general-assembly-alumni-spotlight-laura-ayala

Laura Ayala was in community engagement and marketing before deciding to study web development at General Assembly’s NYC campus. She wanted to learn what it took to be an effective digital marketer, but also wanted software development expertise. Learn about Laura’s experience with the Per Scholas and General Assembly partnership, which allowed her to attend on a full scholarship, and see how she landed a new role at Bark & Co!

Q&A

What is your pre-bootcamp story and educational background before attending General Assembly?

I have a bachelor's degree in English Literature with a minor in Art History from Hunter College. During my undergraduate career, I was very interested in museum accessibility, especially access for younger, underrepresented groups interested in the arts. I worked  with several nonprofit institutions in the Bronx, and thought that my career trajectory would revolve around that. I had internships at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and after graduation, I got a part-time role as  the Community Engagement and Marketing Associate at The Bronx Museum of the Arts.

In addition to my community outreach duties at the Bronx Museum, I managed their website and created email campaigns. I found that I enjoyed those aspects of my job the most. I even approached my supervisors about learning InDesign, and became our in-house designer for several projects. However, I wanted a more technical skill set to aid me in my marketing career. I wanted to focus on building websites, creating emails, and graphic design, but I wasn't sure how to hone those skills just yet.

Were you looking to change career paths completely by attending a coding bootcamp or did you want to become a better marketer?

I had a lot of back and forth about attending a bootcamp because it's such an intense process, but I think individuals take the program for many different reasons. I wanted to have solid HTML, CSS, and JavaScript skills to thrive in a quickly evolving digital marketing role, whether it was in the arts or a corporate environment.

I had a moment during during week 6 at General Assembly when I thought to myself, "I think I can be a software engineer." It was such a good experience, but I realized that the right role for me was something that involved marketing, something creative that I could do with code.

What resources were you using before General Assembly? Did you try to teach yourself how to code before attending the bootcamp?

Definitely! I tried to learn using online resources like Coursera, Free Code Camp, and Codecademy, but I didn't feel like the concepts were really sticking. I'm the type of person who enjoys being in an environment where I can learn new concepts hands-on, and if I have a question I can ask someone who's more experienced than me.

Before General Assembly, I was thinking about going back to college and obtaining a certificate. I thought that would be the right route for me because the program was spread out. It was a part-time program and would take six months to a year to complete. However, I realized the advantages of enrolling in a bootcamp where the coursework could be completed in 3 to 4 months while learning from professionals in the industry right now. The more research I did, the more a bootcamp seemed like a better option.

Were you looking at other bootcamps outside of General Assembly, and if so, what factors were important to you?

Since I had previously made a living working for nonprofits and was still living in the Bronx with my family, tuition was a huge concern. I couldn’t justify taking out a loan because I wasn't 100% sure the experience would work out for me. I knew I wanted to do this, but I didn't know if I wanted to completely change my career path.

I researched many bootcamps in NYC that offered scholarships for women or were more inclusive of women, which is so important to those new to tech. I felt that being around women, especially women of color, would make me a lot more comfortable as I embarked on this career transition. I was looking at the Grace Hopper Program, but I had concerns about the deferred tuition model.

What ultimately lead me to General Assembly, was when I heard that Per Scholas was launching their first CodeBridge program in partnership with the school. It seemed perfect. Per Scholas is a nonprofit organization in the South Bronx that provides technical training for underrepresented adults interested in transitioning to a career in tech.

Tell us about the General Assembly partnership with Per Scholas.

It was a really interesting experience, and my cohort was the first to complete the CodeBridge program. Before the 12-week program at General Assembly, we did a 5-week full-time pre-bootcamp with Per Scholas in the South Bronx, which covered HTML, CSS,  and some JavaScript. We got comfortable working with GitHub, learned about networking, and brushed up our interview skills with mock interviews. We had support from career coaches from both organizations, as well as financial counselors to help with expenses that we would accrue along the way.

The best part was that CodeBridge was completely free. I was fortunate enough to attend General Assembly without worrying about the tuition, so I could completely focus on the materials and projects before me. It was a blessing to not have to think about the financial strain of having to pay tuition while not being able to work for 16 weeks. Having career coaches and financial coaches support me through the transition provided me an incredible support system.

Can you explain your application and interview process? Did that go through the CodeBridge initiative or did that go straight to General Assembly?

The first part of the application was through Per Scholas. My interview was a group panel with five other candidates, which was a bit intimidating. We had an instructor from General Assembly there as well as an instructor from Per Scholas who would be teaching us those first five weeks.

They asked questions about our technical backgrounds, why we were interested in technology, why we wanted to make this transition, and about a recent advancement in tech that we read about and why did it strike the chord in us? Those questions shook me up a bit, but they helped solidify in my mind that this is something that I wanted to do.

After those five weeks at Per Scholas, and before we could make the transition to General Assembly, we had to present a project before the General Assembly instructor and he would assess whether or not the projects and how we spoke about them demonstrated our ability to keep up with the material at General Assembly.

What did you build for your presentation to General Assembly?

I created an Indie beauty site featuring organic beauty products called The Goth Hippie. It was great because it was a way for me to figure out what kinds of things I wanted to make with code. Having that design background from working in art museums, I saw that HTML and CSS were languages that I really enjoyed using to create highly visual, fun projects with a lot of personality.

I'm curious to know why you chose web development over a digital marketing track at General Assembly since you were a marketer before?

I did consider whether or not web development or digital marketing would be the right thing for me. When I was going through the application process for Per Scholas, I decided on web development because I saw it as something that would be a lot harder to learn and grasp on my own without the constant repetition and practice that is central to General Assembly’s curriculum. With my marketing experience, I had been able to pick up different aspects of digital marketing relatively quickly, so I knew it was something I could continue learning on my own and on the job.

How many people were in your General Assembly cohort and was it diverse in terms of race, gender, life and career backgrounds?

Yes, it was exciting in that the cohort of about 30 or so students was so diverse. There were so many of us spread out across age groups, racial backgrounds, and past experiences. And within those groups, I found a really great group of classmates that I’m still in touch with. We’re all young adults of color in our mid-to-late 20's, similar backgrounds, and with some type of technical experience that we wanted to expand into a career. Having our little support group from that first day, all the way to graduation and beyond helped us all get through even the toughest projects.

What was the learning experience like? Could you describe a typical day at General Assembly?

It felt like going back to college and I think each day was really well structured. We would start at around 9am and one of the instructors would push a morning exercise on GitHub, and then we had about half an hour to complete it. You could work on it yourself, or use your classmates as resources and collaborate on the different exercises.

After the morning exercise, we would review with an instructor, have a 15 to 20-minute break followed by a morning lecture. Most of the time we would code along with our instructors as they lectured about a new concept or sample project. Then we would have an hour break for lunch, come back and have an afternoon lecture before getting our homework for the evening. Every three weeks or so we had a project, with larger weekend homework assignments that lead up to those larger unit projects.

Did you have a favorite project that you built at General Assembly?

My favorite one has to be my final project. It was really cool and I still can’t believe I made it.  Before starting the bootcamp, I could write a few lines in HTML, but my new understanding of logic and what coding can do really culminated in that project. I made my own Smart mirror (think the Evil Queen’s mirror from Snow White, but more useful!). I created an app in React that displays the current time, weather, and subway status and hosted it online, so it could be viewed on a tablet. I installed the tablet behind a two-way mirror to achieve the smart mirror effect, without the Raspberry Pi. I use it in the mornings as I’m getting ready for work to get quick updates on the weather and to see how the trains are running.

I decided to use React because it was a framework that we had been using for a week or two near the end of the course. I thought, "I really want to work with this for a little bit. I want to see what I can do with it." Building that Smart mirror app was the perfect final project because I was so passionate about it. I really cared about the functionality and making sure that it worked properly and looked good.

What was the process of job preparation and career development at General Assembly?

The career coaches were very helpful, teaching us about soft skills, interview strategies, and the importance of maintaining an online presence on GitHub, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. With those skills in place, I was able to be smarter about my job search. I could look for the right job boards, submit stellar applications, comfortably follow up with recruiters, and find the best point of contact for a role. Those coaches have amazing insight and great tips for getting in touch with the right people at the companies I wanted to work for.

I got the most out of one-on-ones with my different coaches. We could discuss what I was interested in, the companies that I wanted to work for, what my previous background was, and they were able to steer me towards the right types of roles. I expressed interest in finding something that combined marketing and programming.

Congrats on your job at Bark & Co! How did you find that job?

I found the role on the Uncubed job board, applied through there, then followed up on their website, and wrote a thank you email directly to the recruiter. Once I got the interview, I put into practice those interviewing skills that I gained at General Assembly and Per Scholas. I doubt I could’ve successfully completed those interviews with confidence in my new tech background without that training.

Are you using programming languages that you learned at General Assembly in your current role? Tell us about your new role!

I'm the Email Marketing Coordinator at Bark & Co. I’m in my third week here so it's still very new. During my day-to-day, I mostly interact with HTML and pseudo-JavaScript that we use to build emails. Different email service providers use different scripting languages, so I appreciate being at General Assembly and learning JavaScript in addition to other scripting languages. It made me comfortable learning how to read different languages really quickly. I'm doing that on a daily basis as I build the different marketing emails for the company.

I work with our creative and marketing teams and I’m so fortunate to be paired with a  talented Email Marketing Manager who's showing me the ropes. She has a technical background and is great at simplifying tasks so I can understand them as well as help me ramp up each week to take on more analytical aspects of the job.

How has learning to code helped you become a better marketer? Can you tell the difference in your skills after this course?

Definitely. For one, in my previous role, I was more of a brand ambassador than a marketer because I was doing a lot of community engagement and outreach. General Assembly has made me much more comfortable learning and speaking about new types of software, new languages, and frameworks. It's made this career transition so much easier. Now I’m trying to solidify my digital marketing background so I can have more open conversations with our marketing team.

With this skillset, I definitely see more opportunities opening up for me. General Assembly made me the perfect fit for a role that I didn't know existed a few months ago. I didn't know that email marketing was as big as it is and there's an entire subset of the tech community dedicated to building marketing and transactional emails.

What's been the biggest challenge for you on this journey to learn how to code?

One of the unexpected takeaways from General Assembly was attaining a new sense of confidence and perseverance. It's the confidence to think, "I'm coming into this role as a student, I don't understand what I'm doing completely, but I'm going to figure out how to understand it." And the perseverance to tell myself, "I may not understand it right now, or next time, but the more I practice, the more questions I ask, the more research I do, the more it starts to make sense.”

In this new role, I'm finding myself doing that every day. I have the confidence and the persistence to continue doing research, and admit to myself or to my team that I might need clarification on a specific topic or platform. It’s gotten so much easier since GA. I can't believe it was only four months because it felt like I took on so much.

Do you still stay involved with General Assembly and other alumni from your cohort?

I'm in group chats with a lot of my classmates and keep up with our alumni Slack. I had a really great cohort and I connected with so many individuals – women, men, all different races, backgrounds, and experiences. With General Assembly, I try to get involved and keep in touch with their outreach and outcomes teams to see if there's anything I can do as an alum.

What advice do you have for people thinking about making a career change attending a coding bootcamp?

It is a huge time commitment. With any big decision, I would suggest that people do research and really find a program that's the right fit for them. Consider all the different options such as schedules, locations, the programming stack that the bootcamp is teaching as well as the financial commitment. There are so many great opportunities and scholarships out there, that just by doing research and asking questions, anyone can be connected with the resources to find a bootcamp that's right for them.

Read General Assembly reviews on Course Report. Check out the General Assembly website.

About The Author

Lauren stewart headshot

Lauren is a communications and operations strategist who loves to help others find their idea of success. She is passionate about techonology education, career development, startups, and the arts. Her background includes career/youth development, public affairs, and philanthropy. She is from Richmond, VA and now currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.

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