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Not all coding bootcampers are job-seekers; some have already landed a job as a developer and want to expand their skillset. This was the case for Devan Beitel, who was working as a front-end developer for Viva Health, and wanted to grow his back-end knowledge. He enrolled in online coding bootcamp Bloc, matched with a mentor, and during the course, was actually promoted to a Senior developer position! Devan sat down with Course Report to talk about his experience, the projects he worked on with his mentor Michal, and how his Bloc course directly (and indirectly) applies to his day-to-day job. 

What were you up to before you decided to do Bloc?

I graduated college in 2012 with a degree in Graphic Design; I was teaching myself web development at the time and freelancing on the side. I had experience designing something that made sense and looked good. I could also build simple things, but I didn’t have the depth and breadth of knowledge that I wanted.

What did you use to teach yourself web development?

I used Treehouse, Code School, Codeacademy, anything I could get my hands on. By freelancing, I had a bit of extra revenue to invest into learning.

I got a job at Viva before I started Bloc, in May 2013. Viva is a healthcare/insurance company owned by UAB. My current boss had held onto my resume from a past company, and he wanted someone who could build mostly on the front-end using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

I took Bloc in order to learn more on the server side and database since I already had those front-end skills.

Did you ever research in-person bootcamps? How did you decide on Bloc?

I looked at Dev Bootcamp, Starter League in Chicago, Flatiron School in New York and another online school, Thinkful. I decided I needed to do an online bootcamp because I already had a job and was actually engaged at the time.

When I was researching Bloc, they were offering a MacBook Air promo, which is probably the reason I actually went with Bloc! Also, I had spoken with Michal, a mentor at Bloc, and we’d already talked about tailoring the program to cover less front-end development and more back-end and database curriculum.

When did you talk to Michal, your Bloc mentor?

He hosted an online webinar on Intro to Rails, which was very basic stuff that I already knew but I went to it to see how everything at Bloc worked, who the instructors and mentors would be, and to get a feel for it all.

About a week or two before I applied to Bloc, I emailed Michal and asked him what his schedule looked like. I knew specifically that he had back-end experience and that he was a CS major and a Rails Developer.

Take us through the technologies you learned at Bloc.

The first project we did used Ruby on Rails and it’s a very full-stack project; you rebuild Reddit, in essence. The two other projects I did were a “To-Do List” app using an API and “Bloc Metrics” which was an analytics platform. I spent most of my time learning Mongo and Sinatra to build Bloc Metrics. Michal let me struggle through Sinatra as I learned those new concepts- which I very explicitly told him to do!

When you were struggling with a new concept, how did Michal help you through it?

I limited what I would let Michal help me with. Today, I’m a full-stack developer and my wife can’t understand why I sit and scratch my head all day; it’s the puzzle and the satisfaction you get after solving the puzzle that makes programming worthwhile. Michal would help lead me to answers and give me the tools I needed, but I wanted to struggle and learn on my own as well.

We used sketches a lot; there were some topics that he could draw easily and I explicitly remember learning a map function, which is a high level concept that I learned at Bloc, by having Michal draw it out. When we talked about Mongo a few times, and he would draw just because it’s nontraditional structure of a database.

Some Bloc mentors will control your screen- we never really did that. Anytime I’d hit a problem, it usually took us on another tangent to learn something else that was relevant - and most of it wasn’t beginner knowledge. It was harder stuff to learn.

Did you ever interact with other Bloc students during your apprenticeship?

In the middle of my apprenticeship, Bloc went from a chat room to Stack Overflow. I didn’t use that a lot, but they had a special tag and a special interface where you could post a question and it would go through Stack Overflow.

You’ve used Codecademy and Treehouse before- a lot of free resources. Why pay for Bloc?

I’m sure Bloc will love me for saying this, but it all came down to that mentor. When you’re stuck, that person can help you with your exact problem. You know that your mentor is a real human and end up interacting with them outside of Bloc.

A lot of times we’d talk about how the weather was and how his family was.

Mentorship was expensive but I think it paid off. I liked Treehouse and I still actively use it, but for the rapid learning that I wanted to do, Bloc was perfect; it’s all compressed and quick and there’s a person there with you.

How long did it take you to get through the Bloc course?

I took the 18-week Full-Stack Development track. I spent about 15-20 hours per week, 2-3 hours a day but some days fluctuated.

You were working at Viva full-time while you were taking the Bloc bootcamp; did you find that it was difficult to balance?

I was definitely in a unique situation. My department at Viva doesn’t have strict set hours because we’re always checking email, managing servers, an on call for users using the application. During the first month of Bloc, and I told my boss, “Every Tuesday and Thursday at 9 AM I have something going on for an hour and then I’ll be in after that.”

It was easy for me to manage the mentor meeting time and then it got harder to manage the actual time commitment to developing stuff even though I was sitting in front of a computer most of the days. But it was because I was also developing other things at work and by the end of the day my brain was fried.

How did Bloc influence your work at Viva? Is it directly applicable?

At work we used a programming language called Grails which is very similar to Rails (except Grails is Groovy and compiles down to Java since the other two developers at Viva were Java developers).

In the middle of my Bloc course, we left Grails and changed to Meteor, which is a full-stack JavaScript language and is relatively new. Since I had been developing with Mongo in Bloc, that was directly helpful. We use Mongo in work projects, some of the higher level paradigms like the map function.

I learned a lot of the higher level computer science oriented concepts during Bloc, which help me to this day.

What’s your job title now?

During the middle of my Bloc course, I got a promotion from Web Application Developer to Web Application Developer, Senior.

Was there an emphasis on job prep during the Bloc course?

Towards the very end of my apprenticeship at Bloc, they launched “Career Prep” tracks. Since I already had a job, I just breezed through it quickly. I only did 2 or 3 of the checkpoints and I regret that now.

What do you work on at Viva?

Everything that I work on is internal tools for our staff. I wish I could use any of it in my portfolio, but it’s all locked down by Viva. I walk upstairs and sit with the nurses a lot, watch how they work, and try to translate that into building the UI for those tools. I’ve started to take a more managerial role now.

Is the managerial role the next step for you- what’s appealing to you about that role?

It’s not necessarily the next step. One of the reasons that I’m doing so well at Viva is that along with being a front-end developer I’m working as the UI/UX designer and understand how everything works. We’re rebuilding a whole application right now!

It’s cool that your users are working in the same building and that you get live feedback from them.

Every day I try to walk up there and just see them for five minutes and ask them how everything’s going, hear any new ideas or problems they’re having. It’s nice to know who your users are.

It’s satisfying to really be able to solve their problems and roll out solutions and then walk up there after it’s deployed and ask the nurses if everything is working as expected.

Were there ever work-problems that Michal helped you with?

There were a few! When we were working with Angular and Mongo at Bloc, we were actually doing some Angular stuff at work so there were some times that I asked about things that weren’t working at work. He did help with that.

Was Bloc worth the money? Would you recommend it to friends?

I think Bloc was worth the money, yes. In fact, I have recommended it a few times.  

Are there people that you wouldn’t recommend it to?

Yeah, for a completely new, straight up computer beginner, they might really struggle. It’s extremely hard to jump on the bandwagon - and I understand that.

Most of my friends already have some web development knowledge; very basic HTML or CSS knowledge. So there have been a few people I’ve suggested it to. I have a friend who was in a healthcare accelerator here in Birmingham, and he is trying to launch his product now. I told him “If you’re stuck (and he’s building it in Rails, too) and you if you want to learn more, Bloc is a pretty penny but it does give you a lot more knowledge and you’ll feel more confident when you graduate.”

Want to learn more about Bloc? Check out their school page on Course Report or the Bloc website here!

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