Dan Tutolo was a Chinese linguist in the U.S. Army, then worked as an Oracle Administrator and learned SQL before deciding to become a web developer. As a Military Veteran, he chose to enroll at Sabio in Los Angeles, partly because the school accepts the GI Bill, and because he would learn by working on a real-world project. Dan tells us about the process to apply for GI Bill funding, and how current Sabio students are now building Dan’s own website as their real world project!
What’s your educational and career background before you enrolled at Sabio coding bootcamp?
I was in the U.S. Army as a Chinese linguist for eight years, and then I worked as a contractor for the government continuing to do Chinese translation. My first experience with coding was playing around with complicated financial Excel workbooks when I was working in real estate.
In my most recent job with the government, an opportunity came up to work on the database in our department, so I started learning SQL on an Oracle SQL server. The department was trying to hire an Oracle administrator to come but they eventually gave up their search because I had learned so much. I also did a little bit of Python scripting and some C Sharp app development.
After that experience, I took some Computer Information Systems classes through DeVry University. I wasn't very satisfied with that style of learning. Everything was disjointed. I wanted to find a school that taught in an integrated manner using real-world projects from front end to back end, and that's why I started looking at coding bootcamps.
When you were first starting to learn SQL, Python, and C# how did you learn those? Did you teach yourself or did you use particular resources for those?
Everything started with on the job training, learning from people who had experience. And then, of course Google is my best friend. I also started taking the classes through DeVry and I took a one-week Oracle server administration bootcamp.
What made you want to switch from Oracle server coding to web development?
Web development is a future trend. Enterprises will always have in-house applications, but I like the power of web development in that you can access your information from wherever you are. Especially with my experience with real estate and Chinese language translation, I saw so many areas where tools could automate certain tasks. I just had the desire to explore the front end world and see what I could do with it.
Once you decided you wanted to go to a coding bootcamp, did you research other coding bootcamps? What made you choose Sabio?
Being a military veteran, I first researched if there were any schools approved for the GI Bill. At the time, I think RefactorU in Colorado was the only one approved. I wanted to relocate to LA because my fiancé was in LA, so I focused my search on LA. Sabio was a no-brainer because they had GI Bill approval.
For veterans who might be reading this, how does the GI Bill actually work? What's the process for applying for and using it for coding bootcamp?
First, you have to get a certificate of eligibility. You go online to a system called Von App to initiate your GI Bill application. Anyone applying should leave a month or two for that process. Everything after that can be handled by the school. So you need to contact the GI Bill representatives at the bootcamp you are applying to, and they can give you the official word as to whether your program's going to be covered by the GI Bill or not. Once you contact them they'll tell you everything you need to do to get the ball rolling.
The other piece of advice would be to contact someone who's currently in the program, who's a veteran, and they'll also be able to help you with the process and guide you to that representative.
Can you share what percentage of your tuition you were actually able to get paid by the GI Bill?
The GI Bill covered my full tuition for Sabio. It's an amazing opportunity. They also offer a living stipend that is also very helpful.
Wow! I talked to a RefactorU alum a little while ago, who only got 50% of his tuition covered.
Yeah, it depends on a couple of factors. One would be the rate that you're covered at. So I'm covered at 100%. The other is the GI Bill. Generally, it only covers the state tuition amount or what the cost of a state college would be for a state resident. But in this case, Antioch, with whom Sabio has a relationship, is in the yellow ribbon program, which is a program where if the school costs more than the state tuition, the school kicks in the rest. AU has a relationship with the VA, and that enables more GI’s to use their benefits, and not have to pay out-of-pocket for tuition.
What's your opinion on coding bootcamps offering or accepting the GI Bill? Do you think it's a good thing for veterans to be able to access?
I think it's a no-brainer for any veteran. I've seen people start Sabio, graduate, and be offered at least $60,000 to $80,000 salaries.
Once you had that certificate of eligibility, what was the Sabio application and interview process like?
The interview process wasn't any different than how it is for any other student. You have to go to the info sessions, take some of their pre-work classes, then get evaluated. You've got to become accepted as a regular student at the school.
At the time, they only had a bachelor's degree option where you have to be enrolled at Antioch to be able to attend Sabio under the GI Bill. Now they have a Certificate in Web Development option where you can take the Sabio classes without any other requirements.
What was your cohort like at Sabio? How many people were there and was it quite diverse in terms of gender, race, life and career backgrounds?
It was a really nice mix of people. There were 12 people in the class. There were only a few women, but it was good to see women because tech is just so male dominated. There was a mix of different races. We had a few Asians, an African-American man, and a couple of Latino guys. It was good to see a full representation of people in the community. There were people there with no coding experience and there were people right out of college. I think I'm the oldest in the class at 44, so it was a good mix.
Were there any other veterans?
Not in my class. There was a veteran in the cohort right before me and the cohort after me.
What was the learning experience like at Sabio? Can you give me an example of a typical day?
On a typical day, we'd get in at 9am and review where we had left off the day before. Around 10am we had a daily standup meeting where we briefed each other on where we were at, and our goals for the day. Then we usually continued to code until lunch. In the afternoon we'd have a lecture or a code review. We would review somebody’s work as a group and the instructor would suggest ways to improve the code, and look at different ways to deal with errors that came up while debugging the code. Then we'd code for the rest of the day.
A couple of times a week in the evenings, each of us would give presentations on different aspects of the project that the others didn't have exposure to. For example, if someone was working with a third party plugin for a file upload or a third party plugin that did image cropping, they would give a presentation so that everyone else was aware of how that plugin worked and how to integrate it into the site.
What was your favorite project that you worked on at Sabio?
Sabio split up the time into two sections. For the first two weeks, we did some practice by each building our own blog sites. Then weeks 3 through 10, we were working on a real world project which was a website for a real company.
Towards the end, as we were preparing for interviews, we did individual projects to make sure that we had a portfolio of coding examples we could show to an employer. We showed that we have the capability to work from the front end to the back end on our own.
What was real world project you were working on?
It was for a company called Optio, which is a job website for security guards. It's a combination of job search functionality and management capabilities so that companies can log in, post their jobs, search for employees, and also manage their employees. The site also allows companies to deliver coursework to their employees, and for security guards to take certification classes.
The gentleman who designed the site was a veteran, and had found the security guard industry to be really transient in nature with lots of short-term jobs. He saw a need for a system specifically tailored to that industry.
That's what made the Sabio program extra valuable compared to some of the other schools I looked into– we were actually working on a real world project. We got the experience of working in a team environment, we learned how to check each other's code, troubleshoot problems, and how to handle multiple people working on the same database or on the same page. There were so many different technologies integrated into the site– file upload, image cropping, texting, sending emails, automatic email responses, and automatic text responses. It was a great experience.
How was your background as a veteran useful when you were at Sabio?
Being a veteran was helpful because there are times in the Army when you're put in situations you just don't think you can handle, but you still manage to get through. Similarly to Sabio, you come through the other end, and you can't believe you actually were put in that kind of a pressure cooker. But certainly, that wouldn't prevent anybody else from being able to handle the work at Sabio.
How was your background in foreign languages useful in learning to code?
Having a second language certainly makes you more aware of how languages work. You think of languages in a different way when it’s not your native language. So that definitely helps with coding. But it’s not a requirement to get into coding; I've met plenty of people who had no language background at all and are able to plow through coding and understand the concepts.
How did Sabio prepare you for job hunting? What kind of career advice did you get?
They have an excellent system for preparing us for interviews. First, they help us prepare our own web-based application that we can use for demonstration purposes. The instructors do reviews of all the code we've done throughout the program, and really drill down into the details and the fundamental concepts that any experienced coder should know.
Sabio also had a professional photographer come in and take photos of us. We did mock interviews and whiteboarding practice. Throughout the whole program, we were constantly encouraged to talk professionally about the code we were writing. Being able to write out your code on a whiteboard and speak about it using professional jargon means you're well prepared for any interview.
When did you graduate from Sabio and what have you been doing since then?
I finished Sabio on December 22nd. I'm still a student at Antioch College so I’m continuing with my bachelor's degree there. It's a leadership, entrepreneurship, and technology bachelor's degree. It covers entrepreneurship and ways you can use socially conscious ideas to generate income and try to help out a good cause at the same time. I'm also in the lucky position of my website being built by the current Sabio cohort.
Wow, that's so cool! What is the website and how’s it going so far?
It's a website which covers the entire real estate home buying process from the client's and the agent's point of view and merges them together. It covers all the searches that anyone would do on Zillow or Redfin when looking for a home. We're trying to integrate a lot of different functionality into one area.
It allows the agent to take the client's search information and auto-generate a lot of information. For example, it could auto-generate the entire viewing route for when an agent takes a client out, and build a map on Google Maps. We also want to integrate the transaction process, keep track of documents that have been signed, and issue reminders about what's next on the list of tasks. There's also an expense section and an open house section.
What are your plans for the future?
I have a new baby, so I may have to step back and just make sure everything's taken care of on the home front. I'm looking to get employment after this quarter and continue my degree part-time. I'm actively interviewing now for jobs that will hopefully begin at the end of March or beginning of April. If anything happens with this app, it'll be interesting to play with that and get some people testing it and see how well the real estate community responds to it.
Since you graduated from Sabio, how are you staying involved with Sabio? I know they're building your website, but have you kept in touch with other alumni who were in your cohort?
Yeah. We mainly use a Slack channel for communication. Gregorio and Liliana have set up multiple Slack channels for Sabio graduates, so for 24 hours a day, you can reach out if you need help with a particular tech problem, or you can post job opportunities you know about.
There's a growing network of Sabio graduates who keep in touch with each other. Plus there are different meetup groups they're involved with that we can all attend. When you finish the Sabio program, you have not left. You're always a Sabio graduate.
What advice do you have for other veterans who are thinking of getting into tech by going through a coding bootcamp?
Obviously finding one that accepts the GI Bill is going to be huge. It's going to save you tons of money. With Sabio, if you're in the LA area, it's a no-brainer to go to the Sabio program. Besides learning to code and working on a real project, they prep you for interviews in the their strong network post graduation. If you don't have that option where you live, I would say, try to find a coding bootcamp that works on a real-world project, has a good job placement rate, and strong postgraduate support.