A former coffee roaster in Seattle, Perry Hook realized that he needed to put his Computer Science degree to work. He was familiar with CS theories, but had never learned a programming language, so he enrolled in the Code Fellows Python Development Accelerator to get experience building real web apps. We talk to Perry about his diverse cohort at Code Fellows, why he chose an accelerated learning program over a Master's degree, and how he landed a job as a Software Engineer at SubmitNet!
What were you doing before you started at Code Fellows?
I got a liberal arts degree in college, where my major was computer science. After college, I didn’t pursue Computer Science — I was a coffee roaster. I managed the roasteries at a couple of companies and I was doing the green coffee buying at one. My most recent position was with a Portland-based coffee company called Stumptown, running their Seattle roastery.
What was missing from that computer science degree? Why did you not pursue that after college?
In college I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do after school. I fell into a computer science major. I enjoyed it and found it very challenging, but I didn’t ever have this notion that I was going to go become a programmer or a software engineer. I got lucky enough to turn a hobby of mine, coffee roasting, into a career, so I followed that as far as I could.
Did you know anything about Python before you did Code Fellows?
In my college background we encountered various languages but I actually had not programmed in Python in college; it was almost all in Java.
In the years leading up to my decision to switch careers, I had been dabbling here and there in Coursera classes, some of which I completed. But in one of those classes I got familiar with programming in Python and really enjoyed it. This past winter, I found out these bootcamps existed and I started researching what I could find.
I was able to really jump into the more advanced offering, the Development Accelerator. I never had any real introduction into developing web apps prior, which is what so much of the work out there is. I needed a course to get my confidence up and my skills more relevant to a career in today’s market.
Did you apply to any other bootcamps or just Code Fellows?
I only applied to Code Fellows.
What was the application process like for you?
There was a first round of short answer/essay questions. In the next round there was a short video that I made explaining something technical in a minute, and there was another minute-long video that I did explaining why I would be a great candidate for Code Fellows. I had a connection through a friend of mine to the then-CEO and one of the cofounders, Will Little.
I didn’t have to do a coding challenge. I know that a lot of people that were in my Python program did, and I’m not sure if it’s because I applied super early and maybe it hadn’t been part of the process then or if they thought that some of my recent programming experience was enough proof. I’m not exactly sure why.
How long did the process take from start to finish?
I think I applied in March and it took three weeks or so. That was another thing that really appealed to me about these bootcamp programs. I had been thinking about grad school to get a masters in CS as a way to make a career switch. Even if I started the application process immediately, I wasn’t going to start school for at least another 9 months.
When I found out about these quick accelerator programs, the time difference to make the career change was appealing.
What was your cohort like? Did you feel you were more advanced than most people or on the same page?
I was really impressed by the people that were in my cohort but I wouldn’t say everybody was on the same level. People had different strengths and weaknesses. There were some people who had come up through Code Fellows from Foundations classes who didn’t have a CS background; there were definitely people in the program who did have a CS background, some more recent than mine, and at least one person who had already been working as a software engineer. There was even a guy doing the program for fun before he went off to get his MBA at MIT in the fall.
I was very impressed by everyone’s intellect and ability to learn new things. The people who were coming from a more thorough computer science background understood a lot more fundamentals, like data structures. But I found that for me, learning web development wasn’t exactly my strong suit right off the bat, and some people who didn’t have a CS background but had been dabbling in web development stuff had a leg up on me there.
Overall, everybody in the cohort was really pretty impressive.
How many people were in your class?
I think we started out with maybe 15 or 16; we lost a couple of people along the way.
Did they drop out because it was too hard?
I don’t know any of the details – but I’m pretty sure one person just realized during that first week that they were in over their head. And because of the way that the refund structure works, there’s a time frame where you can get some of your money back.
Code Fellows takes a lot of time. I would say it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I can't imagine dealing with family issues or other issues at the same time. I was barely keeping it together at times, so there were just individual challenges there.
Who were your instructors during the class and how many did you have?
There was one primary instructor, Cris Ewing, and there were a few TAs along the way. The TAs had been in the previous Python Dev Accelerator. They were looking for work at that point, so we saw more or less of them as some of them got hired. A couple of them got hired while they were TAing.
Did you think that those TAs who were former students were helpful; that their experience having done the dev accelerator before was helpful to you?
I felt like our TAs were very good and again, they had their own strengths too. I felt they were all great at giving us the help we needed.
It’s just important that the person helping you is a few steps ahead of you. But I think some of us who did have CS degrees probably knew a lot more about various aspects of algorithms than perhaps the TA who hadn’t gone through that.
I think that’s even true with Cris, the main instructor. He didn’t have a degree in CS, but his experience was way more relevant, so there are things you might learn as a CS major that aren’t necessarily directly relevant to many of the jobs out there too.
Were you satisfied with the curriculum?
I was. It’s not necessarily that any task or assignment we were given was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, although some of them were quite difficult. But the sheer amount of material you’re trying to get through is massive, so at certain points priorities shift and some things don’t happen exactly as they might have been planned.
Overall, I felt like the curriculum was excellent and Cris did a really great job of covering a wide range of topics, to get our foundations of data structures, network programming, and Python fundamentals all on the same page. Throughout the entire course, we were coding data structures as well as web development and deployment… it was a good blend of all of these different things.
One of the things that Cris preached about Python was that there’s all these different frameworks you can use. If you’re a Ruby programmer, you’re likely working in Ruby on Rails. But with Python there are many frameworks being used in the real world, not just Django. So I think one of the challenges was trying to get exposure to a range of frameworks but also getting deep enough into any given one in order to actually deploy something.
What did a typical day look like at Code Fellows?
Monday through Thursday, every morning was some sort of lecture, maybe a whiteboard challenge, then lab. In the afternoon lab, we tackled our assignments. And almost every single assignment was done in pairs or small groups. I think that was really valuable, because we got to work with a lot of different people with different perspectives and strengths.
In the late afternoon/evening, we would either continue to hang out and work on stuff or take the work home. During project weeks we were all there pretty late.
Fridays there was typically some sort of speaker or workshop aimed at helping us navigate the job search, and then most of us would spend the rest of the day working on our assignments and projects.
You had mentioned experiencing some burnout — can you talk about that and how you pushed through it?
I was trying to estimate at the time how many hours a week I was spending working on Code Fellows, and I think it could have easily been 80 hours a week. You could keep up with it for a while, but there’s two halves to the program and by the end of each month, things start to unravel.
I was lucky that my girlfriend had just finished grad school and had July off, so she was just keeping me together, making sure I was getting fed. But still, there are times when you’re so fried and you have so little sleep — if you’ve been up really late working — that you feel you’re not able to keep going.
What advice would you give somebody who’s about to go into the Python Development Accelerator?
I think it’s really important that the people who are close to them in their lives understand what they’re going through. It’s not like they’re just going to class; it consumes your life for two months and you’ve got to be in a place where you can just focus on Code Fellows.
The other thing is just try your hardest to stay on top of the work so that you don’t get too far behind, because that can be mentally challenging.
What are you up to today? What is your job, where are you working, and what’s your position?
I just started last week at a small company in Portland called SubmitNet, which does search engine optimization-related work. I’m a software engineer. I’m one of two for the company right now, so I’m busy getting up to speed. I feel like I want to be productive right away but there’s always a ton to learn. I’m working in Python and the Pyramid framework.
Did you feel like you had support from Code Fellows to get employed?
Yes, very much so. But the problem with that is that I moved from Seattle to Portland. And at the time, there was no real Code Fellows network in Portland. Code Fellows was able to connect me with a couple people here, but they didn’t have the same sort of connections with employers that they did in Seattle at the time. I’m sure that continues to change now that they’ve started up a program here. So I was doing my best to network with people here in Portland and just apply to jobs.
The other part of Code Fellows support in finding a job isn’t just after the program. There were a lot of great speakers and prior graduates to help us learn the interview process at tech companies, how to sell ourselves, and workshops to practice interviews or polish our resumes. That was one of the big selling points for me about the program and it definitely helped me.
Did you feel like Code Fellows prepared you for the career change you were looking for? Was it worth the money and are you happy with your experience?
Yes. I was looking for a quick career change and it worked for me. I think different people would find different programs valuable in different ways.
I know a woman who went through the Ada Developer’s Academy in Seattle; I remember looking at how they did things and wishing that I had the time and felt like I could be unemployed for the 6 months before you do an internship, because I do think there’s a limit to how fast you can learn. The longer timeframe of Ada sounded appealing to me from that perspective. Ada is a women-only program anyway, so it’s not like it was an actual option for me, but it’s on one side of the spectrum when it comes to program length.
On the other side, when you’re working so fast to learn things, you don’t feel like you absorb it all quite as deeply either. To me, the pace was part of what I was looking for, but it’s something that people need to take seriously.
The projects we worked on at Code Fellows were really valuable for me, and being able to put them on a resume in a way that shows you have experience helped me get hired. I learned a ton there.