Aspiring game developer and artist Juliet Hitchner wasn’t fulfilled in advertising, so she enrolled at New York Code and Design Academy to hone her coding skills. She had been relying on Google and YouTube to teach herself but decided she needed guidance in best practices from NYCDA’s Web Development Intensive instructors. Juliet tells us the benefits to learning amongst other women at NYCDA, shows us her beautiful (and slightly creepy!) final project, and explains how she landed an internship at Inc Magazine!
What were you up to before New York Code and Design Academy?
I went to college for Game Design and focused on Conceptual Art and Texture Art. Before I made the switch over to NYCDA, I worked as a Production Manager for an ad agency. I really did not like that job. I wanted to get back to my roots in game design.
Did you take programming or CS classes during your Game Design degree?
When I graduated with a Game Design bachelor’s, it was still a very new degree. I learned some basics of programming because it was an aspect of game development but the course didn’t focus on it. We learned a little bit of C++ and Flash development with ActionScript.
I already knew the creative side of game development, and I wanted to get into programming to be able to develop games fully. I had already started teaching myself programming before I started at NYCDA.
What kinds of resources did you use to learn to code on your own?
About a year before I decided to make this huge career change, I was learning C# using resources like Lynda.com, PluralSight, and YouTube. I started dabbling in the easier stuff like HTML, CSS, and building very simple websites.
Did you research other coding bootcamps? What stood out about NYCDA?
Before I went to NYCDA, I actually looked at App Academy because you only pay tuition after you get placed in a job. A coding bootcamp requires a large chunk of money, so that was very appealing. I did all of their pre-course work in Ruby, and that also prepared me for NYCDA.
Ultimately, I liked that NYCDA taught front-end and back-end, while App Academy was focused on Ruby on Rails. I wanted to learn both sides of application development.
If you already have a degree in a technical subject (video game design), why did you need a coding bootcamp? Couldn’t you make the career change on your own?
People have told me that you can learn to code by yourself, but a lot of learning on your own means making mistakes and getting stuck. I wanted a coding bootcamp or school that would provide some direction and be there to help me. When I was learning alone, I spent time figuring out how to Google the right question, and then I would get 60 different answers. Instead, I wanted one person who could guide me to the best answer.
I also wanted to really make a career change and felt that employers would respect the fact that I went back to school more than being self-taught with nobody checking my work. I wanted to show that I could pass someone else's bar, not just my own.
What was the NYCDA application and interview process like for you? Was there a coding challenge required to get in?
When I applied, it was not difficult to get in, which is a plus and a minus. I liked the fact that it was open to people with different skills. On the other hand, that went against what I had read about coding bootcamps. I expected it to be hard and prepared a lot for the interview, but the interview wasn’t technical. They asked why I wanted to learn to code and based on that conversation, I was accepted.
I was a bit skeptical, but with any school, success depends on the student. It depends on how much effort you put in. You can just do the bare minimum, but I don’t think you’ll be successful when you graduate. I liked that people with zero coding experience could still be successful if they put in a lot of effort.
Was your cohort pretty diverse? Did everyone come from different backgrounds?
My cohort’s backgrounds and experiences were all over the spectrum. One of my good friends from NYCDA had zero coding background; she just knew how to send an email. We had a lot of women in our cohort, which was very cool. And some of them are in their 30's and 40's which was awesome. At NYCDA, you don't feel locked out of technology. If you want to make a career change, they're very accepting of everybody.
I learned with people who were butchers and mechanics and cooks in their last jobs. It was all over the place. Very few people had any prior coding knowledge. Two people dropped out for financial reasons and ~60% of my class graduated with me.
You’re transitioning from Game Design to Web Development – two male-dominated spaces. It’s cool that you learned with a lot of women at NYCDA!
Absolutely. When I went to school for game development, it was a rude awakening. Growing up, I played games with my brother and never thought that video games were “for guys.” I was just having fun. When I went to college, I ran into many issues for being a woman. There were very few women in my program and it was difficult at times. Some of my experiences would make your hair curl.
Even though there’s a huge focus on inclusion in tech, participation by women is still declining. Clearly, that means we’re talking about it, but companies and schools aren’t actually being more inclusive. Part of the reason I decided to attend a coding bootcamp instead of self-teaching was because I see how that’s perceived as a woman in tech. My boyfriend is a self-taught developer, and he’s seen as a “go getter." I’ve read articles about women who were self-taught entering the workforce and being self-taught is not viewed in the same favorable light.
How did that experience differ from NYCDA?
When I got to NYCDA, I felt fortunate that my class had so many women! They were smart and funny and it was so relaxing to learn with them. I think because the ratio of men to women was more even, the women felt more comfortable asking questions. I would like to think that as a class, we got more explanations simply because they were comfortable voicing what they were unclear on and it made for a better classroom experience.
Did you have to pass a final exam to graduate from NYCDA?
Everything was project based at NYCDA, so there was no test. There's homework that must be submitted in order to pass, and you have to meet certain requirements. There are two final projects – a group project and a final solo project. You can always check on your progress so you know if you’re on track. You can also talk to the TA who grades your homework.
What was the learning experience like at NYCDA? Did you like the teaching style?
I did like the teaching style. I’m an overachiever so I was that person that was up until 12am or 1am every night trying to figure something out. I went to a coding bootcamp because I wanted to learn programming quickly and I knew what kind of effort I would need to put in. I also had a great teacher!
Who was your instructor?
Orlando Caraballo. He was a great instructor. He came off as really strict but was very kind and patient. He wasn’t there to hold your hand, and for me, he gave me the space I needed to learn. I didn’t feel pressure to talk or ask questions.
What was your favorite project you built at NYCDA?
My final solo project was a pop-up style interactive storytelling website book called Nanny Dunkelheit. It’s inspired by a game I am currently developing in Unity. It took two weeks – I spent a week on the art and then a week on the functionality and the animation.
Live Project: https://dunkelheit.herokuapp.com/
Did you learn technologies during that project that were outside of the NYCDA curriculum?
What are you up to now since graduating in May? What has your life been like post-graduation?
I graduated on May 31st, and we did one week of Career Path afterward. I am currently in a seven-week internship at Inc Magazine as a Marketing Development Intern. And in September I’m starting a front-end contract with Fidelity, which is pretty awesome.
How did NYCDA prepare you for job hunting during that week of Career Path?
Some of the material during Career Path was a little obvious, but most of the information they give is really helpful. I think one of the best tips that I got from one of the career development instructor at NYCDA, Nicole, was to look at a job posting differently. She pointed out that when we're applying to jobs, we generally are looking for reasons why we shouldn't apply – X years of experience, specific programming languages, a certain degree.
Nicole, who spent time as a technical recruiter, explained to us what companies and recruiters are really looking for. She’s in touch with the people who are hiring and she’s very informed. It was helpful to get her perspective. She genuinely tries to help you succeed.
How did you get your Inc Magazine internship? Was it through a connection with the school?
Inc. Magazine reached out to NYCDA asking if anyone would be good for an internship. Nicole, one of the career development instructors at NYCDA, sent my information over to Inc and I got an interview and that was that. Their interview was not technical at all. They wanted to talk about what I learned at NYCDA and what I wanted to get out of the internship.
Do you feel like you are using what you learned in NYCDA in the internship?
Yes and no. I'm mostly creating SQL queries for Inc, and then doing some of their HTML site updates, creating HTML emails, and ads.
We touched very little on SQL during NYCDA, although we did learn a bit about the process. What's really cool about NYCDA is that they really encouraged us to learn how to learn languages on our own. They always told us that we would probably be required to learn something new at our first jobs. So they prepped me for that. SQL is not difficult to learn, but it would have been harder to learn without going to NYCDA beforehand.
What are your career goals from here?
My end goal is always to develop video games. My boyfriend and I have been developing games on the side for a few years now, but eventually, I’d like to have our own studio. All of the knowledge that I’m learning now goes into that goal. In the meantime, I'm just trying to land contract jobs. One interesting thing is that the Fidelity contract is a remote job. I get to work from home for six months, which is opens up a ton of opportunities.
If you look back at the last six months, what's been the biggest challenge in your journey to learn to code?
I wouldn't say it was easy. My biggest roadblock was my own self-confidence in this process. It’s very scary to quit a stable job to do a coding bootcamp.
It was also really scary to be confident in what the outcome might be. As you're stumbling along and not sure if you're going to make it, it’s tough to know that you’ll be successful at the end. But freaking out about your ability and what the future holds and whether this was a good decision – all of those things will hinder your learning.
Any advice for other bootcampers looking for a job now?
My advice for other bootcampers is to not get discouraged during the job hunt. After one day of sending out resumes, I was already thinking the worst: "I'm a failure. It's never going to happen." There’s a lot of waiting and remaining positive and productive is tough in the face of it. Everyone searching feels the same exact way you're feeling and it's a tough mental process.