After working in the nonprofit education sector, Cori Fowler knew how vital STEM and specifically coding could be to young people. Her passion for STEM education inspired her to learn to code at The Iron Yard coding bootcamp in Atlanta, Georgia. Now she is a front end developer at Matrix Resources where she continues to grow and is even working alongside other bootcamp graduates! Cori tells us about how effective the bootcamp learning experience was, how she found her developer job, and how education remains in her future career plans.
What were you up to before you decided to go to The Iron Yard, your education your career path, what was your story?
I have a degree in environmental science from UNC Chapel Hill. But after graduation, I decided I didn’t want a career doing fieldwork and research. Instead I got interested in education and joined AmeriCorps. I went to South Florida then Washington to mentor high school seniors and figure out what was preventing them from succeeding in school.
Most recently I have been living in Oklahoma working for a nonprofit that provides STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) resources to school programs, so that’s how I got into coding. I came across Hour of Code which is really great because it’s free, and all schools can do it as long as they have a computer lab. So I started visiting schools and introducing that. I also got interested in getting more girls into STEM. I was doing Hour of Code myself, and got to the point where I could work on the website for the nonprofit. That’s when realized coding was what I wanted to do. You can create so many things with code, and I wanted to find a way to integrate education into that.
Did you look at college programs in computer science?
I thought about doing a bachelor’s degree in computer science but decided against it because I already have a bachelor’s degree. I did look at a few master’s programs but I didn’t feel comfortable doing that because I didn’t really have that foundation. I looked a five-year program at the University of Oklahoma where you would come out with both undergrad and masters in computer science. I actually applied and was accepted to the first part of that. But I’d been in college long enough so I didn’t really want to go through that again.
What made you want to take a bootcamp?
I read an article on NPR about coding bootcamps so I started researching them and came across The Iron Yard. I ended up at the Atlanta campus because my best friend lives here so I had a place to stay. Originally, I intended to go back to Oklahoma but I liked the tech community here so I decided to stay.
How did you make the decision to do The Iron Yard specifically? I don’t think there are any bootcamps in Oklahoma City.
No, there aren’t and that was part of it. I narrowed it down geographically. I’m originally from Charlotte, NC, but The Iron Yard campus there only opened more recently. I did a lot of Google searches for coding bootcamps and The Iron Yard came up in several articles, that’s why I ended up applying there. I also looked at Tech Talent South, and I know General Assembly is really big here, but the main reason I chose The Iron Yard was because the hours are longer. I wanted something that would offer me more time.
Did you do Codecademy or find other online resources before you started The Iron Yard?
Why did you decide on the front-end engineering course at The Iron Yard?
I actually was torn between the front-end and the back-end class. I chose the front-end class because it’s more visual and as a coder/developer I wanted to create things people can interact with. I read the list of things on their curriculum site and figured that matched with my goals.
Did you have a career goal once you graduated?
Honestly, I had no idea! The short-term plan was to go through this, get my feet wet, and start a career where I can learn and grow. Ultimately, my long-term career goal is to focus on education, especially getting girls engaged in coding and tech. At The Iron Yard they do kids classes, and I taught one of the web design classes for 13 to 18 year olds. Eventually, I’d love to work somewhere like Khan Academy or start something like that. For now, I want to work somewhere with experienced developers around me who could help me grow and become more comfortable as a developer.
Your classmate Jonny mentioned you had 30 people in your class and two instructors. Did you feel like it was a diverse class in terms of gender, race, career backgrounds and life experiences?
Yes, definitely. Age wise, it was very diverse. I would say a lot of the people were in their mid to late 20s like I am, but there are definitely people from all walks of life. About a third of the students in my class were female so I definitely didn’t feel outnumbered. It was fairly racially diverse, and most people had very different career backgrounds.
People who were really interested in design would spend more time focusing on that. That’s one of the sections I’m looking into a lot now because my focus was way more technical during the bootcamp. There were a lot of resources but the classes covered more technical aspects.
How much deeper did The Iron Yard go into front-end development compared to Codecademy?
Did you like the way The Iron Yard taught the class? What was it like?
It’s a little intimidating going in, but after going through I realize that the format of The Iron Yard is such an effective way to teach. I did a Python and MATLAB class as part of my college degree, but it was my least favorite class, because it was big, we sat in this dark room, and the teacher would just type on the screen for an hour. I had no idea what was happening or how it applied to what I was doing in my other classes.
At The Iron Yard, everyone wanted to be in coding class. They weren’t taking it because it was a requirement. Everyone around you is so driven and enthusiastic – it’s contagious.
The format here is we spend three hours in the morning going over a topic, then we have the afternoon to work together on an assignment and ask our instructors stuff. They’ll scratch the surface of topics in the morning, but you’re really learning with your assignments. It’s a lot more hands on – I definitely like that format a lot better. They do review sessions every other day.
That’s a really cool perspective that you took that class in college and then you also taught in schools.
I think that perspective really helped because in college when I didn’t understand, I was afraid to ask for help. But working with high school students has completely changed my mind. I was like, “Why are they so afraid to ask?” Seeing it from the other side has really helped. Everyone at some point is going to have to learn something and if you don’t ask, you’ll never learn.
What are you up to today? Are you working as a developer now?
Yes, I am. I started my job in January 2016. I’m a front-end developer at a company called Matrix Resources which primarily does IT staffing and consulting, but we also have a small development team where we take on clients and build apps for them.
Historically, we’re a consulting and staffing firm but they decided to change their model and build different things for their clients. They have one really big project right now, and a prototype that I’m working on to pitch to a client. It’s pretty neat and there are four other people on my team from coding bootcamps – one from The Iron Yard, and the others from General Assembly.
Is the team divided into a UX/UI team, a front end team and a back end team?
The front-end and backend teams are mixed together. The other guy from The Iron Yard actually was in the cohort before mine. He did the front-end class but he’s doing back end now for the project. But the UX/UI team is on completely separate projects. Sometimes we work with them, sometimes not.
The two senior developers on our team have been working a fairly long time, and in the interview they said they’re looking for junior developers because they want them to go out and learn all the new stuff then come back and teach them. Then they can focus more on designing how the project’s going to go, and we do the actual coding.
How did you get connected with Matrix?
The guy at Matrix who did the cohort before mine contacted my instructor. He and my supervisor were at Demo Day for our final projects. He asked me some questions, looked at my final project app, and gave me his card. The I contacted him and they set up an interview.
Was the interview technical or was it more culture fit? What were they looking for?
It was both. I had only been on one interview prior to that, which was mostly personality fit. The interview was development-focused at first, then the Agile coach came in and asked about my personality and more environmental things. They asked a lot of questions and I didn’t know the answer to all of them.
What did you do when you didn’t know the answer?
There was one question where I didn’t even understand what he was asking so I asked him to repeat it, because that would buy me a few more seconds to come up with an answer. When the senior developer asked it a different way, it made a lot more sense, so we talked through it.
For another question they asked, I answered, “I’m not exactly sure, but this is how I would approach it.” I think they were trying to get a feel for how I would react if I was stumped by a question.
This company sounds amazing. I love that they hire so many bootcampers.
They obviously respect that model and they must like what they’ve seen from bootcamps so far.
You mentioned earlier that you fell in love with Atlanta. What kinds of meetups or community groups are you a part of that help you stay on top of that?
For now, I’ve done some great tutorials on Egghead.io. The project I’m working on at work is in Angular and my boss wants me to put it in Angular 2 so I started looking at tutorials for that. I also talk to Jonny a lot about what he’s doing at work and we share useful information.
How did The Iron Yard prepare you for your getting your first job?
We had to make a resume and an online portfolio, and they reviewed them and gave us feedback. The last three weeks at The Iron Yard are dedicated to your final project but throughout that, they have different job talks like how to navigate through job descriptions.
They also offer mock interviews. They bring people in from actual tech companies and give you feedback on how your interview went. We also had to make a list of jobs we were interested in and submit our cover letters and any materials we were sending in to make sure they were appropriate.
Did you feel like what you learned at The Iron Yard translated directly to what you are doing today?
So far, I think everything we learned I’ve been able to use. There are things I wish we had gone over more, but that’s from more of a personal interest standpoint. I think one of the best things our instructors covered was how to learn a new technology and figure out how to use it. That’s a great tool because they’re always going to make something I don’t know about.
Right now I’m trying to learn Angular 2 and I feel comfortable enough to go pick that up on my own. So I would say yes, I feel very prepared. You have to have the mindset that you’re not going to know everything coming out of it, and that it’s really a way to teach you how to learn on your own.
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about doing a coding bootcamp or are in the beginning stages of their research?
Be prepared to be overwhelmed. I still struggle how much information there is out there. There are people who’ve been coding for 20 years and there’s stuff even they don’t know because it hasn’t been developed yet. I would say be prepared for that, but be excited about it, not terrified.
This is the advice my instructor told me in my interview about going to coding school: “Don’t compare yourself to other people in your class – everyone learns at a different pace, so realize you’re there to be a developer and every developer looks different.” I look at Jonny and get jealous because he’s so good at designing things, but then I also realize he has a background in art. Just learn to collaborate with people around you and appreciate them instead of comparing yourself. The point is not to be the most competitive person.