Larisa Bainton was about to graduate (with degrees in Vocal Performance and Brain & Cognitive Sciences) when she started researching coding bootcamps. As a recent college grad, Larisa wasn’t ready to commit to another degree, but 10 intensive weeks at Launch Academy in Boston offered a more reasonable path to learning full-stack web development. Learn why Larisa chose Launch Academy, read about her learning experience in the “flipped classroom,” and see how she landed her first software developer job at Cimpress!
First, tell us what you were up to before Launch Academy.
Unlike some of my classmates, I had actually just graduated from college. I got a dual degree from the University of Rochester, with a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and a Bachelor of Arts in Brain and Cognitive Sciences. During my science degree, I learned to code in R for research projects. That made me realize that I was interested in coding, so I started looking for coding bootcamps during my senior year to do after graduation.
Did you ever take a computer science class in undergrad?
No. I wanted to, but with two degrees, I didn’t have a lot of flexibility in my schedule.
How did you decide that a coding bootcamp was the next step in your education?
I was definitely feeling burnt out, and wasn't really interested in doing two more years of school. I had read about coding bootcamps online and thought that I should at least try it.
When you decided to go to a coding bootcamp, was your goal to get a job as a web developer?
When I graduated, I started looking for a job in the brain and cognitive science field, and a lot of the jobs that I was interested in actually required coding skills. Even though I had done Codecademy, I still felt like I had pretty limited knowledge. In my cognitive science degree, we learned a little bit about machine learning and AI. I understood some of the theoretical concepts, but I didn’t have the actual programming experience of building a website.
I went into Launch Academy to get those fullstack coding skills. While I was there, I realized I liked building websites, and I also realized that I had so much to learn.
Why did you choose Launch Academy? Tell us about your research.
When I started researching, I looked at bootcamps in New York, San Francisco, and Boston. Once I decided that I wanted to live and work in Boston, I narrowed my search. I liked that Launch Academy didn’t have a ton of campuses; it felt like I could get individual attention.
When I was doing my research, I didn’t yet understand what it meant to be a “back end developer” or to work in “front end.” I also liked that Launch Academy taught full stack programming because I wanted to be able to learn both sides to see which I preferred.
What was the Launch Academy application process like for you? Did you have to do a coding challenge?
Nope, there was an online application and then there was a Skype interview with Max Detmer, who is the Director of Outreach & Admissions. We talked about my goals and my learning style. He also asked me to do logic questions, but they weren’t explicitly coding questions.
How many people were in your cohort? What was your cohort like?
There were 42 students in my cohort– it was huge. We had 4 EE’s, which were our everyday, experienced teachers. There was one other guy who had just graduated from college, but everybody else had different levels of experience. Most of my classmates were in their late 20's.
Did you like the learning experience at Launch Academy? Did it match your learning style?
Going into Launch Academy, I was definitely a little bit full of myself. I had done two bachelor degrees, so I figured this should be no problem for me. In college, the classes built on each other incrementally and I never really felt overwhelmed with new information. Whereas at Launch Academy, I had to let my ego go and admit that I really didn’t know anything. It could definitely get overwhelming at times because there was so much to know and understand.
Tell us about a typical day at Launch Academy.
We were assigned readings and homework assignments to complete at night. In the morning, we met with the same group every day to go over the readings and the homework assignments from the night before. Then after that, there would be a lecture that explained the readings from the night before. When we struggled with a concept on our own, the instructors would explain it. During the afternoon, we worked on assignments and projects. Then at the end of the day, we had a new lecture and got our homework assignments based off of that lecture.
For the first six weeks, we had mini-assignments. After that, we did a two-week long group project, which simulated a real-world work environment. Our teachers became our managers, so we had to get our pull requests approved by them. We pair programmed together in the group, rotated, and figured out the system that worked for us. We pretty much pair programmed with someone every day. And all the groups were working on the same type of projects, but we all put our own spin on it. After the group project, we started on our individual capstone projects.
Do you think that learning to code had similarities to learning music?
I think so. Both programming and music require you to be able to think abstractly. Music theory, like programming, is not something you can touch or physically move. Coding is not a tangible thing, and at some point, it’s trial and error. In music, you play around with different sounds to get the technique you’re looking for.
Tell us about your favorite project that you built at Launch Academy!
For that project, I used a lot of the concepts that I had learned in Launch Academy, but was also able to expand on them. Each person had to learn something new. For me, forms are pretty easy in the Rails framework, but I had to build a form on my own that wasn’t part of that framework. That was definitely something new.
So what are you up to now? Do you have a new job working as a developer?
I work at Cimpress (Vistaprint’s parent company) as a software developer. I graduated from Launch Academy in November, got the job in December, and started on January 3rd.
Were you introduced to Cimpress through Launch Academy’s Career Day or on your own?
My boss actually went to Career Day looking for developers. At Career Day, all of the students make a screencast of our final projects, and present them in 2 minutes. We talk about the tools we used, our backgrounds, etc. There were about 15 companies at our Career Day, and after we presented our projects, we mingled and talked with all of the companies.
Did you have to do technical interview for Cimpress? How did it go?
My first phone interview was about an hour, and we used this shared screen so that I could type out answers when he asked questions. My second interview, which was in-person, was five hours long. It was intense; I had a behavioral interview, and then they asked me questions about object-oriented design, making models, and relationships. Then I had a logic interview, and I also had a whiteboard coding interview.
The team at Cimpress hadn’t hired anyone from a bootcamp before, so I don’t think they knew what to expect. I’m not sure how I did in the interview, but I think I’ve been able to prove myself in my day-to-day job performance.
What are you working on as a developer at Cimpress now?
Did you learn everything that you needed to know at Launch Academy or are you learning a lot on the job?
Launch Academy gave me the tools to get to my first job, and a basic understanding of the skills I needed. Now that I’m at Cimpress, I feel like I can learn more skills to the point where I’m a marketable and useful employee. I have definitely learned so much here. Now I talk with my friends who were Computer Science majors, and it seems like they’re in a similar position to me.
During Launch Academy, the group projects that simulated a real business was definitely helpful. I don't pair program as much in my job, but I think that was something that we needed to do because we were not as experienced. My team now makes decisions about the product for ourselves, and that was something that we learned to do in our group project at Launch Academy.
What was your biggest challenge or roadblock in learning to code over the last six months?
This isn’t necessarily about coding, but a big roadblock I experienced was getting discouraged by the overwhelming amount of information. As you keep learning new things, you also learn how much you don't know. That can be discouraging, but at my job now, even my coworkers feel that and they've been doing this for years.
Do you stay involved with Launch Academy? Have you kept in touch with alumni?
I went back one night to speak on an alumni panel. That was actually the day that I got my job offer, so it was fun to be able to talk about that. I became really close with the group of friends that I met at Launch Academy and we still talk all the time and meet up occasionally. Unfortunately, my cohort didn't have many women in it, so I think the women in our group became pretty close.
Any advice for other people in your position about to graduate from college? Would you recommend doing a coding bootcamp?
Yeah, I would. If you’re willing to put in a lot of effort, then I recommend it. If you think about it, coding bootcamps are remarkable. They allow you to learn a marketable skill in a relatively short amount of time– that's crazy if you step back and think about it. But I think it's definitely worth it and I'm really glad I did it.