After working in the restaurant industry for six years, Sophia Cheong decided to learn how to code.
She applied to entry-level software engineering jobs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for six months straight.
357 rejections, 40 interviews, and 2 offers later, she's making more than double her old salary.
Sophia Cheong's career started at a Korean BBQ restaurant in California, where she worked as a hostess while completing her bachelor's degree in business administration.
After graduating from Fullerton College, she was promoted to assistant general manager and, later, the director of operations. Then, a coworker started teaching her how to code.
"I fell in love," Cheong told Insider. "I know it's cliche, but I felt like it was my true passion ... I was getting up every morning really excited to learn."
Like the millions of Americans who quit their jobs during "The Great Resignation," the pandemic gave Cheong the opportunity to exit the restaurant industry and switch career paths, something she had been wanting to do for some time. With restaurant closures forcing layoffs, she volunteered to be among those let go.
Cheong immediately used the money she had saved from restaurant paychecks to enroll in a 13-week software engineering boot camp called Hack Reactor where she completed over 1,000 hours of full-stack coding.
One week after graduation, she set out on the job hunt.
Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Cheong applied to every entry-level software engineering job or internship she could find, spanning 18 countries around the world, she said. On top of submitting applications, she reached out to tech recruiters every day and created an online portfolio.
"I was pretty naive. I thought I'd have a job after a month because Hack Reactor has such a good reputation," she said. "But then one month turned to two months and then three and four, and I started thinking, 'Oh my God, why am I not getting a job? What's wrong with me?'"
Constantly hearing about the national labor shortage and the ever-growing demand for tech talent didn't help her morale. According to US labor statistics, the shortage of engineers in the US will exceed 1.2 million by 2026.
Six months later, Cheong had interviewed with 40 employers and been rejected 357 times by companies big and small. She told Insider that most interviewers asked why she had switched careers, and how her experience in the service industry would help her succeed in tech.
"Every time I would ask them why they didn't continue with me, they'd say 'the other candidate is more senior than you,'" Cheong said, adding that recruiters would suggest to reach out in a year after she had more experience.
The same week Cheong was supposed to head back to working at the restaurant, she received two job offers. One, a junior software engineer position at HOMEE, would pay 120% more than her previous salary, she said.
"We're all about taking chances with the newcomers," Cheong said the company's chief technology officer Mitch Pirtle told her during the interviewing process. "We know how hard it is to get your foot in that door."
As she accepted her new position, Cheong posted about the strenuous job hunt on LinkedIn. Hundreds of job applicants struggling to find work flooded the comment section, asking for advice and sharing similar stories of constant rejections.
"I know there are shortages about just about everywhere," Cheong told Insider. "But I also feel like there are so many people looking for jobs at the same time. I just don't know why it hasn't balanced out yet."