During his time as a bootcamp student, Thinkful graduate Connor stepped up his game, and became a leader in the Thinkful community in his hometown of Atlanta! Connor was working full-time as a behavioral therapist while enrolled in Thinkful’s Flexible Web Development Bootcamp, and soon met other Thinkful students with whom he could learn and share projects. Connor tells us why Thinkful’s job guarantee was so important, how he helped expand the in-person community in Atlanta, and how he landed his Software Engineering job at Aaron’s!
What’s your background before you decided to join Thinkful?
In high school, I took a web design class and in which I learned how to build websites, including my high school’s home page. That was exciting and sparked my interest in computers in general. I also built the computer that I use for video gaming.
At the same time, both my parents worked in healthcare in Georgia. My mom worked with the deaf community at the Department of Labor, and my dad was a Neuropsychologist. That influenced me to want to help others for my career, so I got a psychology degree from Georgia State University and worked as a behavioral therapist with kids who had feeding disorders. I loved it! The feeling you get from improving a kid’s life is pretty amazing.
After a while I realized that to continue my psychology career I needed a masters or a doctorate. Having recently married and purchased a house, I wanted to be able to continue my career without quitting my job and going back to school full-time. So I started researching how to transition careers, and discovered coding bootcamps.
Why did you choose Thinkful over other coding bootcamps?
I looked at a few other bootcamps, including General Assembly (GA), but Thinkful was different because it emphasized flexible one-on-one mentorship. I could work full-time, and code at home on nights and weekends. I had a mentor with whom I could actually interact with, instead of being in a classroom setting. Having that one-on-one instruction was really helpful.
Another big pull was the fact that Thinkful was such a huge proponent of helping students find a job. The job guarantee was one of the main selling points for me. I have met grads from DigitalCrafts and GA, and the biggest difference between those and Thinkful, was the emphasis on career building. I wanted a program that wouldn’t just teach me the skills, but also help me find a job. I knew little parts of the skill, but I didn't know all of the aspects that I would need to get a job.
Were you able to keep working full-time while you were studying?
Yeah. I was working as a behavioral therapist for 40 hours a week, and then I studied with Thinkful about 25 hours a week. My wife hated me during that time, but we had an agreement that Saturdays were her day. Sundays I coded all day. Monday through Friday I coded all night until I went to sleep. That was a pretty intense time.
I kept working full-time for five months of the six month course. After five months, I realized I wanted to put in more effort, commitment, and focus into the code to really make sure I understood the material and could get hired quickly. So I quit my job and studied full-time for the rest of the course.
Thinkful has an in-person community in Atlanta. How did you get involved with that?
Around the time I quit my job, the Thinkful community in Atlanta really started to grow. They really pushed to get Atlanta people together in the same room to collaborate and talk about code. I was one of the first students in to get involved with the community. I wanted to facilitate that growth, and thought it would be a helpful way for me to get better at coding too.
When I was about three months into the program, I also got involved in teaching and mentoring newer and prospective students. After I quit my job, Jasjit Singh, the general manager of Thinkful in Atlanta, offered me a position teaching coding workshops for total beginners. I was able to have an income, learn a lot, and continue working through the Thinkful program. That was really beneficial. I had enjoyed the people portion of psychology, so being able to help create the Thinkful community and provide classes for people was a really awesome experience.
What kind of events are there for people in the Thinkful Atlanta community?
For students, Thinkful organizes dinners at least twice a month around the city. This provided a really cool opportunity for students to have a conversation over a meal, present their projects, and talk about different strategies. We would help each other along during these dinners and also build friendships. It only evolved from there. Students got together outside of those meetings as well and bonded over Thinkful and the challenges of coding.
Do you think that the community improved your experience as a Thinkful student?
I think it was uniquely helpful. We can all lean on each other as students going through this bootcamp. As a community we feel like we are frontrunners for this new style of learning; all wondering if it will work out, and really wanting it to work out. Also, having the additional resources besides the online resources that Thinkful provides, in terms of being able to meet with other mentors and other students, was really helpful. My coding skills improved because I could talk to other people about what they were working on. I could collaborate with people in person and have a discussion with them as opposed to trying to seek them out on Slack which can be a little impersonal. Being in person just made it easier.
The networking potential this community provided was also really awesome. I could meet other people who were jumping into this career, and now I know lots of professionals in the field. On top of that, Thinkful was able to bring guest speakers to events, so we could talk to professionals who were already in the industry. I think that creating that community greatly improved upon the primarily online interactions that make Thinkful as successful as it is. The in person community certainly wasn’t necessary for my success, but the opportunities it provided were really helpful.
I'm interested in the other people in the Atlanta community. What kind of backgrounds did they have – were they diverse in terms of gender, race, and life experience?
I was really surprised and happy to see the number of women who were signing up for Thinkful. Programming is general is definitely a male-dominated field, which is unfortunate, but Thinkful’s community is trying hard to combat that. There are also a lot students from different backgrounds. I made good friends with a woman who was previously a nanny with a one year old, and who had no coding background. She wanted a career that was going to be more financially stable than nannying which is why she went through Thinkful – she actually just got a job last month. Another guy never went to college, but instead chose to use Thinkful as a form of higher education.
Also, two of my coworkers who worked with me at the behavioral psychology clinic have now joined Thinkful. One of them is a man with a little bit of background in computer science, the other one is a woman with no experience with computers. They are in the program now.
How often were you were able to interact with mentors and instructors from Thinkful in-person?
During those student dinners, there was a lot of effort to make sure that Thinkful mentors were there to provide help for students in person. What was really nice about that was after dinner we would break up into groups according to our stage in the program, and each group would have a mentor. It was great to meet a mentor who was working in software development in Atlanta, who could tell me what was going on locally, and help with networking. The mentors I met with online were from different parts of the world. I had two different official mentors throughout Thinkful – one lived in Chicago, and the other was in Canada.
Can you give an example of a project that you worked on at Thinkful and whether you were able to collaborate with any of those other people on that?
As a part of the flexible course, all of my projects were independent with guidance from my mentors, program manager, and portfolio reviewer. I definitely had input from others as far as what I should do in a situation, but all of my three capstone projects were individual projects. A lot of people seemed to like my Node.js capstone project because of the amount of functionality that I tried to pour into it. It was a meal prep application called Dinner Plans. I put a ton of effort into building it, I learned a lot, and I really enjoyed it. That's the one that people encouraged me to showcase to the community.
How did Thinkful help you with preparing to find a job?
Once your program manager approves your three capstone projects, you get connected with a career mentor who meets with you every week to talk about how to structure your resume, portfolio, and cover letters. They also teach you how you go through technical and cultural interviews, how to craft professional responses, and how to talk to hiring managers. That was really important for me since I don't have a computer science background.
One of the best aspects of Thinkful is the emphasis they put on making sure you get a job. They're also incentivized for you to be successful because of the job guarantee. That’s another reason why I would recommend Thinkful over other bootcamps.
Has the community helped you and other students find jobs?
Yes. During my job search, I got a part-time job working for mobile app development company Mobile App Hero. After I got offered my full-time job, I got two of my Thinkful fellow students jobs at that dev shop.
Can you tell me more about the jobs you have had since you graduated from Thinkful? How did you find them and what’s your advice for other new grads?
I was encouraged by my career mentor to network as much as possible. I tried reaching out to people on LinkedIn who had gone through bootcamps. Not just Thinkful, but also GA and DigitalCrafts. I met with a DigitalCrafts grad who had worked at Mobile App Hero, and she connected me with her hiring manager. It was part-time work – almost like an internship, which meant I could continue job searching for a full-time role, but get some job experience. Doing that kind of thing was really helpful. I got hired at Aaron’s two weeks after I started at Mobile App Hero.
What I tell the Thinkful students in Atlanta is to make sure you tell hiring managers that you are passionate about coding. Be passionate and make sure you show that in the interview.
How did you find that role at Aaron's?
My strategy for job searching was to try to make a positive impression on hiring managers by speaking to them directly. The director of software engineering at Aaron’s who received my email was impressed that I took the initiative to reach out. He was also impressed that I had decided to make this huge career transition, and learned how to code in six months. I think people don't normally see that kind of dramatic change or drive to learn something new.
Can you tell me about what Aaron's does and what you do there?
Aaron's was initially a store-based company where people would lease a TV or a couch then pay it off slowly instead of having to pay for the whole thing up front. Over the last 3 years they have built up a bigger ecommerce department which is where I work as a Junior Software Engineer.
Have you had to learn C# and were you mentored and trained in that?
How big is the dev team?
The entire IT department is a hundred or so in this building. I'm on the ecommerce team which has about 25 people. I was looking for a role where I could go into an office, be surrounded by people who are more senior than me, and learn from them as much as I could.
I'm interested in how your previous background has been useful in your new job?
The way that I've been able to implement it the most has been front end development where I have an idea of what people would want to look at or see. I'm trying to use as many psychology principles I can to improve the way that I write code and create the experience for a user. Another skill from psychology is being able to communicate to the company business teams about how a change to the website will positively impact conversion of people actually buying something. It’s definitely a benefit.
Are you still active in the Thinkful community?
I’m not teaching workshops anymore because I have a pretty hefty commute. But Thinkful still holds regular intro classes where they showcase what Thinkful is. I go along to share my story as a student who graduated and got a job in Atlanta. It’s nice because I can explain how the Thinkful community in Atlanta works from the ground up. Then I go to the dinners every two weeks as much I can. People also reach out to me on Slack and I answer their questions.
It's nice to stay connected for networking, so that 5 or 10 years down the road if I want to switch jobs, I’ll have contacts in Atlanta. Altruistically, it's also great as a previous student who looked up to other people that had jobs, to be able to be that role model for somebody else. I want to be that person for students who are under stress in this intense course.
What the biggest challenge or roadblock you've had in your journey to becoming a developer?
Looking for a job. I think there is a lot of stigma against bootcamps. If you don't have a computer science degree, employers think you're not good enough. But I think people are now starting to open up to the idea of bootcamp grads. As more companies give bootcamp grads a chance and mentor them appropriately, I think it will become a mainstream thing of hiring computer science majors to work on dev architecture, and then bootcamp grads to work on more concrete aspects of the website, like front-end and back-end development.
What advice do you have for people who have decided to make a career change through an online coding bootcamp and do you suggest that they look for an in-person community like the one you had?
I'd say, choose Thinkful because I really believe in their mentorship model over the classroom model of teaching. I think that it is leagues better in terms of being able to provide information and help students as much as possible. This is a really intense kind of career change, so you need as much support as you can get. Then having a community and being able to network within Atlanta is also a pretty big aspect. It’s not that the other bootcamps don't have that, but Thinkful is special.