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Alumni Spotlight: Maria Gallegos-Vallejo of Brainstation

Lauren Stewart

Written By Lauren Stewart

Last updated on March 19, 2018

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    Table of Contents

  • Q&A


After waitressing and earning a degree in graphic design, Maria was on a mission to find job security and utilize her skills. During her graphic design job search, she kept seeing “front end development” as a hot skill wanted by employers, so she decided to enroll in BrainStation’s Remote Web Development Program. Learn why Maria chose to learn online with BrainStation, how she stayed engaged and motivated thanks to her instructors, and all about her new Front End Developer job at La Senza in Columbus, Ohio!  


What is your background, and what led you to enroll at BrainStation?

I graduated in December 2016 with a degree in Graphic Design. My brother took part in a Disney College Program and loved it, so when I graduated, I decided to try that program out. I was placed in a restaurant-related industry role because of my waitressing experience, but at the end of the day, I wanted a role in graphic design.

After Disney, I started reading about all the jobs opening up in cybersecurity, front end, and back end development. I felt that if I wanted job security, I needed a web or computer related job. Many of the graphic design jobs involved front end development, which was something I had never really heard of before. So I started researching “how to study web development.”

I searched for more than just university programs, because I already had a degree, and discovered bootcamps. I liked BrainStation, but wondered how that would work since it was in Canada and I was in Mexico at the time. Then I saw that there was an online, full-time, web development program, so I got in touch. BrainStation was great – every question I asked, they answered. I took BrainStation’s pre-bootcamp course, did pretty well, and was accepted.

Did you consider any other bootcamps? Were you only looking for online courses?

I considered an in-person course, but once I realized that there were options to study online, it seemed a lot more a beneficial for me. Since I was unemployed at that time, I didn't want to relocate and spend more money than I needed to. I thought it would be easier and more accessible, so I realized right away that learning online was definitely my path.

Did you consider any other online bootcamps besides BrainStation? What stood out about BrainStation?

I had researched a list of other bootcamps, but once I reached out to BrainStation and spoke with the team, I stopped looking elsewhere. Speaking with the BrainStation team was a really positive experience.

One of the main reasons I liked BrainStation was that they offered a Women in Development Scholarship – they understand that we need more women in tech. After you graduate, BrainStation gives you a year to pay back your tuition. They provided a really great scholarship and opportunity, so I couldn't pass it up.

Was there a coding challenge during the BrainStation interview process?

Yes, there was. Right before you get accepted into the course, you have to follow instructions on starting a GitHub account and you have to answer about 10 questions. If you can't complete the steps, they ask you to talk through your thought process and approach to the question. BrainStation decides whether you would be a good match or not based on that interview, and then they give you the pre-course material.

Any tips to ace the BrainStation interview?

I was just really honest with BrainStation. I was very vocal about my thoughts on solving each problem and I didn't hold anything back.

The thing about BrainStation’s interview process is that you can basically Google any question and you’ll find the answer to it; but they want to see your thought process. If you have an answer but you don't tell them how you got there, it shows that you may not truly understand the material. Even if you didn't get the correct answer, as long as you show them how you're thinking, it helps them better determine if you’re a right fit for the course.  

Tell us about your online learning experience at BrainStation. Were you online all day?

We are actually online all day from 10am to 6pm, connected with webcams to see everyone in the classroom the entire time. The first thing we learned was HTML and CSS, and since I have a graphic design background, that let me express myself. For each project, I found a way to make it look good and practice what I learned. I liked all the projects we worked on because I was able to design the look of each project as well as how it worked.

What was your cohort like? Did you get to know your classmates while learning online?

During group projects, you get to interact with your cohort through those projects. Our class came from different backgrounds. One student had a development background, one was a freelance graphic designer, one worked from home. Most people were older; but I'm 23 and someone else was 21. We were all different ages, and different about half of the class were women. We all got along and it was a really great group of people. I’m glad we got to do the program together.

What helped you stay motivated while studying online? Did you study from home?

Yes, I always studied from home. What kept me motivated was the teachers. We had two Educators plus a Teaching Assistant, and our class was pretty small. It was a total of nine students, so we always had one-on-one time with our Educators.

The whole time we interacted, the instructors asked us questions, so it's clear if you don't understand something in the course material – they catch it right away based on your code. If we didn't understand something, we asked. Our teachers also wanted us to socialize and talk to each other. Talking and interacting definitely helped me stay motivated. If the teachers had just talked the whole time and we weren’t engaged in the conversation, I probably would’ve left the course. Also, keeping my webcam on the whole time was a big help.

I always thought that self-teaching was my learning style. But this class made me realize that I didn't have to do that – I could always rely on the BrainStation teachers and not just do it on my own.

Did you try to juggle any other commitments while studying?

Right after BrainStation accepted me into the program, they warned me that “class is from 10am to 6pm, Monday through Friday. A lot of work happens outside of the class time, so be prepared to spend all your extra time on BrainStation." Luckily, I didn't have to find a job during that time.

Making sure you have free time is key, because the class is so fast-paced. If you don't understand something, it's really hard to stay focused and continue moving forward with your learning. I recommend devoting all the time you have if you want to get the most out of it.

At times, it felt a little overwhelming because there is a lot of information. If you don't take time out of your day to review the material and make sure you fully understand it, you can get frustrated. BrainStation is so willing to work with you even outside of normal class hours – that makes the experience less crazy, hectic, and frustrating.

What was your favorite project that you built during BrainStation?

I don’t have just one favorite project – I liked them all. Our final project gave me a lot of freedom. I decided to focus more on games and programming, because in the very beginning I had a little trouble with that. I used React to design a memory game, and I actually deployed it using Heroku.

I designed how it looked and created three different levels: easy, medium, and hard. Based on the difficulty level that a user chooses, it shuffles the cards and a certain number of cards appear. I actually designed all the cards with people in my class. It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun! It definitely showed off the skills that I learned throughout the course.

How did BrainStation help you with job hunting? Were they able to help you with job leads?

Once I graduated, I got an email asking me if I wanted help finding a job. Of course, I said “yes” and they asked me for my resume and LinkedIn profile. They reviewed my information and gave suggestions on how to make it better by adding more skills etc.

Right before I went on a job interview for my current job, I scheduled a call with John Yoo from BrainStation. I told him about the position and who I was going to be interviewing with and he gave me really important advice about terminology and definitions of terms that may come up in the interview. During that interview, I actually got to use his advice.

I also debriefed my interview experiences with BrainStation and they gave me feedback. Right before the interview, I was very intimidated, but it ended up going well and being a very positive experience. The team is super helpful with the job search. Thanks to them, I was able to not only show that I have the skills, but I was able to talk confidently about my skills in a way that I would not have been able to before.

Tell us about your new job!

I took three weeks off after graduation because I wanted to travel to Seattle. A week after I got back, I got the call. The following week, I was at my position. I was definitely very lucky.

I am a Front End Developer at La Senza, a lingerie retail brand. Right now I'm coding emails, and making sure the site’s content and links are correct. At first, I was very nervous because I learned a lot about programming in such a short amount of time, I wasn't sure if I would remember everything. Leading up to starting my new role, I looked back over the Brainstation curriculum content, which I still have access to. The course material is so well-organized that I could just click on a topic and get the information I needed. I felt confident because I could go back over the course concepts.

Now that you’re officially a Front End Developer, do you feel like BrainStation prepared you for your new career?

Yeah, I actually felt super confident. I had about two days of training at La Senza. Those two training days solidified that I not only knew what I was looking at, but also that I understood everything that they expected of me. I could even do more tasks if they came up. BrainStation helped me tremendously; without the bootcamp I would have no idea about front end development.

Has your background in graphic design been useful for your new job?

All of the assets that I’m working with have already been created, so I haven’t been able to use my artistic sense in this job yet. Right now, I just receive the content, code it up, and deliver it.

What have you learned since graduating? Are there any new web development languages or tools that you did not learn at BrainStation that you’re using now?

The only thing I’ve learned since graduating from BrainStation is how to work on e-commerce platforms. Thanks to the HTML and CSS I learned at BrainStation, I can provide the coded material needed to go into the platform.

What's been your biggest challenge or roadblock in this journey to learning web development?

My biggest challenge is missing the little things. When you code, everything needs to be perfect. The syntax needs to be perfect, the commas, the apostrophes - everything. The most challenging thing is when something doesn’t work because of a misspelling or leaving out a period. You can’t figure out what's wrong and why it's not working, then you realize that it's a little dumb mistake that you’ve spent hours on!

What advice do you have for people thinking about going through an online web development bootcamp?

Picking the correct school to go through an online web development bootcamp can either make for a great and positive experience, or for a negative, poor experience.  If you rather have a positive experience, I highly suggest BrainStation.

Find out more and read BrainStation reviews on Course Report. Check out the BrainStation website. 

About The Author

Lauren Stewart

Lauren Stewart

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.

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