Inside This Article

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Pedro was a political rights advocate imprisoned Venezuela, an environmental science teacher, and a rope-access technician before finding his love for code in London. We sat down with this General Assembly Web Development Immersive graduate to learn more about his unconventional path to software development. Find out how Pedro fled Venezuela and ended up becoming a junior developer and JavaScript Teaching Assistant in London.

Q&A

Pedro, tell us about your pre-bootcamp story. What was your educational and career background before General Assembly?

That’s a long story! I am from Caracas, Venezuela. I’m sad to say that Caracas has become one of the most violent cities in the world. I was a science teacher back home teaching at secondary schools for a private company that provided extra curriculum to private schools. When this company shut down, the group of teachers decided, “Why not provide this nice curriculum but now for public schools in the slums?” So we started an NGO, and our first pitch was to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). They started funding us, and we started to work in the slums teaching environmental sciences to children.

Politics back home started to become really, really harsh and polarized. The opposition of my government started to ask me and other teachers to be liaisons between political propaganda and their networks. Many of us started to be prosecuted by our own government. In 2004, I was protesting against my government and got shot by national guards. They then imprisoned me for a crime I did not commit. Fortunately, I was released, even though they released me by mistake. I continued protesting but the persecution and harassment started to become greater. Many friends who supported my NGO suggested that I get a cover job to divert attention from myself.

What an intense experience. What did you do next and how did you become interested coding?

One of my friends decided to employ me at their digital advertising agency. I was spending half of my time as a copywriter, and half of my time as a teacher in the slums. When I was working at that ad agency, I discovered web development, and fell in love. There were times when I wanted to add more features to the app or website, but couldn't due to lacking certain skills. So I started to research and teach myself.

On the other hand, things started to get really bad at home, so I decided to leave the country. I fled to London in April 2013, and at that time, I didn’t know any English, so I couldn’t practice my career, teaching. I also thought I couldn’t translate my previous skill set of working at high vertical environments. For example, when I taught environmental sciences, we would talk about plants and photosynthesis and the rain forest ecosystem. I built platforms on the top of trees and lead the children, properly and safely, the top.

I researched about if it's possible to do that in London, and I found there are positions called Rope Access Technicians (RATS) which is construction labor, but really just hanging on ropes. So I did that because it paid well, and I worked with only a few people so I didn’t need to speak much English.

It was my plan to save money in order to do the General Assembly course, because when I decided to leave my home country, I was resetting my life completely. I was going to another continent, another culture, another language, so why not reset my career?

Wow. Quite a story. How did you decide on General Assembly as opposed to other schools?

To be honest with you, it was the first hit on Google, so I just did more research on General Assembly. I read forums, and asked people about their experience. I reached out to a few other schools, but General Assembly was the first to respond to me.

What specifically did you want to get out of a coding bootcamp like General Assembly?

There were many things that hooked me on GA. First, it's not about the curriculum, it’s the way you provide the knowledge. As a teacher, I know the most important thing is not the content itself, but it’s the way you provide that content as well as the environment you provide that content in. I felt the tone of communication, the approach I received through email, and meeting people at info sessions was great. GA bases their coursework on exploration education which is a philosophy and technique that I love. I think it's really valuable for students to learn by doing. Students should learn from their mistakes, and then anchor that knowledge to their own experience.

Could you explain how you financed the program?

Yes. I sent emails before attending to see if they had loans, because I didn’t have the money. I was glad they offered payment installments because I paid almost two thirds, and the other third was paid through loans from an institute called Future Finance.

Did you think about going to a traditional university as opposed to going to a coding bootcamp to learn to program?

Not at all. I came from a university with an education degree, and when I found experiential education, I didn't want to return to academia again. Don't get me wrong, it is a really important foundation, but if someone or an institute can guide you through experimentation, it’s even better.

Describe your Web Development Immersive learning experience at General Assembly.

It was really tough for many reasons. First, web development by nature is frustrating because you're dealing with constant problems that need to be solved. Dealing with problems and things that you don't know how to solve is hard. It’s a lot to experience 8+ hour days and then needing to do homework. The learning is really every day, all day for 12 weeks.

The process to manage your emotions and frustrations is really hard, but the instructors are really aware and address it in morning stand-ups. Our 15-minute stand-ups were a way to get out your emotions. We’d share what was happening to ourselves, what we felt for other fellows, and we’d realize that we’re not alone in our frustrations. Everyone is hitting a wall at the same time but with different rhythms.

The instructors and course producers encourage you to share everything - your emotions, your code, and questions to your peers, which was really helpful. Sometimes I felt that I wasn’t grabbing the content, and became really frustrated because I paid a lot of money. However, in the long term, last week was my first anniversary as a graduate, everything is clicking.

What was your favorite project that you built in WDI?

It was a group project, which just went offline four weeks ago. It's an old project, that we used in Google Maps API and Instagram real-time API. Our approach was that people could navigate a city via the video that someone just published at that moment. So you could navigate a city on Instagram videos.

My second favorite project was my final project. At the beginning, JavaScript and I hated each other; it was something I struggled with. So I decided that my final project needed to all be done in JavaScript. Here in London, maybe 60% of the population are immigrants. People who are born and raised here don't realize how lucky they are to have this country’s safety and systems. I created a web app to show the index of violence and peace in different parts of the world, The State of The World in Peace. I scraped from the United Nations database but they don't have a proper API. They have a lot of tables on their website, so I used Nokogiri which is a gem from Ruby. I scraped that to populate the database to an app which it colors in different ways for the different indexes. If you want to see, for example, the human development index, the education index, or the health index, you can compare your country against the world.

What was one of your biggest challenges during the program?

I was really afraid about of my level of English at that time. It was really challenging because I was learning something from the scratch in a language that I am not proficient. I didn’t have the money to take proper English classes, so I basically taught myself English. I watched a lot of English speaking movies with subtitles.

What was your cohort like?

London is really multicultural. In my class we had a guy from India, a guy from Pakistan, and we had two Canadians. We had a Jewish guy and a Londoner who was living in New Zealand for about four years. It was a great size and we were a good bunch.

So what are you doing now that you are finished with General Assembly?

I fell in love with web developing, and I stayed in London for almost two years just to do the course. I enrolled at General Assembly in April 2015 and I finished in July 2015. Immediately after they asked me to return but as a teacher assistant. Since then, I've been a Teacher Assistant for their Web Development Immersive, JavaScript, and Front-End Web Development course. We're teaching the first iteration of the new JavaScript curriculum in London, and I'm honored to be the TA. We actually just launched a new campus a few weeks ago, and it's huge. We have meeting rooms, we have offices, we have a common work space and more. We're trying to have events every evening which is great.

I’m also working in the industry. My first contract as a professional developer was two months after I graduated, at a software company called Made Tech. Made Tech specializes in creating e-commerce sites built on Ruby on Rails. I was the support engineer. Now I'm working at Thirty Three which is a digital advertising agency that specializes in marketing and advertisement for recruitment, and it’s great. I’m currently one of the oldest developers, but the most junior developer.

Did General Assembly help you with the job search?

Yes, GA helped a lot. Sam and Cassie, the outcome producers, helped me to create a new CV, and they prepped me for interviews. At the beginning I felt that "Oh, this is horrible," but it helped me tremendously to practice in front of a mirror with my colleagues. I had a speech for probably every normal question that an employer could ask.

The first month was hard because the process to ask for a job position here is completely different from my home country. Also, the process has too many steps. It's too long in my opinion, but Cassie and Sam, the outcome producers, helped me deal with my frustrations. I was glad that Made Tech published a role on GA’s profile page for graduates, which is basically a LinkedIn only for GA graduates. This tool was really helpful because if employers post a role there, they know the level of skill you will have as a GA grad.

Do you feel like the programming languages taught at GA prepared you for your current role?

Yes. The stack that they teach at General Assembly is based on Ruby and JavaScript, and everything else is just the transversal on the language itself. When you learn that, you can transition into other technologies because it works the same. The syntax, or the way you name things, are different and that's it. The stack I'm working in now is PHP and we are using Laravel, along with chef and puppet for deploy which is built on Ruby. I had never touched PHP in my life, but just by using Ruby and JavaScript, I picked it up.

How are your colleagues supporting you as you learn?

Because I'm a junior, my bosses are aware of the level I’m at. They are more than happy to help me to grow into a more senior role. The environment with my colleagues is great because everyone shares knowledge and everyone supports each other.

I actually just delivered my first project two weeks ago. I had pitched some of my project ideas, and I was given the green light to build bots for Slack as a working package for our clients. We were working to automate the recruitment process for when employers welcome a new hire. We also pitched an idea about creating a platform built on Raspberry Pi where one could just press a button and have a live website.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who are thinking about attending a coding bootcamp?

Because I'm also teaching, I have a lot of friends who don't put in their hours and don’t use effort to push themselves. These courses only give you what you put into it. So if you're just going to sit in a chair and expect to become a developer, you're lying to yourself. You need to put in a lot of effort to deal with bugs and frustrations. If you are willing to put that extra effort in every time, it's completely worth it. But if not, it's not for you.

My biggest advice would be to put in the effort. If you're going to the immersive course, it’s because you're willing to change careers. You need to put in the effort, you need to put in the extra hours, and you need to be curious. You need to be serious and have a good sense of humor in order to deal with the frustrations of learning code because, it is hard and the internet is not getting any smaller.

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About The Author

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Lauren is a communications and operations strategist who loves to help others find their idea of success. She is passionate about techonology education, career development, startups, and the arts. Her background includes career/youth development, public affairs, and philanthropy. She is from Richmond, VA and now currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.

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