Jason Fry enjoyed programming in high school, but went a different direction in college. After relocating, getting married, and starting a family, Jason reevaluated his career, and decided to enroll in General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive Remote coding bootcamp to get back into tech. Jason tells us why he chose a full-time online bootcamp over a part-time in-person bootcamp, how much he enjoyed interacting with his General Assembly classmates from all around the world, and how networking helped him land a web developer job at Feathr Inc in Florida’s “Silicon Swamp.”
What were you up to before General Assembly?
I was always interested in computers and tech. I took two programming classes in high school, and partly chose my university because it offered computer science but I ended up only taking one CS class. Several years later, during the recession, I started self-teaching through Codecademy, Project Euler, and even took a C++ course at a local polytech. I had a smattering of formal and informal coding education, just picking things up as I went.
In the years leading up to doing the General Assembly Remote Immersive, I had been working in social services with families and children in the South Carolina foster care system – so not math or engineering at all. I got married, moved away from that job, and tried entrepreneurship. I realized it’s really hard to pursue entrepreneurship and stay motivated if you’re not passionate about your project. So I had to work out what to do for the rest of my life for my career, while raising a family, and I came back to tech and programming.
What made you choose General Assembly, and how did you decide between an online vs in-person bootcamp?
An in-person coding bootcamp was not an option for me. I’m in Gainesville, Florida, and there is a coding bootcamp here, but at the time it only offered part-time training. My wife was due with our first baby, and my window for study was about three months. I needed a full-time, immersive course, and the nearest ones were a couple of hours away. I narrowed down my options to just online bootcamps, did a lot of research on Course Report, and used Google. There weren’t a lot of full-time online programs, and Course Report was a really good resource for me.
Something that stood out about General Assembly was their career placement. They have a program called Outcomes, which I found to be very helpful. Also, some other online bootcamps didn’t have the classroom setting, but I needed that. All 17 of us in my class were in Zoom rooms, video chatting all day long. I had a computer monitor where I would interact with a bank of people, including the 17 cohort members and our instructors. General Assembly had several instructors per course, instead of just one instructor who gave us assignments. It was very guided and structured which is what I needed and wanted.
Do you have advice for people choosing between online vs in-person bootcamps?
If you need a classroom setting, lots of support from instructors and fellow students, then General Assembly’s online course had all of that. An in-person experience may have been better, but for me and many others, that’s just not an option. I felt General Assembly’s online course was a very good experience nonetheless. Absolutely do it.
Did you think about going back to college to get a computer science degree?
I thought about it a little bit, but college would have been much more expensive, and would take much longer than a bootcamp. One of the beauties of programming is that employers don’t care if you have a degree or not, to a large extent. With a lot of other careers, you have to have a degree in that field or you simply won’t advance. That’s just not true in programming.
Did you have a preference about which coding language to learn?
Not particularly, because I suspected that going through a bootcamp was less about what facts you learn, and more about proving that I can learn a lot and adapt quickly. Before I started the course, several people in the industry confirmed that yes, that’s how they view bootcamps, and that’s what they look for when hiring bootcamp graduates. So I was not terribly concerned about the technologies. General Assembly’s full stack immersive course did use MEAN stack, which is very common in web development, and we also used Ruby on Rails, which is another hot topic. So they were teaching me two different stacks which was really helpful.
You mentioned that your cohort was 17 people. Where were your classmates based, and was your class diverse in terms of gender, race, life and career backgrounds?
It was incredibly diverse. In my cohort, I knew people in every timezone in the US except Hawaii and Alaska. One of my classmates lived in Puerto Rico, another was splitting his time between Spain and Norway, and another was an American living in Chile.
There were five women out of 17, which I felt was a better ratio than most tech situations, but it would have been better to have a couple more women in the class. We had several different races and religions represented. I also knew students from so many different walks of life – one man was in his mid-to-late 50s, and another had just graduated high school. I learned with people from backgrounds in banking and social work; another person had a job in the tech sector as a project manager, and was taking this bootcamp as a refresher.
I was really impressed with my cohort members. Out of 17 of us, 16 graduated. The one woman who couldn’t graduate was trying to maintain her photography business, but planned to come back to the class in a few months. There were a couple of people on day one whom I was concerned about, because they seemed to be struggling. But they did graduate, and learned way more than anyone else, because they started from a different starting block.
How did you stay focused while learning from home?
I had two monitors set up, which General Assembly recommends, in a spare bedroom. Class was from 10am to 6pm Eastern Time, which is my timezone. My wife was at work all day and got home around 5:30pm, so I was in the house all day alone and it was quiet.
I talked with my wife before starting the course about doing extra work around the house, and thankfully she agreed to that for three months. She was cooking meals, so I would stop studying at 6pm, eat dinner with her, then do homework until 9pm or 10pm, go to bed, wake up, and do it all again. I was very thankful to have that extra help.
What was the online learning experience like at the Remote Immersive? How were the days structured?
We usually started with a 30-minute coding exercise as a warm up to get our brains going. Then we had two, hour-long morning sessions. The course material was on Github, so we’d pull that down to our computers, and follow along while watching the instructor, who would be screen sharing and coding. We were encouraged to follow along with the material and code along if we wanted to. Then we’d have lunch, I’d go for a run or walk, and get back to it. We had a brief warm up right after lunch, where we would discuss what happened in the morning.
In the afternoons, we had more guided instruction, then often separated into groups or pairs to work on a more involved process or lesson. We’d go apply the lesson by building something small, and discuss amongst ourselves. Then we’d all come back together at the end of the day, and make sure we understood the homework. During Project Weeks, we worked on our own or in pairs all week long, and the instructors were there for questions and help. In those weeks, we had check-ins at 10am and 2pm.
How many instructors did you have and how often were they available?
We had three instructors and one assistant, who were there all day to answer questions and available 8 hours a day. After class ended, we would have another assistant available to help with homework for 3 hours every evening, and another assistant available on the weekends.
How many hours per day did you spend learning? Did you study on the weekends as well?
General Assembly tells you that you’ll average 60 hours a week, and that was pretty true for me. Generally I had one day off each weekend. I’d code for a few hours on Saturday, and maybe another hour or two on Sunday. Some weeks were lighter than others, so there were a couple of weeks where I took the whole weekend off.
What was your favorite project that you built at General Assembly?
My final project was my favorite. In the last two weeks of class, we had to build three projects – one big one, and two smaller projects. I enjoyed my big project the most, even though I never got it fully-functioning. It was an idea I had for a while to allow users to log into an app and create an audio guided tour of some place. Let’s say someone is from London, Miami, or Brazil, and really enjoys the food, music, or literature in their area. They could use the app to create a guided tour for people visiting the city. They can put different pins in the area to allow people to walk a specific route.
How did General Assembly prepare you for job hunting?
They did more than just try to get me a coding job. They taught us how to build a resume, how to write a cover letter, create your brand, have a brand statement, purpose statement, and improve your LinkedIn profile – all things which are completely applicable to getting a job in any sector. That was really beneficial and helpful.
What are you doing now? Tell us about your new job!
I work for Feathr Inc, which is a web app for digital marketers at live events. They can do everything in one place instead of having several different tools for email blasts, ad campaigns, and so on. In addition, we’re moving into event personalization, where we do work behind the scenes to give marketers the capabilities to personalize their events to the individual level. That’s increasingly important at a time when users can network online instead of just at annual events, and are finding information on Google rather than at trade shows. Event personalization is necessary to keep the event industry thriving.
Did you find the job though a connection at General Assembly?
Florida is trying to make the Gainesville area into the “Silicon Swamp”, because it’s like Silicon Valley with alligators! There is a lot of money going into tech startups right now, so there are a lot of opportunities, especially for junior developers. General Assembly was able to give me introductions, but I wanted to work for a local Gainesville company, and General Assembly didn’t have any connections here. Plenty of people in my cohort were looking for work in big cities like DC, NY, and Boston etc, where General Assembly has a lot of connections. For example, my friend in Chile was open to working locally but wanted to work remotely for a US company.
I started networking during the second week of class. I went to meetups and let other developers know what I was doing, so that when it came time to get a job, it wasn’t too difficult to reach out to the people I had met. I never liked sending out resumes and cover letters; it feels like you’re screaming into a void. I started to stalk certain companies, find out who I needed to talk to, invite people to coffee, and let that be my cover letter and resume. I ended up with two job offers within two months of graduating.
What sort of training or onboarding did you get when you started at Feathr Inc? Did you have to learn any new programming languages or technologies?
Feathr has a pretty involved, 3-month onboarding process for new junior developers. Because of the great training General Assembly gave us, I was already familiar with most of it, though of course I had – and still have – a lot to learn. While General Assembly taught us the MEAN stack, Ruby on Rails, and handlebars.js for templating, Feathr uses Python with Flask, Backbone.js with Marionette.js, and Jinja for templating – so there is very little direct overlap between technologies I learned at General Assembly, and technologies I use at Feathr. But that’s the beauty of the tech industry right now; they don’t care what you know today, they care what you can learn tomorrow.
How has your previous background in social services been useful in your new job?
My experience working with families and children in South Carolina will continue to be useful for the rest of my life. It taught me great empathy, how to address literal life-and-death issues, how to remain calm while others are anxious, how to lead, how to empower people who are used to feeling like a victim, and much more. All of that makes me a better human, and also sets me up for success as a developer, a future Scrum Master, a future manager, etc.
What’s been the biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to becoming a software developer?
Allowing myself to pursue my real dream. 15 years ago, while preparing for college, I thought I was supposed to study music, or supposed to study theology, and I did both in college. But I never put much thought towards my dreams. My mom recently reminded me that my biggest dream as a kid was to develop video games. I had forgotten all about that. So it’s back to that corny life advice, “follow your dreams.” But seriously if your dream is to become a developer, it’s never been easier thanks to companies like General Assembly and Course Report.
How do you stay involved with General Assembly? Have you kept in touch with other alumni?
Our career coaches still meet with our cohort every Wednesday at 2pm for an hour. I was attending that for months after we graduated, even after I started at Feathr, but eventually I stopped attending because I was supposed to be “working.”
I had lunch with a guy from our cohort when I flew out to Texas for a wedding, which was cool. I met another person from our cohort because we were both in Charleston, SC, for Christmas, so we got coffee and talked for hours.
Mostly, we stay connected via Slack. Some people announced their new jobs to us in Slack before they told friends or family. And now, eight months after we graduated, we still talk in Slack, share cool things we’re learning, encourage each other.