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David Davidson started his career in copyediting with a humanities background; after learning HTML on the side and working an internship at a startup in Seattle, he decided to make a permanent move into web development. David completed the Full-Stack JavaScript Development Accelerator at Code Fellows and, within six weeks of graduating, landed a position at Formidable Labs. David tells us about his experience, explains the appeal of the Code Fellows job-offer guarantee, and tells readers what makes a personal portfolio website so important.

 

Tell us what you were up to before you started learning at Code Fellows.

I came out of my undergrad with a background in humanities: I was an English and Spanish major, and I worked as a copywriter and copy editor for a couple of years after graduating. During that time I started dabbling in HTML on the side. Eventually I took a part-time internship with a startup here in Seattle (Zipper Computer), caught the code bug, and realized I’d like to make this career switch.

When Zipper closed up, I was looking for a good next step. I’d been hearing about Code Fellows for the past year, and I was finally at the level to take that plunge.

 

What were you doing at that internship?

It was almost all web development, mostly front-end stuff. I did my fair share of online learning (tutorials, etc.), but mostly I learned a ton from the developers there.

 

Did you ever take a CS class in your undergrad or did you stick to humanities?

I took a class in Java my freshman year, and I did terribly! I don’t think I was really ready to focus yet—at the time, I was more interested in college’s social life. I wish I could do that over.

 

Why did you choose the JavaScript bootcamp?

When I interned at Zipper, we used more than just JavaScript; in fact, it was more PHP than anything else. But one of the last projects we did there was all JavaScript/AngularJS, which can do some amazing things, like automatically refreshing a display as data changes. I was blown away by how quickly and easily you could do that, so I started self-teaching pretty heavily in that direction. Between having seen that magic in action, and knowing that JavaScript is huge right now, JavaScript seemed like the natural choice.

 

Why did you choose Code Fellows? Did you consider any other bootcamps in your research?

I only spent a little time looking at other schools. For one thing, Code Fellows widely publicizes their job-offer guarantee—you know, it’s a marketing tool at the end of the day, but it still gives them a real incentive to make sure students succeed.

 

What is the Code Fellows Job-Offer Guarantee?

Within nine months, anyone who doesn’t get a job offer will get a refund. Code Fellows publicizes alumni salaries and average hiring rate; being able to look at that data and see that the program is working for most people was reassuring.

I also looked briefly at General Assembly, but I liked Code Fellows because I felt like they had a more detailed, well-rounded syllabus—I just felt I had more information in hand.

 

What was the Code Fellows application process like for you?

It was a three-part process, as I recall. First, I sent in a very short video about why I wanted to pursue programming. Second, and most substantially, there was a set of three coding challenges to do at home. Finally, there was an in-person interview in which we talked about why I was interested in JavaScript, how well I knew the language, etc.

 

Were those code challenges language-specific?

Yeah—they were all JavaScript, and they were pretty nontrivial; at the time, it was a big stretch for me. I don’t want to give away too much about what they entail, but I had to pick up the basics of the Ember framework just to complete one of the questions.

 

Were you allowed to use online resources?

Well, I certainly did use online resources, so I hope that was okay! That’s how it is with programming in general—If you understand the problem well enough to Google it, go for it, but you have to have put some thought into it before you can even get that far.

 

How long did the whole application process take from when you applied till when you got in?

I think it took three weeks for me. I sent the short video in early on, and soon after that, I went in for the face-to-face with the JavaScript instructor. At the same time, I was doing those sample problems. It maybe took closer to two weeks, really—I was rushing through because the course was about to start.

 

How big was your cohort?

It was around 20 folks.

 

Did you feel like it was a diverse cohort in terms of age, gender and race?

It was somewhat diverse in age. Most of us were early in our careers, finding out what we wanted to do, but there were definitely some folks pivoting away from previous careers. Gender- and race-wise, though, it was not that diverse. Two female students, I think.

 

Did you feel like everyone was on the same technical level or did you feel like you were ahead or behind the majority of the class?

No, not everyone was on the same technical level. I’d say there was a split right down the middle: One side had substantial programming experience, but in a different technology stack. I worked closely with someone who had been writing PHP for like five years, for example. The other half were folks who were starting from square one in terms of professional coding experience, so obviously they didn’t have quite the same level of technical experience.

I was the exception, actually, in that I’d say I fell right in the middle. I wasn’t starting from square one, but I certainly wasn’t coming from years of writing production-level code elsewhere.

 

Did everybody graduate in your class?

Yes.

 

Tell us about the instructors and their teaching style and how it worked with your learning style.

We had a pair of instructors. The head instructor was named Ivan Storck, and his assistant was Tyler Morgan. Ivan has been a teacher and a programmer for decades. He’s worked with the University of Washington for a long time and was kind of the capital-T Teacher of the pair; he was into holistic educational philosophies, etc. Tyler was maybe the more purely technical of the two. He is in fact a Code Fellows alum himself.

So we ended up with this pair of instructors where one excelled in education and one excelled in code—obviously, that’s a good combination for the task at hand. The two of them would share teaching duties during the day’s lectures, often with Tyler coding and Ivan instructing. Both were available, of course, for questions and more informal discussion during late hours.

 

Aside from the teaching style, were you satisfied with the curriculum and the actual material that was taught? Did you think that you covered everything in JavaScript that you wanted to get through?

Yes, I would say so. Code Fellows was very good at changing the curriculum in response to changes in the JavaScript world. The cohort before mine learned mostly Backbone and spent a day on Angular. My cohort spent equal time on Backbone and Angular; the next cohort, I believe, is going to focus on React. Those changes correspond pretty directly to industry mood toward certain frameworks. Code Fellows is just watching what the hiring partners want and adjusting accordingly.

It’ll be interesting to see what that ends up looking like for students, you know, five years from now. The downside of that approach is that there’s the risk of a sort of “flavor of the month” curriculum. If a core Code Fellows technology fizzled out next month—which doesn’t seem likely, but with JavaScript, change is a constant—that could leave a bunch of students scrambling to adjust. I’m curious to see if they ever settle down the curriculum at all. Maybe they don’t plan to.

 

Did you learn other frameworks on your own after you graduated?

I knew some Angular going in and I’m learning some React right now. My work at Formidable Labs emphasizes Backbone pretty heavily, so I’m learning a lot there as well.

 

Did you do assessments or exams throughout the course?

The way we were assessed was almost entirely project-based. There was a whiteboard interview that we had to pass before graduating, but compared to the projects, it required very little effort. Of the eight-week curriculum, two entire weeks were devoted to individual projects and group projects.

In our case, one project was assigned to us and the other project was based on our own idea.

 

Can you tell us about the project that you came up with for the group assignment?

Yeah, it was essentially a scaled-down clone of Google Analytics that was designed to work a little better with single-page apps built in Angular.

Our project found a way to listen in on Angular events on the client side and post those back to an API. We also set up real-time updating between the server and the dashboard with web sockets. We’re not tracking many metrics yet, though—basically just page-view count and navigation between views.

I worked on that with a four-person group. We got a bit of a head start on it, but it took about one week. We had three people from the Javascript cohort and one from the Web UI Development design cohort.

 

That’s cool; I didn’t know they blended the Web UI and JavaScript cohorts.

Yeah, and I think it’s worth mentioning because they’re doing it much more now. For me, only one of the two projects was blended like that. I think for the most recent cohort most were blended: the JavaScript students wrote Node back-ends for iOS apps, for example. That’s super awesome; I wish I’d done that.

 

How many hours a week would you say you were spending on Code Fellows?

Honestly, I expected to spend more. I was putting in somewhere between 40 and 50 hours; 40 is the minimum you would expect to put in, of course, at a 9-to-5 school. I know there were folks who did work harder than that, but I felt pretty comfortable with maybe 10 hours of homework a week.

 

Did you ever feel burned out with the course or was it a good pace?

Before Code Fellows, I had worked that internship alongside a full-time job, plus personal code projects on the side. I think because I’d been working that intense schedule before, Code Fellows felt surprisingly non-strenuous.

 

Did Code Fellows do a good job with job prep in your class?

They definitely did a good job. Every Friday was careers day. One Friday we would focus on LinkedIn, one Friday we’d have resume prep, etc., and we spent a whole week on data structures, algorithms, and whiteboarding.

The prep kind of progressed through the life cycle of job applications in general, so it began with cover letters and resumes and LinkedIn and finding a personal brand, and from there it moved to the interviewing and whiteboarding. The only thing I thought they might have emphasized more might’ve been making sure everyone graduated with a portfolio site ready to go. I had that and I found it to be a big advantage.

 

What would you suggest to future students about making that portfolio site?

Well, we were putting everything on GitHub—big projects as well as tiny meaningless projects, so your profile ends up just a mess. You’ve got to clean that up and emphasize the projects you care about. I found that having a portfolio site was the ideal solution for cutting through the clutter, because it’s a way to link to the projects you really care about and talk about why they’re interesting.

 

What are you up to now? Tell us about your job now and how you got it.

I got a job as a developer at Formidable Labs, which has become a pretty big hiring partner with Code Fellows. There are six Code Fellows grads working here now out of 20 or 25.

The Formidable team is almost entirely developers, plus some designers who also code. Formidable has a reputation around town as being a company that focuses on continued education and in-house training; in fact, they’ve taught lessons at Code Fellows before. They run both the Seattle JS meetup and the Seattle Node.js meetup.

 

How did you get connected with Formidable Labs?

A previous Code Fellows alum named Dale talked to my cohort, and he explained that his philosophy was to treat the first year after Code Fellows as an extension of the program. He said that Formidable Labs really optimized for learning, which made them a top pick for me.

I went to a Seattle JS meetup and met the CEO. Two weeks later I sent in an application. He responded within about half an hour and said he remembered me from the meetup, which felt nice.

 

Did you feel like you could get through the technical interview with the information that you had learned at Code Fellows?

Yeah, I went in for a technical interview first, which I felt pretty well prepared for by Code Fellows. It went pretty well for me. Honestly, it was a little less pure data structures and algorithms than Code Fellows had prepared us to expect. It was more deep knowledge of JavaScript fundamentals and code style. I also got a take-home code challenge before the technical interview, which gave them a chance to see if I could write code that not only was bug-free but also readable.

 

How long did it take you to get that job after you graduated in September?

It was pretty quick; within around a month. I sent in my application more or less immediately after I graduated.

 

You may not have any experience with this since you got a job so quickly, but was Code Fellows doing alumni follow-ups throughout that job application process?

They would send an email every week, actually. They wanted to make sure we were doing enough work to qualify for the job-offer guarantee, but it wasn’t just a self-serving impulse. They did go out of their way to help you. When I was applying to Formidable, for example, I emailed my cover letter to Gina at Code Fellows and got her feedback. They would get in touch with us to see what we were up to, and they would make it clear that we could get in touch with them for specific help.

 

Would you recommend Code Fellows to a friend or someone was looking to learn JavaScript? Did you think it was worth the money?

Yeah, I think it was. On the one hand, I think it’s absolutely possible to learn all the content on your own; on the other, it’s just a question of whether you’ll actually do it. I could in theory have learned all that stuff on my own, but I don’t think I would have done it, or if I did, it would have taken longer. For me, it was worth it to move quickly and have that communal learning environment, that sense of accountability.

One thing: I would recommend that before you go into it, you make sure you know you really enjoy programming. You hear about more and more folks moving into the field from square one, which is great, but I also know that leaves people at risk of finding out they don’t actually like this work.

Overall, I absolutely recommend Code Fellows, especially go if you’ve done enough independent work to know you’re in this for the fun of it.

 

Want to learn more about Code Fellows? Check out their School Page on Course Report or the Code Fellows website

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