Tell us what you were up to before you started Fullstack Academy!
Andrew: I started in financial technology in 2007 at a small startup company. It was effectively a facility that connects banks. I worked there for three years, then I worked for a company called Cantor Fitzgerald and I was working in the electronic bond markets, again doing technical integration and building their trading and matching engines. After about three years at Cantor, I got hungry to do something more technical so I decided to investigate these bootcamps; Fullstack Academy was one of the first ones that I found.
Did you feel like you were more advanced for your class or that you were on the same page with other people?
Andrew: I certainly didn’t feel as if I was more technical. I worked in startups companies that make technology. I was doing high school internships starting in 2000; so I worked at a bunch of different companies but I had never coded in those roles. So there were other students who had already done a lot more coding and were ahead of me. I was a little bit more comfortable with a UNIX command line because I’d spent a lot of time doing that; everybody has strengths.
What was the application process like for both of you? Was it particularly technical or was it more of a culture fit interview?
Andrew: I felt it was very well-rounded. I was actually concerned about it. I don’t like tests; I get very nervous because I’m a perfectionist and I freak myself out.
The first part of the test was logging into a web portal and answering five questions and basically writing five functions that do various things. For example, writing a function that counts up to 10 then prints “blast off.”
They gave us an hour to complete those and then we had a phone interview based on those answers. I did mine in Python, by the way. I studied Python on my own in order to get to the point where I could write basic functions – but that was a stretch for me at that point; now I’d be able to do them pretty easily.
Then, Nimit and I got on the phone and I just expressed my passion for technology and my disappointment that I hadn’t been able to go this route prior. I didn’t feel like I was in control of my future because I didn’t have these technical skills.
Edward: I felt, and this became more apparent throughout the program, the interview process could’ve been a bit more rigorous. If you’re paired with someone in a workshop who isn’t as focused, it can hinder the learning process. (Note: Since interviewing in March 2014, the application process at Fullstack has been revamped and acceptance standards are now more rigorous).
Andrew: I think one of the biggest value adds for a bootcamp is the other students. We found that one of us would run into a wall and once we got over the initial fear and struggle we looked around and everyone was stopping at the same thing. Having the students being of relatively the same caliber and also being able to focus and be consistent is really important.
Edward: I wanted a better understanding of the whole stack. Most of my experience was with front-end Objective-C. I would occasionally debug some backend code, but I wasn’t a backend developer at all.
So my motivation was to flesh out the skill set, boost my pay grade by 20-30%, and go for these more ambitious roles. I had grown frustrated at being one part of the puzzle because as you gain experience, you feel that you have valuable input on how to approach things. You can get discredited by default if you don’t come from a certain background.
Andrew: When I decided I wanted to go investigate these bootcamps, I had come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to grow anymore unless I either went to business school or learned how to code. It had been frustrating to me that I worked at all these software companies and if I had been able to code, I would have made much more of an impact.
No matter how hard you try as a business analyst, at the end of the day if you’re working at a technology company, it comes down to how good your software is and not being able to contribute to that was hard for me. It was also hard for my bottom line; I wasn’t able to get the jobs that paid quite as well as people who could write code.
So for me, it was both a monetary and a control motivation. I wanted to develop my career, take on more responsibility and be able to build things, and also get control again. I think back to something that Steve Jobs wrote. He said that everybody should take a year of their life and learn how to code. He is my hero and it is the best thing I’ve ever done. Now I feel so much less stressed because I know I can go build things.
How many people were in your cohort?
Andrew: It was 18
Did you find that it was a diverse cohort in terms of race, gender, and age?
Andrew: I think we had three women. Fullstack tries to find people who are going to be really passionate about coding.
Edward: I thought the spread was pretty good. One of the guys wrote air traffic control software in C. There were others whose first real code was written a couple of weeks before the start of the program.
Andrew: Most importantly, everybody was there to learn. They were friendly and focused and a pleasure to be around. It was a wonderful experience.
Who were the instructors for your cohort?
Edward: The instructors have since changed, but during our cohort, we were taught primarily by David and Nimit, more so David as the program went on. We had a guest speaker for Angular and a one-day lecturer for some back-end topics.
Andrew: We also had TAs; we had Scott Delassandro. Scott ran the four-week training course that they do prior the school to get you up to speed and he was always available for office hours; a really, really nice guy. We also had Tong, who was a former student, he was a Fullstack Fellow so if you had questions he could generally help. And we had some other folks there too who were ready to help.
What did you think about the Fullstack Fellows? Did you think it was particularly helpful to have somebody that had been through the program before?
Edward: It was nice; it’s a convenience. For me, it didn’t make a huge impact.
Andrew: The team at Fullstack is building what we hope will be an institution that will last for a long time and they’re in a very early phase. So to have the Fullstack Fellows stick around for the program and be able to shape how the next cohorts are operating and what the curriculum looks like is a very valuable feedback cycle. So I hope that that will improve the experience for everybody.
Did you learn everything you wanted to know by the end of the bootcamp?
Andrew: Fullstack basically got me aware of all the things that I needed to learn and starting the process. But it’s a journey. Even the best coders are going to be learning and the reason they love it is because they’re constantly doing something new, and you can’t do that in three months.
Edward: Just to present the good and bad here, there were some students that had issues with the way Angular was taught. But David and Nimit were totally open to the feedback. That kind of attitude is what drew me into the program; they’re completely open-minded. When something’s not working, they get that. Like Andrew was saying, Fullstack is growing and I’m sure it’s quite a bit more sophisticated today than it was six months ago.
I understand that you worked on your final project together. Do you want to tell us about that project?
Edward: Andrew and I gravitated towards working with each other because we both wanted to do something of real value. We didn’t want to make a toy or something trivial. Andrew eventually had an opportunity that presented itself.
Andrew: I knew somebody in New York who has a collection of posters and he needed a new website; he didn’t have any e-commerce on his site, and the idea of building an e-commerce website was really exciting. Originally, we thought we would build it from the ground up; when we talked to David, he suggested using a platform like Magneto or Shopify. We looked at a bunch of them. We ended up devoting approximately two months to the project to get it to completion and it is now live at www.postermuseum.com.
Did you all end up using Shopify?
Edward: It was good to do something in e-commerce with real world results at the end of it. Granted, we were using Liquid, a templating language, instead of Angular, but we still got to learn a lot on the frontend.
Andrew: We were going for a specific look and feel that we wanted and it was a great opportunity for me to get a lot better with bootstrap and CSS and structuring templates.
What are you both up to now? What’s your new job, what are you working on?
Edward: We’re both working on Gypsy Circle, a networking app for travelers. I reached out to the CEO Andrew Butash who had attended our cohort’s Hiring Day. I thought it would be a great opportunity to have ownership of the code base. I’ve worked for a few startups so I was able to bring additional value outside of simply being a developer. As the scope of the project grew, I needed someone to help out. It’s hard to find talent as it’s a developer’s market right now; they can be selective on where they want to go. I reached out to Andrew Glancy because we had worked successfully on Poster Museum.
I talked to Edward and he explained that they needed another fulltime resource at Gypsy Circle. It seemed like a perfect way to transition away from what I felt was going to be another dead end. It is such a developer’s market right now and there are so many great opportunities out there. You’ve got to be selective. I know everybody wants to leave these bootcamp and just get a job but they should really relax and think, “how do I want to make my impact and what do I want to do?”
Edward: Similar to how Andrew felt about his financial past is how I felt about my healthcare tech past. It’s something that can easily draw you back in. But Fullstack was a chance to redefine my trajectory. That was also a motivation to work on Gypsy Circle; it was completely different from all my other technical and software experience.
Andrew: Gypsy Circle is an Angular app but you will be able to download it from the App Store and use it and it will feel just like any other app.
Did you do an interview with Gypsy Circle? Did you feel prepared for it?
Edward: Not exactly, I was the first developer brought on. For Andrew Butash, I’d assume that my resume in addition to graduating Fullstack gave him the confidence to go with me and ultimately Andrew Glancy as well.
One last question: Would you recommend Fullstack to a friend? Did you feel like it was worth the money and the right decision for you at the end of the day?
Edward: Absolutely, without question. They’re only getting better with each new cohort. And cost-wise, they’re very competitive. It was an extremely positive experience. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.
Andrew: I’d say 100% yes; I’d recommend it to anybody. I think sooner or later we’re going to start to see students from Fullstack and from other bootcamps that are doing really great things. We’re going to look back and see bootcamps and Fullstack as the catalyst. I’m excited about it.