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Tara Welch has just finished her first week as a registered apprentice. She’s exhausted and exhilarated for two reasons: First, she’s not in debilitating pain every time she takes a step or moves. Second, she’s finally starting her new career as a software engineer.
Three years ago Tara was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. She’d been working as a nurse for 23 years, from the ER to oncology to rehabilitation. CRPS meant she was in constant agony — a shooting pain up her leg and spine every time she walked and countless sleepless nights.
For someone who’d always been active and took great pride in her career, the diagnosis was crushing. “I kept thinking, gosh I’m too young to be sitting at home and doing nothing,” Tara says. “I had to decide, I can either roll over and be depressed or I can reinvent myself and do what I’m physically capable of doing.”
Tara in nursing school in 1994.
Tara has always been interested in technology, dabbling in coding and programming when she was younger. She decided to enroll in the local community college and study computer programming and software development.
Midway through her studies at Wake Tech Community College Tara found out she’d been selected to receive a DRD modulator place in her spine. The device releases electrical impulses that cancel out pain signals to the brain. With the click of a remote Tara was finally able to control and manage her pain. The technology had only been approved months before, and for Tara it reaffirmed her decision to work in the field. “It just reminds me how far we’ve come through technology, and how far we can go,” she says. “I want to be a part of that.”
Around the time she received the modulator Tara also applied for the first class of registered apprenticeships at IBM as a Software Engineer. Now Tara and her fellow apprentices are each paired with mentors and have started their 12-month training, which includes 200 hours of foundational learning and hands-on experience working on real projects. Any skills Tara hasn’t already learned at Wake Tech she’ll learn on the job, with the help of her IBM mentor.
Tara’s long-term goals are “to be challenged and expand my knowledge, and hopefully be with IBM permanently.” She hopes to use her decades of nursing experience combined with her newly earned software skills to work with the Watson Health business unit.
“Apprenticeships offer a chance for people to improve themselves and their environment. It doesn’t matter how old you are or if you’re a girl or you have certain physical limitations,” Tara says. “Companies like IBM support diversity. The sky is the limit.”