Jonny Warren was an artist and custom picture framer before he decided to take the Front-End Engineering course at The Iron Yard in Atlanta in 2015. Now he is combining his artistic and programming skills in his job as a UI developer creating mockups and implementing them into development at Thingtech. Jonny spoke to us about his experience at The Iron Yard, his favorite projects, and his path to finding a job.
What were you up to before you started at The Iron Yard?
Before I started The Iron Yard, I was a custom picture framer. I worked with clients one on one, walking them through our products and providing design knowledge on how to best frame the piece they brought in. Having a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Florida State University, I was also an artist, and I still am an artist. I showed my work in a lot of galleries and events in town.
What made you want to transition into a technical role?
I definitely wanted to continue being creative, so I felt like this career path, while still being a creative outlet, offered a lot more opportunities for innovation and growth.
Tell me about your application process. How did you find out about The Iron Yard?
I had a good friend who had attended The Iron Yard. I remember he was talking about doing it, then he took the Front-End Engineering course in spring 2015. Just hearing his experience with it inspired me to do the same thing. He seemed to really enjoy it and he got a job right away.
Did you look at any other coding bootcamps when you decided you wanted to make a career transition?
Actually, I didn’t really know a lot about these coding bootcamps until my friend had an interest in it. I didn’t really look at anything else prior to researching The Iron Yard. I applied in June 2015 and started the program in September.
Before you decided to invest the time and the money in a full-time bootcamp, did you try to learn on your own?
Right after I applied, I decided to do Codecademy and work through the different courses on there, just to make sure I actually enjoyed it. Prior to that, I did a lot on my own – web design in very basic HTML and CSS. So I had that foundation going for me.
What was the application process like for The Iron Yard?
It wasn’t very difficult. They do an initial interview where they ask what you’re doing currently and what your goals are with going through the program. They want to get an idea of who the candidates are, just to make sure that it’s something the candidate is willing to put the work into. The Iron Yard’s philosophy is if you have the willingness to learn and the motivation, then you can take the course.
Tell us about your class. What were the other students like?
The class was taught by two instructors who took turns teaching the class as a whole, which had about 30 people.
It was very diverse in terms of race, gender and background, which made for great collaborative experiences. Every student had different strengths and weaknesses, and they were willing to help each other when another struggled. As an artist, I was trusted with having a good eye for design. A lot of people had dabbled in some sort of web design or had an interest and wanted a career change, so they saw this as a push to get them onto a different career path.
Can you tell us about what libraries or languages you learned?
What was the learning experience like at The Iron Yard? What did a typical day look like?
Did you do group projects?
We had several group projects ranging from weekend-long to week long. Some projects, including a hackathon and the final project, gave us the opportunity to work with back end and mobile iOS students. So we got that experience of how to communicate with other devs. I would say that was the best thing I got out of it, actually having experience working with the other types of developers.
What was your project for the hackathon?
There were four projects that were randomly assigned to eight groups, so two teams per project. The instructors gave us four or five bullet points of what they wanted, then we pretty much ran with it – they gave us a lot of creative freedom. My group was assigned to build a management app. Our group had two other front end students, two back end students, and a mobile student. The app was designed to track employees within an office space.
The mobile person was tasked with using iBeacons to triangulate the GPS points of an employee’s phone, and the back end and front end software helped manage that data. We created the UI/web application.
Did you get to build a project you wanted to build or that you pitched to the class?
For the final project, everyone had the opportunity to come up with their own ideas. We pitched our ideas, then the instructors narrowed it down to about 12 projects based on who wanted to work on what. Luckily, my idea was one of the 12.
My project was a social media website for artists called abstract. The idea behind it was to create a place for different types of artists to share ideas and get feedback and collaborate with each other.
How long after you graduated did you get your first job?
I graduated in mid-December 2015, and a lot of places weren’t hiring at that time because of the holidays, so it wasn’t until January when I started getting calls back from recruiters. I landed my current position three weeks after I graduated.
What’s the job you’re in right now?
I’m a UI developer for a company called Thingtech. They’re a startup within the Atlanta Tech Village specializing in enterprise asset tracking and management solutions. Because the team is fairly small, I’m filling the shoes of both a front end developer and a UI designer.
One of the first things they had me do when I came in was create mockups for a main feature of their core product, which is a GPS fleet tracking app. I created mockups for their next version they want to roll out, while at the same time working on their current version.
Did the Front-End Engineering course at The Iron Yard fully prepare you for the job, or did you have to skill-up before you started?
The course definitely prepared me with a solid foundation as a junior developer. During the three weeks before I was hired, I spent time reviewing some of the concepts I’d learned and writing code to keep the momentum going.
Before starting at Thingtech, I had wanted to learn how to use Sketch because I had been using Photoshop to create mockups, so they gave me the opportunity to learn Sketch while creating mockups for them. That was pretty awesome. Because I had a Photoshop background, I was able to jump into Sketch pretty quickly.
As far as working on the code for the app, it’s all Angular-based, which I used for my final project so it was pretty easy transitioning into my current project environment.
How did you get introduced to Thingtech?
A friend of mine who was in the back end course at the same time as me was in the Tech 404 Slack channel, a chat channel for developers, designers, and business people in the Atlanta area. One of the managers from Thingtech put a word out on the channel that they were looking for developers, so my friend passed the information along to me. I shot an email to the manager and met up with him.
What was your interview like for this job?
The interview was very relaxed, and I wasn’t asked a lot of technical questions. From my understanding, the manager wasn’t really looking for people who knew everything; he wanted people who were willing to learn and showed motivation to learn new things.
I showed them my code in GitHub and talked about some of the projects I’d worked on. They told me a little bit about their current projects and I asked questions about the technologies they were using. I mentioned my work during the hackathon which coincidentally related to their fleet tracking app. Having let them know about my design/artist background and my comfortability with Angular, they decided I’d be a good fit for the UI redesign and maintenance of the core product.
The difference between UI and UX can be confusing to a beginner. What’s the difference?
That’s something I’m still understanding myself. From my understanding, the UI designer is concerned with the look of a product, creating detailed mockups and layouts and implementing that into code. It’s a lot more hands on, whereas a UX designer is concerned with the feel of a product and the user experience from a conceptual point of view.
Do you think you need a background in art and design to become a UX, UI, or front end developer? How integral do you think that has been to your career transition?
In UX and UI I would say it is definitely a plus. Before I started the Iron Yard, I was heavily drawn to the UI side of development as I felt it would be a seamless transition from traditional art and design. I knew having a solid front end foundation would give me a better understanding of the UX and UI side and allow me to actually code the designs I create. So I would say my background was very integral to my career transition and goals moving forward.
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about doing a bootcamp or a front end development course?
I recommend taking a few Codecademy courses to see how you like it. I would also say from an attitude point of view, be open to the challenges and processes of learning, as it will not be easy. Self-doubt can limit you and cause you to miss out on opportunities for personal growth.
With this field, you’re going to constantly be learning new things in order to stay relevant. So just having that attitude, a willingness to learn new things and face challenges head on is very important.