Jessey was a second-grade teacher in Jordan and a church children’s director before learning to code at RefactorU in Boulder, Colorado. Unfulfilled in her job, she packed up her family and moved from Illinois to Colorado for the 10-week coding bootcamp. But her family’s sacrifice was all worth it in the end, and Jessey now has a job as a QA web automation engineer! She tells us about the intensity of learning code, her internship experiences, and how hard she worked to receive a promotion and full-time job!
What was your educational background, and last career path before you decided to attend RefactorU?
I almost finished getting my bachelor's degree in 2003, I had one year left, but I ended up quitting, getting married, and then finishing the degree online in 2012.
I received a bachelor's degree in elementary education that I didn't use very much. I taught second grade overseas in Jordan, at an Islamic school, for a short while. Before RefactorU, I was a children’s director at a church.
What made you want to change your career to coding?
I was pretty unhappy in my job, and I had a friend that did Dev Bootcamp in Chicago (I'm from Illinois). He actually also had a degree in education, and hated it. "But programming," I thought, "that sounds super intriguing to me. I think I would really want to do that," so I just took the initiative to figure out how to make myself happier. I’ve always been really good at math and science so I started researching coding bootcamps. I had maybe three months of pay after I quit my job, so I thought, "I have to find a good program that's relatively quick."
What made you decide to attend RefactorU and how was that transition?
We had some friends in the Denver area, and RefactorU’s offerings made me think, "Okay, this might work." So I applied, and asked my husband, "Can we do this?!"
At the time our kids were three and four years old and we were living in Illinois. And here's where it gets a little crazy- we owned a house in Illinois, so we had to sell it. My kids moved in with my in-laws in Arizona, while my husband sold the house in Illinois, and I was learning to code in Colorado. The friends in Denver that we had met the year before, let me live in their basement! It was crazy, but it was worth it in the end.
Did you look at any other bootcamps besides RefactorU?
I looked at Dev Bootcamp, but they required about 12 weeks of pre-work, and then on-site school after that. I felt I didn’t have enough time to do that. I also applied to a bootcamp in Arizona, because that's where my in-laws lived. When I found RefactorU, it was super appealing that it was only 10 weeks long. RefactorU has pretty good job stats for graduates so I thought to myself, "Okay, 10 weeks, I can do this."
What was the RefactorU application and interview process like?
I applied, and I talked to somebody over the phone, then had a Skype interview. RefactorU focuses a lot on personality fit, and whether you can do well in the course. I had a long conversation with the CEO, Sean, and got accepted. Then I had to do pre-work. I had done a little bit of it already – I had dabbled in Codecademy and Code School before applying. The pre-work was a little overwhelming, because I didn't quite understand everything I was doing when trying to teach myself.
A popular question that we get from our readers is "how do you pay for tuition?" Would you mind sharing?
There wasn’t a scholarship at RefactorU when I attended, but I did finance a portion of my tuition through University Accounting Services, UAS.
Was your RefactorU cohort diverse in terms of gender, race, and career backgrounds?
We had around 33 people in our fullstack/MEAN development cohort. I actually think it was RefactorU’s first really large class. There were probably about eight women total and majority of the class were Caucasian. We had a few people from other countries such as Mexico and Lebanon, but majority of the cohort was already based in Boulder. The age range was from early 20’s to early 30’s.
What was the learning experience like at RefactorU? Describe a normal day.
So I would drive an hour each way to get to Boulder because the friends I was staying with lived in Denver. Class would start at 9am and end at 6pm, but I was probably studying until 9 or 10pm every night. I was also practicing all day on the weekends. It was very intense because it’s a lot of information and you have to be in the mindset ready to do that kind of work.
We had lectures pretty much every day; there was a morning lecture, and then work time, and then an afternoon lecture and then work time. We also had midterm projects where we worked on projects most of the week.
Describe your instructors and the feedback you would receive at RefactorU.
We had two great instructors, Rob and Raphael, and if I needed help, they were there to give it. Raphael was quieter, and people didn't approach him as much, so I knew, "Okay, he's my guy. I'm grabbing him, and he's going to help me whenever I need help." I had to be proactive in asking for help because I’d never done coding before. So if I wasn't understanding something, I needed to make sure I got help right then, and the RefactorU instructors were more than willing to answer my questions.
What was the project that you worked on throughout the course?
Our mid-week project was a front end project, making a website, focusing on design and basic functionality. Our final project was creating a fully functioning website. Many came to RefactorU with an idea, but didn't work on it until that week. But in my case, I did the front end project for my midterm, and then I used that same site, and I finished it for the end.
Did you have a favorite project that you worked on?
Yeah. I built a site for teachers and parents for when you have leftover craft supplies, you could go in and input what craft supplies you had. You could select from three or four drop downs the different supplies you had, and then it would spit out crafts that you could create with your students.
How did RefactorU prepare students for the job search?
I think RefactorU was still figuring out their solid job prep program. They really encouraged us to go to meetups in order to make connections with others in the field. And RefactorU had someone come in to help us with improving our resumes. We also had help from recruiters. RefactorU was just starting to form these relationships when I was attending so I think they now work with recruiters on a regular basis. Recruiters would do lunchtime lectures giving us advice on how to present ourselves, and what information we should tell the hiring manager. I feel like RefactorU was in the process of making some really good long term connections with professionals in order to help students. So we did get help with our job search, but they were in their first stages of mapping out their program.
Were there conversations at RefactorU about being a woman in tech?
I've been pretty lucky in terms of how I’ve been treated and landing a job. There were stories of other female classmates who hadn't been treated so well in their workplace, so they were hyper-aware of being a woman in tech. But I wasn't too concerned about it. I had friends who would say, "I will be a super hot commodity in the tech business because people are really trying to build up their female employment rate." Overall, I have felt super valued so far.
I went to a tech in education conference a while back, and I went to a lecture about girls in programming.They were talking about how women are really pushed towards education degrees. I don't exactly remember the stats, but it was in the 90 percentile; at least 90% of elementary education bachelor's degrees are held by women.
My whole life people told me, "Oh, you would be a good teacher. You're great with kids." And that is why I got my education degree, not because I wanted to. I wanted to switch to photography but I was told how unreliable that would be. I was into math and science, but nobody pushed me towards engineering or anything like that. It's a little depressing to think about. But in my adult life, I haven’t experienced a lot of prejudice as a woman.
Describe your transition out of RefactorU. How was your job search?
Our class ended in the first week of November 2015, and I don't think we had a job fair until December. So I wanted to land something soon after the course ended; I probably applied for 60 jobs. I landed, unfortunately, an unpaid internship first. I thought, "I might as well do this while I'm looking for a job so that I don't forget everything that I learned."
My friends Joanie, Dave, and I all got unpaid positions at this web development company and at first, we were learning testing. We wrote tests to test the developers’ work and made sure the sites were working. They had a program where you work for 4 to 6 weeks, then transition into a paid intern. Then after another 4 to 6 weeks, you transition into a junior developer. We hung on as long as we could after more than 6 weeks of unpaid work but finally, they let us all go.
What did you do after that web development internship?
So I got the internship and started at the end of February. My first paid job was probably 15 weeks after I finished RefactorU. I did a 10-week paid internship with MakeMusic and worked my butt off because I knew there was a full-time position open on the team. In May they hired me full-time as a QA web automation engineer.
How was your transition from intern to full-time web engineer? How was that ramp up period of learning with this new team?
I have an awesome team with great people and an excellent boss who is honest and supportive. As an intern, I had a great mentor, Ashley, who was full of knowledge, and always willing to help me out if I didn't know something. Also, I can work 7:30am to 3:30pm which is nice so I can get out early for my children. As long as I work hard, and get the work done, Make Music is flexible.
I tried really hard to learn how to write the tests that I needed, in the language that was required of me, while I was an intern. Not much changed from the actual internship into the job. But now I've been there a bit longer, I feel like I can speak up more. When I feel like something's not working with the team or if I need help with something, I totally speak up. And even though it might be awkward, it's going to help us grow and be a better team. I feel like I have that freedom, which is nice. It's a really great place to work.
To be honest, I was very stressed from the time school ended to when I got a job. My family moved here when I got done with school, and we are paying rent that is four times higher than it is where we're from in Illinois. It was stressful, but now I would say it was all totally worth it.
What has been your biggest challenge or roadblock on your journey to learning code?
There are just so many things to know. In my new job, I don't only have to know C#, but I have to know how additional programs work. Selenium is what runs my test, and I have to know another language as well so I can build the steps out to my tests. I also have to know SQL and how to search for things in the database, which is totally different than C#. Learning all the things that encompass software development has been a challenge.
Do you have any tips for people who are thinking about making a career change to learn coding?
Know that it's going to be pretty intense, and you’ll be learning a lot. You can’t be afraid to ask questions. I used to be afraid to ask questions and thought, "Okay, I'll just figure it out on my own." But there's no time for that when you're at bootcamp. I had to change my usual ways and raise my hand if I didn’t understand something. Because if I don't understand it, and we run something else that builds on top of that, I'm in trouble!
And I would say, if someone really thinks it's something they want to do, just go for it. If they read my story, notice that I have a whole family and we decided to move across the country just so I could do this, maybe they will believe they can do it too. It might be scary, but if you think it's worth it, just do it.