Heather Whittlesey graduated from Central College in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Art. She continued her education at Iowa State University, earning a master’s degree in the subject. Whittlesey worked as an art instructor, teaching mainly ceramics and glass blowing. After a decade, she was ready for a change and spent four years at Wells Fargo. Realizing she enjoyed coding, Whittlesey went back to school to get a degree in computer software development. She graduated in 2021 from Indian Hills Community College.

A year into Whittlesey’s program at Indian Hills, she joined the Future Ready Iowa Mentoring program as a mentee and was paired with Bryan Gruhlke, Vice President of Visionary, a website design/development and digital marketing firm located in Des Moines. Whittlesey would meet with Gruhlke for about one hour weekly. They discussed “[Gruhlke's] career path and his career choices, and how he ended up where he is today.” She said they also discussed the backgrounds of some of his colleagues and the type of work that his company worked on. “He also showed me some examples of code that we could work with, and it was a really good experience," she said. "I really enjoyed it, and I was having an experience that really supplemented my education.”

Whittlesey is proactive about preparing to meet with her mentor. She looks into the information available on the Future Ready Iowa Mentoring platform and decides what topic she wanted to address that day. Once the topic was addressed, Whittlesey said with the remaining time, they would discuss “what was going on that week, what new projects we were both taking on. He would even help me with some code as well.”

When Whittlesey began the job hunt, she asked Gruhlke if Visionary currently had any open positions. At the time, there was an open position; she interviewed and got the job. Whittlesey is now a software developer at Visionary. She said, “[her mentorship] was like a year-long interview process. But it wasn’t just him interviewing me; it was me interviewing him, too.” The mentoring opportunity allowed her to “feel confident moving forward” into the workforce, and about the company and the team she was joining.

Whittlesey found her passion in coding work. “I have my work projects, and then I’ve got my own projects. I host my own websites, and I’ve been working on some apps, so I still have my body of work that I pursue for my personal development,” she said. “I also try to code with friends. That has really helped me keep that spark going.”

Whittlesey continues to create art. She incorporates technology into some of her art, combining her passions. Throughout Whittlesey’s art career, she had become a mentor, and she hopes to fulfill that role within her IT career.