What will your career look like after you graduate from a bootcamp? We talked to Nicki Stone – who graduated from Sabio 8 years ago – about her career trajectory from Junior .NET Developer to Co-Founder to Developer Advocate to Senior iOS Engineer. Today, Nicki is starting a new job as a Staff Engineer at Meta and she answers all of our questions about how she’s made it so far after Sabio. Plus, Nicki shares her tip to get more experience even if you’re a complete beginner!
What has your career looked like since you graduated from Sabio eight years ago?
Since graduating from Sabio, I have really been a full-stack developer and an iOS engineer throughout the trajectory of my career:
Such an accomplished career already! What kinds of jobs did you feel qualified for immediately after graduating from Sabio?
I was applying to entry-level jobs and I actually got two offers just one week after I graduated from Sabio. Both of those were Junior Software Engineer positions and I accepted a .NET Full Stack Software Developer job at 1iota. After 1.5 years in that job, I asked my boss what level he would place me as an engineer and he said Mid-Level.
What was the most important decision you made for your career when you graduated?
It’s important to keep in mind that I never stopped coding. I would go to work and code all day and then go home and code all night. I never stopped learning and I stayed curious for those first two years.
What does a “normal” career trajectory look like for a developer?
It can look different for everyone. You might work in a junior engineering role for a couple of years before you reach mid-level status. You might then realize you like product management and pursue that. Or you could stay in engineering and rise all the way up to Senior Engineer or Software Architect, there are a million different jobs you could take after that first role. It’s all over the board, you just need to get the first job and find what interests you.
Have you gone back to mentor Sabio students since you graduated?
Absolutely. While I was starting my company, Betagig, I taught Sabio’s pre-work class for six months. I was funding the company via contract work and Sabio’s pre-work class until I raised a round of funding.
Do you have any advice for new bootcampers when it comes to pre-work versus learning the basics on your own time?
I attended Sabio in its infancy and it didn’t necessarily have a lot of the things it has today. Pre-work is one example – it didn’t exist when I was there.
I like the pre-work that Sabio offers for many different reasons. I feel like I would have gone even further in those four months if I had attended the pre-work program. I was messing around a lot online in those four months prior to starting Sabio, learning a language or solving a problem and I couldn’t figure out where it fit in the scheme of things. Pre-work helps you see where everything fits together.
Learning to code is a skill and I believe everyone can do it, just like anyone can learn to play trombone or soccer. Some people are more gifted naturally and some people will have to put in time and dedication. The pre-work rubric is a good indicator of whether or not someone will want to put in that time and dedication.
The pre-work is short – about six weeks – and you take a test at the end. The test is a good indicator of how well you’ll do in the Sabio bootcamp. I highly recommend it for people to develop that self-awareness and to determine if coding is right for them.
How have you seen employers’ views of bootcamp grads changed over the last six years?
Bootcamp graduates are viewed similarly to self-taught developers. We generally don’t say the word bootcamp in the industry and if you’re talking to another developer, all you have to say is you’re self-taught. Plenty of developers have been self-teaching before bootcamps existed.
You don’t need to specify how you learned to code because even in the bootcamp space, you’re self-learning the majority of the time. After the bootcamp, learning doesn’t stop and you’re continually teaching yourself new things all the time.
Sabio was great because they just threw me into the fire. Sabio’s classroom mocked a real-life coding environment and when I took a job, I wasn’t surprised to find out how it worked. My first job was exactly like going to a bootcamp every day – I needed to figure it out by myself. A manager can’t sit you for four hours a day; that’s not going to fly.
If someone is curious about how you taught yourself or if they want recommendations, then the bootcamp might come up, but it’s not much discussed at this point. It’s not a factor when determining whether or not to make a hire, especially once you’re past entry-level jobs.
Did AWS or Meta/Instagram care about your education/degree in the application process?
No, they cared more about what I had accomplished recently. Your accomplishments speak volumes about your experience. I think that's common when looking for a job – hiring managers don’t often go all the way back to your college education and try to figure out how you established your education.
What type of job would you recommend for recent bootcamp grads – a big company or a smaller startup?
I think a smaller company is the best kind of job for new bootcamp grads because they can have an impact and grow their career faster. I ended up building a lot of things at my first job with a startup. I talk to engineers now and they say they’ve never built anything close to it when they started at a bigger company.
However, I will say your company must have a senior engineer or two that are willing to mentor. You won’t meet the bar without some mentorship. And your mentor doesn’t necessarily need to train you, but instead, answer questions from time to time.
If you come out of a bootcamp like Sabio, where you’re thrown into the fire, then you’ll have the number one skill of a junior developer – resourcefulness. It’s not just learning to code, it’s also learning to help yourself when you’re stuck. There’s no reason someone with that skill can’t work at a small company. Even with one engineer, the amount of time they spend reaching out will be lower than someone who didn’t learn that skill during their bootcamp. Someone asking for help every two minutes isn’t a sustainable hire for a company.
How did your role at AWS grow and evolve over four years?
When I started working at AWS as a Developer Advocate, I was jumping back into the workforce after running my company. I was CEO and was still coding, but it wasn’t necessarily on my own product. I also had a lot of side projects and other work before AWS. Developer Advocacy is an intersection of engineering and those other skills. You’re building, you’re public speaking, you’re mentoring, and you’re essentially a manager on a broader scale for hundreds of thousands of customers. I would still be able to code, but I also had the opportunity to develop those other skills. Working at a cloud company, I got to explore a lot of cool tech. I had to talk to developers of all kinds – from .NET to machine learning to iOS.
I was in developer advocacy for two years and then the engineering itch started to come back. In developer advocacy, you’re building things about 50% of the time, but that still wasn’t enough for me and I went back to full-time coding. I started as a Senior iOS Engineer role just before the pandemic started, which was lucky because developer advocacy involves a lot of travel. Luckily, I switched before the pandemic and didn’t have to worry about how my role would be affected.
Now, 4 years after starting at AWS, I am the Tech Lead for the AWS SDK for Swift.
Did Sabio teach you any iOS?
No, that was completely self-taught. I was building iOS applications for Gigster as a consultant and taking contract work. At the beginning of January 2015, I sat down and built an iOS app for the first time and I’ve been doing contract work for iOS outside of the main function of my job since then. When I went back to engineering, I wanted to go into iOS so I accepted the Senior iOS Engineer role at AWS.
What is the biggest difference between being a junior-level developer versus a senior-level developer?
Most of it involves experience and leadership. There are ways to expedite your experience as a junior-level developer. One of the ways you can do this is by watching people code on Twitch. Junior developers lack experience and that boils down to encountering a certain problem and handling it with a certain solution almost every time.
I’m a senior-level engineer and that means I’ve encountered many of these problems and I know how to handle them. Junior engineers are experiencing these problems and they’ve never encountered them before and that causes them a lot of issues.
On Twitch, you can watch live coding streams where senior engineers make mistakes and you can see how they handle them. I was live coding on Twitch as a developer when I realized it was an amazing way for me and hundreds of other people to pair program together. During pair programming, you learn so much because you’re taking in the other person’s knowledge. You’re coding together and sharing experience, but how can you do that on a broader scale If you don’t have teammates to play with you? Twitch!
That’s great advice. So what will you be working on at Meta?
I’m joining the Instagram Reels team. I’ll still be working in the iOS stack, but I’m sure there will still be plenty to learn. They work closely with the back end engineer’s infrastructure, you have to go through a bootcamp to learn Meta’s infrastructure even if you’re not working on it.
Looking back over the last eight years, was Sabio worth it?
I have no regrets! Attending Sabio was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I trusted the process at Sabio.
These days, people do a lot more research about bootcamps than I did. I just wanted to learn how to code.
So many people reach out to me on LinkedIn with questions about Sabio. My advice is to not worry about the first tech stack that you learn; that shouldn’t be your focus. You should be focused on learning how to be resourceful and how to Google, the bigger picture things. All the other questions I get from interested bootcamp attendees are more fine-tuned to small details. If you genuinely want to code, trust the process and go for it.
What’s next for you in your career, Nicki?
I love managing and leading people, but I can’t keep my hands off the keyboard. When companies ask me about becoming a manager, all I can think about is how I won’t be able to code all day. I always tell people to talk to me in five years. My future career trajectory might be a software development manager, but right now I’m very much still in love with coding.
Find out more and read Sabio reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Sabio.
Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!
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