Isaiah Coates is perfect proof that traditional web development isn’t for everyone. As a freelance web developer, Isaiah knew he had a knack for technology, but was way more interested in databases and problem solving. So he decided to attend Level’s Data Analytics bootcamp in Charlotte, North Carolina, and landed a job at AAA! Learn about Isaiah’s real-world capstone project, why he’s staying involved as a TA at Level, and how he’s using his new data analytics skill set as a Web Analyst.
What were you up to before you went to Level?
Before Level, I had hit one of the worst times of my life. I had dropped out of college because I had too many financial burdens, and had moved back to my hometown of Memphis. I was working as a technician, repairing Apple laptops. I knew I was good with computers, but honestly, it was a terrible life.
How did you decide that a data analytics bootcamp was the right education path for you?
I was a computer science major in college, so I actually started freelancing in back end development and front end development. I like making decisions based on facts and started to understand more about databases. That was a real paradigm shift for me. I realized that I understood computers, I liked math, but I didn’t want to be a software developer for a living.
I remember reading blog articles about this huge data science revolution that was bubbling up, so I started to explore Level and other data science bootcamps.
Since I had worked as a freelance developer, I had worked with other developers that actually graduated from bootcamps like The Iron Yard, so I was familiar with the end result of a bootcamp. I understood that you take ~12 weeks, get the skills that you need, and then you get a job that would have taken four years if you went down the traditional degree path.
How experienced did you need to be for the Level application? Did they give you an Excel challenge?
We did have an Excel test, which required us to use pivot tables. I didn't know about pivot tables at the time, so I just did this super long work around, but it worked.
What was it about Level that made you feel like you were going to be successful there?
Before I chose Level, I looked at a FinTech bootcamp in New York called Byte Academy and I looked at The Iron Yard. Choosing a bootcamp in Charlotte was a huge advantage because my mom lives in Charlotte, so I knew I would just have to save enough money to pay my bills and operate as a human being. So I decided to start the application process with Level.
I also appreciated that I could learn data analysis from a reputable university. I had heard of Northeastern before; I'd seen their logo and their colors, so I knew that they were credible.
Tell us about the learning experience at Level. What did you learn and how was it taught?
Now that I work in analytics, I realize that everything we learned at Level was super relevant. The entire course is cumulative, the concepts build on top of each other. We started with statistics, because everything in data analysis goes back statistics at the end of the day. Everything from basic statistics, to probability, to logistic regression (essentially finding a correlation between two data sets).
We manipulated data, learned how it looks, learned how to clean it and normalize it and apply statistical ideas that we learned in the first two weeks. Then we started working with datasets in Excel, where we got really dirty. Now I can actually boast that I know essentially everything about Excel!
Once we had a grasp on doing analysis in Excel, we moved on to R, which is a programming language and a really mathematical language. R accomplishes everything that Excel does, but does it with one line of code! Then we moved onto MySQL and NoSQL, which is how we pulled data out of databases.
In the last two weeks of class, we started learning more technical machine learning.
What did you build for your Capstone Project?
Our final project was with an actual company. I partnered with a coffeehouse in Boston called Pavement. They were having inventory problems and felt like they were wasting too much of their product. What we really found out from the Capstone Project is that the shipments honestly fluctuated way too much, so we couldn’t really standardize the ordering. While it was hard to predict his future shipping schedule, I gave him a template for a good shipping schedule based on what he had accomplished in the past.
The project wasn't super successful in my eyes. However, the business owners got a lot of insight from my learning and that's all that really matters at the end of the day.
What technologies did you use for the Capstone Project?
I did the Capstone Project while I was learning Machine Learning and Tableau. Machine Learning uses R and is like the predecessor for artificial intelligence, and Tableau is basically PowerPoint for data.
My project really helped me through machine learning and R, and it helped with my presentation skills through Tableau. I've never been afraid to speak in public, but I also hadn’t ever professionally presented findings, so that was a great experience.
We did these projects solo, but we bounced ideas off of each other in class.
Tell us about your new job! Are you a data analyst?
I’m a Web Analyst at AAA, and I work in the marketing department. It's crazy how well this has worked out in the end.
How did you end up getting the job at AAA? You mentioned the final project was a big part of it, but was it through Level? Is AAA a Level partner?
I can't help thinking that about 80% of the reason that I got this job was my capstone project. Most of the interview was about the capstone project. They wanted to hear that I'd used data analytics in some form, but they also wanted to know about my web development experience because I need to understand the structure of the Internet in order to be a Web Analyst. This is exactly where I wanted to be.
Level and AAA do not have a connection. I actually got the call from AAA on a Friday afternoon, and I was completely done with my job search. I had been looking for 2 months, and felt like I was ready to give up! When I got this random call from a recruiter, and from there, the hiring process literally took four days.
I got the call on Friday and then I scheduled a phone interview. I talked with the recruitment agency on Monday, and had a phone interview with AAA on Tuesday. I had a face to face interview on Wednesday, and I got hired on Thursday.
I'm also a TA once a week and offer office hours on the weekend at Level.
At Level, did you learn everything you needed to know for your job as a Web Analyst at AAA?
Data analysis is a super broad field. My job now actually requires a few tools that aren't taught at Level - Google Analytics, for example. I think it just depends on what’s required in the scope of each job. I use Excel on a daily basis, no exaggeration.
Here’s what I find most outstanding about Level, during my entire time at Level, I learned Excel, statistics, RStudio (which is R, SQL, Tableau and Orange). All of these are open source (except Tableau) and free software which combine to make a suite called SAS, which is probably the most sought-after skill I've seen in my entire job search.
I once read an article that said SAS was the most valuable skill professionally right now. Everything we learned in Level made us have really in-demand skills, and I think that's awesome.
Now that you’re a Teaching Assistant at Level, do you think that it's important to have TA's at a bootcamp who actually attended the bootcamp?
It's been super beneficial for me and my students. I can tell them that I did that exact project, not to worry because we all freaked out about it, and it works in the end.
I do believe that there is definitely a 100% benefit to having alumni that are readily available to talk to students, and to talk to incoming applicants about Level if they’re considering it. It's super valuable not only for the people in the program, but also for mentors and TA’s themselves. I've learned a ton from my students. They find new solutions and different issues with the projects that we didn't find. They're doing their own self-learning, self-teaching, and introducing me to new blogs that I can read or new concepts that I haven't heard about. It helps a lot too when you start job searching.
What types of job roles do Level students get when they graduate? Have you talked to your current students or friends from your cohort?
I see people end up in jobs that combine their past experience with their new analytics skills. For example, I was a web developer, then I went to this web analysis program, and now I'm a Web Analyst. In my cohort, one of my classmates was a CPA, and then looked for jobs as a Financial Analyst. I heard that another of my classmates is working as a Credit Risk Analyst.
What was the hardest part of your career change? Do you have advice for somebody who is considering doing Level or learning data analytics?
One thing that actually differentiates Level is that they invite employers to come in and speak about data analysis– recruiters, staffing agencies, etc– but they don’t do traditional job placement. So don't come to the program thinking "Okay, I'm putting my eight weeks in, at the end of the program they're going to get me a job.” You must be a self-starter and a go-getter, take this opportunity as a step and try to progress yourself to the next point.
What was your plan of attack for getting a job after graduating?
I remember exactly what I did. The last day of class was a career day, so we had a lot of speakers come in that day, and I called every single one of them to schedule an interview.
On Monday, I started setting up appointments with whoever I could reach. Each week, I think I was sending like 200 resumes. Then depending on which callbacks I got, I would adjust my resume. I did that for about six or seven weeks. After a while, I started getting called back for analysis positions. Then one day, I got the call that changed everything. But really, you have to be in charge of yourself, be a go-getter.
What’s your advice to future bootcampers who want to make a career change like you did?
You can’t have any hesitation. You have to put everything into this, because you have no time to do anything else.
Transitioning careers is not something that's easy for anyone, in any sector. It's a difficult process, but don't get discouraged when you're in the course because you're learning this for the first time! I'm not going to sit here and lie to you and tell you that's easy because it's not at all. You have to be willing to put in effort every single day to accomplish your goals.
It's really just will power. At the end of the day, you're learning something new, and the only way to get through it is to do it one step at a time.