Mark Hario’s advice to anyone thinking about going to a coding bootcamp? Just do it. A former welding engineer, Mark dabbled in coding growing up, and after thinking about returning to coding for a few years, he finally took the plunge and enrolled at Fullstack Academy’s Remote Immersive coding bootcamp. Mark explains why he chose to study online rather than in person, why he found the Fullstack Academy remote learning experience so effective, and how his new job as a web developer is a dream come true!
Can you tell me about your educational or career background before you decided to attend Fullstack Academy?
I was always interested in computers. I played around with HTML when I was younger. In high school, I was thinking about actual jobs and careers to pursue and a number of factors led me to working in more industrial jobs. So I ended up learning how to weld at Community College. I worked as a welder for about a year, then got my engineering degree in welding and continued working as a robot programmer for two years.
I had been thinking about returning to coding, or focusing on it entirely, pretty much my whole life. I finally realized, "I don't want to do welding forever," and there were a number of other advantages to changing careers as well. For instance, I’ve always wanted to live in Boulder, and now I am. If welding wasn't going to do it, coding could. What was I waiting for?
It sounds like you already played around with code quite a bit. Did you try to teach yourself to code at all before you considered going to bootcamp?
What made you choose an online coding bootcamp specifically? Did you look into in-person ones?
They're based in New York City so choosing the online bootcamp was a financial decision. Paying rent and living in New York City for four months with no income didn't sound feasible.
Where were you based when you were studying? Were there in-person options there?
I was living in Iowa at the beginning of the course, and moved back in with my parents in southeast Michigan for the duration of the bootcamp. I am fortunate to have a supportive family, because living rent free went a long way towards making it economically doable.
There were also a few local bootcamps, but I felt that it was pretty clear that I needed to do an online bootcamp, or move to another city. Moving would’ve been expensive, so this worked out pretty well.
Did you think about going back to college to study computer science?
I did. My original plan was that the bootcamp would get the ball rolling, I’d find some job, then go to school after that. Then I realized that the bootcamp could really replace university for me. For my needs, the bootcamp was more than enough. Going back to college simply is not necessary, and would be far more expensive and time consuming.
How were you able to pay for Fullstack Academy? Did you use a financing partner or do you have any tips?
I had a loan lined up from one of the banks focusing on financing bootcamps, but my parents ended up offering to extend me a loan with no interest (thanks!). I had also saved a few grand to put towards the career transition. And, again, living rent free helped a lot. Honestly, the total cost to me was less than the cost of attending a state university for a single semester.
What was the Fullstack Academy remote immersive application and interview process like when you were applying?
What was your Fullstack Academy remote cohort like?
There was a group of 15 to start. Geographically we had two people from New York City, people from Washington DC, somebody from Virginia, two people from Texas, one or two from California, and somebody from Puerto Rico. We had a number of races as well. I think there were four or five women. Fullstack Academy is based in New York City so it's on the Eastern Time zone, the same as Michigan. The people in California had a little bit of a challenge but it wasn't anything totally unreasonable.
Some of the students were from computer science or coding backgrounds, and were trying to augment their resume. One person was coming back after taking a hiatus to raise her kids. And there was one guy like me who was a mechanical engineer and switching to coding. It was quite diverse.
What was your study setup was like? Were you studying from home and how did you stay focused?
Mentally, that was a challenge. When you're in a real classroom you don't have a dog at your feet! It's more distracting when you're at home, so that was a small challenge.
Most students typically worked from home because most of us were on Macbooks and used external monitors. A couple of times I would work outside or at a coffee shop, but generally, I wanted to have my bigger monitor because screen space was such a premium.
What was the learning experience like for this Fullstack Academy remote bootcamp? How were the days structured and how did the instructors deliver the material to you?
It was divided into sections – foundations, junior phase, and senior phase. Most days in the junior phase half of the course consisted of a workshop where the instructors would go through a topic, then we would do coding challenges in pair programming teams. Lectures and most of class time revolved around a shared video chat, which was really nice. Anybody who had a question would unmute themselves and speak up – it was quite similar to a classroom environment. We were in pairs or groups of three for the coding challenge, and regularly swapped who was coding and who was looking ahead.
If we were having problems, we could click the help button and the instructor could join our video chat and be right there. Looking at a shared screen together was really quite effective for learning the materials. Pair programming worked a lot better, and was a lot more fun, than I thought it would be.
For the senior phase in the second half of the course we would start our day with coding puzzles called REACTO challenges where we would split the class into two groups. One group would go with the instructor and talk about a coding puzzle for the morning and the other group would just hang out and chat, which was pretty nice – in the remote online cohort we had fewer opportunities to make small talk than you would in an in-person class. Then the rest of the class would come back and we would break into pairs to test each other. The rest of the time in the senior phase we were working on projects.
What was your favorite project that you worked on at Fullstack?
How many instructors did you have and how often did you interact with them?
We had two instructors, Geoff who ran the junior phase, and Omri who ran the senior phase. We also had two teaching fellows, Elliot and Dani, who were totally kick-ass. They were all accessible most of the time, and we were in almost constant contact with one or more of them. I really can't say enough good things about the whole faculty at Fullstack. I was blown away by their dedication to teaching, and to our learning experience.
I'm interested in how Fullstack prepared you for job hunting. What sort of career prep or advice were they able to give you?
In senior phase, we had REACTO puzzles every morning. That was practice for technical interviews where we would discuss intricate computer science questions and work through them together. Those questions are very similar to the types of things you'd see on coding challenges in a job interview.
The Fullstack careers team also offered technical interview rehearsals and feedback. They all have hiring backgrounds so they know what to look for. We discussed how to get into the industry, how to find connections on LinkedIn and follow up. It wasn't so much about introducing us to employers as it was about teaching us how to find them ourselves.
I've been to a few of Fullstack Academy’s in person hiring days in NYC where they present their final projects. Were you able to do anything like that?
Yeah, absolutely. Our capstone project was a React Native app we built in three weeks. It was called Bite Swipe, and anyone can download it for Android. It’s like Tinder for restaurants. We presented it during the first ever Fullstack Academy remote tech demo day. We were also given the opportunity to fly to New York City and attend a hiring day personally, which a few people took advantage of. The catch was you would be meeting hiring managers in New York City who are looking for people who want to live in New York City, which didn't necessarily fit everyone in our group.
Congrats on your new job! Can you tell me about what you're doing?
I'm working for financial tech company in Boulder as a web developer doing exactly what I had set out to do. I'm starting on front-end technologies, and soon I’ll be doing some API writing and more of the back-end side of things. I enjoy the work, the people are intelligent and helpful, and there will always be something more to learn. In many ways, it's like a dream come true. There are also free bagels in the kitchen!
Well done! How did you actually find the job?
I was on LinkedIn and Indeed.com, and I reached out to a few people. One piece of job advice Fullstack gave us was that you'll find better jobs faster by physically being in the city where you want to work, and attending events. So I went to Boulder, stayed in an Airbnb, and gave myself about eight weeks to find a job. My first interview actually turned out to be the job I took – it went better than I could’ve predicted!
How has the first week been? What sort of training or onboarding have you received?
My first few days were spent setting up my machine, and getting some of the apps that they work on installed and running. The first few days was a lot of hand-holding, getting the machine going, and following tutorials. Now I’m building some simple HTML content. I’ve had a lot of questions, but everyone has been very patient and helpful.
How has your previous background been useful both in learning to code, and now in your new job?
I think I’ve always had a good work ethic. That bootcamp was 60 hours on an easy week – it really took dedication and energy. When I was working in welding, I was getting out of bed several hours earlier in the day and worked a few hard weeks, so I had good self-discipline. Beyond that, as a robot programmer and welding engineer, I was doing logical problem solving so there are some technical parallels. It's a similar thought process in both jobs.
Have you been able to stay involved with Fullstack Academy at all or kept in touch with the other alumni since you graduated?
I have actually. One alumna was from Colorado and I actually met her after I moved here to Boulder. So that was cool. We have an alumni group, and a couple of us have projects that we're doing together. For instance, I work with two fellow alumni on a non-profit project so obviously, we stay in touch.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to learn to code?
For me, the most important thing was to be as dedicated as possible. My challenge was overbooking myself. I was doing the foundations part of the course while I was still working full-time. If I was to do it again, I would’ve quit my job three weeks earlier and just focused entirely on coding from day one. Also, I think everybody suffers from imposter syndrome, thinking "I'm not smart enough." All of us were thinking, even through graduation day, "We're not going to be up to this." And now all of us are doing it professionally. I think I would go easier on myself if I was to do it again.
What advice do you have for anyone else who is thinking about going through an online coding bootcamp?
Carefully research the options and choose the one that best fits your needs. I wanted to do full-stack web development, but maybe some are more interested in front-end work. Choose the right bootcamp, and dedicate yourself 100% to that endeavor.
If you don't like where you're at in your life, then do something different. In six months flat, I totally reinvented my career. We live in a time when all you have to do is apply online. You can stay in your seat and reinvent yourself
I know there's always a dozen reasons for not doing something. Quit thinking about it and just do it. Sometimes any decision is better than no decision.