With a degree in journalism and a job in communications work for a nonprofit, Julissa Jansen had the chance to do basic web development for a site redesign and she was hooked. She did online tutorials, but decided to make a career change, so Julissa applied to Launch Academy, a top coding bootcamp in her local Boston. She met her future employer, Constant Contact, at Launch Academy’s Career Day. We sat down with Julissa to discuss the benefits of pair programming at Launch Academy and at her job, the front end work she does for Constant Contact, and supporting women in tech with RailsBridge and Boston Ruby Women.
What did you study in your undergrad?
I went to Simmons College, a liberal arts school, and got my degree in Journalism. After graduating, I did Marketing, PR, and content at a university working for a nonprofit. I designed fliers, posters and marketing materials. After about a year and a half, I realized that I didn’t feel fulfilled working in a communications job.
Did you ever take a Computer Science class as a journalism student?
No. As a journalist, we learned more about video. I actually did want to learn to code but the only way to do that was be a math major and access to programming and coding was really hard.
What made you start thinking about a bootcamp or switching your career? When did you apply to Launch Academy?
About six months into my job, my bosses decided we needed a website redesign. Our site was built on Wordpress and was pretty ugly; of course since it was a nonprofit, we did not have the money to hire someone outside.
Eventually, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to grow professionally and that I could probably be getting paid a lot more for what I was doing. That’s when I took the plunge and decided to leave my job and apply to Launch Academy.
What online resources were you using to teach yourself to code?
A lot of online tutorials. I started doing Codecademy, and a Python course online called Learn Python the Hard Way.
When was that?
I applied in September 2013. I got accepted into Launch for their October cohort but I delayed my admission until February.
Was it easy to delay your admission?
It absolutely was. I just emailed them and they were super accommodating. I told them I needed more time to save money.
Did you research any coding bootcamps besides Launch Academy?
I first heard about Launch Academy. I did look at other bootcamps but I really wanted to stay in Boston. I’m a Boston native so it was just easier to live here. I know Launch Academy has been here for a long time and that they’re one of the oldest bootcamps in the city, if not the oldest so I knew they had a good track record.
Was Launch Academy’s focus on Ruby on Rails important to you when you were looking for a bootcamp?
The language wasn’t important. The first programming language that I really got into was Python. I heard that Ruby was very similar to Python as far as readability. Honestly, I had no idea about programming and things like that so I had no preferences as to what language I was going into.
What was the Launch Academy application process like for you?
I interviewed with Bill Rowell who was in admissions. I told him that I was teaching myself some Python so he gave me this line of code and said, “What do you think this does?” It was super basic and I said that the line of code he gave me was a method that alphabetized everything on a string.
He was super helpful if I got stuck, he would poke me along the way and lead me in the right direction. That was an interview done over Skype.
Then they wanted you to build a website so I used HTML and CSS for that.
How did you pay for Launch Academy?
That was really hard. I don’t think that’s specific to Launch Academy but any bootcamp. I live with my girlfriend and she was a huge support. She has a full-time job so she helped me pay for it. We put it on credit cards and Launch Academy also allowed me to pay in installments but there was a due date for admissions payments and I paid in installments up until that due date.
How many people were in your cohort?
I think we started out with 36.
How many instructors were there?
Our instructors were called Experience Engineers and there were five of them. Our group was split up into three different groups of 12 people.
Did you think that it was a very diverse cohort in terms of age, gender, race?
I would say that most of us were in our mid-twenties. You definitely feel the gender gap because there were only about 6 girls and one of the girls dropped out. But as far as education background, there was a good diverse atmosphere.
Who were the instructors and what was the teaching style at Launch Academy?
In our group, I had a senior Experience Engineer, Adam, and a junior Experience Engineer who would rotate around each group. It was really good because I always had someone to go to. Of course, everybody was there to help but when someone is there along with you for those 10 weeks, it’s a lot easier to go to that one person who knows you.
Did the instructors ever do lectures?
We would have big lectures called ‘deep dives’ with everybody then within our group we would sometimes go over things we might have not understood.
Were you satisfied with how deep you went on the curriculum?
Were there exams or assessments? Did you have to pass tests?
There’s this one big exam two weeks into the course. If you’re comfortable with it, then that’s an indicator that you should stay at Launch Academy; otherwise the bootcamp might not be right for you. We would have systems check-ins every weekend.
Then the bigger exam was during Week 8 and if you passed that exam, you could be endorsed for the Career Day.
Was there a heavy emphasis on Pair Programming while you were there, and what did you think about that approach?
Pair Programming is super helpful because at the company I work for, we pair program most of the time, so it was really useful.
As far as pair programming at Launch Academy, there were times where you could work by yourself. If you needed help you could go to someone and start pairing on it; the dynamic was really good.
What kinds of projects did you work on throughout Launch Academy?
We were assigned projects throughout the course. One project we had to come up with on our own was our ‘breakable toy’, which is what we show off at our Career Day.
What was your Breakable Toy? What technologies did you use? How long did you work on it for?
Mine was a social network for bootcamps called ‘Faceboot’ for bootcampers to find other bootcampers in the area.
Did Launch Academy do other job prep besides the Career Day?
Towards the middle of the course, our Talent Director Corinne helped us with our resumes. Especially because none of us had technical backgrounds, it’s really important to show what we’ve learned and the technologies we used. Also towards the end, we would prepare for interviews with whiteboarding questions.
Are you using exactly what you learned at Launch Academy or do you feel you’re learning on the job?
We work on a Rails app but our code base is huge and we have a whole bunch of technologies for the front end. For example, we use Coffeescript for the front-end, so I’m learning something new every day for sure.
I work a lot on the front-end using Backbone as our library and using Coffeescript. I work on the part of the app that users use to add people to an address book.
Tell us about your new job!
I graduated in March, and got hired as an Associate Software Engineer (aka junior developer) at Constant Contact in June. The Constant Contact app itself is built on Java but our team specifically uses Rails. I work on the front end and the back end.
How did you find the job at Constant Contact?
They’re a hiring partner with Launch Academy. We talked during our Career Day.
Did Constant Contact hire other grads from your class?
My current co-worker Emily, she works with me on the same team and we both came out of the same cohort.
How was your technical interview with them? Did you feel you were prepared for it?
One of the things about the interview was that there was no whiteboarding question! Instead, I paired with one of the senior programmers here, which is awesome because I had already pair programmed a bunch at Launch Academy. Instead of algorithms or computer science theory questions, we paired to create a blog using Rails; it was just awesome.
How were you supported in your first months at Constant Contact?
I was hired as an apprentice for the first six months and I would always pair program with a senior developer on everything. It’s a very welcoming environment when it comes to learning. Our manager would give us accounts to Code School, Upcase and thing like that and allowed us to learn.
I think the first two months I was here, I didn’t program at all, I just looked at other people programming and learned the code base.
Why did you choose to accept an Apprenticeship over a full-time job?
That was the most important distinction for me. There were other jobs I was interviewing at and I was very close to getting a full time position, but I had to wager whether I wanted to start out as a junior developer right away or hone myself for 6 months, then be hired and get a higher salary once I had that experience under my belt.
What was your experience like with Launch Academy alumni support after you graduated?
I always got emails from Corinne when there were any positions that I might be interested in. The team knew that I was looking and they would send me information. After I was hired, they invited me to panels at Launch Academy to talk to current cohorts.
Have you stayed involved at Launch Academy and in the development community?
Very much so. Actually, our team here at Constant Contact goes to Launch Academy to pair with the students there.
Also, RailsBridge is very near and dear to my heart. I went to my first RailsBridge event in October after I deferred my admission to Launch Academy. After that I started TA-ing and now I’m the sponsorship coordinator for RailsBridge Boston.
I think RailsBridge was the most important group for me as a woman and a developer because I got to meet other people who had gone down the same path. They had no programming experience, they went to a RailsBridge event and within a year they had full-time jobs.
Has Launch Academy partnered with RailsBridge as well?
There’s no official partnership, but they have sponsored every Rails Bridge workshop since I’ve been there. There are also a lot of people who go to RailsBridge events not knowing whether the bootcamp scene is for them; then they later apply to bootcamps.
What has your experience been transitioning into the tech world as a woman?
I went to an all-women’s college so I was really prepared to enter a sexist work environment and deal with those issues. Then I came to Constant Contact and it’s one of the most welcoming environments I’ve been a part of. I utilize RailsBridge Boston to funnel female developers into the community. I also go to Boston Ruby Women and that’s a great place to meet up with other female developers. We talk about code and what it’s like for women in the workplace, but I haven’t had any problems here.
Does Constant Contact do anything from an infrastructure perspective to make sure that you’re supported as a woman?
There was an article in Harvard Business School saying that high performing teams have more women on them, and I think Constant Contact is very aware of that.
Just a couple of weeks ago, a couple of female co-workers and I went to a women’s hackathon so we could recruit some women. It’s definitely something that companies need to be aware of and they need to work towards creating a more balanced workforce.
Did you give feedback to Launch Academy after the course? What was the feedback loop like?
I never really gave feedback because I felt like I was satisfied with my education. I think I went into Launch Academy with the expectation that I knew I wasn’t going to learn everything. I knew that I would have to keep on teaching myself things after those 10 weeks.
I was afraid I wouldn’t learn enough computer science algorithms but then I realized that the only time I’ll ever need those is for an interview when they ask you to whiteboard an algorithm.
What type of person would you recommend Launch Academy to?
The person would have to be super determined. They’re going to have to know that for 10 weeks they have to sacrifice a lot to learn. I think if you go into that with the expectations that you’re going to be working your ass off for 10 weeks, I would recommend it.
The people who didn’t do well were those who come in late and left early, people who checked out after two weeks and they’re not sure why they’re here anymore.