David was working in technology sales when he discovered his passion for coding. He tried to teach himself but had too many unanswered questions, so decided to attend LearningFuze coding bootcamp in Orange County, CA. He graduated in early January 2016, and is now a developer at digital agency Taylor Digital. David tells us why he wanted to learn PHP, why he continued coding and learning during the job search, and how the fast paced nature of LearningFuze prepared him well for his new job.
What is your pre-bootcamp story?
I graduated with a health policy and administration degree from Penn State, then went into technology sales. I worked at an IT reseller for two years, in Chicago then I moved to California for another technology sales job. While I think sales is a fulfilling career, I wanted to find something I had more of a passionate interest in.
Why did you want to go to a bootcamp?
My goal was to transition out of sales. Without a finance or business background, it was hard to find a job I was qualified for outside of sales. I actually didn’t know that coding bootcamps existed until a friend of mine who works in tech told me about them. I realized I didn’t have to go back to school, and started researching coding bootcamps. My goal in going to a coding bootcamp was to get a job as software or web developer.
Did you try to teach yourself to code before investing in a coding bootcamp?
Since I work in tech sales, I had always tried to teach myself to code a little bit and dabbled in Codecademy, but it was just too difficult to learn on my own. I struggled personally because I had so many questions to ask. After LearningFuze, I can Google anything and even if the answer is written in code I can understand it and figure it out. But when I didn’t have a strong understanding of programming, it was hard to move forward.
Did you research other coding bootcamps or only LearningFuze?
At first I was also looking in San Francisco, but my girlfriend and husky are here in Orange County, so disappearing for 3 months wasn't really an option. Also a lot of the coding bootcamps in San Francisco told me that their employer network is only the Bay Area, so I was looking primarily around OC for bootcamps.
I went to a couple different open houses. I looked at Sabio, I went to an info session at Orange County Code School, and then LearningFuze.
I chose LearningFuze because I could tell that I wouldn’t be afraid to ask questions in their environment. I went to a front end web development intro class to see if this is an environment where I’d be supported. I wanted to know if my questions would get answered, what’s the student to teacher ratio, etc. I found that in one day I learned more than I did over two months of studying and learning on my own. It was incredible just how rapid the learning was. Going to the classroom and seeing how amazing it was is what got me hooked.
Was it important for you to learn a specific programming language or stack?
I looked at all the job opportunities in Orange County, and I realized that the coding bootcamps were all teaching different technology stacks. As I was researching, I saw the majority of jobs posted on LinkedIn and Indeed were LAMP stack – PHP and MySQL, and LearningFuze focuses primarily on that.
One of the instructors informed me they were not only teaching us the languages, but also the fundamentals of programming itself, so regardless of where you end up or what you’re doing, you’d have a strong fundamental understanding of how things work.
All the cards aligned perfectly, from what they offer, to what the market is demanding, to what I wanted out of a program, to where I thought I needed to be personally. I made a very calculated decision to make sure LearningFuze was going to get me to where I wanted to be in my career.
Did you think about doing a 4-year Computer Science degree?
My parents asked me that too, and I don’t think I need one. Once you know enough to be able to research and Google questions on your own, you don’t need a CS degree. Before LearningFuze I couldn’t teach myself because I had so many questions, but now I can answer them myself. Plus there were also people with CS degrees in my LearningFuze class.
How did you pay for it? Did you use a financing partner? Did you get a scholarship?
Fortunately I was able to pay for it myself. I saved up a bunch of money, and my parents helped out as well, since they’re happy to help with education. I know LearningFuze has a financing program, but I didn’t have to use it.
How large was your class? Was it diverse in terms of gender, race, life and career backgrounds?
There were about 20 people. All of the sales jobs I had were like boys clubs- very macho. It was nice being in an environment where it’s the opposite of that and very diverse. My class was half women, half men. As far as demographics, there were people of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds. We were able to learn to program and make friends. I still talk to plenty of my colleagues now over Hipchat, part of the alumni network.
What was the student:teacher ratio at LearningFuze?
The teacher student ratio was about 1:5. Dan and Eric were the senior instructors and we had two junior instructors – Scott and Travis.
What was the learning experience like at LearningFuze — tell us about a typical day and teaching style?
At around 11am there is a lecture for around 30 mins on a new topic. The instructors try not to talk to us for too long, because they want us to actually be programming.
LearningFuze was very fast paced. I wouldn’t be halfway done with one project and we’d already been assigned another one or a group project. You’re constantly working on different things, different projects, debugging problems in your code. There would be a feature list of requirements on the board that you need for certain projects, so you’re constantly working on building and implementing those. And of course a big part of the program is getting stuck, figuring out problems, and having a support team of people there to help you move along. It was shockingly similar to what I’m doing now at my new job – I’m working on 15 different projects, jumping around, fixing stuff, building in new features.
What was your favorite project that you worked on?
I also liked my final project, an apartment finder. I continued working on it after the end of the bootcamp for a month before I started applying for jobs. I built it in a new framework. Doing that, while getting my portfolio together, and interfacing with LearningFuze on job search, was a really cool experience. It’s hard when the program is over because you really have to figure things out yourself. Working on this project was the first time I was set free, and had to figure everything out on the front and back end.
How did LearningFuze prepare you for job hunting?
We had about 5 or 6 projects we worked on during the class. Almost 100% of getting in the door for the first interview is having a presentable portfolio. You can be the most knowledgeable programmer but if you don’t really have a portfolio, or no experience on paper, why would someone interview you? It was important to have a solid, presentable, clean, unique portfolio. I had the projects I’d done in class and the work I’d done on my own outside class.
As far as the job hunt goes, Bill Cunningham (the founder of LearningFuze) was instrumental in helping me get a job. He’s like your job hunting partner. I found a job in just a couple of weeks. I was in sales so I knew how to crawl LinkedIn, mass apply to everything, and reach out directly to a bunch of recruiters, and HR people. I was doing my part and getting about 50% of my own interviews, but on top of that Bill was throwing interviews my way.
There were also soft skills mock interviews during the course. Most of us had never interviewed for a developer job, so the instructors did technical interviews with us, then Bill was handling the soft-skills. I’ve learned you can be very technical, but if you can’t articulate that, it’s going to be tough to get a job. You can also be very articulate, but if you’re not technical enough then you may not know enough. You have to have to be strong in both areas which is something LearningFuze tries to help you polish throughout the program.
Tell us about your developer job now!
I work at a digital agency in San Clemente, CA called Taylor Digital. They build custom web applications and websites for clients throughout the state and nationally. I’m primarily a backend web developer, working with PHP and frameworks like Laravel, CodeIgniter, and I’ve started learning ColdFusion.
What’s your role, and what does your day to day look like as a new developer?
I’m the lead developer on a couple projects, and it’s a small team, so I often help out on other projects too. Every day, I don’t know exactly what I’ll be working on – it’s always something different and new. That’s why LearningFuze designed their bootcamp to be very fast paced and constantly jumping from one thing to another.
I work under the direction of very experienced senior developers, so I get to learn a lot, not just about languages, but about the web, best practices, how things should run, and how to make efficient sites which can handle 1000s of hits. It’s a really good opportunity to be in an environment where I can keep that bootcamp mentality alive, keep pushing forward, accelerating, and learning at a rapid rate.
How did you stay motivated during the job search? Any advice for future bootcampers?
It was frustrating getting out of the bootcamp mindset, and moving into the job hunt mindset. But it’s important to keep coding and keep moving forward. Balancing out the 12 hours a day of coding I was used to doing with the 8 hours of job hunting that I needed to do was tough.
I would try to send out 30 to 40 resumes per day, using websites like Zip Recruiter, Indeed, and LinkedIn. I found if I shot out 30 resumes one day, the next day I’d have 1 or 2 people call me back. So every day I’d block out an hour or two to send out applications, then spend the rest of the day coding and learning. There were so many jobs with different technology requirements, so I was trying to learn different build tools for those. The job hunt is no different from the bootcamp- you’ve got to work hard every day. The whole point of LearningFuze was to get a developer job.
Are you using the PHP stack that you learned at LearningFuze? Have you had to learn new technologies?
Yeah it’s been crazy. I’ve had to learn a new text editor called Coda, a front end system to combine your files called Gulp, and a backend language called ColdFusion. I’ve had to work with two different content management systems, WordPress, and OpenCart, a PHP framework built on CodeIgniter. I had to learn another PHP framework called Laravel as well for another project. The terminal is huge in this job. I’m learning something new every day.
What was the ramp up period like? How did you learn all of these new technologies?
There was an expectation that the faster you learn, the faster you can start diving into these projects and working on them. I was given two days to learn Laravel. Even though it could seem overwhelming at the time, it was no different from what I was doing before I started the job. I was already spending 12 hours a day coding and learning.
Programming really feels like more of a hobby than a job, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do it in the first place. If I came home from work at 5pm, I’d spend 3 to 4 hours learning at home. I still spend that time coding, either doing Laravel or learning new technologies that I find interesting.
How do you stay involved with LearningFuze after graduation? Is the alumni network strong?
LearningFuze is always hosting events, and we’re invited to all of the guest speaker events. For example, they hosted a hackathon last week, and I recently guest judged the final projects for a cohort. Every week there’s a lunch, events, alumni meetups, so I try to go to some of them. The alumni network is going to be my biggest resource, so I try to stay engaged and involved.
Plus, I had such a great time at LearningFuze; it’s almost like going to summer camp for three months. You get to learn real world skills, and you’re learning skills to get a job, but you also make friends, have a good time and build relationships with the instructors and the people there.
What advice do you have for future bootcampers who want to make a career change like you did?
First, you should definitely try Codecademy and make sure that coding is something you want to do every day as a lifelong commitment, as well as something you can find passion in and do as a hobby at home. It’s not just a three-month ride at a coding bootcamp and then you’re done. I’m still working every day to learn new things, whether for my own personal gain or for work. And that’s not going to end. One of my instructors put it well when he said, “it’s a marathon not a race.” Programming really is a 20-year journey. I’ve come so far since LearningFuze, but I’m still light years away from where I want to be. You need to understand that before you do a bootcamp, otherwise you can get burned out.
As far as researching bootcamps, find one that teaches the skills that will help you get a job in the market you're applying in, because the tools in demand are going to be different in every area. And, make sure you find a bootcamp with an environment you can excel in.
Imogen is a writer and content producer who loves writing about technology and education. Her background is in journalism, writing for newspapers and news websites. She grew up in England, Dubai and New Zealand, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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