Inside This Article

jose-sanchez-thinkful-alumni-spotlight

Jose was a manager in the biomedical engineering space before attending Thinkful’s Flexible Web Development online course. When he started learning to code, he set a goal to break into tech before his 23rd birthday; and he accomplished that goal by completing the Thinkful course in just 6 weeks (while working full-time)! Since graduating, Jose’s career as a developer has blossomed – read how he landed his new job at Bank of America!

Q&A

What were you up to before you decided to attend Thinkful?

Before Thinkful, I had finished my bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering technology at DeVry University and was working as a biomedical technologist at a medical sales company. I made sure that all the biomedical equipment sold was functioning properly – I had actually just been promoted to a managerial position and was making a decent salary.

What made you want to learn how to code?

During my degree, our DeVry professors really pushed us to learn how to code. We learned Java, C++ and  C, but the problem was that I was more focused on science because of my concentration in biomedical sciences. Typically, when I was in group projects, I was always paired up with electrical engineering majors and computer science majors. So any time any coding needed to be done, the bulk of it was done by the people who had a stronger background in computer science.

Four years down the road, after graduating, I started to miss coding since I didn’t get to code in my job. I'd keep my eye on TechCrunch and see people changing the world with code essentially through web applications or the Internet of Things projects with microcontrollers like Arduino and Raspberry Pi. I decided I wanted to take a stab at building something big myself so I jumped into web development with hopes of building something that could impact people on a large scale.

Did you try to teach yourself how to code before deciding on Thinkful?

I started out by looking online – simple Google searches, Reddit and Quora articles – and all the popular forums about coding advised starting self-teaching. Because I already had a background in some coding (although I wasn't a very strong coder), I felt comfortable self-teaching. I used TeamTreeHouse and Udacity, which I loved. I also used Codementor.io where they would match you up with experienced developers and worked through JavaScript problems from sites like coderbyte.com.

Why did you decide that you needed to commit to a coding bootcamp? What stood out about Thinkful?

When I was self-teaching, I came across the bootcamp model because I was trying to get to that next level of competency in front-end web development. I searched online and found most coding bootcamps were like, "Oh, quit your job and come do this for three months," and I thought, "I don't know if I can quit my job." At the same time, none of those options were here in Dallas. There was one in Austin and I was contemplating on going there but at the end of the day, I just couldn't make the sacrifice of quitting my job. I then found Thinkful.

Thinkful would allow me to do a coding bootcamp online, it was lower cost than other options, and you could learn at your own pace which was ideal for me since I was not an absolute beginner and did not want to go at other people's pace.

When I was doing self-study, I was already doing 30-ish hours a week coding so I knew I would be able to finish the course much quicker than what they advertised. Following that pace would allow me to save even more money since the course was charged based on time you spent enrolled. It was a no-brainer for me to quickly spend a lot of time coding to keep the cost down.

When did you attend Thinkful? Was it a couple of years ago?

I took Thinkful’s Flexible Web Development course almost two years ago. I graduated from DeVry in March of 2015 and I started looking into coding about six months after graduating. Toward the latter end of 2015 I set a goal when I first started coding that I wanted to break into the industry before my 23rd birthday, which gave me about almost 6 months of time. I ended up getting a job March 10th just a few days before my birthday on March 24th. That was something that helped keep me motivated and helped push me because I had a very strict goal I set for myself.

How many hours did you dedicate to the online course at Thinkful?

By the time that I decided to enroll in Thinkful  I was committed to break into coding as quickly as I possibly could. My goal was to actually finish their course in less time than they recommended. They said a typical person finishes in three to six months. I finished the course in a month and a half, and I had a job after a month.

I put in over 30 hours a week on average. and I actually took two weeks off from my job – I put in about 60-90 hours those two weeks. Because I was able to do that, I was able to get through the course much more quickly.

How did you feel about the learning experience at Thinkful?

It was basically exactly what I was looking for – I’m the type of person who takes a vacation just to work more if it means reaching my goals faster. That's just the type of person I am. They had a structured curriculum, but because it was self-paced, everything just clicked with Thinkful. It was perfect for me.

So what's your secret to staying engaged while learning online?

I'd love to say that I have that figured out but I don't think I do. For me I've always been extremely motivated, so for me, it's not difficult to do these things. I was born into a poor family – I'm a first generation Hispanic and the only one in my family that was actually born here in the US. Times were tough until my parents got their citizenship in order to be able to work jobs that paid more than minimum wage.

I’m also the first in my family to go to college. Once I grew up, I was extremely motivated to be financially secure and to be able to ultimately help my family. So my motivation comes from wanting to contribute back to my family and help bring them up out of poverty. In order to do that, I needed to be extremely smart and hard-working. I made it a point to motivate myself daily by watching motivational videos online multiple times a day and by reading about success stories on TechCrunch.com.

If Thinkful was going to get me a job with a higher salary, then I was going to do whatever it took.

You've had more than one job since Thinkful – how did you get your first job?

After about a month at Thinkful, I was 80% done with the front-end development curriculum and I applied for a job at UT Southwestern, a medical school, hospital and research facility in Dallas. I got a call a week later and they said they liked my portfolio and wanted me to interview. My portfolio consisted of my Thinkful projects. I wrote a great cover letter, I sent it to my future boss saying something along the lines of, "Hey, I don't have experience, but I'm willing to put in the work that it takes to get there. Give me a shot, you won't regret it." Once they realized that I already had a managerial job in a professional setting, they knew that I was very motivated and worked hard, so that helped me tremendously. The job posting also specifically said they were open to junior talent so that was why they took a serious look at me.

Tell us about that first job at UT Southwestern!

I consider myself extremely fortunate for landing that role. I was a Junior Front End Web Developer. I spent my time with a lot of HTML and SASS and a little bit of JavaScript. It was your typical entry level front-end development role. We had a Javascript developer on the team who took the majority of the Javascript work. But I eventually started to migrate towards JavaScript and started doing a little bit more myself. At UT Southwestern, we used a lot more Vanilla JS, which was just pure JavaScript. We tried to use as few libraries as possible but we did use jQuery when it made sense.

Ideally, I would have stayed there 2-3 years, but the Trump administration is cutting a lot of funding to state hospitals which forced me out. They ended up cutting two of my most senior teammates and they weren’t sure if they could keep me on as a full-time contractor. The role was initially a 6-month contract-to-hire role that turned into a one and a half year contract that would lead to me converting over to a full-time employee after that. Since they were going through a downsize, I decided to update my resume and start looking for other jobs.

Also, during my time at UT Southwestern, I had started working remotely part-time for a startup on a side. They let me take on a lead front-end developer role in a really cool project that used Angular 2. When the founder expressed interest in needing a front-end developer who knew Angular 2, he reached out to me so I was fortunate to have everything line up so perfectly.

How did you find your next position?

Luckily, I sent out what seemed like 80 applications over the next two weeks and had two offers at the end of it. A position opened up for me in a different department at the university. I would be doing full-stack development in Python and Django for one of the research teams. At the same time, I got an offer from Bank of America, and I ended up going with Bank of America.

Did you have conversations with Thinkful about your job transition? Were they helpful in helping you find a new role?

When I was looking for my first job, I got the most help from my Thinkful mentor. My mentor helped me prep for interviews – he actually had a lot of experience interviewing developers so he was able to give me a ton of advice.

When I was looking for a second job, I didn’t need to reach out to the Thinkful team because I had already gotten a bunch of advice from my mentor. He was probably the biggest help in terms of getting jobs and just understanding the landscape of searching for, interviewing for and getting development jobs.

When you found the job at Bank of America, were they at all concerned that you were coming from an online coding bootcamp or were they impressed with your previous roles as a software developer?

At Bank of America, half of my team graduated from a coding bootcamp. I was lucky enough to have an engineering degree behind me, so I didn't exactly have that knock on me as I think that somebody else without an engineering or computer science degree might have had.

At one company that I got an offer from, their team told me that they actually preferred a bootcamp education over a master's in computer science. They told me they had actually hired a developer right out of his Master's in Computer Science, but he was not very specialized in web development. He just knew a broad range of topics well instead of being really good at something specific like myself and front-end development.

They told me I had much more specific knowledge about web development. I could hit the ground running with my knowledge since they had me analyze their web app and give them feedback on what to change and how to do it. The other candidate may have been a stronger programmer because he knew more complicated and general programming logic, but I had a more focused experience, which is ultimately what that company was looking for in this specific case.

Bank of America is a huge company – congrats on the job! How do you feel you’ve grown in this second job after Thinkful?

Bank of America was looking for the best coders and cared less about what your background is. They were looking for skills instead of a degree. They interviewed 72 people for 9 roles and I actually have the least amount of experience than my fellow hires.

I have been at Bank of America for about a month now. We have a beautiful work environment – a beautiful, colorful workspace so it's great to work there especially coming from working in a gray bland cubicle. The coding that we're doing is still pretty simple. Bank of America actually has their own proprietary JavaScript framework, so we're still learning that and it's a slow process. They understand that the training process takes a while and they are very good with letting us code on our own without much pressure. But still having the team there just to answer our questions whenever we get stuck is great. It's been a great process so far.

I've put in a little bit of time outside of work to try to understand their framework so I could get up to speed a little quicker. They’ve given us laptops so I can actually work from home and I've done that to just get to know the framework better.

What's been your biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to learn how to code?  

My biggest challenge is understanding the different types of front-end development tools, and the animal that is JavaScript. JavaScript has a lot of frameworks and it’s an extremely versatile language that different companies use in different ways. There's literally a new JavaScript framework every couple of years, and these are very, very time-consuming things to learn.

I wanted to make myself the most attractive to companies as a front-end developer and to progress in that role I would have to hone my Javascript skills the most. Ultimately the most lucrative front-end development roles are JavaScript heavy and that's where I want to be.

Looking back over your transition, how much do you do you feel like you've grown as a developer since graduating from Thinkful?

I've spent a lot of time from the very beginning improving my skills outside of work. From a technical perspective, I feel like, for only a year and a half experience, I have a lot more technical skills to offer than your average developer with similar experience. I spent so much of my free time picking up all these frameworks, getting better at basically every single aspect of coding. I even started pulling in some back-end development so I can eventually become a full-stack developer in the next role that I get.

From a technical perspective, I haven't had any doubts in my abilities because I spend so much time outside of work learning. I'm very young, I have a lot of time, I don't have kids – so for me, I know I can put in the work now.

What advice do you have for other people who are considering an online coding bootcamp?

A concentrated effort is the most important thing. If you spent 10 hours doing a coding tutorial or bootcamp, how much effort did you give in those 10 hours? How concentrated was it? Are you checking your emails or your Facebook notifications, Instagram notifications, and Snapchat during those working hours? Because if you are, you're going to lose value from those 10 hours. Coding is very complex and some of the more difficult to understand topics require a lot of reading and thinking – taking too many breaks or not concentrating while you study can make it impossible to learn.

The most important thing that all companies are looking for is raw technical ability. They're not necessarily focused on degrees. The more concentrated effort you spend on coding, the better you get, and the higher probability you are to get these jobs.

Bank of America interviewed 72 people and they only hired nine of us – we were the nine best developers out of those people. At the end of the day, they're always going to hire the best people regardless of experience.

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About The Author

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Lauren is a communications and operations strategist who loves to help others find their idea of success. She is passionate about techonology education, career development, startups, and the arts. Her background includes career/youth development, public affairs, and philanthropy. She is from Richmond, VA and now currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.

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