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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"His wife at the time was going through a General Assembly bootcamp and he told me they’d teach me everything I needed to know to get started in six months. He said just consider it. So, I did a couple classes on my own through Treehouse [online coding school] at the time just to make sure I liked it, just to make sure I could wrap my head around it."

And did you like it? "It was like making a MySpace profile. You’re just popping this code in. I love it. I did a couple more [classes] and really liked it and then did some research on bootcamps in the Orlando area. There was one called The Iron Yard. And then UCF [University of Central Florida] also had a program from 2U.

"I saw the list of languages, and I didn’t know what any of that was. So, I sent them to my friend who was an engineer and asked if these looked legit. And he said, 'Oh man…, this is a great program.' So, I had one of those days at work where a door was closed and I was like, I’m done. I’m ready to make the move. So, I applied."

How was it like creating a MySpace page? "I’d never seen code before. I’d never looked at it. So, when I did my first class and saw HTML CSS [Cascading Style Sheets], I recognized it and remembered I’d get these themes and pop them into my MySpace page. I figured out where to change the color and stuff like that on my own, but I didn’t know what that was. But seeing it in the classes, I was like, ‘Oh, that was code I was putting on this page.’

"As I took the class and was building upon things, it was fascinating. It was just so cool. I was kind of mad I hadn’t gotten into it sooner. The more I learn about it, the more I love it. It really changed my life."

How did you pay for the course, and how were you able to earn a living at the same time? "It was $10,000, but I was able to get a continuing education loan. I spoke to someone at 2U and started the program in March 2016. So, I stayed working with Walgreens the entire time and did the bootcamp two nights a week and on Saturday. That was my life. I’d work and the rest of my time was the bootcamp and just learning materials and working on projects and doing homework. It was crazy. It was really intense."

How did you choose the course at coding bootcamp? "Our final project was an individual project. They let you do whatever stack you wanted. I think I ended up doing a MERN stack, but Angular was coming out, too, at the time. They suggested if you’re interested, you may want to do that, too.

"I like the front end more. I like seeing stuff in front of me and the actual changes. So, as soon as I got out of coding school, I learned Angular to see what I could do with it. And it actually worked out well. I got my first job as an Angular developer at Verizon.

"After about six months, I thought I’d kind of like to do back end. So my next job turned out to be back-end heavy, and so I worked that for two, two and a half years. I loved all of it when I came out, but I didn’t want to commit to anything. That was the hard part. But that way you don’t get burned out."

Was it strange changing from a retail management job to a career in software development? "It was. It was weird because I was used to being in charge. So, starting at a new company at the very bottom, everything was new. It’s been five years now and it still feels weird having every weekend off.

"As I got more comfortable, I started developing relationships with people — my colleagues. I like talking to people and sharing things. So, it was easier for me to get noticed because I was willing to chit chat. It was weird sitting at a desk all day long and just have my own little computer and that’s it. But it was also nice to go from being responsible for a lot of people to just being an individual contributor and just worrying about myself and what I’m bringing to the team."

Did your salary change a great deal? "Initially. I think I was making $70,000 as a Walgreens store manager, and my first job in coding as a contractor was $55,000. Probably after about a year, I was able to get even with my salary as a store manager. Honestly, I’m double that now."

What do you like best about your tech job? "The company I’m at now, they brought me in as a tech lead. So I was able to lead a small team on the development of a product. Their tech lead role used to be you’d be a manager of people. So they liked that I had the coding skill and I was comfortable leading people.

"So, even though I was just the tech lead for a while, they restructured how management was, and they asked if I’d like to continue coding or [be] a manager. And I said, 'I think I’d like to be a manager.' I like advocating for people. I like the coding, but I felt like I could be better — be more of an asset to people working for me by working for them.

"Since October, I’ve been back in management. I still do a little coding here and there, and I try to keep up with it. But I got certified as a ScrumMaster to help facilitate meetings and share knowledge and just pass along any concerns and try to keep my engineers happy. That is a concern. You don’t want to lose people."

What advice would you give others considering a career in coding and attending a bootcamp? "It’s a lot of work, and it’s a time commitment. You have to be fully prepared to commit to that. It’s definitely a situation where you get out of it what you put into it.

"I’ve seen both sides of it. I’ve seen people just skirt by and then nothing happens and it’s just a waste of their time. It’s only you you’re hurting. You have to commit. Everything builds on top of everything before it. So, if you’re stuck, like completely lost [during the instruction], get help immediately. Don’t wait. It’s not going to go away. It’s just going to build and you’re just going to go down a terrible rabbit hole."

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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