After studying theater and English, Devon worked in administration, customer service, and set painting; but never felt fulfilled. Online career quizzes kept telling her to try coding, and when she moved to Delaware, she heard about coding bootcamp Zip Code Wilmington. Devon thought the bootcamp’s payment plans seemed too good to be true, but after some research, she enrolled in the program. Devon tells us about the extensive Zip Code application process, how the program itself was far more intense than college, and how she got her job as a Software Developer with one of Zip Code’s corporate partners.
What was your education or career background before you decided to learn to code?
Zip Code says you don't need to know any code before going there, and I am the proof in the pudding. I was a theater and English major at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. From there, I had about five different jobs in administration, accounting, bookkeeping, contracts, and paperwork. I always loved working with spreadsheets and figuring out problems. When a customer would call in, I would want to fix everything so the same customer wouldn’t call back with the same problem. I knew I wasn't destined to continue in admin and was looking for a career change.
My husband got a job at the University of Delaware, so we moved here. I started working at the local professional theater painting theater sets, but part-time painting is not very lucrative. I heard about Zip Code through a friend of a friend of a friend. Computer programming was something I'd always had in the back of my mind– mostly from doing a ton of online career quizzes, where computer programmer kept popping up. I thought it was weird because I was a theater and English major, but I realized I was looking for something that could encapsulate my love of problem solving and my love of working with people.
Did you try out coding before you applied to Zip Code Wilmington?
The only coding experience I had before Zip Code was the application process to get into Zip Code. Applicants must do some free online coursework after they first apply. By doing the application, I fell in love with coding. It was so fun, and I was addicted to it.
A few years earlier I did a Coursera course, but it was more about the philosophy of coding than actual coding. They used Scratch where you learn how to break down a problem and how to build up a program.
Why did you choose Zip Code in particular? Did you look at other coding bootcamps?
What really pushed Zip Code over the edge for me was that Zip Code has so many corporate partners, and the primary goal of Zip Code is to get you a job at the end. The curriculum has a lot of input from those corporate partners, so you know the skills you're learning will be applicable in the outside world.
I did a quick Google search to see what other learning options there were. Zip Code Wilmington seemed too good to be true because I wasn't in a financial position to pay $20,000 to go to bootcamp, or even to look into college courses. I'm 31, so I want to be in an established career. Zip Code required a small down payment, then the corporate partner you end up working for pays the rest of your tuition. Then they have tons of scholarships available. It's a win-win for everybody, so I wasn't really considering many other bootcamps.
That sounds like a great tuition payment system. Can you tell me a bit more about how that works with the corporate partners?
Zip Code is a family. It sounds cheesy, but they would do anything to help you make this possible. They're a nonprofit, so their goal is to help people. Zip Code helps students get a job because they are only successful if they place the student.
Zip Code is 12 weeks, and around week 10 they bring in the corporate partners. You go through an application and interview process like any other job applicant. Every student is guaranteed an interview. If I were to apply for the job on my own, I wouldn't necessarily be guaranteed an interview. Yet, it's up to the individual student to interview well. Zip Code makes it clear that at the end of the program, it's not guaranteed that you'll get a job.
I got a job at Chatham Financial, a corporate partner, and Chatham will be paying my tuition.
Congratulations on the job! Do you know what happens to people who pay the down payment and then weren't able to find a job with a corporate partner?
I have the skills to get a job anywhere. If I were to get a job with a corporation outside of the partnership, I would be responsible for paying back the tuition myself. If you don't find a job within six months, I think Zip Code decrease what you owe. They will work with you to come up with another payment plan because the process didn't work for you.
Note from Zip Code: Even if a grad doesn't receive a job with a corporate partner, we continue to provide significant job placement assistance. To date, not a single student has paid the full tuition amount. Students are not obligated to pay back their tuition while they're unemployed. If a student were to remain unemployed for six months, the outstanding tuition balance is decreased by 55%.
You mentioned the Zip Code application process was your first proper exposure to code. Can you tell me a bit more about what that involved?
After that, there's the professional interview with our Head of School which was like every other job interview I've ever had. Then there's the technical interview, which is whiteboarding and logic problems with our Director of Education to see how you problem solve, and to see if you are teachable. Twelve weeks is not much time to go from 0 to 60, so they need to make sure all applicants pick it up as soon as possible.
Note from Zip Code: For upcoming applicants, we are replacing the phone screening with an on-campus Ask Me Anything session with our staff and alumni, and we are changing the order of the steps of the application process.
Who were the other students in your cohort? Was it quite diverse in terms of gender, race, life, and career backgrounds?
Absolutely. It was one of the most diverse experiences I've ever had, which is really cool. I think there were seven females in my class of 30. We had warehouse workers, truck drivers, and social workers. I was a painter. We also had a mom who was a software engineer, but took seven years off to raise her kids and had trouble getting back into the industry. Then there were fresh computer science graduates finding it hard to get into the industry.
What was the learning experience and teaching style like at Zip Code Wilmington?
From 9am to 5pm, they'd usually give two lectures– a morning and an afternoon lecture. They gave us a lot of reading to do before the lectures to make sure we could ask questions. When the lectures finished at 5pm, they would give us labs and projects to do based on what we learned that day. Those would take four or five hours, and then we'd have reading to do for the next day. It was usually about 15 to 16 hours a day for the 12 weeks.
Two or three times a week, Zip Code would also bring in developers and engineers from the corporate partner companies to talk about their experiences and what they're working on. It was really cool to pick their brains and hear their stories. We often had previous Zip Code alumni come back in the evenings to mentor us as well as work through labs and projects with us. We had a lot of support.
What was your favorite project you worked on at Zip Code?
I have two favorites. One is a full console-based Casino with multiple games which we built as part of a group project. I was with seven other people, and each of us would take a game, work together on the framework, and put it all together. That was so fun– learning how to collaborate, plan, and work as a team.
When you were learning to code, were there parts of your background in theater or English that you found helpful in learning to code? Were there any overlaps in skills?
Absolutely. A lot of coding is the ability to recognize patterns, and as an artist, you're already programmed to do that. As an English major, when I was given a book to analyze, I'd always ask, "What is the problem the author was trying to address? What literary tools did they use to address that problem?" You learned to break everything down.
When you get a computer programming problem, it's the same thing. “What is the problem we're trying to address? What tools would best fit to address that problem?” So that analytical breakdown was 100% there. As soon as I recognized that syntax is just grammar for coding, I was like, "Got it." It’s just like learning a new language. I don't feel like I changed myself in becoming a coder, I just enhanced what I was already good at.
What kind of career training did Zip Code give you?
They would give us lectures on how to present ourselves during an interview and things to avoid that can be a problem to future employers. The career training was so great. Zip Code staff serve as the primary liaison between the students and corporate partners, and they went over each student’s resume five or six times to make sure it was really polished and represented us well. Zip Code also held a lot of networking events so that we could meet the corporate partners and ask questions.
We did mock interviews with alumni, and Zip Code brought in recruiters from the area to do mock interviews. The recruiters would give feedback about areas to improve upon. It was also a good introduction because if something didn't work out with the corporate partners, we would probably rely on those recruiters to help us find jobs.
Zip Code really helped prepare us and gave us a lot of tools to go into a professional interview. After you graduate, they work with you constantly to connect you to recruiters or other corporate partners. By graduation, about 77% of my class already had a job lined up and now we're up to 85% one month after graduating. The Zip Code team are our mentors for life.
What was your experience applying for the job with Chatham?
Zip Code plays matchmaker. Zip Code set me up with three corporate partners to interview with, and I decided I really liked Chatham and another Zip Code partner.
It was like speed dating where they brought in the corporate partner, then 10 of us would take turns meeting them. Chatham invited me for a second-round interview on site which was a lot more intense. I had four 40-minute interviews with different teams, which included whiteboarding and logic problems. Then they decided they liked me, and I liked them.
I also went to a second round interview with the other Zip Code Partner and received an offer from that company also. I felt like I had a lot of opportunities to make a decision about what would best fit me. Ultimately, I went with Chatham.
That's so exciting. What sort of company is Chatham?
They are a financial risk management company. It's a lot to do with hedge accounting, dividends, and the world economy. Chatham is also one of the few corporate partners with Zip Code that's across the border in Pennsylvania.
What's your role there? Do you know what sort of projects and teams you'll work on?
I am starting out on the testing team as a software developer. Their testing team is different from a quantitative standpoint because they actually do a lot of development for automated tests and testing integration and performance.
My direct team will be about seven developers locally, but company-wide I think they have around 100 developers. It’s a global company.
What technology stack will you use there? Will it be the same as what you learned at Zip Code?
No, actually they're more of a C# shop instead of a Java shop. So far, C# looks so similar to Java. Four months ago I didn't know Java, so I'm already experienced in how to learn a new language and get up to speed. The best part about Zip Code is more than teaching me a language, it taught me how to learn a language.
What is the tech scene like in Wilmington, Delaware? What kind of corporate partners did Zip Code have from the actual area?
I was really surprised because I'm new to the Delaware area, but Wilmington is a huge financial center. Bank of America, Capital One, Barclaycard, and several other financial institutions are all based in Wilmington, and they are thirsty for developers. Plus, Zip Code also has non-financial industry partners. That huge demand for developers is what inspired the Zip Code founders to start a coding bootcamp.
What kind of networking or meetup events are there in the area?
Zip Code did a good job of introducing us to those forums. There are a lot of meetups such as Girl Develop It, Open Bracket and Open Data Delaware.
How are you going to stay involved or in touch with Zip Code?
Zip Code always has an open door policy. Now that I am an alumna, I'll probably go back once or twice a week to help current students with projects. When you go through 100 hours a week with your fellow classmates, that bond is so indescribable. You've overcome something together and it makes you want to give back and continue going back. Knowing how much the alumni helped me, and were such mentors to me when I was a student, I want to be able to give back like they did.
Looking back over this very intense journey you've had over the last few months, what would you say is the biggest challenge or roadblock you've had?
The pace of everything. I graduated cum laude from a private college, and Zip Code was still definitely my toughest accomplishment. Zip Code is like doing a college course in a week with the amount of material you cover. Every time you think, "all right, I think I'm starting to get this," they'll give you something new that you have to master.
What would you say is the best thing about your experience?
Definitely the community. I feel like I have 30 new brothers and sisters. If I ever feel lost at my new job, I could reach out to anybody, even the Zip Code teachers. Everybody would drop anything in an instant to help.
What advice do you have for someone in a similar position looking for a career change and thinking about a coding bootcamp?
For me, it was worth the risk and the challenge. I discovered something I was very passionate about. You can't really replace the value of going to a job that you love and are excited about every day. My advice would be to take online courses to see if it's something that you love and are passionate about. Then make that jump. It's a skill set that will always be useful, and if you get to do something you love every day, it's worth every sacrifice and challenge you have to overcome to get there.
I just can't emphasize enough that it was such a life-changing experience for me. I thought I was destined to be a secretary for the rest of my life, and now I quadrupled my salary and have this whole new exciting career coming my way.