Daniel had been working in retail at Target for 15 years, but realized he needed a more exciting and promising career path. Within six months, Daniel had made a complete career 180 and doubled his salary. He enrolled at Tech Elevator coding bootcamp in Cleveland in September 2015; and today, Daniel is a developer at Progressive (and loving it)! Daniel tells us about his exciting experience at Tech Elevator, and how Progressive’s onboarding process encourages him to continue learning.
What is your educational background or your last career path?
I have an economics degree from Cleveland State University. I’d already been working in retail at Target part time while in school, so after I graduated I moved up to supervisor and took on more leadership roles. I was at Target for about 15 years.
When did you decide to quit your job and change careers?
For a while I’d had this feeling that my job at Target wasn’t something I could see myself doing until retirement. I wasn’t particularly interested in moving up to be a store manager – and that’s the only career path in retail. So I was looking for a change and that pushed me towards coding bootcamps and Tech Elevator.
Did you look at coding bootcamps in other cities or just Tech Elevator?
I was looking entirely local because I didn’t want to move to a new city to attend a school. Initially I was looking another bootcamp in Akron, but it’s a bit far to commute. Tech Elevator is right in Cleveland so if I wanted to go to the classroom to be with students or ask an instructor something, it wasn’t an issue. Tech Elevator is the only coding bootcamp I eventually applied to.
What technology stack does Tech Elevator teach? Was that important to you?
They now teach Java and .NET. When I was there they only offered Java, and it was intense. Had they offered both of those languages, I probably would have gone towards Java anyway, which is ironic because I now have a job doing C# and .NET. But I like the mobile aspect of Java, since Android is built in Java, and I’d like to get into mobile eventually. Even after getting some experience with .NET now, it seems like Java is a bit more involved.
In your undergraduate degree did you ever take any computer science or coding classes? Or did you try to learn on your own?
What was the application process like at Tech Elevator?
It was pretty beginner friendly. I was part of the very first cohort, so the application process may have changed, but for me they had a short logic-based online test, then a more involved test I took when I went in for the interview. My interviews with Dave (the instructor) and Anthony (Tech Elevator CEO), weren’t too technical. They did ask what kind of experience I had in coding, but there weren’t questions like “can you write a piece of code to accomplish this task.”
What was the learning experience like at Tech Elevator?
There were six of us in my cohort, and class was from 9 am to 4:30 pm each day. In the mornings we had lectures and Dave would go over the concepts for that day. Then in the afternoons we would work on projects. We would learn something new and start the project on Monday, then Tuesday we would add additional stuff to the project we started on Monday, then keep building on it throughout the week. It was something we could really sink our teeth into, get used to working with the same code, and see the advantages of writing good code. The last two weeks we worked on our capstone project where we used everything we had learned.
What was your capstone project?
We built a library application for a tool lending library. The concept was that a community could have a bunch of tools and go to this library and borrow tools. Our app allowed the librarian to check out tools, check tools back in when people returned them, calculate late fees, and look up which tools were on loan and when they were due back.
Dave split us into two groups and gave us background about what the application should do. We could ask Dave if we had any questions but we more or less got to build it on our own, which was really cool. Up to that point I felt like I knew the material pretty well but I felt nervous actually going into my first job. This longer project really cemented in my mind that I don’t know everything, but it made me feel a lot more prepared. The capstone project for me was definitely the best part of the course because it really tied everything we had learned together.
Did you have to learn new technologies for the project?
Was there a good feedback loop? Since you were the first cohort, did the Tech Elevator team change and iterate as you went?
The team was very responsive, and things were changed because of our feedback. But rather than feeling like Tech Elevator didn’t have a pre-planned curriculum, it felt like the curriculum was being adapted to what was working and what wasn’t. Initially things were changing regularly, but as we got deeper into the course we hit a rhythm.
Tell me about your job at Progressive! What’s your role?
I started in February 2016 as an Applications Programmer Associate, which is Progressive’s term for a junior developer. I’m in a team of six or seven developers for the specific project I'm on now, but that’s going to change over time as more people get added. Our project is part of a larger project, with at least 100 people involved, including developers.
How did Progressive train you in the first few weeks of your job?
I’ve been really satisfied with the onboarding process. Progressive knows that I’ve never been a developer before so they’ve provided me with a lot of learning resources. I come from a Java bootcamp, and now I’m programming in .NET and C#, so the first couple of weeks was just heavy learning.
The majority of the training is online training with a bit of in-class. The first few weeks was learning C#, .NET, and how to use Visual Studio. I also had to learn Progressive terminology, because I’m also new to the insurance industry so there are lots of insurance terms I didn’t know. My mentor has been assessing where I’m at, then feeding me little tiny projects to work on to get me up to speed using their different tools and source control system. I’ll be with my mentor for quite some time, but it’s been good so far with that slow intro to learning new things.
When I was looking for jobs, I think larger companies kind of appealed to me because of that more fully fleshed out onboarding system where they can take their time to make sure you’re learning the material.
How did you get the job at Progressive? Through Tech Elevator?
It was a combination of putting out resumes, and contacts within Tech Elevator. When you go through a bootcamp you don’t really realize how many companies hire developers and you may never have heard of some of those companies. One of the things Tech Elevator did to help with the job search was to give us introductions to lots of companies, and invite companies to come speak to us.
I found a posting for an intermediate developer job at Progressive, and even though it wasn’t a junior role, I applied because I figured that would get my resume in their system. I mentioned to Anthony that I had applied for that job – I knew I wasn’t qualified for it, but just to see if he had any contacts. He did happen to know the hiring manager so he put in a word that I had applied. I had a phone interview with them first, then some in-person interviews.
What did the Progressive hiring manager think of Tech Elevator and coding bootcamps?
My hiring manager had already started hiring some people from bootcamps, so she was familiar with the model. She met Anthony when he ran another bootcamp, so she had a good rapport with him and faith in what he was doing.
I also interviewed with a technical senior programmer and he had a lot more questions about the bootcamp experience. He wanted to know what topics we covered, how in depth we went with particular topics, how much time we spent on each language etc. He has a computer science degree. I’ve met a few other hires and I’m the only person of the new hires who is a bootcamp graduate, everyone else has computer science degrees!
Even though you’re not working in Java at your job are you finding it was a good foundation for your new job?
Looking back on the last six months of your life, how do you feel about setting and reaching your goal of changing careers and becoming a developer?
It’s pretty amazing. The whole process feels like it hasn’t taken that long but at the same time, it feels like August was 40 years ago. One of the things I’m probably happiest about is actually getting to know what it’s like to be a programmer. Now that I’ve done it for a month, I actually look forward to going to work and working on new things. It’s a refreshing change for me; in retail, although I didn’t hate my job and there were parts I liked, I didn’t have passion or enthusiasm for the job.
I would be lying if I said the salary increase was not a strong factor in my satisfaction – I’ve doubled my salary since I was in retail. But long term, the most important thing for me is having a career that I’m interested in, rather than just a job to pay the bills.
Could you have learned this stuff on your own? Why did you need a bootcamp?
I did a fair amount of self-learning this past summer, and there are plenty of great resources out there in textbooks and online. But there are a couple of key factors that really set apart Tech Elevator and bootcamps in general:
- It gives you a more structured learning environment. When I was learning on my own I was just learning things as I needed to use them, so my learning was out of context.
- Bootcamps help you find a job. After you’ve learned to code you still need to find a job. Having the connections at Tech Elevator was obviously pretty huge for me. You get introduced to companies, you get help with your LinkedIn profile, redoing your resume, and practice interviews.
So having that in one package really gives you something you can’t get as easily on your own.
What advice do you have for people making a career change after bootcamp? Could anyone do what you did?
It has worked out really well for me, and I think there are a couple of reasons for that. First, I have an actual interest in computers, so I’m willing to put in all these crazy hours to learn to code. I also have a logical mind so I naturally gravitate towards writing programs. I wouldn’t say anybody should do this. But if you have an interest in computers and have a desire to learn how to program and if you have the aptitude for it, absolutely do it. Tech Elevator has an aptitude test online, and there are other aptitude tests you can find online too. I took one from a college program.
If you’re looking to get into a career as a developer, I think a bootcamp is a great way to go. If you’re already part way through a career, you’ve already graduated from college, or you’re working in an industry that you’re just not thrilled with anymore, there are lots of barriers to changing careers. But bootcamps compress the curriculum so it’s good for career changers. I think bootcamps are a great option – Tech Elevator in particular.