Jeff Louie was a Physics and Econ double major at UC Davis who always had an interest in astronomy. After completing MakerSquare’s San Francisco JavaScript bootcamp, Jeff continued his education as a Fellow before landing a position as a software engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. We chat with Jeff about his coding bootcamp search, learning how to learn, and how much of Interstellar we should actually believe.


What did you study in college?

I graduated from UC Davis in 2013 as a Physics and Econ double major. I originally wanted to become a data analyst but as I was doing a job search, I decided that it wasn’t for me.

During college, I took a couple of programming courses for fun, like Intro to Programming and Intro to Object Oriented Programming using C and C++. I also took an animation class which used a Java-based language.

I really wanted to learn more, so I did some research online. I stumbled upon some coding schools and started digging a bit deeper into it. The 3 month investment seemed worth it, so I figured I’d give it a try.


Had you built your own website/app before you started applying to bootcamps?

No, not my own apps. Outside of those undergrad classes I hadn’t built anything. It was one of the skills I was hoping to obtain from Makersquare.


Which online resources did you use to prepare for your bootcamp application?

As a start, I used Codecademy to self-study JavaScript and Ruby. To really get prepared, I tried to look online for any coding challenges.


Why and how did you choose MakerSquare? What factors did you consider?

My mom showed me an article about three or four bootcamps. I looked into all of them and decided to apply to Hack Reactor; during my application process they highly recommended MakerSquare. I actually only applied to Hack Reactor and MakerSquare in June 2014.


What was the MakerSquare application like for you?

There were two rounds of interviews. The first was non-technical and was about your background and why you want to come to MakerSquare. After that I scheduled a technical interview where they had me build this program on my own and we talked about it.


Did you have to build that project in a specific language?

At that time they were doing Ruby and JavaScript so it was in Ruby. (MakerSquare now teaches full-stack JavaScript).


How many people were in your cohort?

There were 9 total.


How was the curriculum structured?

I thought it was really well-structured. The team at MakerSquare introduced a lot of small topics then built that up to the big picture; how to put it all together to make it work.


Who were the instructors in your class?

The main instructors were Mike Ornellas and Pipe Gutierrez. Mike had been an instructor at MakerSquare for a long time and was great with Ruby. Pipe came from a JavaScript background and had really good industry experience.


What was the MakerSquare teaching style like?

They used a mix of lecture and projects. We had lecture in the morning and then a small exercise afterwards or we’d start on a project. Then we would break for lunch and maybe have another small lecture. Then we would have the rest of the day to work on our assignment or project. Most of the work was done individually, but there were a couple of projects where we worked together. For our final project we all worked together as a cohort on the same project.


What was that final project?

We built a real-time collaborative code editor. We used a Rails back end, a postgres database and Angular for the front end.


Was it challenging to work on it with 8 other people?

It was at first. It was a good experience because we got to see how a whole team would work together on one app.


Was there a good feedback loop with the staff and did you give them any constructive criticism?

They were always open to feedback, but I didn’t really have any for them. I came into the program not expecting anything. They did what they’re there to do; they taught me development and they helped me get a job at my dream company.


Did MakerSquare guarantee you a job?

It’s not guaranteed but they’ll provide you leads, and give you a lot of support with preparing for the job hunt.


When did you start doing job prep- interview practice and resume building?

We started job prep in the last couple weeks. MakerSquare helped us build a resume as a software engineer, create a cover letter, and build our LinkedIn profiles. They conducted practice technical interviews. They had people come in from companies like Twitter, Dropbox and a couple of other places to help conduct practice interviews.


What goes on a software engineer’s resume?

In tech, it’s all about your portfolio and the work you’ve done. You want to highlight projects you worked on and technologies you’re familiar with, whereas a regular resume is mostly your education or your past experience.


Does MakerSquare have an Outcomes team that helps set you up with interviews and employers?

MakerSquare had several connections in the Bay area, and they have a team member who is in charge of getting new leads, talking to companies and trying to get graduates interviews.


Tell us about being a MakerSquare Fellow.

Two students from my cohort were Fellows and we essentially got to experience what it was like to be an instructor. We helped give lectures, helped students debug their projects, and prepared for upcoming lectures. The experience deepened our foundation in programming.


What did you think about teaching?

I thought it was helpful. It helped me think about what I’d just learned at MakerSquare in a totally different way.


What was the MakerSquare Fellows application like?

I think four of us applied and only two were selected. Since the MakerSquare team already knew us, the co-founder had a brief conversation with each of us. They knew our technical skill level and they wanted to see what we would do as a fellow and what we would contribute by teaching at MakerSquare.


How were you connected with your future employer, the Jet Propulsion Lab at NASA?

JPL actually contacted MakerSquare looking for web developers a month and a half after I became a Fellow. MakerSquare suggested me because I majored in Physics and have an interest in working there. That’s how the interview was set up.


Were you interested in space or in NASA before you applied?

In my undergrad, I did a specialization in Astrophysics. In college, I wanted to become an astronomer and do some sort of research, but as the years went on it seemed less and less likely. But I’ve always been interested in astronomy and outer space.


What was the NASA interview like- was it super intense?

Oh no, it actually wasn’t that bad. The initial talk was about a half hour long then I had to do a technical interview, which was maybe two hours. There were some whiteboarding questions but nothing too technical.


What is your new job at JPL?

I am an Enterprise Applications Software Engineer. JPL has an IT division made up of software engineers who build internal applications for the other departments at JPL.


What has your first month been like as a Software Engineer?

There are a lot of senior developers on my team who are open to explaining things if I don’t understand. The first two weeks I was working mostly on Amazon Web Services and then this week I started working on C#, .NET. One of the most important things that we learned at MakerSquare is learning how to learn. Right now at my job I haven’t used a ton of the actual technologies we were taught at MakerSquare, but MakerSquare helped me to learn new technologies on my own.


MakerSquare teaches a JavaScript curriculum, and they taught Rails when you were there. Do you use everything that you learned in the class?

I’m not so sure I would use Rails in my current job, but almost every app uses JavaScript.


Can you tell me on a scale of 1 -10 how realistic Interstellar was?

I would say an 8 or a 9. Except for the part where Matthew McConaughey went into that box. That part is probably impossible.


Have you stayed involved as a mentor with MakerSquare since you graduated?  

When I was still in the Bay area I visited a couple of times to chat with the new Fellows who were students when I was a Fellow. Two of the co-founders, Harsh and Shehzan came down two weeks ago to visit me at JPL also.


I feel like applying for a job at NASA is intimidating- do you have advice to future students?

I would tell bootcamp students to go for the job they want to get. You never know if the company is looking for a developer to grow with them.


Was MakerSquare worth the money? Could you have learned to be a developer on your own?

It was definitely worth the money. Even with enough time, I’m not sure if I could’ve learned everything we learned. When you’re self-studying, it’s hard to point yourself in the right direction. It would take a lot longer because you wouldn’t have anyone there to help you. I would recommend it to people who want to switch their careers. MakerSquare is a 3-month commitment, but they get you ready for a job right out of the program.


Learn more about MakerSquare on Course Report or check out their website!

About The Author

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Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!

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