Katie Scruggs was teaching high school biology when she realized her calling was in computer programming. She moved from Oklahoma to Denver to attend the Front End Engineering bootcamp at Turing School of Software & Design in 2017. Fast forward five years and Katie is now a Software Engineer at a startup! Learn how Katie’s tech career has progressed since quitting her teaching job and hear her advice to incoming students on how to make the most of the bootcamp experience.
Katie, what inspired you to enroll at Turing School in 2017?
I graduated from college with a degree in Biology and German in Oklahoma, then taught high school science where I had my first introduction to computer programming. I was so inspired by it, I encouraged students to pursue it as a career. I finally took my own advice and moved to Denver to attend Turing in-person* in 2017.
*Note: Turing School is now fully remote!
When researching coding bootcamps, what set Turing School apart from the rest?
The first thing that stood out about Turing were the glowing recommendations from people who were now working in the tech industry. By a chance encounter, when I was moving to Denver, I stayed at an Airbnb that was owned by a software engineer. When I shared that I was in the pursuit of becoming a software engineer myself and that I was considering Turing, he told me it was the bootcamp that he’d heard the best reviews about.
I liked that Turing School is a nonprofit. Plus, they put emphasis on providing excellent teachers, which meant a lot to me. As a former teacher myself, I know that the skills to do and teach something can be different, so their emphasis on being excellent teachers of computer programming really attracted me to Turing.
What did you actually learn in Turing School’s Front End Engineering curriculum?
Did the teaching style at Turing School match your learning style?
I enjoyed the teaching style. We started with lessons then had independent time to work. We were also evaluated at several points throughout the program in preparation for technical interviews. It was nerve-wracking to code live in front of an instructor, but an important skill to develop for the tech interview process.
What was your cohort like? Did you build a network at Turing School?
Most people in my cohort had experience in a professional setting and were changing careers to be software engineers. There also were some younger folks who were starting their first career in tech.
I met one of my best friends in my Turing cohort! It’s been great to stay in touch with her and a few others. Also, the Turing professional network is amazing! I'm still active in the Turing Slack community where I can openly ask questions about the industry and connect with people, even if I’ve never met them in person.
How did Turing School prepare you for the tech job hunt?
Turing’s dedicated career services well-prepared me for the tech job hunt! They helped us build our resumes, practice interviewing, and encouraged us to utilize the Turing network to reach out to those already in the industry to get insight about their path, the job hunt, and what they’ve learned about different companies. Most of the jobs I’ve landed have been through the Turing community! Having that insider’s perspective on what a hiring company is looking for makes all the difference in getting hired.
Has Turing School continued to support you in your job search even though you graduated 5 years back?
I’ve continued to feel supported by the Turing Slack Student Circles, like the Joan Clarke Society for Engineers of Underrepresented Genders, where I feel comfortable asking for advice anytime.
Which tech roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating?
I casted a wide net when applying for jobs, but I mostly felt prepared for entry-level front end roles. However, the job I got was a back end-focused integrations role, referred to me by a Turing alum who met me for coffee and encouraged me to apply, even though the job description asked for five years experience. I never would have applied to the job otherwise, but I did and I got it!
Tell us about your tech career since graduating from Turing School in 2018! What was your first tech job like after Turing School?
I was hitting the job hunt pretty hard, even during the last six weeks of the bootcamp. I noticed that companies would take their time interviewing me when they found out I hadn’t graduated yet. Once I graduated, interviews happened a lot quicker. I landed my first tech role as an Integrations Engineer at TrackVia, Inc. just three weeks after graduating!
You graduated from the front end program, but you’ve also worked in back end and full stack engineer roles — did the Front End Engineering bootcamp still prepare you for full stack jobs?
It did! Once I learned the fundamentals of programming, I realized there are so many different kinds of programming jobs out there, so you can find your niche and what you like to do. I always recommend trying both back end and front end and discovering which one interests you more. It’s a lot to learn and you should enjoy what you’re delving into!
Even if I‘d gone into a pure front end role after bootcamp, things are different in the industry compared to personal projects. Luckily, that first role was in Node.js, a language I was familiar with and was the back end that I learned in the front end program at Turing. I was responsible for writing integration scripts and talking to customers and writing them custom scripts. Companies that are used to having junior engineers know that you will have to ramp up and you learn on the job, but that you're also useful right away.
Have you found that employers are interested in your projects and bootcamp experience?
Once companies have hired one person from Turing School and understand what kinds of engineers they produce, they’re eager to hire more Turing grads! Especially early on in my career, employers were interested in my GitHub projects and the code I wrote. As my career has progressed, people are more interested in my professional experience, but it's important when you’re just starting out with no professional experience to have a portfolio to refer to.
From TrackVia, you moved to Nordstrom. When did you know you were ready for your next tech role?
I know it’s time to move on when I feel my growth plateau. That first role was such an undertaking but once I got the hang of it, it got repetitive. My friend from Turing worked at Nordstrom and told me about an opening. I was excited by how much I could learn, working on apps for Nordstrom. At Nordstrom, I was on a full stack team, working primarily on an internal website for fashion stylists to coordinate outfits from the Nordstrom products. If you scroll to the bottom of the page of Nordstrom’s website, you can see a recommended outfit for an item — our team was responsible for creating a place for stylists to build outfits, then the outfits were shown to the users.
Did you find that landing your second job after bootcamp graduation was easier?
It is definitely easier to land a second job. With the first job, there’s a sense of desperation, but the second job came when I already had a job to go to every day and was still learning at my current company. I didn’t have to get another job.
Also, having even one year of experience levels you up from someone just out of school. Right out of school, you're valuable to a company right away, but that first year you learn so much about processes and how to exist in a team of engineers.
You also spent a few years working as a full stack engineer at Handshake and Google! What kinds of projects did you work on in those roles?
At Handshake, I worked on a full stack team and learned Ruby on Rails on the job. I don’t want to say it’s easy to learn a new language, but once you have the skills of engineering, you can translate them into another language more easily than trying to learn from scratch. I also got to spend six months on a DevOps/infrastructure team, which was a really cool learning opportunity. Eventually, I realized I wanted to return to product work instead of DevOps.
I was on the payments team at Google. When someone signs up to use GoogleAds and they have to put in their payment information, my team was responsible for those forms. It was complex because we had to navigate forms of payment that don’t exist in the US.
You’re now a Software Engineer at Tern! When did you feel like you had reached senior-level status?
I feel like I've reached a senior-level status, but I also feel like the “senior” designation means different things at every company. A Senior at Google is very different from a Senior at a startup. I think I'm somewhere in between those places. I think it comes down to experience and trusting in yourself that you’ll be able to figure things out. I don't think Seniors know everything off the top of their heads. A Senior is good at seeing a problem, knowing that there is a way to fix it, knowing how to research the problem, and coming up with a good solution.
What’s the next career ladder rung you’re aiming for?
I'm actually really happy being an engineer like I am now. Some people go further into management, but that's not really for me. I would love to continue getting more seniority on the individual contributor (IC) track into roles like Principal Engineer or Architect.
At Tern, there are only six engineers total and no hierarchy or leveling. Part of the reason I was so excited to join a small company was to get an understanding of how the whole app works in the beginning, so that as the company grows, I can become specialized in a certain area.
Are you still using what you learned at Turing School on the job today?
Definitely! Even though I'm working in Rails now, I'm still doing web development and am supported by the fundamentals I learned at Turing, which I’ve been building on for the last five years!
You’ve worked at startups and bigger companies. What are the pros and cons of working in either environment as a recent bootcamp grad?
It really depends on what's the best fit for the person. Every company is different, so even big companies are different from each other, but big companies and small companies are so different from each other.
The benefits of working at a small company include: learning a lot quickly, gratifying work, and a fast pace that means reps which equate to a lot of experience in a short amount of time. At a larger company there is more stability, but that usually comes with a slower pace of development and more things that feel more out of your control.
At this point in your tech career, was Turing School worth it for you?
It was completely worth it for me to change careers and learn at Turing School. It's hard to imagine what my life would've been like if I hadn't. I owe a lot to them. I love having a career I can do from home, that is intellectually stimulating and interesting to me everyday, and that has opened my world financially — I was able to buy a house in Denver! I wouldn’t have ever been able to do that on a teacher’s salary.
Have you found any transferable skills between your former career as a biology teacher and your current career in software engineering?
Communication is key in any job. There's a stereotype of engineers not being the best communicators with non-engineers, but in any field it’s incredibly valuable to be able to clearly articulate your ideas.
There’s also a lot of mentoring and teaching that happens in software companies, from being mentored as a junior to mentoring as a mid-senior level.
What is your advice to incoming Turing School students?
People always talk about how hard it’ll be. You are learning a lot in a short amount of time, and I do agree with that. When I was in it, I would think to myself how hard it was and revel in how much I was learning every day. Looking back, I view it so positively. It was fun! Even on tough days, I had my cohort to grind with.
If I had one piece of advice for myself, it would be to try to stress out a little less about the outcome. I had some self-doubt if I’d get a job and if this new career would happen for me. It is going to be hard and the job is not 100% guaranteed at the end, but if you stay focused and keep learning, trying, and interviewing, you will be able to make it!
Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps.
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