John left the legal field to attend TurnToTech’s 16 week mobile bootcamp in New York City. The switch from paralegal to mobile developer was risky, but worth it. See how this career change helped John land a position at a startup (and at Viacom!), all while giving him the skills needed to create his own app.
What were you up to before you went to TurnToTech?
I was studying political science at SUNY Albany, in Upstate, New York and I was on the “law school” career path. I was studying for the LSAT and found myself working as a paralegal in the Financial District, Manhattan. I did that for a few months, and I absolutely hated it because I was just doing paperwork all day and not making any meaningful contribution or being challenged. I looked around for coding bootcamps, and then I finally found TurnToTech, and I loved it. TurnToTech is awesome.
Some bootcamps use LSAT style questions in their admissions tests. Did you notice any overlap between studying for the LSAT and studying at TurnToTech?
That's fairly accurate actually. My advice to others still considering law school is that if you want to save money and find a meaningful job where you learn everyday, come check out a coding bootcamp. The logic that you use to solve LSAT logic games is the same exact set of skills that you'll be using every single day in programming. Part of me still wants to go to law school, and I might pursue patent law one day.
What was your exposure to tech and coding in particular before TurnToTech? Did you take a computer science course in undergrad?
I did take Intro to Computer Science, but it was incredibly basic. There wasn't any actual coding or applied CS; it was a textbook computer science class. The intro course helped a little, because it's better than knowing nothing, but it's nowhere near enough to get a programming job on your own.
Before TurnToTech, had you tried Codecademy or any other online resources?
Codecademy was the only other exposure to coding I had. Actually, I did attend one hackathon at the beginning of my time at the law firm. That's when I fell in love with programming as a career. At the hackathon you had to sit there for 36 hours and code. And prior to that point, I wasn't sure if I could actually code for 12 hours a day or 8 hours a day, but I did and I loved it.
What was the research process like when you were choosing TurnToTech? Was it important to you that TurnToTech taught mobile development?
First, location was important. I would not have been able to attend a bootcamp outside of New York City. I checked out a few other bootcamps but liked the teaching style at TurnToTech the best.
At the time, I was playing around with web and mobile and eventually decided that I liked mobile development better because mobile hardware was just begining to show how promising it could be. So I was glad to see that TurnToTech offered mobile development.
Tell us about a typical day and how you worked with the students around you at TurnToTech.
There are no cohorts and the bootcamp is not lecture based, which is great. This is the first time I've been exposed to that style. You learn on your own pace which, for me, was a good thing. For example, the guy who sat next to me had started three weeks after me but completed the course two weeks before me. He had a background in engineering and I think that helped him.
TurnToTech is different than other coding bootcamps. It is mainly project based. There are some lectures where the lead instructor will take a group of us over to the whiteboard and do an lesson on a topic of common interest. In general you gauge your progress by your ability to deliver on the projects. There is a final project which is a fairly complex slow motion video app. And there are challenging quizzes to help you practice your coding skills and gauge your progress when it comes to interview readiness. They also do weekly code reviews which is a detailed walk-thru of your code. In terms of working with other students, we collaborated all the time but it happened more formally during the internship phase when I worked on an app called Up. In that internship, I also worked with a designer, a lead developer and the founder.
How do the instructors guide you through the curriculum?
That's a good question. There is a curriculum of 12 projects, and you complete one project after another and those projects ultimately serve as your portfolio. There was an instructor who was on deck all the time if you had questions and to help guide you through the curriculum. The projects were the curriculum.
Was the teaching style at TurnToTech different? Was it a shock to go from a university classroom to a coding bootcamp?
I wouldn't call it a shock, but I loved it. I honestly believe this is the future of education. It doesn't make sense to start 30 people at the same level and expect them to all advance at the same time. I've read that when you batch 30 kids together to learn mathematics at age 10, some of them will inevitably fall behind. And because they're all advancing at the same pace, once you fall behind you can never catch up again. The TurnToTech approach solves for that. In high school, I really didn't enjoy math but now I can look at a math problem, and I love it. And so I really believe that this individual style of learning is the future of education.
Can you tell us about a couple of the projects that you did throughout TurnToTech?
The second project that I did was an iOS app. If a child and parent both have iPhones, and the child's phone leaves a particular radius, then the parent is notified. It was really cool to actually create and see that working in real life where you can take the phone and walk 20 feet away from another phone and then all of a sudden the first phone starts buzzing. That was really cool.
I also worked on a side project where the iPhone uses your GPS location to show you who your congressmen are, and then from there you can call them, Tweet them, email them, etc. That's actually the project that I'm still working on now. My project even won best app at Mobile Week NYC 2016.
What did you do after graduating from TurnToTech?
I completed my last project in April 2015, and the first job that I landed was a contract position with a startup in SoHo. The application we were making was a retail shopping app called Miner. Users could purchase from multiple retailers and check out using one checkout experience. At that job, I worked in Objective-C and iOS. TurnToTech had helped me find the recruiter who put me in touch with this company.
How did you feel about that first job?
I was a little nervous, but I absolutely loved the startup culture. Going from a law firm where I used to wear a suit and tie every day and not smile at anybody, to working at a startup where I can wear jeans, a t-shirt and hang out all day (and work). It was awesome.
Now you’re working at Viacom, right? What’s your role at Viacom?
I'm an iOS developer. Viacom has many apps in the App Store globally, and every single one of those apps needs to do a similar set of tasks: they all need to collect analytics, and they all need to serve advertisements, and some additional functionality. So Viacom created this internal framework to manage those tasks, and I help maintain that framework.
What’s it like working at a small startup versus working as a developer at a huge company like Viacom. Would you recommend either for a bootcamp graduate?
Yeah, I would. It depends on the person and your own values. Viacom for example, is very relaxed, and if that's important to you, then that's great. I can leave at 5:30 every day, and it's not a problem. When I was at the startup, I was expected to work long hours. I did multiple overnights, and worked some incredible hours but at the same time I could come and go as I pleased. I spent my hours how I wanted, and it was casual while at Viacom it is a little more formal. There are many more layers of bureaucracy at Viacom. So any bootcamp grad will have to weigh the pros and cons.
Does Viacom have a good training system for you as a new hire?
Yeah. Viacom especially had a pretty good onboarding process. I've been assigned a senior engineer who I can ask questions to whenever I need, and that's great because he's taught me a lot.
What is the TurnToTech alumni support or network been like after you graduated?
It's great. There's a pretty strong network here. There's a few TurnToTech alumni who work at Viacom actually.
Can you tell us about the biggest challenge you faced during this career change?
Probably the hardest part but the most important part is that you have to change the way that you approach problems. Learning software engineering teaches you a better way to approach problems. It helps you to break down problems. Prior to software engineering, if I had faced a problem or even something trivial, I would’ve approached it far differently than I do today. So you change your style of thinking to be more mindful. You learn how to approach problems, how to break down problems, how to define problems. I can take those skills and apply it to other parts of my life. It’s the most valuable knowledge that I’ve gained from TurnToTech, and definitely the most challenging.
You said you were still working on the project that you built at TurnToTech. What's the plan for that? Are you working with other people in your class or is the app live?
Yeah, we are still working on that project. I met a web developer at TurnToTech who has a business development background. I told him about my idea, and we found a way to potentially monetize it. The app uses your location to show you who your elected officials are, and then makes it easy to connect with them via phone or social media. We think this software could be really valuable to advocacy groups such as the ACLU or Planned Parenthood Action. For example, if you care deeply about civil liberties like freedom of speech you could subscribe to recieve calls to action from the ACLU. The app is called Voices. Check it out at TryVoices.com.
We've been working on it for a few months. It's cool because TurnToTech is a really good networking environment. I'm always meeting new people who are interested or people who have connections to the political industry or the VC industry.
Do TurnToTech instructors still help you or do you get support in other ways?
I feel the full support of the whole team here. I have definitely come back to ask the instructors questions. They encourage you to come ask questions and get help if you’re stuck on any project. TurnToTech wants to see their graduates do well.
It sounds like TurnToTech was worth it for you. Is there anyone that you don't recommend TurnToTech for?
I would say if you can't make the time commitment, then don't do it. It is an 80-hour a week commitment. For me at least, I didn't have any back up plan. I didn't have another job lined up. I just left the law firm, and there was no way I could go back, so I gave it everything I had.
Any last thoughts about your experience with TurnToTech or your career change?
I’ll tell potential students that the best part is the one on one time they will get with the instructors. Their teaching style is Socratic. Sometimes, depending on the situation, if I ask them a question, they won't just give me the answer straight up. They will make me answer the question myself, and gradually lead me down the path to answering it myself. This is what I do as an engineer every day. I can't ping my senior engineer with questions all day. I have to figure it out for myself. I think that's part of the larger value at TurnToTech - it teaches you to be an independent learner.