Kacy Ebel had a Bachelors and Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering, but was never able to find work that truly excited her. She was unemployed and living in Ohio, so when her dad saw an article about the We Can Code It bootcamp in Cleveland, she decided to go for it. Now having graduated from We Can Code It’s bootcamp, Kacy talks to us about instructor (and founder of We Can Code IT) Mel McGee’s impressive teaching ability, We Can Code It’s commitment to diversity, and her new job at software and web development firm, ImageNation.
Tell us what you were up to before you started at We Can Code It.
I have a bachelors and a masters degree in mechanical engineering. I never found anything that really interested me as far as work. Right before the bootcamp I was unemployed, so I figured I’d give it a whirl.
Had you worked as a mechanical engineer before?
Yeah, I worked for a couple of engineering firms in their H-VAC departments. It didn’t really interest me, and I got pigeonholed so I wanted to make a complete change and that’s when I started looking into software engineering.
Did you take Computer Science classes during your undergraduate and graduate degrees?
I had two programming classes in undergrad but they weren’t something I paid enough attention to at the time.
Those classes were mostly theory, with a little bit of practice. Actually, one of the classes was over the summer so it was five weeks long- I don’t even remember which language that one was taught in!
Once you decided to pursue software engineering did you try Codecademy, online platforms, or books? How did you introduce yourself to coding?
I looked at Code.org before starting to research bootcamps. Then my dad actually saw an article about the We Can Code It bootcamp, and that prompted me to look into bootcamps.
Does Mechanical Engineering ever overlap with Web Development?
As far as tasks go, no. But I think being an engineer, I have a problem-solving mind and that helps a lot in programming.
What was your goal in doing a bootcamp?
My main goal was to change careers and get a job as a developer, with the intention of also using my new knowledge to build something on my own.
Why did you choose We Can Code It?
I’m from Cleveland and I was looking for a local option. I liked We Can Code IT right away, so I applied.
For me personally, I like that We Can Code IT is focusing on diversity. Because of my engineering background, I’m used to being around men more in a work setting. We had a cohort of all women. It was a different type of environment for me. We developed as pairs and in teams using Agile and Scrum. The collaborative atmosphere leant itself to better learning and better projects.
What was the application like for you? Did you have to do a coding challenge?
I didn’t have a coding challenge. There was an assessment which asked questions about sequences, which number comes next, some logic questions, and a couple of questions that asked us to write out algorithms: ‘how to tie a shoe’ or something like that.
Then I had an in-person interview with one of the employees, which was more of a culture interview.
Was there a scholarship available to you during the women-only cohort?
Yeah, I had a full scholarship. It was all part of the application process; the scholarship was need-based and merit-based.
How many people were in your cohort that graduated in May?
It was the first cohort, and they were piloting it, so we were fortunate to have a small group of five. They are on their third cohort now and still keep small groups of 16. Everyone came from very different backgrounds and had different reasons for doing the bootcamp. We were also at different stages of our lives. It was very diverse - no one else had an engineering background.
Who was the instructor for your class?
Mel McGee. She’s also the founder and really runs the boot camp.
What was her teaching style like?
Somehow she managed to make a relaxed atmosphere that was also very intense. With the full time boot camp we were 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, which can be a lot when you’re learning something new. But Mel was able to keep it relaxed and was very flexible with what students needed and keeping everyone engaged, even with the differences in technical abilities.
Was there lecture every day or was We Can Code It more project-based?
On a typical day, in the morning we would review what we had done the day before and then move into a lecture on a new topic. Then we moved on to work on that topic and actually program. We were in front of our computers the whole time. It wasn’t like a standard lecture where you sit and take notes and then go home and work. We worked while we were in class as well.
You did a lot of school: an undergraduate degree and then a masters degree. Was the learning environment different than that traditional 4-year master’s degree education?
Yeah, very different. I’ve had a lot of classes before but it’s still been an hour or two at a time. For Mel to get up in front of people 8 hours a day and present the information, that’s pretty outstanding. And to keep everyone engaged and learning and interested, it’s impressive.
What were the actual technologies that you learned in the class?
Did you have exams?
Nope, we had midterm and final projects.
What did you build for your projects?
Our final project was a group project. We actually had two group projects and I worked on both teams. They were both really good. One of them was pair mentoring for 6th graders and high schoolers, trying to keep younger kids interested in education; with the idea that the high schoolers were focused on moving to college.
Can you tell us about a challenge that you faced technically or collaboratively?
My biggest obstacle with the projects was waiting for it to be my turn to do something. There’s a lot of setup early on and figuring out what the layout was going to be and what features should be included. I just tried to learn as much as I could on my own. For example, I knew I was going to be working with databases, so I looked at documentation about that as much as I could on my own.
We used Scrum to manage the project, so I just kept going up to the board and seeing what tasks I could do, bouncing back and forth between the two.
Had you ever used Scrum before?
No, we learned it as part of Agile development during the bootcamp.
What was the feedback loop like between the students and the instructors/admin?
Did We Can Code It do a lot of job prep with your class?
Yes; towards the end we really started ramping up to prep for interviews. We ended with a career day where we met with employer partners and interviewed with them. Leading up to that day, we worked on our resumes and had some mock interviews.
At that Career Day, we each had our own table with our computer and the employers rotated around it and interviewed us, and we were able to show our projects and what we worked on.
What are you doing now? Tell us about your new job.
I am a PHP software developer at Imagenation (founder Mel McGee's software development company). We make e-commerce websites and web applications.
How did you ramp up to learning PHP after the bootcamp?
It’s been part of my training here but I feel if you can learn one programming language, you can learn any of them. It’s more in the way you think and then just being able to translate that into a specific language.
Are there more senior developers that are helping you ramp up?
Yeah. There are several people on the dev team here, and one of my coworkers in particular has been helping me along the way. Sometimes I sit with another developer and we walk through what’s going on but there’s also a lot of, “Here, this thing needs to be done; figure out how to do it.”
When did you get that job?
How did you get that job? Was it through your own networking? Was it through someone you met at that career day?
It was through the bootcamp.
Did you have to do a technical interview for that job?
No, I didn’t.
Oh, really? What was the interview process like?
I met with the lead developer.
You said that the mechanical engineering career was not for you; do you think that web development is the career for you?
I knew the first week of bootcamp that this is what I’ve wanted to do.
Have you stayed involved with We Can Code It?
Yes, We Can Code IT has alumni meetups, so graduates, meet up every couple of weeks. I also come in and volunteer on the weekends with the part-time boot camp.
What advice do you have for future coding bootcampers?
I would say if anyone’s thinking about doing this, go find a class to sit in on. It’s an easy way to spend a couple of hours and see what it would be like. I believe anybody can do this; anybody who has the determination and the desire to would be able to learn this.