — a fact that would soon push his career to places he couldn’t have dreamt of a year ago. 

A “wonderful experience”

That began with his part-time work at a new tech startup. After being impressed with Chea during the boot camp, one instructor gave him an internship — an opportunity Chea described as a “wonderful experience.”

Grateful for the chance to shine, Chea began applying the knowledge he had worked so hard to gain in class, from starting servers to making databases through MongoDB. 

Though his internship was unpaid, Chea still managed to completely transform his financial situation. After moving to Atlanta from his home in southern Georgia to look for work — he says the boot camp put the “fire under his feet” to secure a new job — he began contract work with American Global Wealth Services. 

Before long, he had wowed his new boss, American Global’s chief information officer — and was offered a senior role in a new tech consulting firm.

Six months prior, he had been fretting about his future in a job that was going nowhere. Now, he’s building an entire company, with a graphic designer on retainer and a web designer intern. “Things really snowballed fast,” he laughed. 

Learn to code — and grow your network

Safely established in his new life, Chea happily recommends his path to other aspiring coders. All the same, you get the sense that, like Chea himself, truly successful candidates have to put in the hours — whether at their desk or out in the field.

“You will be working with people, and being able to convey and talk about high-level technologies in an accessible way is literally what it’s all about,” Chea said. “So yes: focus on technology, focus on learning to code. But don’t slack off on talking to your peers. Grow that network, because that’s how you’re going to find opportunities.”

If anyone knows how important that balance truly is, it’s Chea Cliatt. The first few months of 2020 may have been tough — but his experience in the boot camp couldn’t have ended better.

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