Written By Jess Feldman
In 2014, Ryan Choi was a lab technician pipetting for hours and feeling discouraged by his career path. Realizing his passion for software engineering, Ryan enrolled in the very first cohort at LearningFuze in Irvine, CA to make his career change. Now Ryan is eight years into his career and a Senior Software Engineer at Rivian! Ryan shares how the foundation he built at LearningFuze has supported his overall tech career while quadrupling his salary!
What inspired you to make a career change into software engineering in 2014?
I have a bachelor’s degree in biological science and worked as a lab technician in a bio-lab for over three years. As a lab technician, I was doing a lot of pipetting, which is arranging and setting up microorganisms for eight hours a day. I was feeling miserable, especially looking at my manager who had worked there for over 15 years and was getting paid about $30 an hour, working 20 hours per day! I didn’t want that life and I couldn't see myself fitting into that industry, and that’s when I started exploring other career options.
Are you still using what you learned at LearningFuze in your job today at Rivian?
Even though my responsibility has expanded and covers a lot more now as a Senior Engineer, I’m still using the foundation I learned from LearningFuze.
You’re now teaching at LearningFuze too! How has LearningFuze changed over the past 8 years?
Returning to LearningFuze as an instructor, I see a lot of differences. The program itself is solid and they're hitting all the key points that industries are looking for. There are more instructors available now.
Plus, there’s career support that helps students with resume-building and interview prep. Back in 2014 when I was a student, there wasn’t a career support team, but they did offer me the space and staff to return to campus. This was great when I needed a place to code and ask instructors any questions, so they were very supportive in that way.
Tell us about your tech career since graduating from LearningFuze! What kinds of jobs have you landed after bootcamp?
After graduating from LearningFuze, I was on the job hunt for three months. My first step into the industry was a 3-month contract position. I took the chance with a contracting role so that I’d at least have something on my resume as a developer. The most important step is getting your foot in the door. From there, I got hired by a lot of digital marketing agencies to maintain, develop, and occasionally design their websites.
I then joined a boutique digital marketing agency, Human Marketing. I was there for a few years as a Software Engineer because the company and CEO were amazing. At Human Marketing, I asked the CEO if I could start my own software engineering department and develop our own SaaS product, which would drive customers growth and create another sales channel. He really liked the idea and quickly got me a department just six months after joining Human. I had three junior developers working under me, and over two-and-a-half years we developed and launched two SaaS products.
That experience significantly boosted my personal portfolio, and Zappos, a sister company to Amazon, reached out to me. Working at Zappos was my first exposure to working in a big corporate setting. In the year I worked there, I got to work with a big team and multiple departments, which was a fantastic opportunity for me.
What has it been like to move up the career ladder? Did you find landing your second tech role easier?
The first job was the hardest to get and I see a lot of students struggle with finding that first job. Once you get your foot in the door, though, you're set. I started in the digital marketing world, which made it tough to share work in my portfolio because everything I created is under NDA. This meant I didn’t get to establish a portfolio until later in my career. The other difficult thing was jumping from similar marketing agencies and small companies whereas big companies are always hiring.
Once I started working at the bigger corporations, I stopped having to search for a job because headhunters started reaching out to me. After I worked at Zappos, I got a lot of offers coming in. Unfortunately, I had to decline many of them because they were smaller startup companies and I am past that now.
Have you confronted any bias against bootcamp graduates in your tech job interviews?
The first two years of job searching, LearningFuze was one of few coding bootcamps in southern California and it was a fresh idea back then to make a career change through a bootcamp. A lot of companies wanted a Computer Science background and were skeptical of what I learned at a coding bootcamp. I always asked for the chance to show my skills through a coding assessment, which is how I broke through. That perception about bootcamp graduates has changed since news spread that bootcamp graduates are better equipped for the workforce than CS graduates because they have more practical and less conceptual application of programming languages.
You now work at Rivian as a Senior Software Engineer! What kinds of projects are you working on now?
Rivian is an EV electric vehicle company in Irvine, CA. This is the most fascinating industry I've worked in because it's a hot topic right now and the company itself is between a startup and enterprise-level company. I’m working as a Senior Software Engineer in a diagnostic tooling team, which serves as the last defense of diagnostic tools in the factory line. Before Rivian ships the vehicle to the customer, we are the last platform that technicians run to debug or catch any errors.
How many years of experience did it take for you to finally feel like a Senior Software Engineer?
It’s taken me eight years to become a Senior Software Engineer. Everybody says that at five years experience, you become a mid-level developer. At eight or more years, you can call yourself a senior, which aligns with my experience.
As a senior engineer, are you now seeing more bootcamp graduates working alongside you?
Yes, of course! In the most recent interviews I conducted with Rivian, 70-80% of applicants were bootcamp grads. I think people are taking the bootcamp path these days instead of college because it’s more practical. I see a lot of division in the languages being taught. At Rivian, I see more bootcamp graduates coming into my department because we deal with a lot of web development technologies.
Since graduating from LearningFuze nearly a decade ago, how have you evolved as a software engineer?
It’s probably the same for other engineers out there, but I have never stopped learning. When I became an engineer, I thought I would graduate from LearningFuze, get the first job, and be a PHP developer (since that’s the stack I learned). But the industry never settles — it’s always evolving! Since LearningFuze taught me how to learn, I was able to more easily adapt to the changing languages. I have evolved into a senior software engineer because I never stopped learning new technologies and kept practicing. Being a software engineer means constant researching, studying, and getting exposure to the new technologies out there.
Looking back on the past decade, was attending LearningFuze worth it for you?
When I first joined LearningFuze, I had to quit my full-time job because back then there was no part-time program available. I had to survive for three months without an income, so I did Uber for a bit during bootcamp, which was a new app then. After graduating from LearningFuze, I had credit card debt but I trusted in the LearningFuze process and that it would lead me into a software engineering path. I stayed positive and just kept going, and eventually I paid down my debt within two years of landing my first two tech jobs!
By my third and fourth jobs, I had doubled my salary from the first contracting job. Recently, I doubled again, so in the eight years since graduating from LearningFuze I have quadrupled my salary! I am living my dream right now. I don't have any concerns about financial stability. And I’m able to live in Irvine, which is a very expensive city to live in.
Going to LearningFuze was definitely worth it. LearningFuze changed my life: my career, my salary, and my lifestyle. It’s been a growing investment.
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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