Alex Nugent was already working in tech as an Applications Engineer, but when he wanted to transition into full-time programming, he knew he would need more structure to change careers. Alex soon discovered the world of online coding bootcamps, and continued working full-time, while studying part-time with The Software Guild’s online Java bootcamp. Alex tells us how gratifying it was to learn online, and how The Software Guild’s speed interviews helped him land a software engineering role at a local Minneapolis IT company!
What were you up to before Software Guild’s Online Coding Bootcamp?
I have a bachelor’s degree in physics and math from a small liberal arts college along with a master’s degree in electrical engineering. I considered changing my undergrad major from physics and math to computer science, but I stuck with the plan instead of listening to my gut. I worked for Seagate Technology as an Applications Engineer for about seven years, working with the engineering teams and customers who purchased enterprise-class Seagate products.
Six years into my career, I realized I didn't want to stay in my current position for the rest of my life and decided to figure out how I could be a programmer full-time. When I looked back at internships and previous jobs, I realized that the basic coding skills I learned in college computer science courses had helped me land those roles. I started looking online at resources to learn new programming languages; I focused on Java and Python. I also took a couple of courses on Coursera. Once I started programming regularly in my free time, I became more confident that software development would be my next career.
It sounds like you already had some experience in tech – what made you choose a coding bootcamp as a way to upskill?
I needed a structured program that was more rigorous and challenging than self-teaching. I wasn't sure what I would find when I started looking, and I seriously considered registering for computer science classes at the university. If I had done that, it would’ve been mostly theoretical learning instead of the practical skills you learn at a bootcamp.
As I continued researching and working through tutorials on Codecademy and Coursera, I came across coding bootcamps and a couple of schools that offered online programs. At bootcamps like the Software Guild, you're learning from people who’ve had many years of experience as developers and they know what skills employers are looking for. You can make an impact quickly and that kind of education model was ideal for me.
What stood out about The Software Guild’s online program?
I wasn't quite ready to quit my full-time job to do the bootcamp full time, so going to Software Guild part-time and working full-time worked out really well.
How did you pay for The Software Guild tuition?
Fortunately, since I had a couple of years of work experience under my belt, I had money saved. I paid for half the bootcamp out of pocket and financed the rest of it through Skills Fund.
Describe the application and interview process for The Software Guild.
The process went very quickly and smoothly. First, I applied through The Software Guild website. I then set up a phone interview with their Enrollment department. After that initial interview, I answered more questions and took an aptitude test online. After the aptitude test, you have to write a couple of short essays about why you want to go to a bootcamp, what got you interested in this kind of change, why you think you could be successful in the program, etc.
The application process has changed since I experienced it; The Software Guild now has a free course you can take online. At the end of the course, you go through a code review and they assess your performance. It’s more involved than before, which is good because it gives applicants a better sense of how they should approach The Software Guild coursework.
Walk us through a typical day and tell us about the teaching style for Software Guild’s part-time online bootcamp.
The Software Guild program is divided into two main sections – object-oriented programming and web-based technologies. At the beginning of each section, you get a deadline for completion. Once a section opens up, you read the material, watch the videos, and work through the assignment at your own pace. For the first three weeks of the program, we had synchronous sessions, which were live video conferences with other cohort members and instructors to get us up to speed with tools and course expectations. After that, we were on our own with no more scheduled live sessions. If you didn't finish all the coursework in time, you could drop back and repeat that section.
In addition to the online material, videos, and readings every evening, there were also mandatory weekly meetings with an assigned mentor, which was very helpful. On Slack, you could ask a question, and either an alum, current student, instructor, or your mentor would help you out. So even though I did coursework at night, I never felt like I couldn't get help if I needed it.
Did you find this online style of learning effective? Did it fit your learning style?
Absolutely. Every time we'd finish a section I would sit back and say to myself, “Just three weeks ago I had no idea what any of this stuff was and here I am building an application using new technologies." It was very gratifying. With the structure of the coursework and the content, I believe that if you make a concerted effort to learn and understand it, then you can be successful.
Tell us about the other students in your cohort.
When we started, the Java cohort had 14 or 15 students, including three women. As we went through the different sections some people had to drop back. It took some people longer than others to go through the coursework, so as time went on, I was interacting with a diverse group because different people were starting and finishing the course.
Did you have a favorite project that you built during Software Guild’s online course?
My favorite project was my final project. We designed an entire application called Superhero Sightings where we created the database design and the server database connection – everything from back-end all the way up to the front-end design. We got to play around with all the technologies that we had learned about. The app allowed users to add, view, edit and delete information about "Heroes" and associated organizations – it was a typical CRUD application. There were also two extra challenges for that one – rendering photos and receiving photos and utilizing an external Google Maps API to render location on a map. That was really fun.
How did The Software Guild help you prepare for the job search?
At every location, Software Guild has an employee network manager. Our local Minneapolis employer network manager helped me revamp my resume, made sure I incorporated all the skills from my background, highlighted things that I learned, and prepared me for what kind of salary to expect. I also did a lot of mock interviews with the instructors which really helped me prepare for technical job interviews.
Towards the end of every cohort, The Software Guild has speed interviews at each location; and I was able to participate at the Minneapolis campus. That's where I got connected to my current employer, so that whole process was incredibly valuable.
Congratulations! Tell us about your new job.
I am a software engineer at a local IT consulting company in the Minneapolis Metro. I've only been here for two weeks and so far I have done work on the front end in ReactJS and back end in Java. The Software Guild Java curriculum prepared me really well. I can look through the codebase of existing work and understand what's going on even though at first glance the content seems intimidating. React was new to me, so I'm still getting my feet wet, but thankfully there are many resources available for learning new frameworks. I started with two other bootcamp grads from different schools and it’s been great so far. I'm very happy.
How large is the software engineering team? What was the onboarding process like?
We have a manager, a senior developer, and a project manager working with us. The two other bootcamp hires and I worked on an internal project together for the first couple of weeks as our onboarding training. We have daily stand-ups, tasks for individual developers to work on, and we meet to discuss if anybody is having any issues. We're getting really good day-to-day experience on what it is like to develop actual projects.
Do you feel any of your previous background is useful in your current role as a software engineer?
Yes. At any job, there are always going to be situations where you don't understand how things are done, or you're working with tools, technologies, or equipment that you’ve never worked with before. But you ask questions, do some research on your own, and based on that, ask more intelligent questions so you can learn as you go. Leverage the resources that you have to get you over the hump. That basic approach is pretty much the same case here.
Do you think it’s important to encourage more people of color to get into tech? Have you found any networks or groups along the way?
I do. It is important for anyone, younger or older, who is thinking of pursuing a career in tech, to see that there are other people of color working in the industry, thus so can they.
What has been your biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey becoming a programmer?
One major challenge was preparing for technical interviews. It had been seven years since I had gone to a job interview, and technical interviews tend to be particularly challenging – you never know what will be thrown at you. Projects at bootcamp are mostly focused on actual applications that people use, whereas coding interviews can sometimes include random coding challenges that may not require the same thought process as a real-world application. You just have to practice and be prepared for curve balls. Utilizing resources like Codewars or HackerRank definitely helped.
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about making a career change by attending a coding bootcamp? Any words of wisdom?
If you're thinking about going to a bootcamp and don't have a technical background, computer science experience, or experience in programming, then take some time to get your feet wet. Don't jump right in right away. Learn some things on your own, take a couple Codecademy or Coursera courses, and talk to some friends who work as developers about their journey. It's not going to be easy. It's going to take a lot of time and a lot of effort.
I knew what I was getting myself into, but other applicants should think through why you want to make this career change. With my technical background and from computer science courses in college, I knew that programming wasn’t easy. If you don’t have that background, make sure you are self-motivated, and realize that you are not going to know everything and won’t be able to figure out everything on your own. You'll have to utilize resources at your disposal to get help and work through roadblocks.
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