In our most recent Coding Bootcamp Student Outcomes report, we found that music majors saw the most drastic increase in salary after graduating from a bootcamp, so we caught up with a musician-turned-programmer to find out if the correlation is true. Michael Angelo was an opera singer in New York for six years before he decided to switch careers and attend Dev Bootcamp in 2014. He was excited to find a number of parallels between music and coding, and now works as a front end developer at Time Inc.
What you were up to before you went to Dev Bootcamp?
I was a professional opera singer in New York City for six years. Music is a huge passion of mine and something that I’ve always been drawn to naturally.
But I wanted to do something different, and I figured out it wasn’t music that was the most important thing, it was being creative. Creationism is the top tier; music and tech are subcategories. You could put me in a room with clay for an entire day and I’d be happy as a clam just making pots. It was at that moment that I realized singing is translatable to tech.
That’s a really interesting parallel. Did you study music?
I did. I got a full scholarship to go to the University of Hartford to study with one of the best opera voice teachers – Joanna Levi. It was a great experience; I loved it. I graduated and immediately started getting work. A lot of people are worried about getting into the music field and never making any money or being successful, but I didn’t have that problem. I did have to work a second job, but I was always singing.
How did you end up transitioning from music to tech?
My older brother had done some programming and sent me a link to Codecademy. I did some free courses there and started to see the parallels between music and technology. When you sing, you stand on a stage and sing to entertain people. The goal is to entertain the audience. I noticed in programming it’s the same – you sit behind a computer with the goal of entertaining the users. I’m writing a program where the user does something, and they get a reward back. If you go on Facebook, you’re experiencing something and you like it, so you spend your time on Facebook. My job now is to entertain an audience of millions through a product that I’m creating. So it was easy for me to make that transition.
I think that, like music, coding is creative.
Did you look at a number of bootcamps or did you know about Dev Bootcamp already?
I didn’t know about Dev Bootcamp specifically. The first one I saw was App Academy and I started the application process for that. As I was going through the application for that school, I thought, “This can’t be the only one.” So I started looking them up, and found Flatiron School, Dev Bootcamp, General Assembly, as well as App Academy.
What was important to you when you were looking at each of those? You obviously wanted to stay in New York.
Staying in New York was a top priority. There was also price, so App Academy was appealing because you didn’t have to pay for it upfront. You could get in and they would take part of your salary for your first year. But at Flatiron and GA, I just didn’t think the curriculum was strong enough.
At Dev Bootcamp the most appealing thing was it was not just "Hey, come here and code” or "We’ll teach you to code.” It was a very balanced social environment that focused on person and programmer.
How did you see the difference between Dev Bootcamp and App Academy?
There were a couple of things. The social aspect of Dev Bootcamp; the yoga, the engineering empathy. They openly say things like “We do 80% pairing and 20% solo time.” In their breakdown of what they offer, they give you a lot of transparency into what the program is. With App Academy, it was a lot of mystery. There was a lot of “I don’t know if you do hour-long lectures every day.”
App Academy also focuses on Rails so early on, whereas Dev Bootcamp builds you from the ground up – starting with Sinatra and Ruby, then Rails later. What I perceived of App Academy was they teach you a lot of really cool stuff but you’re going to have to learn a lot on your own.
Did you ever repeat a phase?
I didn’t repeat a phase. I was lucky in the sense that I really “drank the juice” while I was there. The Dev Bootcamp teachers really encourage you to lean on other students and start peer programming. When you feel there’s a hole in your education, you should lean on another student and say, “I don’t understand that. Can you take 30 minutes and just explain to me what’s happening?”
The instructors are there and willing to help but they almost encourage you to ask other students instead. They say, “Did you ask people within your cohort first because if they can explain it to you, that means they really know it.” So it’s encouraging this “everybody’s always learning” mentality.
What was your cohort like? Was it diverse in terms of gender, age, race, life and career backgrounds?
It was. We had 15 people in the beginning and by the end there were nine, including three women. Dev Bootcamp is always trying to get more women to come and they started offering scholarships to women and people of color who are underrepresented in tech, which is great. In my cohort there were two African Americans, as well as Latino and Asian students.
What was more interesting to me was everybody’s story and where they came from. Some people were artists like me, and another was a filmographer. There were people from finance, there was an engineer who had been building trains at one point, and one student who came all the way from Japan on a visitor visa just to go to Dev Bootcamp.
How did you pay for it? Did you have savings from before or did you use one of the financing partners?
I worked hard to save up for when I finished to have a nest egg to live off. Then I took out loans.
I feel like our cohort got really lucky. We had teachers who were freethinking, or at least that’s how I perceived them. When we would have projects or something to work on they would say, “This is the curriculum but if you want to look into something different, go for it. As long as you’ve finished the main challenge for the day, please go find something that interests you.”
Can you tell us about a project you made that you were really proud of?
Our final project. A group of five of us built a project called Dreams. You log in with your YouTube or Gmail account and it grabs all of your YouTube videos, and turns them into a dream sequence. It grabs a random 10 seconds from each video then puts them all together into a long video where it looks like it’s fading in and out of a dream.
That was the biggest learning moment for all of us. The instructors were there to help of course, but they ask you to not to rely on them. They’re like, “Really, we want you to do this on your own because you’re a developer now.”
We had five days to build the project, then you have the sixth day to prepare to present the next day. We also had a chance to present to employer partners.
How did you figure things out that you didn’t know?
Reading lots of documents! Dev Bootcamp teaches you how to learn. That’s really the gift they give you because everybody has a different learning style. Whatever is thrown at you, you may not know how to use it but you can figure it out. We were Googling everything.
We used five APIs in total and none of us had ever used an API. So it was a lot of leaning on your peers, asking them questions then figuring it out together. Then lots of discovery ‘aha’ moments where it would be like, “oh, that’s what they were talking about. I didn’t get it then, but now I do.”
What was the demo day like?
The project demo is a whole other part of programming that people don’t really talk about – that you have to be able to sell your product. If you make something, you need to be able to tell people about technologies you’ve used, why you used them, and how you used them. Dev Bootcamp creates this well-balanced developer, not just a coder.
Did you ever use the therapist that they have on staff?
I went every week. I’m a huge advocate. She is an actual therapist with her own office. You’re at Dev Bootcamp all day, every day so you need a mental break, to just to go and talk to somebody about how great or awful you feel. We have little breaks for yoga and to go get dinner but you still are primarily there to code. It’s nice to have someone who doesn’t have any opinion on what you’re doing, just there to service your mental health.
What are you doing now? Tell us about your new job.
I work at Time Inc. It’s pretty awesome, but I feel like an imposter every day. I’m the front end web developer for Fortune.com. It’s just three of us that work on Fortune but we’re actually hiring two more developers so we’ll be five.
Are there people more experienced than you on your team who have helped you ramp up?
Yeah, I’m on the front-end and we have a back-end person and we have a lead. My lead is an ex-Amazon employee and I call him a wizard because he’s so smart and he really encourages me. It feels very Dev Bootcamp-like. He’ll give me something that’s beyond my reach and say “I know you don’t know this but I’m going to give you the time to go figure it out, come back to me when you’re done and we’ll go over it together, and you’ll grow from me critiquing you.” It feels very nonjudgmental, very open. He’s just happy that I want to learn.
I’ve been here for six months and I worked at another startup for four months before this called Waywire.
What was Waywire?
Video curation. They create an online platform that people can go to view curated video. Let’s say you really love cats – you can search all over the internet for cat videos and put them into your Waywire profile, then other users can go there and look at all his handpicked videos.
How did you get that job?
Through AngelList. I was applying through any medium that I could, specifically to jobs I thought I would learn at. Waywire seemed like they had a good team and were doing something that could be really cool, and I had just used an API that had to do with video so I felt it was a good match.
How did that interview process go?
Interviews in general are so different from opera! For opera, you go in, you sing, it’s great, then it’s over. In the tech world, it could be anywhere from one technical interview to two technical interviews and two behavioral interviews for just one role.
For Waywire, there was a screening phone call first with the CTO. He asked me what I was doing, what I was interested in, told me a bit about the company.
Then he sent me a coding challenge. The challenge was pretty complicated. I did it the way I knew how to do it, then I did it three other ways for better practices that I had looked up online. I sent all four ways and I commented on each thing, explaining that the first way is the way I know how to do it, the next version is a slightly better way to do it, and pointed out the most optimized version.
Did you have people at Dev Bootcamp helping you through the process of getting that job?
We have career coaches who do exactly that. They’re there to help you get your first job and even after. If you quit that job they can help you find another one. They help you with your resume, do mock interviews, and give you tons of coding challenges that you can do on your own time. Even when you’re mid-interview or when you’re negotiating salary, they’re there for you.
When I got the job at Waywire, I brought my offer letter to my career coach and said, “I don’t know if this is enough. Should I ask for more?” She was like, “Oh, absolutely. You should ask for more. You guys are worth more than this.” So I did and they accepted it.
But when I got to my new job, I realized I liked the agile development field, but I don’t like doing the long hours required at a startup. Startups seem edgy to new developers. You’re like, “Oh, I wanna be like one of those kids that’s just out there having a good time and building the next Facebook or Snapchat 2.0”. But the reality is, your first dev job is going to be mostly grunt work and that’s when you learn a lot.
Before you started Dev Bootcamp, you had realized some potential parallels between music. Has that held up? Are you still singing?
Singing is something I’ve done since I was a kid so I can’t give that up. I am extremely happy that I went to Dev Bootcamp and extremely happy that I’ve become a programmer. Since I’ve graduated, I’ve won two hackathons. Not to toot my own horn, but in opera, you don’t really get recognized for your talent. But when you do something really awesome in tech, people are like, “How do we get you? What do I need to do to get you on our team?” It feels so gratifying to just be good at what you do. You don’t have to worry about your hair color or clothing size. There’s a lot of bullshit in the arts industry. But in tech, it doesn’t matter who you know, where you’ve been, it’s just can you code?
What’s been the biggest challenge either at Dev Bootcamp or in your new job?
You mentioned learning React. Is that something that Time supports or did you learn it in your free time?
As far as company time, yes and no. Part of it is done at work because we’ll be using it at work, and part of it is just on my own wanting to learn. There are so many resources out there. I am a visual learner so I’ll look up video tutorials on YouTube, then I’ll look on Udemy or Frontend Masters where they also have video lessons.
Is most of what you’re doing at Time pretty different to what you learned at Dev Bootcamp?
We specifically use Backbone and Marionette right now but we are playing with new technologies because we want to start using the most up to date things.
Has Time hired other bootcamp grads? Were they hesitant about you not having a CS degree?
I think I’m the only bootcamp grad here. The CS degree wasn’t brought up in my interviews but they did ask me a lot of technical questions. The interview process was 4.5 hours long. I had to do a live coding challenge that I didn’t finish. Then I went home, finished the challenge and emailed it to them. On my second day of the job, my boss pulled me aside and said, “I want to let you know the reason you got the job was because you went home, finished the challenge and sent it in.” It shows them that you can teach yourself or figure it out, maybe not in the moment but as time goes on, you don’t need handholding.
Is there anything else you want to add make sure that our readers know about Dev Bootcamp or your time after it?
Dev Bootcamp doesn’t turn out cookie-cutter developers, it turns out awesome programmers. We can think freely, challenge status quo, and contribute really early on. The two jobs I’ve had have been extremely impressed with my ramp-up time because usually it takes a CS person a couple of months to commit code to production, but at my first two jobs, I made a pull request in the first week.
Dev Bootcamp is really well balanced. It’s a social learning environment that helps you build connections within the industry but also, people in your cohort. You will forever be friends with your cohort and always go back to Dev Bootcamp. I go back once a month just to check out the new cohorts to see what they’re doing with curriculum, and talk to the teachers.
Have you stayed involved with Dev Bootcamp since you graduated as a mentor?