Written By Lauren Stewart
Amanda was a special education teacher for 10 years before deciding to make a change. She was ready to build her love of logic puzzles and problem-solving into a technical skillset, so she decided to join Tech Elevator’s .NET coding bootcamp in Columbus, Ohio! Learn what Amanda enjoyed about her Tech Elevator learning experience, how the “matchmaking” sessions helped shape her job search, and see how she landed a new role as a Business Intelligence Developer!
What were you up to before you decided to attend Tech Elevator?
Growing up, I really liked learning about any and everything. I was a linguistics major for a while because I loved learning about languages and about the world. I decided I wanted to help kids love to learn, so I went into special education. I taught middle school special education for just under 10 years.
I decided it was time for a change. I needed to learn something new, so I decided to try Tech Elevator. At my school, all of the teachers came to me when they were having trouble with their computers, or if they couldn't figure out how to make a spreadsheet work. I was comfortable with computers, but I didn't really have any experience coding before deciding to jump in.
How did you go from teaching special education figuring out that software development was a great career for you?
I’ve always liked logic puzzles, word games, and problem-solving skills, which is definitely a part of teaching, but I felt like that wasn't really being utilized as much as I wanted it to be. I heard about Tech Elevator on our local NPR station. I went to their website, and there was an aptitude test. I had about 10 minutes until my students were coming back to the classroom, and I thought, "What the heck, I'll just take the test and see how it goes." It was a lot of fun! It was a logic challenge, and I really enjoyed it. My students laughed at me because I thought it was fun to take a test and they think that's really ridiculous. So I took the test and went from there.
Did you try teaching yourself to code before deciding to attend Tech Elevator?
I didn't try to code at all before I was placed at Tech Elevator. They did send me pre-work to help get me ready – this consisted of links and resources to get your feet wet for three or four weeks. That was really the first coding that I ever did.
There are a lot of bootcamps now (and tons of ways to learn how to code) – why did you choose Tech Elevator?
I have a mortgage and two kids and didn't think it was really possible for me to go back to school for four years and not work full-time. So that was part of the reason I chose Tech Elevator.
I did some research to make sure that Tech Elevator was the real thing. I didn’t want a bootcamp that was going to take my money and not care about my success. I didn't really research a lot of other bootcamps because I was so impressed once I found Tech Elevator.
The price and location were reasonable, and their schedule worked with my schedule. Their placement rates were so high, the staff seemed really supportive, and all the reviews I read were really positive. The biggest factor in choosing Tech Elevator was looking at their job placement success. Because of my mortgage and two kids, I can't take six months to find a job. I needed to get working pretty quickly, so I was really impressed with their success rate in getting people into a tech career.
What was the Tech Elevator application and interview process like?
I took an online aptitude test, then I went to an open house to get to know the Tech Elevator team. The interview itself was a little under two hours and consisted of an hour-long discussion with Katie Detore, the Pathway Program Director for the Columbus campus. She asked me a bunch of questions about why I wanted to do Tech Elevator, the skills I had that would help me transition, my past experience, and how that would affect my coding career. Then there was another written aptitude test.
How many people were you learning with? Was your cohort diverse in terms of gender, race, and career backgrounds?
The whole cohort, both Java and .NET, was about 28 people. I was in the .NET cohort and our group had 12. There were 3 women in my .NET cohort. Out of the entire cohort of 28, I think we had people from about six different countries; I knew students from Jordan, Puerto Rico, Somalia, Ukraine, Brazil, Israel, and Syria.
In terms of backgrounds, my classmates had been landscape designers, accountants, bartenders, and tattoo artists. Others had tech backgrounds, like one woman who had been a developer in the past and then took 12 years off to raise children in the foster care system, and then was going back into programming. Another student was getting their master's degree in computer science, and also did Tech Elevator.
I was really impressed with the cohort because I think it speaks to the intensity of the interview process. My classmates, in general, were really impressive. They were fun to hang out with, they were easy to get along with, and they were ready to work, dive in, and move quickly, which meant that the whole program could move quickly. We didn't have to slow down for people who really couldn't cut it. Everybody was ready to really push and learn a lot quickly and that was fun.
Have you reflected on your experience learning to code as a woman in tech?
I know that Tech Elevator really tries to recruit a lot of women to the program. They held events like a viewing of a movie about women in technology and the gap. I’m aware that the gap for women in tech exists, but I didn't feel at any point that I was being treated any different because I was a woman. I'm pretty confident, and people treat me like I know what I'm doing because I act like I know what I'm doing even when I don't! I think that goes a long way.
Could you tell us about a typical day at Tech Elevator? Describe your learning experience!
At 9am, we took a survey to talk about how we felt about the previous day's lesson, giving the instructors feedback about pacing and how comfortable we felt with the material. After that survey, we took a quiz about the material from the previous day. The instructor would either go over questions that a lot of people missed, or jump right into the current day's material if everyone was feeling strong in those concepts.
Then, we had lecture until about noon. During lunch, there was usually an activity; for example, Katie would talk about a pathway skill like how to interview, advice on writing your resume, or using LinkedIn. We also had employer showcases where an employer would be invited to lunch and present about their company.
The afternoon was an opportunity to practice daily exercises, either individual or paired exercises. If you needed help, there were instructors available in their office. Sometimes you were finished quickly by 4pm. Other times, you’d really struggle and end up staying till 6 or 6:30pm. But you do what you need to do to get the code done.
Every couple of weeks, we were assigned a mini-capstone project where we had a couple of days working with a partner on a larger project. At the end of the whole program, we had two weeks to work with a group on a capstone project.
Did you have a favorite project that you built during that time?
Our final project, Tour Columbus, was pretty cool. My team of four people worked on building a website that helps users design an itinerary for a tour of Columbus, Ohio. If you’re visiting Columbus, you could create an itinerary and use a Google API to search for attractions within a certain radius of where your starting point was, and then you could add those attractions to your itinerary.
You could also find out more detailed information about those attractions and use the Google API to map a route for you for all of the locations on your itinerary. You could also look at the details of different attractions and put down comments and rate them. It was a pretty cool website and fun to make. I had a really good team so we worked really well together.
What technologies did you use to build that last project?
I was in the .NET cohort, so we used MVC and C#. I was mainly working in SQL Server so we had to write to the database. I worked a lot on the models and the controllers. I focused on how to get the information that the user was inputting and making sure we could write it to the database, and then pull that information as needed back out again. I also worked on the routing of information and the pathway through the website that users could take.
Amanda and her classmate work on
a mini-capstone project during the .NET cohort.
Tell us about your new developer role!
I am a Business Intelligence Developer (BI Developer) for a company called PriorAuthNow which helps facilitate the communication between doctors offices and insurance companies to get prior authorization for medications. As a BI developer, I'm working with our databases and helping pull information for the business side of our company, so that they can better make decisions for the company going forward. I'm enjoying it and I'm having a lot of fun. I really like the people I'm working with and I could not have done it without Tech Elevator.
How did Tech Elevator help you with your job search?
What was amazing about the Tech Elevator career placement were our “matchmaking sessions.” Tech Elevator arranges a group of employers who come to the classroom, we have 10-30 minute interviews with the employers we’re interested in, and those employers are actively looking to hire people out of the bootcamp.
These employers knew coming into the interviews what we were familiar with, so their expectations were to hire developers who may not have 6+ years of coding experience. There were big companies, small companies, and everything in between.
Out of 12 companies that I met with, six companies called me back and said, "We want a second interview." I ended up with two offers. It's nice to feel like you’ll not only have a job, but you’ll also have some options. I could not have done that without the matchmaking sessions because it's hard to get anybody to interview you if they don't meet you in the first place. It's easier to convince somebody you can do the work if you actually talk to them as opposed to just throwing out your resume.
Tech Elevator also did a lot to help get me ready for interviews. They had students do multiple practice interviews, including both general and technical interviews. They helped me feel prepared going into the job market.
Do you feel like a developer yet? How have you acclimated to your new job and career?
Tomorrow will be the end of my third week, and part of the reason I chose PriorAuthNow was because I got a chance to visit their workspace and really spend a couple of hours seeing what the company is like. I had a pretty good sense coming in that I was going to like the work environment, and that was one of the big reasons I chose this company over the other offers.
The other reason I chose this company was because I liked the people who I knew I would be working with. My boss, who I work directly with a lot, has really done a great job of mentoring me and making me feel like I can do it. I really enjoy my position.
Are you using all of the technologies that you learned at Tech Elevator in your role now?
I feel like Tech Elevator did a pretty good job preparing me with what I needed to know when I started my job. There's just so much to learn coming into a new position like this.
I'm mainly doing database work, so I'm using SQL server. I'm not actually using C#, but I am using skills that I learned at Tech Elevator. I need to be careful because although I like the database work a lot, I am not positive that that's the only thing I ever want to do. So I need to make sure that I am keeping up my C# skills so that I can branch off in a different direction in the future.
Do you have any advice for bootcampers who are in the job search currently?
My biggest advice is, don't get discouraged if you don’t land a job right away. There were a couple of times when I was convinced that no company was ever going to call me back and that I was going to get no offers. It can change in a flash. I had reached a point where I was very worried about getting a job, and the next day, I got calls from four companies saying they wanted second interviews.
So you can't let it get you down, and you have to stay positive because that certainly comes through in your interviews. If you feel like an impostor, and you let that come into your next interview that will show. If you don't have confidence, then a company won’t have confidence in you. So don't let yourself get discouraged, especially after hard technical interviews. Just because it's difficult, it doesn't mean that you did badly.
What has been your biggest challenge in your career change?
At the beginning, my biggest challenge was trying to change my set of tools. I had a good set of problem-solving and strategy tools for teaching, but figuring out how to get unstuck while coding requires a whole different set of skills. The instructors at Tech Elevator helped me develop those skills by working through problems, and not giving up.
Developing that toolbox of strategies to get unstuck was difficult, and took a lot of time and effort.
Have you stayed involved with Tech Elevator and other alumni?
Yeah, there was a happy hour last Friday where new students and alumni came to hang out! And every couple of weeks, people get together at Rev1 (where Tech Elevator classes are held) and play board games.
Do you have any advice for other students who are on the fence about attending a coding bootcamp?
My advice is, don't do it if you don't like a challenge. You’ve got to jump in and be willing to take a risk. If you're not a risk-taker, then this might not be the best career choice. It’s not only about the risk of changing careers, but also the risk-taking that’s involved in coding and web development as a field.
You have to be comfortable with the feeling of not knowing exactly what you're doing, and not feeling like you've got control over a situation because, in code, there are always things you don’t know. There are always things that you're not sure of, and that's okay. You have to accept that, but that's a feeling a lot of people aren't comfortable with. A lot of people want to be masters of what they know and they're not comfortable with the unknown. So my advice is to be a risk taker and be comfortable not knowing everything.
Lauren is a communications and operations strategist who loves to help others find their idea of success.
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