Learn about this alumna’s brave journey to Zip Code Wilmington and why she believes that she’s “forever changed.”

In September 2018, a nervous, yet excited, Whitney Martinez arrived in Wilmington for her in-person interview, the final step in Zip Code Wilmington’s application process. Like other applicants, she prepared by thinking through potential problems and examining her resume for talking points. But, unlike the others, Whitney travelled more than 1,500 miles to make the interview.

“When I got on the plane, I knew I had to do my best because I really wanted an opportunity to move forward in my career,” says Whitney.

Whitney proudly hails from Fajardo, Puerto Rico — a small town where everyone knows each other, where she worked as a cashier at a big box retailer.

In 2017, hurricanes Maria and Irma ravaged the island of Puerto Rico, leaving a $43 billion impact on the U.S. territory. “After Hurricane Maria, all the jobs were gone,” says Whitney — including her father’s job. Whitney describes the hurricanes as a “nightmare that she’ll never forget.”

“I, like a lot of the island, fell into a depression, as we had no electricity, and gas was scarce, and roads were blocked for months,” says Whitney. “I remember the first time I talked to my best friend, I cried. I was so worried that something happened to her and there was no way for us to contact each other. It was like that for many of us — not knowing the status of our loved ones.” 

“I knew since I was young that I wanted to get into technology,” says Whitney, whose father worked in satellite repairs. “Once I realized that I could implement my own creative vision and ideas with code, I was sold on programming.”

When she learned about an opportunity to join the coding boot camp at Zip Code Wilmington from a cousin, she applied immediately. After getting accepted into the program, Whitney used the challenges she faced at home to fuel her. “I had to leave behind a lot, so I knew that this was something that I needed to commit to,” says Whitney.

While her father understood her choice to leave, her mother shared concerns about such a far and permanent move. Living outside of Puerto Rico for the first time in her life, Whitney was a little homesick. But, through focus and hard work, Whitney created a new home in Delaware as she began the Zip Code Wilmington boot camp. Thanks to Zip Code’s scholarship and stipend offerings and a new reduced housing option through a partnership with the Delaware College of Art and Design, Whitney focused all of her attention on coding for three months.

Whitney found the boot camp challenging but rewarding. “I came in a little nervous, but the staff and my classmates made me feel at home,” says Whitney. “They pushed me to [be] my best, and I ended up creating more than I imagined.”

Her favorite creation was her passion project, which is an app designed to guide young runaways to government services and shelters. “Many people leave their home for different circumstances and do not know where to turn,” says Whitney. “There are many runaways who are homeless, without jobs and [who] suffer from depression. If I can help at least one person through this app, then I would be happy.”

Just three days after graduating from Zip Code Wilmington, Whitney received a job offer for a UI software developer position — a drastic change from her job as a cashier in Puerto Rico.

“I have a job doing what I want, and I’m able to help provide for my family in Puerto Rico,” says Whitney. “Just three months ago, I was biking 30 minutes to cashier … to make less than one-third of what my new job pays.”

Whitney believes that taking the risk to come to Zip Code was the best thing she could do for herself. “I am constantly reminded of why I came to Delaware and to Zip Code Wilmington, and I’d suggest for anyone to take a leap of faith to make changes in your life.”