Alumni Spotlight

A Tech Entrepreneur’s Perspective on Learning at Codesmith’s NYC Campus

Jess Feldman

Written By Jess Feldman

Liz Eggleston

Edited By Liz Eggleston

Last updated on November 10, 2023

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Simon Grigenas was looking for the in-person benefits of networking and hands-on, experiential learning from a rigorous coding bootcamp. He confidently landed at Codesmith's full-time Software Engineering Immersive program in-person at their NYC campus. Simon, who moved from Canada to NYC for the Immersive, gets real about what it was like to learn in-person with Codesmith, and how he made the most of his time in NYC. Find out how his Codesmith experience helped him land a role as a Web Applications Developer at Arc’teryx, and then inspired him to launch his own tech startup just one year out from Codesmith graduation!

What prompted you to make a career change into tech in 2022?

I’ve always had a passion for the technical side of things from an engineering standpoint, but I didn’t have a formal education in it. After graduating from school for business, I founded a startup and in the process of scaling that startup, I fell in love with tech even more. I realized in the startup ecosystem the value of that engineering skill set, both in being able to build things from scratch, which was well aligned with my personal values, all the way to the avenues from a career perspective and personal growth that it offers you. So, I pursued tech more pointedly. 

When looking for a coding bootcamp, were you specifically looking for an in-person learning experience? 

I was! After researching the options for learning to code (post-secondary institutions, bootcamps, self-taught paths, etc.), I valued the in-person experience. I’ve worked with 500 Global, one of the largest venture capital firms globally investing in early-stage and seed-stage tech startups, which exposed me to mentoring and fostering tech startup founders all over Canada. Seeing the difference in our own curriculum between in-person components and virtual components in terms of styles of learning, mentorship, and coaching, I was drawn to learning in-person — both from a community standpoint and from being able to maximize my time in the program. Since COVID, the majority of programs were virtual only, but it was important to me to find the right environment where I could ask questions while I undertook an intensive program.

What set Codesmith’s NYC campus apart from other programs?

I went with what aligned with my personal values and me individually and that included my learning style. As someone who prioritizes personal development, I was looking for the most challenging curriculum. I wanted to find a program that was by far, without a doubt up there in terms of a challenging curriculum. I didn’t want to exit at a junior level without experience that could replicate actual work in the industry. Based on alumni feedback, reviews and personal research, Codesmith offered this challenge.

I also valued having a strong professional network, which I received through Codesmith alumni - both being able to speak with alumni prior to entering the program and being able to lean on them post-Codesmith as well. The strength of the alumni network coupled with the challenging curriculum ensured that I would maintain momentum after graduating. 

Did you visit or attend any events at the NYC campus before enrolling?

If there was that option, I would have! I was in the first cohort back in-person after the pandemic and the campus was ready a short time before we started. Now in 2023, they have networking events and JavaScript workshops in person that I recommend attending to see if Codesmith is right for you. You'll spend a lot of time there, so it’s worth it to make sure you’re well-aligned. The Codesmith immersive also involves a lot of prep work to make sure it’s the right path for you. 

Did you consider Codesmith’s remote Immersive programs at all? What inspired you to move from Canada to NYC to attend their in-person immersive?

I was originally accepted to the Part-Time Remote Immersive program, and I considered pursuing it in a part-time capacity while continuing with my career, but I wanted to maximize my time. I was in a financial position to complete the in-person program to its fullest intensity and it wouldn’t have been the right fit for me to juggle working and attending a bootcamp at the same time. I was looking for the in-person benefits of networking and hands-on, experiential learning. 

What was a typical day like learning in-person at Codesmith’s NYC campus?

Codesmith offers the flexibility to leverage your own time on top of their structured curriculum, which is a huge benefit of taking the full immersive bootcamp. I worked daily with a partner, Jackson, on data structures and algorithms outside of Codesmith. We would start our days around 7am meeting at a coffee shop and doing algorithms and data structures, learning principles or working through online resources for about two hours. Then we’d head into the Codesmith campus where we started with a short morning stand up to figure out the structure of the day and what topics would be covered, followed by a hack hour where we had either an approach lecture on strategy related to data structures and algorithms, or straight to solving a problem. 

The lecture workshop portion of the day was broken into AM and PM topics, which included things like learning Node.js, front end fundamentals, and React, followed by structured units in pair programming style working through the structured technical application of what you just learned. More time is spent on the application side than on the principle side. Broken up in there, you’d have time for lunch, dinner, etc. Depending on the week you were in the program, you might have a solo project or group project or presentations, but your average days of the intense learning structure would follow: stand up, hack hour, AM topic unit, then PM topic unit.

How many hours a week did you spend on campus?

The Codesmith structured curriculum was Monday-Saturday, but I’d spend an extra two hours every day to work on data structures and algorithms at the beginning and implementation of their hiring program segments and connecting with Codesmith alumni and other FAANG engineers in the region, either in-person or on Zoom, toward the end of the program. 

In total, I probably spent 12-14 hours a day, five days a week on the Codesmith campus. On Saturdays, it was a shorter day on campus, around 6-8 hours, and Sundays we had off. I tried to maximize every hour of every day that I had in the city! 

Were you mostly in the classroom, or were there breakout and study spaces on campus?  

We were in the classroom for a fairly short amount of time, only for lectures and workshops. There is an open coworking space with desks and computers where we pair programmed. They also had smaller rooms for 1:1 meetings, breakouts, and programming sessions. 

The curriculum is structured around independence and problem-solving skills. If there's a core principle taught or a core skill gained, it's not the technical aspect — it’s becoming an independent individual and engineer that's able to effectively decipher problems and solve them, which only happens through applying principles that you know very little about or were recently introduced to. It was nice to spend less time in the classroom and have more time out in that open space with other engineers to work through problems. 

If you were struggling with a particular section of the curriculum, were you able to get help in the on-campus environment?

One of the biggest benefits to learning to code in-person is having face-to-face support. Whether it was a fellow or the lead instructor, it was nice to be able to tap another engineer on the shoulder when I had questions. Beyond the instructors, I also found that I quickly learned from others in my cohort. Leveraging other engineers in the room made a huge difference to my learning experience. It’s hard to replicate online the ease of direct contact with a live person.

Did you feel connected to the larger Codesmith community beyond NYC? 

Yes! Codesmith boasts a strong community and it was a relief to connect with alumni through social events and hear about their journeys in the field

In addition to the curriculum, I learned a lot from Codesmith alumni from the 15-min virtual coffee chats with other engineers about their struggles, triumphs, and advice. I had 40-50 chats within three or four weeks! These not only taught me but also prepared me for the job search by clarifying concepts and more importantly, leading to referrals and connections to job openings. I took the initiative to reach out to these alumni and set my own meetings — it wasn't part of the curriculum. 

The Slack community is vibrant and strong as well. There are alumni stand ups and you can reach out to anyone, anytime. 

What did you do in your down time in NYC?

I traveled to the States quite a bit for work, but I never had the opportunity to live full-time in New York, so it was great to take advantage of! That being said, there wasn't much downtime! Going nonstop for 12-14 hours a week took a toll on me by the 7-8 week mark, but I made sure to be completely off on Sundays. I was lucky my wife and our small dog came to NYC with me, so we spent time in the Airbnb together and explored the city: going to a nice restaurant, checking out a new neighborhood, or watching a show or movie. Whatever I could do to take my mind off engineering was essentially what I did in my down time, which was limited to Sundays after 12 hours of sleep!

When it came time to look for a job, how did the Codesmith Career Support team support you?

Quite a bit! Codesmith’s coding program includes: theoretical lectures, workshops, pair programming components, projects, working on your open source product with a team of engineers, managing scrums, and other forms of iteration application. The same intensity is applied to Codesmith’s hiring program, which includes everything related to the job search: technical interview prep, whiteboarding, data structures and algorithms, drafting resumes, assessing job search strategies, and how to connect with recruiters!

There’s still ownership that lands on the individual. You have to be willing to iterate your own narrative to present the best version possible. Also, there is no one size fits all approach, especially to their hiring program, because every person has a different background. It was nice to see that career services were tailored to each individual. The hiring support team ensures that your goals are aligned because they want kick-ass outcomes! They want to see you in a place where you thrive and get compensated well.

What was your first tech role after graduating from Codesmith? Was your first tech employer based in NYC? 

Ideally, I would have been able to land a job in the US but it was difficult getting a visa from Canada. Those who have a post-secondary degree in computer science can get in pretty easily, but it’s more challenging otherwise, so I stuck to looking for jobs in Canada. I was open to remote roles, but ideally I was looking for in-person roles in either Vancouver or Toronto with the right fit of seniority in the role and the ability to grow from a technical standpoint. 

My first tech role was as a Web Applications Developer at Arc’teryx!

What kinds of projects did you work on at Arc’teryx? 

It was primarily front end focused in terms of working within their micro front end architecture. I worked within the guest services and cloud migration teams. Most of the projects were related to customer facing aspects, like live chat, customer service, integrations within Salesforce and the front end framework, as well as work within web ops as a whole — triaging any problems that we had related to site speed reliability, all the way down to fixes from a user experience or user interface standpoint related to our guest checkout experience.

You’ve now launched your own tech startup! Are you building this tech startup and acting as its CEO?

I’m working within the venture capital realm with tech founders around Canada, but I'm also developing my own tech startup. As of right now, I am doing both - acting as CEO and building the technical side. As the CEO, I have experience with fundraising, investor relations, and hiring and leading a team, and the added developmental skills have been a big value as far as MVP iterations go, iterating quickly and finding the right product-market fit. My vision for the business as it sits today is to accomplish building the startup as a solopreneur and then grow the team out from there, as opposed to needing a technical co-founder from day one to support and validate ideas. 

It took me too long to realize the tie between my personal values and goals, which is where Codesmith offered clarity. Taking time to know who I am as a person, what I value, and where I’m a good fit saved me from working at places that weren’t a good fit, and led me in the direction of building my own startup!

Are you still using what you learned at Codesmith now?

I am. More than the technical things I learned, Codesmith helped me the most with learning to become an independent engineer that can think through problems, use tools and do research to understand and solve problems, regardless of if it’s web or mobile app development. I carry that ability in my startup now. 

For incoming students, what do you wish you had known about the in-person learning experience at Codesmith before you enrolled?

  1. Understand the outcome you want and set goals in advance to get there. It’s important to take a moment of introspection to understand your personal goals, outcomes, and where you want to go in life. What are you looking to get out of a bootcamp? What are your career goals? What role are you looking to land after graduating Codesmith? What’s that stepping stone role to get you into your desired industry? These may change but it’s good to get a clear picture of your goals first. How is everything that you do day to day going to fit into that bigger goal? Work backwards with that goal within the Codesmith curriculum, because they can help prepare you for the technical gaps and position you as a kick ass engineer.
  2. Explore and research roles and see how you can bridge the gap between the two. Spend time researching and understanding the career path. If you have opportunities to shadow someone at that level, do it so you know if that’s actually the role you want to pursue. 

Find out more and read Codesmith reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Codesmith.

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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