Matt Tucker was attending a technical college in Phoenix for computer science, but he wanted to learn to apply his skills more directly. The Silicon Valley location and affordable price point at Coding Dojo appealed to Matt, and he moved to California, putting college on hold. He completed Coding Dojo’s Silicon Valley bootcamp, passing both of his “Black Belt” exams, and now works at a startup called Roost with other Coding Dojo grads. Matt explains what drew him to Coding Dojo’s varied approach and the key to avoiding burnout (hint: love what you do).
Tell us what you were up to before you started at Coding Dojo.
I was going to a technical college in Phoenix, studying Computer Science. I had finished predominantly all of my major courses and had gotten a lot of theoretical-based knowledge but hadn’t been able to apply that knowledge. I was working as a part-time valet on the side to pay for my education. I made the choice to go to the bootcamp to learn more practical skills.
Did you leave college in order to start Coding Dojo or did you just put it on hold?
I put it on hold for a couple of semesters and now I’m going back to finish it online.
Tell us why you chose Coding Dojo. Which factors did you consider in doing your research?
I found out about Coding Dojo by Googling for coding courses with no real intention. I was just looking for specialized programming courses that I could go through to enhance my own skills.
Once I found out about bootcamps, I thought it was a really cool concept. Bootcamps are actually giving you knowledge that you could apply directly to the workforce.
I ended up applying to Coding Dojo because I really liked that it was in Silicon Valley; all of my friends, people that had graduated from my college were saying it was the right place to be right now for this kind of work. After I decided on the location, Coding Dojo was the cheapest option. I was putting myself through college, moving to a new state, renting a new apartment- I needed an option I could afford.
Did you apply to any other bootcamps or just Coding Dojo?
I applied to Hack Reactor, Dev Boot Camp, General Assembly. I got into all of them. The other reason I chose Coding Dojo was because they offer a wider range of skills (they teach three programming languages). I’m really good with being thrown into the fire, really challenging situations, and picking up new skills really quickly. Switching to a different technology every few weeks was really effective in keeping my learning curve up.
How many people were in your cohort?
In mine there were ten.
Did you feel like everybody in your class was on the same technical level when they started?
I generally would say that I was a little bit further ahead in my particular cohort because I had a lot of previous experience. I’ve been coding since my sophomore year in high school.
I really liked how they handled that. With the online platform you could work at your own pace. When I worked ahead, I was given harder assignments by the teachers. I would have more work put on me but it kept everyone with a different technical level at the same pace through the different types of content in each of the languages.
What did Coding Dojo look like day-to-day?
We used an online platform. There are things you do each day by yourself and you get personal instructions from each of the teachers. Then you’ll have group assignments or mini projects. You’ll break up into groups and work together. There are also some weeks when we’re all doing pair programming with different partners.
At the end of every day, we were actually doing algorithm challenges. Each day you’d find a different partner and you’d work on these algorithm challenges with each other.
What was the teaching style like at Coding Dojo?
The instructors would give one morning lecture and would go over some new content. Then we would break up and do our own thing for a while. After lunch, the instructors would go over any issues we had in the morning, and show us tips and tricks. In the afternoon, they would go over previous activities from the day before and show you how they would’ve approached the problem.
Did you feel like the instructors had a deep enough background to teach the class?
It affects them on a certain level in that it’s a lot of the things they were taught in the course, but the course is innately teaching you core skill requirements. So they were really good at teaching the content, they’re really in depth on the content but there were some disparities here and there where they had not worked that actual technical job before. But now while I was TA-ing at the Coding Dojo afterwards, there’s a lot of TAs and they’ve brought in other instructors that do have more core field experience.
How many hours each week were you spending on the course?
Personally, I was definitely in the classroom the longest. I’d show up at about 8:30am and I’d stay till about 10:00 or 11:00pm. That’s 14 hours a day and I was going pretty much every single day.
Did you ever feel burnout or did you find that was manageable.
I loved every second of it. Programming is my heart and I just want to do it. It’s fun for me but when I reflect on it, I think I was particularly committed because I had just came to California, dropped everything, and leveraged all this money to do the program. I just decided I was going to put all my time into this. I definitely see the payoff in spending the extra time there.
Did you do a final project or a capstone project at the end of the course?
In the last two weeks, we worked on a project; I spent those two weeks cracking the skills they went through, so I would build front ends to different projects and concepts like security that I knew were important for the workplace.
Then we also took our “double black belt” level exams. So they have a single black belt and a double black belt test.
The black belt exams are kind of structured as projects. You’re given four hours to put together a functioning site. So you’ll be assigned something like Facebook functionality or a message poking system. Yellow Belt was to test you on HTML and CSS, Red Belt was to test on PHP, Green Belt tests you on framework.
What happened if you didn’t pass one of those belt tests?
You had to wait another week to retake the test. You take a week to review what you might have done wrong and how you can make it better. You can go to the instructors and they can give you advice and you can take the test again one week later.
Predominantly, everyone got through the red belt exam but there were some people that just needed the extra time and the extra instructorship to get through the Black Belt exams.
Did you pass those?
Yeah, I did pass the double black belt.
Did you notice that there was support from the Coding Dojo instructors when people didn’t pass?
Definitely. Other schools may be pass/fail- if people do not pass certain levels throughout the course, they will in fact kick those students out of the course. Coding Dojo is not like that. At Coding Dojo you can even keep coming in for the next three months after the course is done and they will keep helping you.
How does Coding Dojo incorporate job preparation and job placement into the curriculum, if at all?
Throughout the course we were encouraged to do a blog to build our internet presence. We also worked on resume building. Coding Dojo had guest speakers from time to time who gave speeches on things like how to prep your resume.
Also, I mentioned that at the end of each day we were working on algorithm questions, which is a huge part of a job interview. We would have to get up in front of the class and draw it out on the whiteboard and do that.
What are you up to now? Have you interviewed for new job or have you found a new job since you graduated?
Two weeks before I finished my cohort, Coding Dojo hired me on as a teaching assistant. I worked at Coding Dojo for two months as a TA and for one month as a fulltime instructor. I now work at a startup called Roost in San Francisco as a software architect.
I’m working at Roost with other Coding Dojo graduates- Chung is a developer, and our CTO, Bonnie, was in the last cohort of Coding Dojo.
How did you decide to go down the startup path instead of working at a larger company?
I had done some job interviews and I had a couple of offers from Google and Facebook but I ended up going the startup route because I’m very challenge-oriented so I would be able to come in, build the app from scratch, be able to add my own creative spin on it. I would be able to have a bigger role in the project; so I could be the software engineer, the administrator, the IT manager. I could adopt all these different roles, and that’s what appealed to me.
Did you feel like you learned what you needed to know at Coding Dojo in order to get hired in this role?
Absolutely. They taught us how to build a product from the ground up, how to actually make it production ready. I feel like I got everything I needed from Coding Dojo.
What languages are you using for Roost?
Right now the server language is PHP for main application and Python and Node are integrated. Python was actually the first thing I learned in my first semester in college.
Is there anything you wanted to add about Coding Dojo or your experience with Bootcamps in general?
I think the most important thing for any of these bootcamps is the level of commitment coming into it. Of course, someone considering a bootcamp should decide which language they want to learn and if they want to go into web development or software or software applications. But in the end, it’s really going to be your commitment level; being able to leave everything else you have on the side; otherwise I don’t think it’s really worth it.
Would you recommend Coding Dojo to a friend?