Pedro Acosta was a security guard training with the NYPD when he realized a career in software development would allow him to really excel and stimulate his mind like never before. Pedro quit the NYPD training and chose to learn part-time with Flatiron School’s Online Web Developer Program so that he could continue working full-time. See how Flatiron School helped Pedro prepare for the job search, how he landed his first developer internship at an artificial intelligence company (and turned it into a full-time position!), and read his tips on how to move up in the ranks and land a full-time developer role after a coding bootcamp!
What was your educational and career background before Flatiron School?
Prior to coding, I was pursuing a career with the New York Police Department. I graduated from John Jay College with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. At some point during my process with the NYPD, I realized joining the force wasn't for me. I wanted to look for something that would help me stimulate my mind in a way I never had before. After I became familiar with programming through a family friend, I never looked back and never regretted leaving the career I once wanted and initially went to college for.
Why did you want to change career paths and attend a coding bootcamp?
While I was working in security, I was also on the path to becoming an NYPD officer, which is a three-year process. I was towards the end of the process, but I realized that the organization does not allow people to prosper and excel. It’s a system that doesn’t care about the individual unless you have ties with those in upper management. My recruitment process was held poorly, so that turned me away and made me want to switch careers. I was also working in security at the time and felt the same experience of just being another number.
One day I got in contact with a manager at Trello, and we had a 40-minute conversation about possible careers in the tech industry, including programming. We talked about how software development is a promising career, people are excelling, and it could be a lot of fun. Once I did more research on Flatiron School, I saw that it was the best choice and from there I haven’t looked back.
How did you first learn about the coding bootcamp model? Did you consider other coding bootcamps?
While I was in the process of joining the NYPD, I was working as a security guard for a building and one of the tenants in the building was a tech company called Trello. One day a manager invited me up and told me about the many opportunities in programming. They gave me some recommendations and suggested some educational platforms to get me started. One of these platforms was Flatiron School. The manager explained how it was easier to go through a bootcamp than to go back to college to get a traditional degree. I also knew a few people who had graduated from bootcamps and became developers and engineers. I followed their recommendation and also did a lot of research in order to get a better idea of what it would take to become a programmer.
There weren’t many other online bootcamps when I was applying. Everything else I saw was in-person and it would’ve been too much to give up work altogether. Online worked perfectly for me, and it was self-paced. There was no deadline for when I needed to be finished – I could finish in a year or three months, and that was more appealing to me than anything else. I also applied to Startup Institute, but they canceled the course twice and I felt Flatiron School was more prepared.
What else attracted you to Flatiron School’s online program?
When I researched other bootcamps, Flatiron School stood out amongst the other options. The price was out of my range, but then I realized they also had an online program which had a tuition model that worked for me. I was one of the first students to apply to the online program and the structure was perfect for what I was looking for. It allowed me to work but get the same education and experience as a full-time student. I applied, I completed Flatiron’s free prep course, I got in, and ever since then I’ve been pretty happy!
When I first found out about Flatiron, they had just released a beta version of the online course and were accepting applications from students with little to no experience. As someone who graduated with a degree that was unrelated to technology or programming, that made me feel more comfortable. I felt like this could be something I could do and decided to do the free prep course before applying. I really enjoyed what I learned in the prep course and decided to go for the full program.
Since you kept working while doing Flatiron School online, how many hours a week were you able to study?
I started the course in December 2015 and I completed it in September 2016, while also working as a security officer. The amount of time spent studying varied based on my work schedule for the week. My position was on-call hours, so on average I spent 40 to 55 hours a week studying for Flatiron School – I wish I could’ve put in more but it worked out well. Self-paced learning was awesome. I never felt overwhelmed with work and going to school. It was still challenging and took a lot of time, but it was fun.
What was the online learning experience like at Flatiron School? How were the days structured and how did the instructors deliver the material?
It was a great curriculum and I thought it was organized very well. Flatiron School set it up in a way that allows people to feel good about themselves when they complete a lesson and mark off achievements in the curriculum. When I started it was fairly new so they were continually experimenting and evaluating student responses and feedback to figure out what was best for the students.
Since this is self-paced you could be stuck on the same project or lab for a couple of days – there’s no way around a lesson if you want to continue through the curriculum. There were times where I would struggle, but I knew I could contact other students or instructors for help through the Flatiron Slack channel. There’s also a button on the portal where you can let others know you’re struggling with a concept, and someone will help you out.
The way the curriculum was structured was very informative. I didn’t really need to go outside of the course to solve problems – even though I did, it wasn’t necessary. The Flatiron course provided enough information and there was more than enough help to get through every lab and every problem without needing to rely on extra sources.
What is your favorite project that you built at Flatiron School?
There was one project in particular that I was pretty excited about that I put a lot of time into – it was a baseball app. I play baseball and the website we use sucks, so I wanted to create something that we could use in the future. It tracked tracks, schedules, and rosters. I used Ruby for the back end and Angular for the front end.
How did Flatiron School prepare you for job hunting? What advice do you have for other online bootcampers going through the job search?
Flatiron School did a lot to help me with the job search. They helped fix up my resume, change my Linkedin profile, build cover letters, create cold emails, prepare for technical interviews, and more. It was pretty intense so it was almost like there was no excuse to not get a job.
For every company you apply to, reach out and send a cold email to a developer or hiring manager there. Don’t be afraid to do that. Also, go to a lot of meetups as you’ll make connections there. There are a lot of nice people out there who are willing to help fellow graduates.
Tell us about your job at CraneAI and how you found it! How long have you been there now?
I applied online to CraneAI a couple months after I finished Flatiron School. I went on a few interviews and got hired as an intern working in ReactJS for three months. I’m now a full-time Full Stack Engineer with CraneAI and have been in this role since July. I can't speak too much about what we currently do, but I can say we are an artificial intelligence (AI) company and the majority of my work has been around ReactJS. At first, it was very challenging, and one of the hardest things I’ve gone through in my life. There were nights when some of us slept here in the office! Now I’m way more comfortable so I don’t have to put in as many hours. CraneAI is a relatively new company and I was their second hire – we have about 12 developers on the team now.
Any advice for bootcamp students who are interns looking to get the promotion into a full-time role?
Be willing to accept different challenges and projects. Expect to fail. You’re going to fail every single day and that’s what I do every day. I’m comfortable with that, but I also have the willingness to learn. When you put in enough hours to work and have the willingness to want to grow, people are going to see that. When they see that, they know you are on the right path by being a good part of the team and they’ll want to help you out. Work hard and try not to get discouraged. If you don’t know something, ask. Your team is there to get through problems together.
Are you using the same programming languages in your role?
What is it like being a new software developer joining a small startup team? How has CraneAI been helpful to your first employer after a bootcamp?
I’ve never worked at a tech company before, but CraneAI is a lot of fun. We spend a lot of time with each other outside of work and there are a lot of experienced engineers and role models from whom I get great advice.
Even if I struggle, they put me into projects to help build my skills so that I can become comfortable enough to work on more intense, challenging projects. This team, in particular, has a lot of young guys. I’m one of the older employees at 25, so some people are more familiar with technology and I’m learning a lot from them. I ask a ton of questions all day long, and I’ve already learned a lot because there are so many opportunities for me to excel. Once my team puts me on the right path and I’m there, I’m very grateful. Everyone is very supportive and we all get along. It’s a great environment to grow as a developer.
From creating that project at Flatiron to getting the internship to now being a full-time developer, how do you feel like you’ve grown?
My skills have grown a lot compared to back then, but even now I still feel like I don’t know anything. There are so many things to learn. I try not to compare what I know now from before, but I like to see how much I don’t know to humble myself to see how much more I need to grow.
Do you feel you took anything from your experience studying to be a police officer or working as a security officer that helped you in your journey of learning to code?
Yes, working as a police officer requires you to constantly be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to details. This helped me with programming as I was familiar with having to research and mentally force myself to write efficient code.
Would you have been able to get to this place in your life if you hadn’t gone to Flatiron School?
No, not at all. Flatiron School supplied me with a fundamental grasp of programming and there’s no way I would’ve been able to do this without them.
What’s been the biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to learn to code?
Making adjustments from going from back end to front end was one. Also, it’s challenging to explain what I’m trying to do in a technical sense. There’s certain terminology used that I wasn’t familiar with because I did an online bootcamp. Some tech terms were thrown at me that I didn’t at first get, so communication was a challenge at some points.
What advice do you have for our readers who are making a career change through a coding bootcamp?
Don’t be afraid to fail. If you’re not happy with your current situation regardless of what career you’re in, leave. There are so many opportunities out there, like programming, where you can put in a few months of effort to learn. There are many chances to excel and create a new career. Continue to push yourself and good things will happen.
Could you share why you’re thankful for code?
I am thankful for coding for giving me an opportunity to pursue something greater than myself. It has given me a new career and the ability to continue to grow not only as a programmer but as a person.