Clayton had a career in hospitality and real-estate, when he decided to rekindle the passion for coding he’d had as a youngster. After trying to teach himself to code, and attending unhelpful courses, he enrolled at RefactorU’s Boulder, CO coding bootcamp to learn MEAN stack. Now Clayton is excited to be working as a junior developer for real-estate social media website Bigger Pockets. He tells us about why he chose RefactorU, the learning experience at the bootcamp, and how his final project helped him get a job.
What’s your pre-RefactorU story? Your education and career background before you started the bootcamp?
For most of my adult life, I managed restaurants for a small restaurant group, then I switched to working in real estate. While that's been fun, I'd always had the idea of learning how to program in the back of my mind. I went to school many years ago for computer science at the University of Colorado. But I never completed that degree and that was a long-standing regret of mine.
I considered the time commitment and financial commitment of going back to finish my computer science degree. But at my age, it didn't make sense logistically. The coding bootcamp model offered a short path back to the possibility of programming as a career. I did as much research as I could; I used Course Report, read reviews, and visited local schools. It allowed me to rekindle a passion I had for programming and working with computers which I had as a youngster.
Was there something in particular that inspired you to do it at this moment in your life or was it just the fact that you found out that coding bootcamps existed?
It's a mixture of both. It had been on the back of my mind for many years, and I did not know about coding bootcamps. I had tried to do some courses, I bought books, but I always found that life got in the way of trying to learn on my own. I'd had the inclination and motivation to do this for years, but I didn't know how to get there. Once I found out about coding bootcamps, I kicked around the idea with some friends, and I knew someone who went through a bootcamp successfully. That motivated me to try to make it a reality. After a year of hemming and hawing, I did it.
Did you look at any other coding bootcamps or just RefactorU?
I actually attended a different bootcamp in Denver prior to RefactorU, and it was a subpar experience. It didn't live up to the promises and I did not think it was worth my money or time. I initially was turned off of bootcamps after that first experience. But I had been in contact with RefactorU in the beginning of my search, and they stayed in contact with me over the course of my first program. When I expressed an interest again in attending RefactorU, they were very accommodating, and I wound up going to them after doing about half of the other bootcamp.
Were you able to get a refund when you left the previous bootcamp?
Yes. I left with a group of students in my cohort, and we got a partial refund. I think we started with 12 students, and maybe one or two finished the program.
After experiencing another coding bootcamp, what stood out to you about RefactorU?
It was a combination of things. I had been in touch with RefactorU founders Sean and Ed, and they came off as very genuine, and seemed like people who actually cared about my success and the success of the school. RefactorU has graduated about 11 cohorts, so they've been successful at what they've done. And the course content seemed tailored to the types of junior level jobs available on the market right now. Being able to learn MEAN Stack was a huge opportunity for me, and I really valued the curriculum they put together. The third thing that got me invested there was one of the head instructors, Rob Camp. I chatted with him a couple of times before starting my cohort, and he was just fantastic.
You mentioned that you were excited to learn MEAN Stack. Did you learn any computer languages back when you started your computer science degree? Was that helpful at RefactorU?
Yes, I did, but it's quite different than a shortened program focusing on web development. In college I did C and C++, and a lot of theory. But it does help in understanding the concepts of object-oriented programming, and some of the broader concepts we learned at RefactorU. But as far as direct application to what I learned and the job I’m doing today, there isn’t much overlap.
How you did you pay for the RefactorU cost of tuition? Did you use a financing partner or anything like that?
I did. I funded it through a lender called Pave. I think they're building relationships with more and more bootcamps. They offered me financing when some other places would not, so I'm very grateful to them. I worked with Pave twice. First for my initial loan for the first bootcamp, and then I had to open up a second loan for the next bootcamp. They were very accommodating. I will give Pave my full endorsement, two thumbs up. I also have wonderful friends and family who have been very supportive.
What was the RefactorU application and interview process like? Did you have to do a coding challenge?
It wasn't very technical, but instead it was a longer interview dealing with personality fit. I had some programming experience from the previous bootcamp, so that probably reflected well in my motivations for going in. They were more concerned about whether I would be a good fit, whether I could learn the material at the rate it’s presented, and how motivated I was to sticking all the way through and finding a job at the end. They don't assume a high level of computer programming knowledge going in.
What was your cohort like in terms of diversity like gender, different races, ages, and backgrounds?
We had about 30 people. I think we had 6 women, so I wouldn't say it was notably diverse. Ages ranged from the early 20s, and I'm 36, so I think I was near the upper end of the age range.
Our cohort was made up of people from different states in the US which was neat, and people came from all sorts of different backgrounds, different jobs, and different life experiences. One of the best experiences of attending these bootcamps is being able to meet people that I probably would not have met otherwise.
What was the student:teacher ratio? How many instructors did your class have?
We had two full-time instructors and a couple of TAs. Recently they've hired some more instructors and some more TAs to get the ratio down more.
What was your learning experience like at RefactorU? Can you give me an example of a typical day and the teaching style?
There is a morning lecture every day, and often times there is an after lunch lecture as well. The morning lecture would be one to two hours long where they go over a new concept, build on previous lectures and previous concepts, and walk us through some code examples up on the projectors and on the monitors. From there we're assigned homework for the week which we then go through on our own or in pairs after the lecture to apply what we've just learned.
What sort of projects did you work on at RefactorU and did you had a particular favorite?
I was particularly interested in my final project, and I was pleased the way it turned out. It's actually something that I'm continuing to work on right now. It was a property searching mobile app using data from the MLS database, Google Maps, and some neat software to build an iPhone app. It was a fun project to work on because I initially felt it was beyond the scope of my abilities to complete in a short period of time. But the instructors were very helpful in pointing me towards the technologies I needed to put together my mobile app and get everything up and running. I was very pleased with the way it came out, and I feel that having a good final project helped me get my first job as a developer.
How else did RefactorU prepare you for job hunting? What kind of career coaching did they give you?
They had some consultants come in every week and give people a quick lesson on a different topic. They focus on resume writing, cover letters, LinkedIn, and building out your online presence so employers can find you. We listened to recordings of example interviews and we talked about interview questions. They touched upon meetups, being social, and meeting as many people as possible, getting out there, and putting your name out there.
What are you up to now?
I just started at a company called BiggerPockets. It’s a real estate forum and social website for investors who want to meet with people who are selling homes, and it also offers courseware and books for people to go to the next level in their real estate investment.
What's your role at BiggerPockets and what do you do day-to-day?
Day-to-day, I'm working with the software engineering team. I'm in a probationary period working as an intern for the first couple of months. I work under the head of engineering, and I'm assigned tickets that come through our system for software bugs, features that need to be implemented, and any feedback that other groups in the company have about what we should implement. And I do my best to solve the bugs or implement the features as requested. It's been a great learning experience so far, and it's been very exciting to work with these guys.
What programming languages are you using at Bigger Pockets? Do you code in MEAN Stack like you learned at RefactorU?
Would you say that you’ve achieved your goal in going to a coding bootcamp?
Yes, this was 100% my goal, and I'm very excited that it has worked out so far, and I'm excited about the future. It's an opportunity that a year ago I thought was a pipe dream. And now I get to wake up every day and go into a job that I love.
How do you think you're going to be staying involved with ReactorU? Are you keeping in touch with alumni?
I've been in touch with many of my classmates through Facebook and through Slack. Everyone has been checking in with each other every once in a while, and as people get jobs, it's exciting to see.
What advice do you have for people who have already had a reasonably long career, and want to make a complete change and become a software developer?
My advice would be to pick a good coding bootcamp, do your research, read the reviews, talk with the people in the bootcamp, make sure you get a good feeling from them, and trust your gut. Do as much pre-course work as possible. Devote as much time to the bootcamp as you can, because you get out of it what you put into it. You could go through a bootcamp and do the minimum required amount of work, and you'd still get to put, "I completed a bootcamp," on your resume, but you will be cheating yourself ultimately if you don't go above and beyond.
The resources are there within the bootcamps, and they’ll let you put in as much time as you want. At RefactorU, we were coming in on weekends, and there would always be instructors or TAs for us. If you had questions or wanted to review what had gone on that week, they were available. The last thing is, do all the homework. They assign it for a reason. There are two components to learning, that’s the lecture, being presented the materials, and then there's repetition, where you as a student are applying those lessons to as many projects as you can.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience?
Yeah. It worked out the way I had hoped, although the journey wasn't exactly what I anticipated in getting here. I feel lucky to have attended RefactorU. And I feel very fortunate to have gotten a job which is related to my prior career in real estate. I can keep my real estate license, which is one of the interests that I have, and also work as a software developer. Everything worked out better than I possibly could have hoped.