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Laura Baumgartner graduated from CodeCraft School in Boulder, CO in December 2015, and was offered a job two days later. She tells us how her experiences in marketing and politics made her realize that she loved tinkering with code. Laura is now working as a UI/UX developer. Read about why she absolutely loves her job and is excited to keep learning and improving as a developer.

Q&A

What were you up to before you went to CodeCraft?

I have a Bachelors degree from the University of Nebraska. I was in marketing for about five years before I decided to take the jump and enroll in CodeCraft. I worked for different universities including the University of Colorado at Boulder.

In 2014 I ran for the state senate in Nebraska. I’d wanted to do it for a long time, there was an open seat. I thought, “I’m gonna go for it, let’s see what happens here.” I did that for about eight months. I designed and built my website. Setting up the website was really my favorite part of the whole campaign.

After the election was over, I reflected upon my experiences and thought “What was my favorite part of the campaigning experience, and of  the different jobs I’ve had? What was the one thing that got me excited in the morning?”  I realized I really enjoyed coding email campaigns using custom HTML / CSS, plus updating the website. I decided I had to explore this further or I’m going to kick myself  down the line.

Why did you decide to go to a bootcamp to learn coding rather than go back to college?

I was talking to Bill Adkins, the campus director at CodeCraft and I said, “I have a decision to make. I could stay at CU and do marketing for the next five years because that’s how long it would take me to get a CS degree while working full time and taking one or two courses a semester.” But there was no way I could see myself not coding full-time for another five years.

How did you find out about coding bootcamps in Boulder?

I was the first person to apply to CodeCraft. I Googled “code boot camp, Boulder” and had a couple of different options come up. CodeCraft had just put their website up a week before!The fact they were new on the block attracted me. I thought, “they’re really going to try to help me get a job because if I’m in the first class, they’ll want to have a good outcome.”

It seemed like the languages, the foundational stuff I’d be learning, plus the tuition price was a fairly good deal. There are a couple of different schools out there but they’re a bit more expensive, and it seemed like CodeCraft’s course offerings were pretty comparable. I talked to them on the phone; we had a great conversation and things worked out for the best.

Did you apply to other schools or did you only apply to CodeCraft?

I only applied to CodeCraft because it was such a good value. It was $9,500.

Another reason I wanted to enroll in CodeCraft is because it is a sibling company to Boulder Digital Arts (BDA). One of the cofounders to both companies, Bruce Borowsky is active in the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. Our campus director, Bill Adkins, is also  connected within the Boulder tech scene, so the school has a great network within the Boulder community.

Being a part of BDA, does that mean you’re physically near other companies and are you all in an incubator space?

It’s kind of like an incubator. BDA offers professional training for people who want to take a workshops on the Adobe Creative Suite, blogging, video or other digital arts and technologies.

CodeCraft has separate facilities, but it’s all within a shared campus with BDA. There are people who rent out coworking office spaces, so it’s neat to meet them and network. That was a fun part of it for me.

Did you end up using a financing partner or did you save up to cover tuition?

I know a lot of my classmates did end up taking out loans. If you think of it as vocational training, then that’s a good investment in yourself.

I was working full time at CU so I was able to save up. I ended up writing CodeCraft a check.

Did you want to learn a specific programming language? CodeCraft teaches MEAN stack; was that important to you? Most bootcamps are teaching Ruby on Rails.

I was mostly thinking about what was going to make me most attractive to future employers. I kind of had my finger on the pulse a bit from friends who went through similar bootcamps in Omaha. I felt what CodeCraft was teaching would lead to a good career path because with MEAN stack, I could do either front end or back end, and I knew Angular was going to explode in the next six months to a year.

I’m also really glad I learned HTML, CSS and JavaScript. I’m totally fine that I didn’t learn Python, or Rails; and I feel like I have enough of a foundation now that I could sit down for a week and learn other languages quite easily.

What is the learning experience like at CodeCraft? Take us through a typical day and the teaching style there.

It is mostly lecture style. The teachers do a lesson on a big screen and you follow along and raise your hand if you have a question.

Our class was pretty small. There was some project time, we did some group projects throughout the course.

Was there time to do hands-on projects or your own projects or projects with teams?

We focused on team projects and some pair programming throughout. The individual do-it-yourself thing was towards the end in preparation for demo day.

Who were your instructors at CodeCraft and what were their backgrounds?

We had two main instructors and a side instructor who got hired halfway through the program to help with curriculum and development. The first few weeks of our class were HTML, CSS, and then a heavy focus on JavaScript. That was taught by lead instructor, David Gray, who’s been in the industry forever. He’s had projects for Google. He’s one of those guys who stays up and codes for 18 hours a day.

Did it feel like a diverse mix of people? Were there many women in your class?

I think it was a good mix of backgrounds. Some people wanted to go into gaming, some people had their own businesses, or wanted to stop paying people to build stuff for them. There were also people like me who had worked in different jobs. There was one woman who had been in the nonprofit sector her whole life. I think we all had different aspirations of what we wanted to get out of the class. 33% of students were women.

What was the biggest challenge you faced? I know this is the first CodeCraft cohort but were there things you weren’t expecting? What was the feedback loop like?

They actually sought feedback from us, which I appreciated because they wanted to make sure it was the best program. We gave them a lot of good feedback. For me, I felt like we didn’t really need a Mac computer, because we only did a couple of days on the command line. I had to buy this new computer and it was so much money. On the flip side, now I’m going to use it for my new job for a very long time.

I think the biggest challenge for me personally was getting overwhelmed by the syntax.

My instructor said, “You know what? As long as you can rock the logic, don’t worry about the syntax; you can look that up.”

That’s really one of the reasons I wanted to pay to go to a bootcamp. It’s the ability to raise your hand, ask a question and get instant feedback from someone who wants you to succeed.

What did you present at demo day?

I built a really fun app called Find the Trump. I have a political background so I thought it was right up my alley. It was built in JQuery and then my instructor Dallas said, “Why don’t you go ahead and make that a full stack app?” So I was able to use my skill set and make in an Angular-based app.

Tell us about the demo day.

I definitely made some good contacts there, I talked to people who were interested in the program and I told them a little bit about my experience. It was a fun time. Everybody presented different things, people presented their personal portfolios and our group projects.

What were the two weeks following your graduation like?

I actually had my second interview for my new job on the morning of demo day.

What is your job?

My title is UX/UI designer, at a small company. It’s a platform service for companies that are part of the farm-to-table movement. We have clients all over the world.

How did you get the job? What was the interview process like?

The company wasn’t at the demo day because it was the same day as a huge Colorado blizzard. I’d been blanketing my resume all over the Boulder/Denver area asking, “Is anybody hiring? If not, please keep me in mind.”

The morning up of my interview it’s blizzarding outside. I travelled 20 miles away for this interview, but the CEO was stuck in Estes Park. I got major, major bonus points –  for actually making it in for the interview.

They gave me a job offer two days after graduation. I could’ve tapped Bill or Bruce’s network. They’re always more than happy to say, “I can introduce you to this person or pass along a  phone number.” They have their own networks and they’re happy to share.

Were you applying specifically for a UX/UI job?

My goal was to get a job with whoever would hire me. I didn’t really have an endgame in mind or what my job title would actually be. I’m happy to get experience in many areas and languages.

What does a UX/UI designer do day to day?

I’m making wireframes and mockups for different forms and websites. I’m kind of like a user advocate. It’s really about easy navigation and removing barriers from a design standpoint.

We have our own graphics and logo team. I’m more interested in drilling down into code and thinking about how these things work and how we’re going to implement them. That’s the beauty of my job, I’m bringing my design eye and my five years of marketing experience, but then I get to combine it with my coding skills.

I feel I have the opportunity to keep learning, and now, I’m getting paid to learn, and that’s my goal.

At your UX/UI position, what has been the ramp up in terms of mentorship and continuing that learning process?

They have a knowledge base, they have some on-boarding videos for different clients. I’m giving a once-over and twice-over to their website and to their clients’ websites.

What I’m most excited about is I get to keep learning, ask questions of people who are really good at what they do and I get paid for it. That’s a rare thing in this world so I’m very blessed.

Did you think CodeCraft was worth it and would you recommend it?

If you want to try something new or try a new career path and you have the problem solver mentality, you’ll do fine. If you want to make beautiful and functional things and set the world on fire, I think coding’s a good option for you. Give coding a try and do some online courses first to see if you are able to be that problem solver.

It is a lot of work; I was there 15 hours a day on average. I really wanted to squeeze every inch of value I could out of CodeCraft. It’s a really good school to learn at and I think whatever industry you end up in, it’s going to be an asset to you.

Want to learn more about CodeCraft School? Check out the CodeCraft website.

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