Q&A: Two coding-bootcamp graduates tell their stories

Attending coding bootcamp isn't for the faint of heart, especially for people already working full time and looking to change course. But for those eyeing a tech career, learning to code can be a fast path into a myriad of tech jobs. Here's how two non-techies found their passion for software development.

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Technology bootcamps are relatively short-term full- or part-time intensive training programs offering skill sets that in many cases can quickly catapult a previously non-technical person into a high-paying tech career. 

The schools teach students in-demand skills in areas such as coding, cybersecurity and fintech, and in recent years, the one-and-a-half to six-month long bootcamps have become talent pools for organizations looking for skills-based job seekers. And with the Great Resignation in full swing, more workers are choosing to move into tech for flexible working conditions and high pay.

Bootcamp graduates, including coding bootcamps, report quickly finding full-time jobs, a fast ROI, higher salaries, and STEM career opportunities, according to a recent survey of 3,800 US graduates of university coding bootcamps by US tech education platform company 2U and Gallup. Along with new careers, the programs can help existing tech workers gain new skills to grow in their current roles.

Globally, there are more than 500 tech bootcamps, according to Source Report, a coding school tracker. While the average bootcamp costs about $14,000, a Source Report survey found the average salary increase for coding bootcamp graduates was 56%, or $25,000. And, in 2021, the average starting salary of a bootcamp grad was $69,000.

Some of the more popular tech bootcamps include CareerFoundry, Fullstack Academy, Flatiron School, Wild Code School, Coding Dojo, WBS Coding School, General Assembly online bootcamp, Springboard, and Udacity.

2U works with more than 50 universities to offer more than 200 boot camps across eight disciplines, including coding, data analytics, cybersecurity, and fintech.

Since 2U launched its platform in 2016, 48,000 students have graduated from its programs, and more than 6,000 companies have hired them, including Fortune 500 companies such as Amazon, Autodesk, Capital One, Cognizant, Deloitte, Google, Liberty Mutual, SkillStorm, and State Farm.

Two graduates from 2U's six-month tech bootcamp are Stephen Powell and Danielle Bowman, neither of whom had any previous experience with technology or coding as part of their careers.

Powell, 35, grew up in Washington DC and dropped out of high school before getting a job in retail sales at Verizon at 20. A year later, he got his GED and advanced into a corporate role. To further boost his career, Powell decided he needed more technical training — but didn’t want to spend four years getting a degree. At age 32 — recently married, working full time, and raising a 10-year-old child — he enrolled in George Washington University Data Analytics Boot Camp and landed a new role in data engineering at Koverse, an SAIC subsidiary.

Based in Atlanta, Bowman spent more than 13 years as a Walgreens store manager before deciding to change careers. After graduating from a University of Central Florida coding bootcamp with a certificate in full stack web development, she now works as software engineering manager at CodeMettle.

The following are excerpts from interviews with both bootcamp graduates:

Stephen Powell

Stephen Powell Stephen Powell

Stephen Powell

What were you doing after getting your GED? "I started working for Verizon in the retail channel at 19. I did that for about four years and then went on to do government telesales. Then I was a federal account manager for a couple of years. Then I became a B2B trainer of B2B reps and managers and then a national client partner of enterprise accounts at Verizon. I was there for 11 years. I was able to move up…, mainly through sales and training.

"At the end of 2018, I decided to leave Verizon on my own volition and go work at a start-up as a sales engineer [at KryptoWire]. So, from a company of 66,000 to a company of 16, it was quite a culture shock. And, that’s kind of where I knew I needed to get a lot smarter around technology.

"It was actually my job at KryptoWire that prompted me to think, 'I’m going to peak here at some point.' It was a mobile appliction security testing firm. That’s why I decided to go to boot camp in 2019."

What was it about your job at KryotoWire that gave you the idea to go to a coding bootcamp? "The first couple of meetings I had at KryptoWire — the internal meetings with the engineering team — they were saying things I had no clue about. To be candid, I felt kind of stupid. So, I went home and I started researching programs on tech, and coding specifically. I knew at 32 years old, I didn’t have four years to give; not only that, I didn’t have debt to accrue.

"So, I literally Googled programs around Python and data analytics, and that’s how I found the bootcamp, and then I took the pretest and applied for it. It was literally researching programs on a Saturday."

What was it about the program that you liked, or didn’t like? "What I liked was the instruction.

"Now, one thing I had over cohorts is that I spent such a long time in corporate America. I knew what it was like to generate and maintain relationships. That’s one thing I’m good at. I knew that developing relationships with instructors and teaching assistants was going to make me most successful in my career path. And so that’s what I really enjoyed about it.

"I can’t say I had any dislikes only because I went into program knowing whatever happened would be based upon my effort. I was in sales, so I’m used to eating what I kill. So, I applied that same principle to the bootcamp.  

"It was hard at first, from a work standpoint — but that’s because I hadn’t done Python before. ...But after the first few weeks of me getting repetitious about it and doing some self-study, I was able to catch on."

What was it like seeing code for the first time? "I remember the first night we did Python, I went home and told my wife I’m probably going to drop out. The first night we did Python, they were very simple tasks, but I simply couldn’t catch on.

"My wife has been a backbone for me. She told me to stick with it. It was scary. It was foreign. It looked like a foreign language. I know some Spanish, and this looked a lot worse."

Along with your wife’s support, what kept you from quitting? "I have an acute fear of failure. And also, I knew at KryptoWire, because I worked with such a smart group of people, my skillsets — even my ability to build relationships — wouldn’t carry me into tech. So, if I didn’t get any formal training, whether it be boot camp or a four-year degree, I was going to be left out of that pool of people smart enough to maintain a career in technology.

"So, that fear of missing out — that FOMO — and the fear of failing really drove me. I actually developed a personal interest in learning more about code and data science."

Was it very expensive? "So, the whole program was $10K. Again, I think I was lucky in the sense that I had a good paying job, so it wasn’t a massive financial undertaking for me. I know some of my other cohorts emptied their savings; they got personal loans. But for me, it wasn’t a heavy lift financially. I always say, I’ve spent more on less."

What was the course like? "It was six months long. It was all in person. We did Tuesdays and Thursdays for three hours — 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. And Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m."

Was the workload manageable, considering you were working a full-time job? "There were adjustments that had to be made, for sure. Because you have a full life, including your personal life, you do have to carve out time outside of regular coursework in order to maintain and upskill in the program.

"So, for the first couple of weeks there was a time I really had to adjust myself — not only my work schedule, but also my sleep schedule; some of these nights went a little longer than they would have if I weren’t in the program. It was a tough couple of weeks... just trying to get ramped up and really understand what being in a program like this takes...."

What was the most difficult part of the course? "The speed of the course work. They really try to squeeze in about four years of materials into six months. So, keeping up initially was really tough for me. That’s why I had to put in the extra time, not just in the classroom, but also at home. So, there were some personal sacrifices, albeit mostly social, I had to make in order to be successful.

"But the speed was it; one week we’re talking about one thing and the next week we’re onto another topic, and the next topic might incorporate that thing you learned four weeks ago. So, it was a lot to keep up with...."

What did you like best about it? "The teachers. I loved the instruction. It was careful and thoughtful. When you asked a question, you didn’t feel stupid. I really appreciated that. In fact, I still keep in touch with my instructors today. That’s how I know I valued them so much. They were always encouraging me, always."

What was your first job out of bootcamp? "I was a data analyst. The boot camp was a data science program. Normally, the path is to start off as a data analyst and then you end up a data scientist. So, I went in thinking that would be my path. But in the program you start to understand the skillset you’re investing in can fit a wide range of roles. So, once I was in the program, I stopped narrowing my view of what I could do.

"Number one, I could keep the job I had and be better at it. I could be a data analyst or data scientist. That was a very buzz-worthy title three or four years ago. But after a while, I realized I could do anything with those skills. I actually got the data analyst job a month before completing the bootcamp program.

"Because I had a lot of federal experience, dealing with federal integrators and customers, I got a job as a data analyst with the Department of Justice — and I got that right before COVID started. I wasn’t comfortable with my coding prowess at that point to be a full-fledged engineer. That’s why I went that route.

"Now, I’m on my third job since the program. I was a data analyst for a year, and actually got the opportunity to become a data engineer at Koverse, an SCIC company."

How has your career change affected your life? "I had a pretty good job before. Job security is a term I stay away from, but now I have skill security. What the program did was give me a sense of always wanting to learn more. I’m a heavy reader. I read at least two books a month around what I do. And I wouldn’t have gotten that fervor to learn — that fire — had I not attended that bootcamp.

"Engineering to me is a trade that if you’re able to learn and upscale it, you’ll be able to maintain [a career] for a very long time."

In terms of income, has this allowed you to earn more? "Yes. Specifically, when I was at Verizon, I earned well, but it was commission-based. So, now I’m earning that kind of money at a salary level. And, now I work at a company — I started a new job last week — that afforded me the ability to actually have equity in the company....

"To be honest, you don’t know these companies like Facebook give you equity in the company until you get into that realm. It’s made a difference in how I view money, certainly in how I spend it and also how I invest it. It’s made a hell of a difference."

What advice would you give others considering careers in technology and attending a bootcamp? "Consistency over fear. If you’re consistent with it, no matter what you’re afraid of, you’ll get it eventually. I still have imposter syndrome to this day. But, if I’m consistent with my work ethic and my ability to program and build things, I can put that fear on the back burner. Because all I have to do is get in front of my computer and say. 'I’m just going to do it regardless of what the outcome is.' Consistency will trump everything.

"I now work for Gretel. It’s an AI and machine learning company. I’m super excited."

What do you like about your current job? "I like the fact that I’m part of a company that’s defining a new space in technology. We specialize around synthetic data. We are at the forefront of defining this space, to the point where we’re going to have to be educating folks in the next few years about what it is, which I absolutely love.... I can look back and say Gretel was the one who introduced me to this amazing new topic of AI and machine learning."

Danielle Bowman

Danielle Bowman_ large Danielle Bowman
Danielle Bowman

What was your career prior to attending the coding bootcamp? "I got my business management degree and started at Walgreens literally the week after as assistant manager. I had my own store within three or four years. Then I managed a bunch of stores. I started in Cleveland, Ohio before Orlando. Then I was managing stores in Orlando.

"It was fine. It was a good career. It was well paying. But, I knew it wasn’t my long-term career. I just happened to be good at it. But I also knew I didn’t want to work holidays; I was tired of working on weekends and dealing with stuff non-stop."

How did you learn about the coding bootcamp? "A friend of mine — we used to be assistant managers together in Ohio — asked me if I’d ever thought about coding, and I told him no. He’d become a [software] engineer. No one had ever suggested it as a career path to me. I was naïve to all of it. He told me there’s a demand for it, and your salary could transition and you wouldn’t have to take a huge [loss].

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