Annandra Grace had an advancing career at an insurance company for 16 years, but was ready for a new challenge. She came across an ad for The Tech Academy while searching for jobs in tech and was immediately intrigued. After a campus visit that convinced both her and her brother, a self-taught programmer, she enrolled in the Portland .NET bootcamp. Now having completed the course at Tech Academy and taken a job at Prosper IT Consulting as a project manager, we sat down with Annandra to talk about that persuasive campus visit, her experience with the self-paced curriculum, and working on live projects for real clients.
Tell us what you were up to before you enrolled at The Tech Academy.
I earned my bachelor’s degree in Marketing and International Business Studies while I was working for a large insurance company as an underwriter. After I earned my degree I was promoted with that same company quite often. I led underwriting teams and customer service teams, ran compliance projects and then most recently, I led several countrywide call center initiatives as an operations manager. I decided to resign from my position after 16 years. It was a big leap of faith but I was completely ready for something entirely new and challenging.
Did you ever take a computer science class during your undergrad?
No, I didn’t. I took an information technology class, which was more of a basic overview.
Had you done any self-teaching with resources like Codecademy or Treehouse?
Nope. My younger brother is a senior developer and he really piqued my interest in the world of programming. He is a self-taught programmer, and I watched his struggle and all the effort he put into it - and his passion is what made him successful. I was a little concerned about whether I’d be able to follow in his footsteps.
How did you find out about The Tech Academy? Did you research other bootcamps?
I was looking online for jobs in the tech field and I noticed an advertisement for Tech Academy. I had no idea that these bootcamps even existed. I really did think I would have to go back to school for a computer science degree or struggle and self-teach. I immediately called the school for an interview.
What did your brother, a self-taught developer, think about you doing a bootcamp??
I brought my brother with me on my visit to Tech Academy because I wanted to be sure he felt I would be getting a good deal. He interviewed Erik and Jack with me and asked them questions. By the time the interview was over, even my brother was excited for me to sign up.
With as much work and time as my brother put into his own self-teaching, he said “I wish I’d gone through a program like this when I first started.” Hearing him say that convinced me more so that this was the place to be.
Did you have a specific career goal in mind when you started at Tech Academy?
No, I didn’t. I wanted to be generous with myself. I had built up a financial cushion before I left my prior company so that I could take the time to figure out what I wanted to do in life.
My only goal really was to learn everything I could about the technology, the programming languages, the industry and to network with others in the industry. I wanted to test myself and find out what I was good at and what I was most passionate about because there are still many different avenues you can take in tech.
What was the application process like for you?
The process started with a tour of the school. We watched a video of Erik discussing the school and the curriculum. Then I had the in-person interview with Erik and Jack. There was a filtering process that consisted of an IQ test as well as a personality test.
The IQ test was just to confirm that you could read, write and comprehend. And the personality test ensured that you could effectively interact with others and that you’re the type of person that can be successful in both the learning environment and on a job.
Tech Academy is self-paced. How long did it take you to get through the whole curriculum? Were you limited to three months?
They’re very flexible. They estimate that 4 months is what it would take if you could dedicate 8 hours a day/40 hours a week. But many of the students are working a job already and everyone has different schedules. Some even get hired before they’re done so it may take a little bit longer.
Since there isn’t a specific start date, do you interact a lot with other students at Tech Academy?
I didn’t interact with other students at first or even through most of the prep work. The course is set up through a series of reading materials, video tutorials and practice drills that you mostly work on by yourself.
During the live projects, however, you get to work with a group of other students.
Who were the students that you worked on that project with? Did you get to choose?
No; it depends on when the students are at a point in their course studies that they’re qualified to work on a live project.
How many other people would you say were in the space at the same time with you?
Since the time I started they’ve expanded tremendously. But when I started it was about 25 and most of them were onsite at the school.
How many women were studying with you when you took the class?
I think 5 including me, which was good. I really was wondering if I would be the only one!
Did you ever consider doing the virtual version of Tech Academy?
I like taking the class in person because of the energy and being around other people that are going through the same thing, even if I’m not talking to or working with them. It’s a whole different feeling of support, which is something I needed.
Were there TAs or an instructor in the classroom with you in case you needed help?
That’s one of the great things about being on-site. There was always an instructor available to give assistance at any point when you’re going through the program. They check in with you each day even if you haven’t reached out to them. They always make sure they know where you are. The instructors are also available and reach out daily to the students working virtual.
I was a little concerned at first that there wouldn’t be live lectures. But I really feel that Erik and Jack put so much thought into the content- I never felt like I was missing something.
In fact now, I feel like I may have missed something if there had been more live lectures. What if I’d missed a day or wasn’t quite at a point where I could comprehend what a lecture was addressing?
Can you take us through the curriculum at Tech Academy?
What was the feedback loop like? Were there things that didn’t work for you about Tech Academy and how were those addressed?
As you’re going the course you submit a daily report which asks about your progress and successes, any gaps, struggles, or your suggested improvements to the program. You get the opportunity to give feedback daily.
We also meet in-person weekly to talk through any issues. The curriculum is continually modified as needed based on feedback.
Were there exams or assessments that you did during the course?
There are assessments throughout each of the courses and if you can’t demonstrate either through the practical drill or by articulating the concepts, then you don’t get to move on just yet. You are not allowed to progress too quickly without demonstrating that you understand. If you were, the program wouldn’t work as well as it does.
How many hours a week would were you spending on Tech Academy?
I had a lot of work and study and intense focus going through the bootcamp but I never had to spend more than 30-40 hours a week.
Can you tell us more about the live project you mentioned? What was the project you worked on?
Everyone works for two weeks on a live project that’s actually commissioned by a client. It’s great because you have something really tangible on your resume other than course drills which you can highlight.
Throughout the process I got to meet with the client in-person and take him through what I did. It was a real world experience that gave me even more confidence that I could succeed at this.
Is that site live now?
I wish! Actually the client is using it privately as part of a bigger initiative.
What was the approach to job prep at Tech Academy?
They are very focused on making sure that every one of their students is a success when they come out and that they find a job. As far as I know they’re still at 100% job placement for other students.
There is a course specifically designed to make sure your resume is updated and that you get interview practice and soft skills training. They also gave us the opportunity to network with others in the industry by bringing in guest speakers so we could ask questions and get to know what’s really expected as junior level developers coming out of a bootcamp; how you can make a good impression and really get your foot in the door.
What is different about the software developer’s resume and a typical resume that we might be used to?
On a developer’s resume, you definitely highlight the technical aspects of what you do, the languages and environments you can work in, and the projects you’ve worked on. I also highlight my soft skills, my leadership abilities, etc.
Did you get a new job after graduating?
Yes. I work for a small software consulting firm called Prosper IT Consulting as a project manager. I also get the opportunity to work on developing the software applications that we’re actually contracted to deliver. I get the best of both worlds.
Did you go through other interviews before you took the job with Prosper?
Yes. I interviewed with two recruiting offices, but meeting people and networking in the industry was what proved most valuable to me in my job search.
There are always meetups going on in Portland where you can network with people, exchange cards and ask questions. The more consistently you go to those meetups, the more connections you make and potential job opportunities you can find.
Do you see Project Management as your long-term career?
I haven’t decided long-term yet, so much still interests me, but I’m really enjoying working at Prosper IT consulting where I can both develop and lead projects and teams.
Was Tech Academy worth the money and the time investment?
Yes, absolutely yes. I honestly think that the return on your money and time investment is tremendous. With all the care that the co-founders put into making this program work, signing up is a no-brainer as far I’m concerned.
Is there a type of person you wouldn’t recommend it to?
I wasn’t sure about the types of backgrounds and skill levels I would encounter from the other students as I came into this- there was such a diversity of skill levels. I can’t think really of anyone that I wouldn’t recommend this school to, except maybe those who don’t have a sincere interest in learning software development.