Oscar Cisneros was at a job with little opportunity for growth when he was encouraged to learn programming by a tech recruiter. After reading about Anyone Can Learn to Code in Chicago, Oscar decided to take the plunge. He's now working as a developer at startup CancerIQ and says "things couldn’t have worked out any better." We talk to Oscar about his experience and career change!
What were you doing before you started at Anyone Can Learn To Code?
I was working for a travel company, managing flights. It was a really demanding job with no growth opportunities and it was in Chicago so the traffic was horrendous.
Did you have a technical background?
I did a bit of IT for neighbors and friends- one of my neighbors owns a swimming pool maintenance company, and he hired me to be his computer guy; other than that, nothing major. I dropped out of college because I couldn’t figure out what to do. I had messed around with programming a bit but never really got into it - I thought it was something that only really smart people could do. I wish I would have started a long time ago; I’ve found something I love.
Did you quit your job or continue to work during Anyone Can Learn to Code?
For the first two weeks, I worked and did the course. After that it became incredibly difficult between work, traffic, and class.
How did you find the bootcamp? What pushed you to make that switch?
Last year, around this time, I was really starting to hate my job. I was trying to figure out the next step: going back to school and finishing my undergrad, finding a new job. I took a small, part-time job with a startup called Sidecar. I ended up driving a tech recruiter and we were talking about work and he filled me in. He told me to check out Codecademy and if I liked it, to apply to a bootcamp.
I signed up for Codecademy the next day and started reading books and playing around- it was freakin’ awesome. Bootcamps I looked at were crazy expensive and require you to quit your job. Then I found Jay in an article on Built in Chicago and contacted him.
Did you look at any bootcamps other than Anyone Can Learn to Code?
Not seriously. I looked at a few websites but the prices were out of reach.
During the couple of weeks that you were working and doing the program, what kind of time were you putting into each?
It was a full 8-hour day at my regular job. I was putting in about 3 hours’ worth of driving and then the full class from 6 to 9:30; it was really rough.
What was the application process like for you?
There was an online application and then Jay got in contact with me and we talked in person. He told me about his teaching style and asked me about my learning style then he gave me some pre-work to do to see if I could handle it.
How long did that process take?
I think about a week. I’d contacted Jay when it was really close to when the class was starting so it was really quick.
What is Jay’s teaching style like? What did the class look like on a day to day?
He was great. He doesn’t leave anybody behind. If you’ve got a problem he’s going to help you figure it out but at the same time, he has this trust in people that he knows can handle it so there’s a really good trade-off. I picked things up really quickly and he would let me play around and get myself stuck and after a while, he’d check in on me and see if I was alright. He was really good about making sure everybody was picking up the material.
When did you go to class in-person?
The class went from Monday to Thursday from 6 to 9:30pm. And then Sunday all day from 9 to 5. It went for 12 weeks.
Most days we had projects we were working on during the class and since the class was only 3 hours we may not finish, so you’d work on them overnight if you could.
What was your cohort like? Did you interact with them a lot or were you working on your own?
We were actually pretty close because we worked together every day; everybody helped each other out. Towards the end of the class, we had our own projects to build and there were those who were good at certain things. For example, there was a guy who was good at front-end stuff, there was a guy who was good with APIs so we all helped each other out. It was pretty cool.
How many people were in your cohort?
We graduated with 7 students. There were a few women, quite a few men. The class was really diverse so that made it really cool.
As far as the curriculum goes, what technologies were you learning and were you happy with the materials?
We started off with Ruby on Rails, did some CSS front-end work using the Bootstrap library. Jay did give us the option of learning Bootstrap or Foundation. Most of the class did Bootstrap. It was really heavy on Rails, and then we ended up learning Angular towards the end of the class; that was my favorite part. Those were the main technologies that we worked with.
At the company I’m working for now, it’s really heavy back-end work but people get excited for the front end stuff. So if you know how to do really cool stuff with the least amount of effort, that’s gold.
Did you work on projects throughout the course? Were those individual projects or team projects?
We had our own individual project. From the beginning of the class, we started to think about what our project would be and to flesh it out. Then during the course of the class we had a few group projects; we built a puzzle app where we collaborated with the rest of the group. Then we worked with APIs where we built a web client to interact with each other. For my personal project, I built a business management program for small companies.
Can you tell us about that project? Is it live?
It is live but nobody uses it yet. I originally came up with the idea when I was working at this pool company. The owner had a program that was built for him and the developer disappeared so he couldn’t change anything. When he hired me, I had to hack into it and make changes.
My whole idea was born off of that; taking the program and putting it into the 21st century and on the web. It tracks customer services and then their service breakdown.
How much emphasis was there on job placement during Anyone Can Learn to Code?
They brought in some people to talk to us, give a little introduction to the agile training process, work environment and the culture at different companies. And for our final presentation, Jay brought a ton of recruiters and employers.
Anyone Can Learn To Code was really good at connecting students with employers. They actually ended up recommending me in the position I’m in now.
Did everyone in your cohort get a job?
It was 50-50. There were some people that didn’t start looking heavily, some people that were still trying to figure out what they were doing.
Tell us what you’re up to today. Where are you working and what’s your job?
I’m working for a startup called Cancer IQ to build a web tool for doctors to treat and recommend treatments for cancer patients.
When I got hired, I was the only developer on the team besides the CTO, which was a little bit intimidating. I was hired as an intern, and did a lot of front-end work that I wasn’t really comfortable doing at the time because I really was a back end guy. I ended up learning the front-end skills which is awesome and things just started cranking out after that. I just got hired full-time two weeks ago.
I think I was fortunate that I was able to pick things up as quickly as I did.
Where is Cancer IQ based?
CancerIQ is in 1871, which is where Anyone Can Learn to Code is as well. I’ve been able to hang out here for a while longer which has been awesome because I love this place.
The CTO heard about me from Jay, and asked me for an interview and asked me to do a test project. I did pretty well on it and ended up getting hired before the class even finished.
Last year at this time I was miserable because I hated my job so much; and now things couldn’t be better. I love my job.
Do you think that you could have gotten to this point where you are without a bootcamp?
No, no. I like to learn and figure things out myself but there are times when I get stuck. There was no way I could get stuck without having somebody there to help.
I would make silly, dumb mistakes that I would spend hours on. So somebody that knows the way that you’re thinking can tell you why this is not working or this is why you can’t figure it out.
Have you continued your education after you graduated?
Yeah, I learn a ton on the job but I still try to make time. I’ve been going to a Ruby meet-up ever since I got out of class. I did a hackathon a couple of months ago. I’m always trying to learn more. If you like programming, you want to know what the coolest new technology is and play with it.
It sounds like you were destined to be a programmer.
Definitely. This is exactly where I needed to be and things couldn’t have worked out any better. Even if you’d planned it, they couldn’t have worked out any better. I quit my job, did the class, landed a job, love the job, continued learning… it’s awesome.
Is there anything you want to add about ACLTC?
I always tell people if you don’t know what to do and are looking for something, think of programming, even at the basic level. It’s really cool stuff. There are so many things that haven’t been done and you could really change the way that people interact. That’s one of the things that really attracted me to programming in the first place.
Once you have those skills to give somebody a tool that changes their lives, that’s really gratifying. There‘s nothing like seeing somebody use a tool that you built. It’s incredible.