We know that coding bootcamp graduates get jobs, but are they successful long-term in their careers? It’s been 4 years since Ed Jasper graduated from Flatiron School – and he’s the perfect example of how much a coding bootcamp graduate can learn and excel (even without a college degree). Ed took his passion for fashion and retail experience, combined it with coding fundamentals from Flatiron School, and is now a confident Front End Developer at Rent the Runway. Learn about Ed’s career path after Flatiron School, why he’s committed to getting other folks like him – a person of color in the LGBT community – into tech, and his advice to make the interview process less stressful.
What did you study in college? How did your path lead you to Flatiron School?
I studied Marketing at the University of Central Florida for two years, but I didn’t finish school – it wasn’t the path for me. Soon after leaving school, I moved to New York City and worked as a personal trainer, then an Admissions Administrator at a health coaching school. I was working 9am to 5pm, sitting behind a desk, and I felt like I should be doing more.
I also used to work in retail and always wanted to be a part of the fashion industry. I wanted to contribute to something, but I didn't know what I could actually do without going to college. I did some research on careers I could transition to based on things that I like to do – being artistic, creating, and building. I also had this interest in HTML and CSS from middle and high school from when I was using MySpace – nothing too serious.
I had no idea what a “web developer” was, but when I found it in my research, it just felt right.
Did you consider doing a four-year computer science degree to learn web development? Why choose a coding bootcamp?
When I first decided to commit to becoming a web developer, I just assumed that I would have to go back to school. I actually did online university computer science classes through Udacity, but waiting another four years to get started in this industry didn’t feel right.
After doing more research on blogs, I found out about this new hot educational model called a coding bootcamp. I needed to figure out the basics of programming first and fast, and then I expected to learn more on the job in order to be a better developer. I felt like a bootcamp was the best path for me, and I found Flatiron School in my research.
How did you decide that Flatiron School was the best bootcamp for you?
I looked at a lot of bootcamps in the NYC area – General Assembly and App Academy. They looked great, but at the time (this was 2014), everyone was talking about Flatiron School and comparing it to the Harvard of bootcamps, so I had to be there.
The main draw was the NYC Web Dev Fellowship – I was looking at all these bootcamp tuition prices, thinking there was no way I would be able to attend. I couldn’t stop working in New York City and give up a salary to attend bootcamp.
I also liked that Flatiron School advertised themselves as being “language agnostic.” Basically Flatiron said, "We're going to teach you how to program using the most beginner-friendly software." They really focused on learning the fundamentals so that you could code in any language you want in your career.
Tell us more about the NYC Fellowship – how did that make it possible for you to attend Flatiron School?
Flatiron School introduced me to the NYC Web Dev Fellowship, where I was eligible to receive free tuition if I was an NYC resident, under 30 years old, and made under 50k a year. I applied and it was a very rigorous, stressful application process. Out of 1,200 applicants, I was one of the 28 that got in and it was a life-changing opportunity.
Editor’s Note: While the Flatiron NYC Fellowship is no longer active, Flatiron School just launched Access Labs, a deferred-tuition program for New Yorkers making $35,000 or less per year. Learn more here! And if you're interested in learning online, with the Dorothy Vaughan Scholarship for Diversity & Inclusion, students could receive 50% off of their tuition.
Who did you learn with? How did your classmates impact your experience?
My cohort was very diverse. Some people were just out of high school and didn't want to go to college; others went to Ivy League schools and worked for Wall Street. Their stories made me see, "Hey, I do fit into this crowd and if everyone else can do it, then I can do it too." And time proved that to be true.
You told us earlier that college was not for you – what did you think of the learning experience at Flatiron School?
It was definitely not what I was expecting – in a good way. I was expecting to go to Flatiron School, learn some code, make some projects, and then graduate in 16 weeks. It was so intense that I used every ounce of energy I had to make it through those 16 weeks! The bootcamp was emotionally and physically taxing; I had to stretch myself beyond what I thought I was capable.
The hardest part about programming is the paradigm shift towards thinking like a programmer. It’s rare to think as in-depth as a programmer; you don’t just accept that 2+2=4, you look into the mechanics of the algorithm. That shift in thinking was the hardest part – I never thought that I was going to get there.
I would sometimes think, "I'm stupid. There's no way I can get this. I've signed up for this coding bootcamp and I don't know how I’ll get a job afterward." But my Flatiron School instructors were very encouraging. They reassured me that programming is hard – that’s the name of the game – but I could do it.
How did Flatiron School prepare you for the job search?
During the bootcamp, Flatiron School did a great job stressing the fact that we were not imposters – we were developers. A month before we graduated, we did mock behavioral and technical interviews. I had never worked in the tech industry, so I had no idea what to expect. Flatiron School really helped me get ready for the technical interviews. Everyone fears the whiteboarding interview, but Flatiron prepared us for it on Day One without us even realizing it. We also pulled our portfolio together and put it on GitHub.
After I graduated, Flatiron School was really good at organizing my job search. They helped me put together a checklist of each step of the application, kept track of the employers I had talked to, sent follow-ups, and got interview feedback from the employer. They held my hand a lot, which I really appreciated. I still use a lot of the interviewing techniques I learned at Flatiron School today.
What was the interview process like as a person of color in the tech industry?
A lot of times, I would go into job interview rooms and be the only person of color or only LGBT person. (And most of the time, there were no women.) That was very eye-opening. I kept thinking, "Whoa, out of all the industries, I would have thought tech had progressed, but this one seems to be very much in the dark ages."
As a black man in the world, you encounter biases no matter where you go. Someone is going judge you based on how you look, and it was a little more prevalent when I first got into the tech scene.
It’s important to me that the company I work for has a good culture and values diversity. I took that into account when I was looking into Rent the Runway because other companies I worked for were not diverse at all. I felt like I had to prove myself a lot more, and I felt a lot of undue stress for feeling like a charity case or the “diversity hire.”
Do you have any advice for bootcampers who are currently going through their job search?
Number One: don't give up. Getting your first tech job is 100% the hardest part of the process. My dad always uses this analogy: “the first pickle is the hardest to get out of the pickle jar.” The tech industry is very much a “show me” industry. They want to see your GitHub portfolio, they want to see projects that you've published live, and as a newbie, you may not have that.
That being said, it's very important to keep going. Understand that when hiring managers deny you, that's not a reflection on your personal self – you’re not a bad person or bad programmer. There’s nothing wrong with you, you just didn’t get connected to the right role.
If I had internalized those tips in the beginning, then my process would have been a lot smoother (and less stressful).
How did it feel getting your first job after Flatiron School?
I'll be completely transparent, I probably bit off a little more than I could chew. Flatiron School was really good about hooking me up with different companies, but I was being super selective with my first role. I wanted to work in the fashion industry, and that made my job search longer because I kept ruling out companies. Eventually, I decided that for my first role, it was more important to get to work and practice becoming a better developer than it was to work in fashion.
My first role was as a Support Engineer at Maxymiser. Essentially, I was a mix between customer service and engineering. We had a bunch of clients, like Nike and Lord & Taylor, that needed help with software. It was great because I had customer service skills from my retail industry experience; it's helped me a lot in my career.
My first job was really about learning the basics of front end development. At Flatiron School, I was super gung-ho about doing back end development. But at Maxymiser, I fell in love with the power of working on the front end of websites.
You’ve had a few jobs since Flatiron School. Have you gained more responsibility and learned something new in each role?
Yeah, absolutely. My first job at Maxymiser set the foundation and made me feel like I was actually a web developer. Next, I had to think, “now, where do I want to take this?” I took a job at Barneys New York where I was the only in-house front end developer. It was a very eye-opening experience and it taught me why I wanted to work at a tech-focused company. I had a lot of responsibility there and it was a huge step. I learned so much about managing my time and managing other engineers. And I also had a lot of autonomy – I was able to learn new technologies like React, which I had always wanted to learn.
Now in my current role, I am the only one in the company who uses React Native. I'm building Native apps for the company that gets used in our retail stores. I have a huge impact on this startup that’s growing every day, and I couldn't have done that without the lessons I learned from those first jobs after Flatiron School.
Does your salary match your job growth? Did Flatiron School help you with salary negotiations?
Absolutely. Most people are afraid to ask for more because they think the company will reject you. Flatiron School reassured me that if you've made it to the negotiation phase of the hiring process, then the company is not looking to say no. You might as well try!
Flatiron School really helped me understand that salary is important, but culture is even more important because you've got to spend 40 hours a week at this place. Make sure that you're being nurtured and challenged. In my first two jobs, I focused more on salary. I got nice job titles and good salaries, but the culture wasn't there. When I was looking for my current job at Rent the Runway, I valued the culture just as much as the salary. I can now say that I love my current company and I'm very happy.
You're at Rent The Runway now – congrats! What do you work on these days?
Rent the Runway is a tech-enabled fashion company, so the tech team is about 100 people. I specifically work in front end development in the retail division, which is right up my alley. Being a former retail manager, I’ve seen the pitfalls of the technology that common retailers use. What I like most about my team is that we're building all of our software from scratch. We can really pinpoint our customer needs to deliver exactly what they want.
My tech team for the retail division is about four developers, and I am the primary front end developer. I do the front end development for our internal software that Retail Associates use and I also built the software that runs natively on our mobile applications using React Native, which is something I always wanted to work with. In my interview, I told Rent The Runway that I wanted to work with React Native and within two weeks, I had a React Native project.
Do you feel like you’ve grown as a developer since transitioning to Rent the Runway?
At Rent the Runway, I’ve learned a lot more about how to run software securely, along with the financial ramifications of development in this type of environment. I had to relearn a lot of my basic programming skills because now I'm trying to do a lot of intense data mashing with sensitive consumer information.
I've learned more about the design aspects of programming here too. It's one thing to make the code as concise as possible, but when you work with a team of people who also need your code, you need to make sure that it's also user-friendly. I had heard of these best practices, but at Rent the Runway, they are a priority for my role.
As a person of color and member of the LGBT community, do you think it’s important to help other underrepresented folks get into tech?
Since there’s a huge racial and gender diversity gap in the tech industry, it's been a focus of mine – more people from my community need to be web developers.
It would have helped me to see somebody who was black or in the LGBT community say, "Hey, I didn't finish college, but I felt like I could contribute to tech and I made it.” I wish someone would’ve told me about web development when I was younger. Part of the reason why there is a lack of diversity in tech is that many folks don’t understand that tech is a possibility for them.
I’m actually starting a blog focusing on work-life balance and being a developer, and I primarily want to gear it towards black people and the LGBT community. I'm also working on a side business to provide tech tutorials for black people from underserved communities.
When you look back over the last four years or so, what role has Flatiron School played in your career success?
The most important thing that Flatiron School has given me is courage. I was empowered knowing that if I made it through this program, I could probably make it through any job. This coding bootcamp made me realize that anything I wanted to do on the web is possible.
Do I think I could have done it on my own? Honestly, probably not. Like I said, the paradigm shift of thinking like a programmer is hard. You need somebody else to tell you that you're supposed to be struggling. Otherwise, you think that web development is not for you. For instance, I'm teaching someone how to code and she has no programming experience. I see so many similarities in what she's going through, compared to my learning experience. It's not just about the code; you have to think differently and it’s tough. Flatiron School helped me realize that you have to struggle until you get it.
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about making a career change and considering a coding bootcamp?
I would say 100%, do it. The lessons you learn in a coding bootcamp are lifelong. The experience tells you a lot about yourself and what you can endure. You can learn something new, no matter who you are.
We're all going to be consumers of code. In the future, you're going to either be a creator or a consumer. It's so important for everyone to learn a little bit about coding.