Since graduating from Dev Bootcamp in October 2013, Katy Exline has landed a job as a software developer at Chicago-based startup Fooda and became co-leader of Girl Develop It Chicago. We talk to Katy about her experience at Dev Bootcamp, the instructors and teaching style, and how she's stayed connected to the tech community.
Tell us what you were up to before you started at Dev Bootcamp.
Before I started at Dev Bootcamp I studied political science and geography at Ohio State University so I had a background in social sciences. I had done several internships and part-time jobs in campaigns, in the legislature and even abroad at different parliaments.
At the same time, I was studying geography and specializing in GIS, geographic information systems, which is dealing with spatial analysis. I had to take at least one programming class, so that gave me a bit of exposure to programming.
What made you want to make the career change after being so heavily involved in the political world?
I always thought I wanted to work in research but I wasn’t feeling the fulfillment that I expected. I saw a lot of really crappy government websites day in and day out and I thought, “I could build something better than this!” I was also working with spreadsheets and I knew I needed a database and/or some way to streamline data, but I didn’t know how to build it.
I felt like I was missing a skill. I started tinkering with online tutorials about the web and coding and then I got involved in a local meet-up group called Girl Develop It in Columbus, Ohio where I took my first intro HTML/CSS class. For about 6 months, I studied on my own time, just playing around and doing some self-teaching on top of a full-time and part-time job.
How did you decide on Dev Bootbamp? Did you look at any other boot camps in Chicago or the Midwest?
The first one that caught my eye was App Academy because of the way they handled tuition (deferring tuition until the student gets a job). That led me to Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco, and I realized they had just opened a Chicago office. It turned out that my original teacher from my HTML/CSS class at Girl Develop It, Jen Myers, was actually moving to Chicago to teach at Dev Bootcamp.
Because I knew people teaching at Dev Bootcamp from Columbus and Girl Develop It, those personal connections made me feel very welcomed and supported and drove me to choose Dev Bootcamp as my coding home.
What was the application process like for you?
As a disclaimer, I did Dev Bootcamp in October 2013, so it’s probably changed a bit. The application took a reasonable length of time.
I submitted the written application along with a video submission and I believe I heard back within a week. Then I had a Skype interview which was about an hour long. Mine did not involve any live coding, but we discussed my technical background extensively.
I wonder why they didn’t ask you to do coding questions.
Once you started, what was your cohort like? Did you find that it was diverse in terms of age and race and gender?
When I first started, I think there were around 24 people in my cohort. I would say it was relatively diverse. We had a couple of women, a couple of people that were underrepresented or from minority groups but I would still say generally, the majority were young white males. I did not hold it entirely against Dev Bootcamp because the people they brought onto their staff showed me that they did care about diversity.
Did you feel like everyone was on the same level in terms of experience?
I would definitely say that there was a mixture of skill-level. In regards to the content, we were all in the same place but some people came from computer-oriented backgrounds. There were two or three actual computer science majors in the course who had certain strengths that others didn’t have. But I would say we were all pretty much close to the same level.
Did everybody graduate?
At Dev Bootcamp they have a process where it’s broken down into three phases, three weeks each, aside from the prep phase. At the end of your third week you go through a test, which is a coding challenge and a code review where they check to see whether or not you’ve retained most of the content from class. If you haven’t, sometimes you are asked to repeat that phase. That can happen in both the first phase and the second phase. In each phase we had around two to three people repeat each phase.
Each cohort has a woodland creature name like Salamander or Firefly. If one person repeats then they would repeat that phase with the next cohort.
That was very tough but the nice thing was that even if you did repeat, the way the rotation happened, your cohort was still around. Our cohort in particular was a little bit funky because I was from October to December so we were the last cohort of the year. We didn’t have any younger cohort below us in that if anybody repeated, they had to wait until January to start again.
But that has changed now; they’re going to go through the holidays so that nobody has to do that.
Who was the instructor for your cohort?
Ironically enough, I never ended up having Jen Myer as a direct instructor, which was okay. She was around so that was wonderful. Each cohort had two instructors and those would change. It depended a lot on the teacher’s schedule, their abilities and their backgrounds.
I didn’t repeat, so over the three phases, I had a total of 4 or 5 unique instructors. Now what Dev Bootcamp does is rather than rotating the two every time, each cohort has one cohort lead the follows them through so that one teacher actually rotates.
Did that teaching style work for you? Were you satisfied with that approach?
Yeah; I loved that. I loved being able to get new perspectives, new ways of thinking and I didn’t feel lost because even if a teacher wasn’t my direct teacher that phase, they’re very good at being around and being available.
The only downside to it was that they took a little while to understand where the class was and how you learned. This is what the cohort lead is supposed to alleviate.
Were you satisfied with the actual curriculum that you were taught?
I was really happy with the way Dev Bootcamp teaches because you don’t go straight into Rails; you start with Ruby. Basically, Rails does a lot of things for you and we had to build pieces from scratch. It was incredible beneficial to build knowledge on top of solid foundations so that you understood what was happening under the hood. I thought it was a very well-rounded curriculum.
What are you up to today? Tell us about your job and what you do!
I graduated in December and then in February was hired as a Junior Engineer at Fooda. We work mainly in Rails with a little bit of front end work. A lot of the internal tools and the technology we use were familiar to me. About 4 months ago, I was promoted to Engineer.
What is your team like?
The company itself is about 65 people. The tech team interestingly enough, had varied a lot since I’ve been here. When I first came in it was around 12 people. At its highest point they had around 20 people. Now we’re back to around 13 people.
How did you get the job? Does Dev Bootcamp have a partnership with Fooda?
I found my job and interviews through my own personal networking. The two interviews that I had were both connections through Twitter. The CTO of Fooda is from Ohio and we had a lot of mutual friends and he had asked if I wanted to grab some lunch, which ended up being an initial interview that led to the job.
Did you go through a technical interview with them as well?
I had one more conversational interview and then I had a take-home coding challenge. One interview that I had was a live coding for about 4 hours, the one for Fooda was a 3-day take-home coding challenge and I then had an interview with the CTO and the majority of the tech team members.
Did you feel that Dev Bootcamp had prepared you for that job interview?
I think Dev Bootcamp did a good job of making me feel confident about the code I was writing. One of the things I think they’ve improved on since I’ve been there is they’re actually doing practice interviews now, which I’m sure will be even more helpful nowadays.
Back in social science, there might be a writing sample that would vary between interviews but literally, all the interviews were just talking. I have never seen a field where the interview process varies so much between companies as web development. You could have whiteboarding in one interview, another might have live coding, others want to talk about algorithms, and some may not have any coding at all; it’s all over the map.
Dev Bootcamp has an intense feedback process and makes you really introspective about yourself and your code. Dev Bootcamp really helped me develop my communication skills to communicate my thought process going through my code. When you pair program during class, you have to be able to communicate your thought process.
How did you get involved with Girl Develop It in this leadership role?
I took that intro HTML/CSS class in February of 2013 in Columbus, went to Dev Bootcamp and moved to Chicago. My first night in Chicago, Jen Meyers and I had dinner and she told me she was moving into a more advisory role and asked if I would be interested. I took it on and almost a year to the day, I taught the class that I had been a student in a year before.
Can you tell us a little bit about Girl Develop It?
Girl Develop It is focused on educating women and men in web development. We’re about providing affordable, short-term classes for people looking to enter the technical field. We’ve actually ended up being a pretty nice complement to a lot of boot camps because a lot of people don’t have the time or the resources to dedicate 9 weeks. We have a lot of women in our group who take our classes either to gain a new skill or to incrementally make a transition into a new field and to a more technical position.
It’s been a very natural connection with Dev Bootcamp. Both the former co-leader that took it on with me, myself, and my current co-leader have all been to Dev Bootcamp. A lot of women start taking our classes and realize they want to accelerate and then go into Dev Bootcamp.
Both Dev Bootcamp and Girl Develop It have an ‘anybody can do this’ mentality.
Do you partner with bootcamps in Chicago other than Dev Bootcamp?
I can’t speak to any other chapters, but in Chicago we don’t partner with anybody else. We definitely work with Dev Bootcamp but recommend to our members if they look at bootcamps, to find the one that’s right for them. We don’t steer anybody away from another bootcamps.
After Dev Bootcamp, have you been able to continue education in any other ways?
I have the ability through my work, by the nature of the problems that have come up, to learn a bit more.I’m actually getting ready to go back to some Java to help with our Android application, which my job has allowed for. I’ve also learned because I’ve had to teach things for Girl Develop It.
I would say I probably haven’t been doing as much as my friends have because organizing Girl Develop It takes up a lot of the time I would need to further my education. Our chapter has exploded and I know we’re going to reach 2,000 members by the end of the year.
Do you think that you would have been able to get to the point where you are today without doing a bootcamp?
I think that I could have, but what I was able to do in a year would have taken me at least three years through another path. I needed a disciplined environment for me to continue learning and that’s really why I chose to do a bootcamp.
Is there anything you want to add about Girl Develop It or Dev Bootcamp?
I will say that in order to go to Dev Bootcamp, you have to be prepared to come in and let your guard down because it is not only professional journey; it is really an emotional journey and if that is not something you’re looking for, it might not be the right bootcamp for you. But if you really are looking for a bootcamp to grow not only as a developer but as a person, it’s hard to think of another place that does it as well as Dev Bootcamp.