Elliott Hindman taught English in Japan for five years where he discovered his passion for code. He returned to the US and enrolled in Coding Dojo in Seattle. He tells us how his hard work and many frustrations paid off to land him a front end developer job at Metaps in Tokyo, Japan.
What were you up to before you went to Coding Dojo?
After my last teaching contract ended, I decided to go back to Seattle and switch to a career in web development. I was searching for different boot camps and met up with Speros Misirlakis, the lead instructor at Coding Dojo. I just asked him about everything.
It was after that conversation that I decided that I wanted to join Coding Dojo.
I graduated with a double major in history and political science. I had a focus on international relations, that was why I went to Japan. I wanted to get experience working in a foreign country and learn a foreign language.
I learned how to program through trial and error. If I had something I wanted to build I would spend hours and hours figuring out how to get it to work. When I got to a point where I didn’t know how to do something, I would research how to do that online. I just repeated that a thousand times and incrementally got better.
So you first started coding to give your students a more fun and creative way to learn English?
Exactly. In Japan, there was still a really heavy-handed grammar approach and from my own experience on learning Japanese, it didn’t match with what I knew was right. So I was like, “There has got to be something better.” And I tried to figure out how the web could be used to make learning English more fun and interesting.
At what point did you start thinking about doing coding full time?
I realized I was spending my nights and weekends learning how to code. Some days when I wouldn’t have any classes to teach I would just spend eight hours poring over something. All of a sudden, I’d look up and it would be 4:30 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. and time to go home. That was a really good sign that I liked doing this.
Did you look at other coding boot camps or consider getting a CS degree?
I knew about Code Fellows but after I talked to Speros and saw what they were doing at Coding Dojo, I wasn’t interested in anything else. Speros told me how everyone at Coding Dojo is focused on spending 60 to 70 hours a week coding with a small group of people, collaborating and learning how to be true full-stack developers. That’s the type of experience I wanted to be a part of.
What was it like at Coding Dojo once you got in and you started?
I felt like this was my make-it-or-break-it moment. I didn’t want anything else to interfere with it so I moved to Bellevue, I got a place that was really close to Coding Dojo so I could ride my bike there every day.
I would get there at 8:00 a.m. in the morning, code all day and leave at 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. at night.
I’ve found coding is something I can do for 10 to 12 hours and I’m enjoying it the entire time. Coding is also about talking to people and figuring out why something’s not working. And that’s something I also really enjoy. People told me to take breaks on the weekend and stuff but I didn’t. I did six or seven days a week, 10 or 12 hours a day.
What did you study there?
At Coding Dojo they have more stacks now, but when I did it, they had three compulsory stacks: LAMP stack, Mean stack and Ruby on Rails.
Was your class diverse in terms of gender, race, and backgrounds?
We had about 20 people in our cohort from a wide variety of different fields and backgrounds. Some veteran coders and some completely new. I really liked that because it meant that everyone got a chance to be a teacher and a student and I think that is really important to type of hands-on learning we do at Coding Dojo.
What was your favorite project you built at Coding Dojo?
I made an application in Ruby called AlgoApp. Every day at Coding Dojo, we would start the day with a complicated algorithm problem to figure it out. It was nice; we would get together, write our algorithms down, and test them. If we liked someone’s algorithm solution, we would take a picture of it with a phone
At the end of the 12-week program, we had all these pictures of all these answers and it was really hard to keep track of it all! I wanted to build an application where you can post your algorithm, test it on the site and if you like it, it will be saved to your “liked algorithms” so that you can always keep track of really good algorithm solutions. The idea is that good developers can help other developers become better at algorithms.
How did you manage the Coding Dojo cost of tuition? I know these courses are expensive.
I had savings from working in Japan, so it was mostly out of pocket. But at an on-site coding bootcamp, it's not just the tuition, it's the housing and food too. My grandma was actually a programmer. She was coding when there were paper readouts with holes in the paper and you would feed it into the machine. She believed in me so much and was there to support me when I needed it. I also got the career re-invention scholarship.
What was the process towards the end of the bootcamp? How did Coding Dojo prepare you for the job search?
After the coding part of the bootcamp we learned how to use search engines effectively, how to work effectively with recruiters, how to build a compelling resume, how to optimize LinkedIn, and gave us tips on building a portfolio with all our coding projects on it. The Director of Career Services taught us this concept of 20 touch points a day – every time you either update your resume, join a recruiting site, make direct contact with an employer or submit a resume, you get a point. The system is meant to be flexible, and I found that for me focusing on accumulating 10-touch points a day was really effective and kept me motivated and on track.
What was your job search like?
It was frustrating making that transition – we went from 12 weeks doing nothing but coding, learning, and collaborating with people. Then all of a sudden you're confronted with recruiters and your resume. There's a lot of frustration. You submit countless resumes and applications then you don't hear anything back. It's easy to take that personally.
I applied to about 20 places including somewhere in Japan because it was my long-term goal to go back there. I went through a lot of applications, phone screens and interviews. I was in a mad rush to get hired. It was a make-it-or-break-it moment. I got hired at CDK about four to six weeks after I finished Coding Dojo.
What does CDK do?
CDK is the largest company providing a one-stop solution for major automotive companies and dealerships across the states and across the world. They build websites for GM and all those big dealers, as well as providing a whole suite of different dealership services
What were you working on at CDK?
The cool thing about it being really big, was I was able to do lots of different types of development.
Did you have to learn any languages on the job?
Did you have a mentor at CDK?
I had informal mentors and people that I could go to. CDK was my first professional development job so I felt a bit nervous going into that without a CS degree, or any professional experience. But I found the breadth of knowledge from Coding Dojo prepared me well, and gave me confidence. Also the troubleshooting skills I learned there were so useful. There's so much you can do with Google developer tools – you can inspect element, walk through the code line by line, turn things on and off and figure out what's going on. I think skills in using these tools separate great developers from the rest. I felt like that mindset put me in a very unique position to succeed. Even if I had limitations in my knowledge, I felt like I was fine-tuned to learn more.
How did that lead you finally back to Japan?
While I was working at CDK, I got contacted by a Japanese recruiting company. I felt like there was a lot of stuff going against me. I'd never interviewed for a company in Japan, I don't have a CS degree, I can speak Japanese but I’m only level 4 on the Japanese language proficiency test – typically, you need level 2 or level 1 to get a job. I had a 40-minute interview with the recruiter in Japanese. I had to write my resume in Japanese which was really frustrating. But I just pushed through and submitted all my materials. Metaps was the first company I got an interview with. It was a bit nerve-wracking but I just tried to show my passion for what I do.
The next week I called the recruiter and he said, "I have some really good news for you, I'm looking at the contract that Metaps has just sent me, they have an offer letter for you and they want to know if you want to join the company." And I was like "Whoa!!?"
What is it like working in Japan now? Can you tell us what you do there?
It's really great. I love the global atmosphere and the culture here. The office building is incredible. Every day, I get on an express elevator which shoots up to the 30th floor with an epic view of downtown Tokyo. Makes me feel like Batman! I look at the view every day and make a point to take time to appreciate it because I had a lot of low moments when I came back to the U.S. and I didn't know if I was going to succeed. The view is a reminder for me to not take anything for granted and to keep up my hard work.
I'm on the front end development team and it's a cool, small group of people. There's a guy from America, a guy from Japan, and we just got a guy from France. Metaps does automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning. One of our applications is Spike, a payment service like PayPal. The other is Metaps Analytics, which is is a software development kit for application and game developers to monetize apps and utilize data-backed decision making.
In the front end team, we're building the UI for Spike and Metaps Analytics, and we maintain the company websites. It's the perfect place for me. I loved the Full Stack mindset of Coding Dojo, and I feel like I get to apply that here. If the coding project requires multiple languages and it's connected to a bunch of different things, that’s where I really thrive.
It sounds like your Japanese is better than you thought.
What I’ve discovered over and over again in this industry is that it doesn't matter if you don't have that certification, as long as you can do the job. That's the whole philosophy of Coding Dojo and coding bootcamps. This industry is transforming what people need to do to get hired and be successful at a company. It doesn't matter what credentials you have, if you can do it, you’re an asset.
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about making a career change and doing a bootcamp?
Before you join, make sure it is something you really want to do. For me, I knew I really wanted to join Coding Dojo after I went there in person and saw the students at work and talked to the instructors. That’s a great way to figure out if it is right for you. You can also meet up with recent graduates who provide a unique window into the world of web development and the bootcamp experience. They have exciting and powerful stories, and talking to them can help clarify things, I think.
In terms of general advice, I think it is really important to learn how to recover quickly from failure. Coding bootcamps and the job hunt afterward are full of ups and downs, and I think the people who are most successful are the ones who stay positive, seek to learn from mistakes, and just never give up. You don't have to be the most amazing developer in the world to be really successful. Success is defined more by how we handle setbacks and choose to move forward. The world of programming offers incredible opportunity to launch an incredible new chapter in your life, so if it’s something you want to do, go out and do it.