Alumni Spotlight

2 Years After Chi-Codes: Was it Worth it for Ida?

Jess Feldman

Written By Jess Feldman

Last updated on November 29, 2022

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Ida McCarty was displaced from her job during the pandemic, which inspired her to build on her skill set. Ida already had an IT certification, but as a Product Manager, she wanted to learn how to better communicate with her tech teams. With the city-funded coding bootcamp, Chicago Codes (powered by Coding Temple), Ida was able to upskill and significantly improve her value as a Product Manager. Learn how Ida landed her new job at Deloitte and boosted her salary by 900%, and her advice for other seasoned professionals breaking into tech. 

Coding Temple, a Chicago-based coding bootcamp, was selected by the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, in collaboration with the City of Chicago, to work with students at Chi-Codes and run the city-funded Software Engineering Bootcamp.

What inspired you to learn coding in 2020?

I got displaced from working as a Senior Product Manager at Beyond Meat because my job required 90% travel and the pandemic prevented me from doing that. I wasn't willing to move from Chicago to LA for work, so I told my manager that I wanted to go to a coding bootcamp. I got the idea for going to a bootcamp from a supervisor at Beyond Meat who had previously worked at Tesla.

Why did you choose to enroll at Chicago Codes (Chi-Codes)?

I happened to see a City of Chicago-sponsored event on television talking about Chi-Codes, a city initiative offering 25 people the opportunity to learn how to code for free. The City of Chicago had a workforce development partnership with KRA, who sponsored 25 scholarships at $12,000 each, and the course was taught by Coding Temple. I was initially waitlisted for the bootcamp, then six months later, I joined Chi-Codes’ second cohort. 

Since Chi-Codes is a software engineering-focused program powered by Coding Temple, how did the bootcamp help you upskill as an experienced Product Manager?

In my career, I have held all kinds of IT-related roles (Oracle database administrator (DBA), network engineer, project manager), but the only thing I had never done was code. I didn’t want to learn how to code to learn code per se — I wanted to learn code so I could speak with my software engineers in a more positive light with regards to estimation. They would tell me it took two weeks to write a line of code, but after I learned how to write in Python, I knew it only took two hours!

Through Chi-Codes, I got certified in Python and in Data Science. Right now in my job, I’m also utilizing my data science skill set, which means that I may write scripts in SQL.

What kind of network did you build at the bootcamp? Are you still in touch with any of your cohort? 

There were 25 people in my cohort, of which 13-15 graduated. Some fell off because it’s a difficult course. It’s 10 weeks of intense learning — for eight hours a day, you're just studying. Then, for the next 4-6 hours in the evening, you have projects to do. I didn't know that I could operate on fumes again — I graduated from graduate school in 1996, so here I am, and I'm competing with all these kids just coming out of college or high school! Networking in our cohorts was crucial in offering support when we were still going without two day’s sleep.

Within my cohort, I keep in contact with about six people who have a close, generous community. We network with each other, and share when jobs come up in our companies. We even created a channel on LinkedIn just for enterprising people. Empowering each other is the only way to do it. Now, 80% of my job pertains to networking!

You’ve worked in a few different tech roles since graduating from Chi-Codes. Has your bootcamp experience continued to help you land new tech roles?

Absolutely! I say that because I'm part of the Coding Temple Alumni Slack Channel, which allows me to interface with the Coding Temple’s Career Services. They hold workshops on interviewing, resume tips, job opportunities, and self-guided continued learning programs. I am always raving about Coding Temple — I can’t say enough about them!

Have you confronted any bias against bootcamp graduates in your tech job interviews?

It took me six months to land a data position after graduating from a bootcamp because some employers wanted you to have an undergrad degree in data science or at least in computer technology. I had to explain to them that Chi-Codes was an intensive program that was actually equivalent to 2-3 years of on-the-job training. 

Since then, I have not had to tell anybody about my experience because there is a dearth of people in technology that don’t have computer science degrees, who have just as much experience or more than somebody with a four-year degree that only learned theory and not practical applications. 

I don't think being a bootcamp graduate was a barrier when I was taking the technical assessments. For my roles, I wasn't taking technical assessments in writing code; I was writing business cases with my new technical sense. For a product development job, I was focused on questions like, how would I propose this new product going to market?

What was the first tech role you landed after graduating from Chi-Codes? 

My first job after Chi-Codes was as a Director of Product for Mason Dixie, a food manufacturing company. Since I had 16 years experience as an entrepreneur, including owning my own business in the food manufacturing space, I thought this would be a good role for me but ultimately I left the job because of the company culture. 

At the same time, I had my own consulting company with other food service entities. I made networking friends who wanted e-commerce websites, so I would work with consultants as their Product Manager to drive their projects. As a food manufacturing business owner myself, I felt the empathy that I think was missing from the conversation with the owners of the businesses. I was multilingual in tech and food service!

I did consulting on a freelance basis for six months while I was settling my mother’s estate and caring for a relative. After that, it took me six months to get a job because it’s harder to find Senior Manager roles. I was still consulting, but to ensure there wasn’t a gap in my employment experience, I started taking the tech and career workshops at Coding Temple. 

I finally received two offers for positions that were both technical. One was at a bank/trust, as a Senior Product Owner, where I would develop IT systems for a retirement product. The other job, a Digital Foundry & Operate Manager at Deloitte, is the job I ended up accepting. 

Coding Temple is behind Chi-Codes’ coding bootcamp and career services. How has Coding Temple supported you in your job searches?

When I was looking for Senior roles, I was interviewing every day, sometimes three times a day. Marlene from the Coding Temple team was with me every step of the way, and she gave me the advice I needed. Marlene said, Stop throwing your resume at the wall; be selective in what you're looking for.

I got my job offers on my own, but when I was interviewing I would go back to Coding Temple and ask for advice. Coding Temple teaches you what you need to do to be successful so that you aren't losing out on opportunities. When I was offered two positions, I didn’t know what to do. I've never had a company fight for me to work for them. One company offered me more money and I went to Deloitte with the other company’s offer and they gave me a 25% salary increase. Coding Temple helped me figure out what I wanted, which is why I took the manager role at Deloitte as opposed to the senior manager role at the trust. I wanted to learn the Deloitte technology and their philosophy. I don’t see a benefit in coming in with preconceived notions. I need to understand what goes on and how they want things to be done from an operation standpoint.

I have learned that women and minorities do not know how to negotiate effectively with our salaries. A lot of times we're just happy to get the job, and we’ll accept anything and everything. Since working with Coding Temple and using my business negotiation skills, I now tell companies, “No, that's not enough.” Now I say: You're going to give me a base salary that's higher than the other company, you're going to give me a signing bonus of 25%, and I want a year-in bonus that's at least 20%. Ultimately, I will be making $212K. 

What’s the difference between career services at university and bootcamp?

Coding Temple’s Alumni Director Marlene sent a message in our Slack channel about who’s hiring, talking about job opportunities and preparing for interviews. Who wouldn’t want something like that?! I have two college degrees and have never gotten that kind of personal approach.

At Deloitte, what kinds of projects do you work on as a Digital Foundry & Operate Manager?

SAP, SalesForce, and Oracle! I support the technology that does implementation as a liaison between our big clients and the technology aspect of Deloitte. If we did the implementation and they want a service provider, my role is to engage the service provider. I'm sitting in on all the conversations with all the big wigs but I’m also talking to the tech geeks.

I'm still utilizing the skill sets that I learned from Chi-Codes and Coding Temple, since the bootcamp is basically a one-year internship. At Deloitte, I have a mentor that is a coach throughout my journey. I've already told them that I want more technical positions when it comes to my projects, so I couldn't have done that if it hadn’t been for Coding Temple. 

Chi-Codes is such a cool public/private partnership — Do you think programs like Chi-Codes should be emulated in other cities?

Originally, this program was offered in four other cities, but by September 2020, because of the economy, the City of Chicago’s partnership was the last one standing. I have spoken to various people who want to have something like this, where there is a scholarship potential, especially for displaced people or older workers such as myself. I would love it if the city would continue to fund programs like this.

Are you seeing more bootcamp grads working alongside you in the workplace?

Yes, in different departments. They're often in the analyst department, while I’m in management protocol. When I talk to them when they’re working on my team, I'll ask where people went to school and a lot of people will name various bootcamps.

And are you seeing more women or POC working alongside you in technology?

I was recruited from LinkedIn for Deloitte, who ranked as one of the top women employers! In the lower ranks, yes, I do see more women and minorities, but I see them in different disciplines, such as network management. I don't see many women in the management protocol. In my company, 3% of the entire workforce is minority, and of that, 2% are women. In my protocol, we have 500 managers and senior managers and only 20 are minority or women. 

Deloitte has initiated a Diversity Equity and Inclusion initiative that is on a fast track. They are actively searching and recruiting POC, specifically women of color for senior management positions. This is a step in the right direction because previously this group of people were denied entrance into professional services positions. They walk the talk!

There are several reasons why there aren't as many women or minorities in a lot of organizations. Some are traditional “old boys” networks, where there’s a glass ceiling that we're slowly, surely breaking through. In other companies that are considered the best and brightest, you have to have a college degree to work there. 

This is the thing: You’ve got to have the skill set. Nobody is going to give it to you; you have to work for it. But if you can show you have the credentials, you shouldn't be denied a job. 

Looking back over the past few years, how have you evolved as a Product Manager? Do you feel more senior than you did in 2020? 

I'm utilizing those skills, but even more so! I was a product manager for the last eight years. At Deloitte, I’m utilizing everything I’ve learned from anywhere — I’m talking about technology skills, empathetic skills to deal with people, relationship-building skills, all of which I learned at Chi-Codes! I’m utilizing all those skills to do what I need to do.

As a Product Manager and a bootcamp grad, you’re not going to have a seat at the table if you don't know how to articulate effectively on all levels. You need some of those soft skills. That's what I like about Deloitte. I didn't get the job because of the positions that I held at other companies. I got it because of the fact that I had a lot of different skill sets that I learned along the way, which Chi-Codes and Coding Temple helped to manifest. Coding Temple encourages you to be open and willing to learn something foreign to you, to open your horizons.

At this point in your career, was enrolling at Chi-Codes (powered by Coding Temple) worth it for you? 

I got a 100% return on this investment! It was the best and the worst 10-week period I've ever been through in my life. I lost weight (which was a good thing!) and I learned how to expand my horizons. Sometimes you become stagnant, especially if you already have degrees — you may think you don't have to be taught anything, but you do. You may not feel like you have the ability to learn anything new, but Chi-Codes expanded my horizons and I started doing things that I never thought that I could do! During my first week of the bootcamp, I wrote the code for how to operate a parking garage pay center!  

Chi-Codes provided a generous monthly stipend to enrolled students. Full time students were discouraged from working outside of the cohort because of the rigorous and intensive work schedule. After the bootcamp, I took a part-time job making $12/hour, while I was also working at my consulting company. Once I graduated from Coding Temple and I got the first job, it was a 500% increase in pay. Now it's a 900% increase in pay, and I'm only two years out!

Do you have any advice for other seasoned professionals who are considering a bootcamp? 

If they say that they have the dedication and determination to complete a bootcamp, I suggest Coding Temple to them. I was just talking to several of my high school friends at our 40-year reunion, and some of the guys said they're thinking about learning technology at a bootcamp. I like to chime in and ask pertinent questions about what they’re expecting to get out of the bootcamp. Some have tried self-learning and it hasn’t worked. If they say they have the dedication to complete a bootcamp, I suggest Coding Temple to them. It might be $12,000 in tuition, but think about the fact that you could be increasing your salary by at least $20K-$30K! Is that worth it to you? Can you afford to retire on the salary that you're making? After a coding bootcamp, you can do coding as a consultant in your own company, you can do freelance gigs, work when and work where you want to work — you can retire on this income and this lifestyle.

Most of the Coding Temple grads that I have seen that have gotten lucrative job offers recently have been seasoned professionals. Many have an education background. Teachers are attending coding bootcamps with no coding experience and landing entry-level coding positions for $75K-$80K a year. That’s especially great coming from public school salaries! If someone coming from a completely different skill set with no previous IT experience can learn how to code, then anyone can do it. My friend went from working as a waitress to a cyber security analyst in just two years. I have 20 years previous experience, but people in tech now are landing roles with no industry experience.

Find out more and read Coding Temple reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Chi-Codes powered by Coding Temple.

About The Author

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps. With a background in writing, teaching, and social media management, Jess plays a pivotal role in helping Course Report readers make informed decisions about their educational journey.

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