Art Lee was one of the first graduates of Dev Bootcamp Chicago, and talks to us about his background in design and teaching, his opinions of Dev Bootcamp's teaching style, and how he connected with his current employer, Higi.
Tell us what you were up to before you started Dev Bootcamp.
My background is actually in Industrial Design. I studied Industrial Design at the Institute of Design and started working in CAID, the Computer Aided Industrial Design side of the business, after graduation. After a while I realized I wanted to do more with computers specifically in the field of Visual Effects and transition out of doing design work.
I ultimately ended up in teaching in Chicago; I taught a few computer animation and web development courses back when it was all new and fresh. This experience teaching eventually led to becoming a trainer at Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, CA. I worked there for almost 8 years as Training Supervisor implementing technical training programs for the studio, training animators and artists to use new and existing in-house tools.
Is it a pretty natural progression from animation to coding?
Yes and no. You don’t really think about making a transition into anything other than what you’re doing when you’re working at that level. If you’re working on feature films, you don’t think about transitioning into anything other than maybe games.
It’s not really a natural thing for animators to consider unless they’re already working more heavily on the technical side of it, developing tools or doing programming.
What made you want to make the switch then?
Design is something I’ve always enjoyed doing and will always be my first love, but I hadn’t done it for quite some time. I found a job description for a Toy Designer/Developer at IDEO and was like, “I’d love to do that!”
With my design skills, I’m comfortable building products, whether it’s physical or interface-driven. I was thinking about pursuing a career in web development as a way to re-enter the product development process. Then as a coincidence, Dev Bootcamp opened here in Chicago, so I was in the right place at the right time to do this.
Why did you choose Dev Bootcamp in particular?
I wasn’t prepared to go back to school and I wanted to do the most efficient learning in the least amount of time as possible. There are a number of different bootcamps here in Chicago but Dev Bootcamp sounded the most intense and the most difficult, and I’m a glutton for punishment. I wanted to do something that was expeditious but would yield the results i wanted, as in finding a job afterwards.
It sounds like it was a very career oriented decision.
Absolutely. Another big reason is that what I did in the Animation industry was very specialized. I wanted to enter a field where I had more options to work on a variety of different things, even in different industries. I didn’t want to stay in Visual Effects and Animation and work as an artist in order to, ultimately, only have a limited number of options.
Did you apply to any other bootcamps besides Dev Bootcamp?
Just Dev Bootcamp. I looked at Mobile Makers and had a tour, talked to those guys and they seemed nice enough. When I went to Dev Bootcamp, the space wasn’t even open yet. They hadn’t started the first cohort. I didn’t see the space but I did meet with the most awesome Dave Hoover.
Did you do a technical interview or a culture fit interview?
No. As part of the application process you fill out the application and talk a little bit about your background. Then you submit a 3-minute video that showed you teaching somebody something. (This video requirement is no longer part of the Dev Bootcamp application).
So I submitted that and then got contacted. I had a phone interview, but there was nothing technical involved. We dove a bit more into my background.
What was your cohort like? Did you find that there was diversity in age, race and gender?
Age and gender- yes, but not by a wide margin. The age diversity was actually quite nice because there were two other students my age or older, so that was nice from a standpoint of relatability.
Did you feel like everyone was on a similar technical level and able to learn together?
Not really; most people did had some experience - we had a lot of really strong people in my cohort.
How did you make that decision to repeat a phase and what was the process?
We have assessments at the end of each phase and it’s based on the results of those assessments. At the end of those assessments, I was deemed not ready to go forward.
Did you feel like you weren’t ready?
Yes and no. Of course, I appreciate the entire experience and I got a lot out of it – more than anything I’d gotten out of my career, which was the goal. One of my biggest criticisms of the course was the way they go about educating people with this content. They kept using this ‘drinking from a fire hose’ metaphor. It’s not a metaphor you use when you think of teaching.
An extra three weeks was just more time with the material so I wasn’t necessarily opposed to it. For the second phase, I did as much as I could but at that point I was 9 weeks in already so I was a little burned out.
I do think they should be more transparent about repeating phases so people can understand that it’s potentially not a 9-week program; it’s a 9 to 16 week program. I think if any phase should be repeated, it’s the second phase and not the first phase. That’s not to say that the first phase material isn’t as important as the second phase, but the second phase material is basically why everyone comes to the bootcamp to begin with, to build web applications.
What material did you cover in that second phase?
You start building things that show up in the browser instead of the command line, which is the reason 99% of the people are there.
During the first phase, you cover algorithms, you cover some database stuff, all of these are fundamentals but if you don’t grasp that, it’s okay because you’ll learn it in day-to-day operations.
Having spent time as a trainer and educator, you have an interesting perspective.
When I teach, it’s really important for people to grasp the information, so I have to do as much as I can to facilitate that. You have to make things understandable and easily digestible for the lowest common denominator. That’s always key because if they don’t get it, that could mean that they don’t keep their job.
Were you satisfied with the curriculum and material you learned?
I was mostly satisfied, now that I’ve actually been out in the field and have taught a one-day workshop for Dev Bootcamp, I realized that they didn’t spend enough time teaching HTTP, which is the actual protocol that’s used to go back and forth. They touched on it in one or two sentences but they didn’t really go in depth and talk about how it works.
I had lunch with one of the instructors about two months ago and he said they were changing the curriculum to accommodate more of this. That’s the only thing I think I would criticize.
Everything they cover is absolutely what you need to know. Even though I’m brand new to this, when my coworkers are talking about web development, whether it’s front or back end, they’re using terms that I now know. I may not know exactly and may have to ask some questions to get some clarity but I’m not completely in the dark.
How did you push through the burnout you felt? Do you have advice for future students?
You’ve got to remember why you’re there in the first place and just use that as your motivation to keep going.Phase three was not meant to be as arduous as the first two phases, but I was glad for that because it seemed like we were getting a bit of a reprieve. The last three weeks were spent working on our final projects.
Did the Chicago campus have a resident therapist?
They did. I did not use any of those services. It’s definitely a life jacket for when you feel you’re sinking a bit. It just all depends on how you deal with your feelings and emotions and stress. For me, the only thing I could do to get through the stress is to remember that each minute that ticks away, I’m closer to getting done. That’s the only comfort I had.
What are you up to today? Where are you working and what does your job entail?
How large is the dev team that you work with?
We just merged with another company in Monrovia, CA and I have no idea how many devs they have but locally we have around 8 developers.
How did you get your job? Was it a connection through Dev Bootcamp or was it through your own networking?
It was a connection to Dev Bootcamp. Higi came to our portfolio day and I made the connection there, talked to them and afterwards followed up and they asked me to come in for an interview.
Does Dev Bootcamp take percentage of your salary for the first year or a referral fee?
They do not. There used to be a fee that they took from the employer, but I’m not sure if that’s still the case.
Did you feel Dev Bootcamp prepared you to start this job in the real world?
Do you feel like you can still be artistic in your job?
Not at the moment… My work is supporting a product that’s been developed and deployed for about a year now. As the company brings on new designers, they have new ideas about what to do. We just rolled out the second version of the website and there’ll be a third version next year and who knows? On the management side of things after the merger and acquisition, there’ll be more tools and features to build. Those things keep the product evolving, but it’s not like I’m actually solving highly visual problems.