Quinton Fults served in AmeriCorps in a variety of roles from child life specialist, to nutrition and math teacher. After finishing his service, he realized that coding may be the best next step so he enrolled in courses at a local community college. After one week, he dropped the course because he was introduced to Orange County-based coding bootcamp, Redwood Code Academy. See why Quinton decided to learn to code at a bootcamp instead of community college, read about his Redwood Code Academy learning experience, and hear his tips for the job search.
What was your educational background and last career path before you started at Redwood Code Academy?
I never really had any interest in computers. After graduating from high school my first job was through AmeriCorps and NCCC out of their Southwest Region in Denver. I did team-based national service for about two years. I did an eclectic variety of things – I was a child life specialist at a children's hospital, a certified tax repairer, I did rural addressing for the Navajo reservation, I taught nutrition classes, I taught math, and I was a contract painter. It was fun. After that, I came home to Fountain Valley and started looking into coding bootcamps.
What was the connection between your AmeriCorps service and realizing that you wanted to learn how to code?
I have a cousin who has been very influential for me. He's the CTO at a software company in Irvine called Technossus, and we're very close. We're the only two people in our family who are the same age range that could be brothers. He'd always talk to me about bootcamps when I'd come home. He’d talk about the level of connection between service and web development, and also music as well because I'm a professional banjo player.
What made Redwood Code Academy stand out in your search?
My cousin was working with a guy at Technossus called Harrison Spain, who is the founder and lead instructor of Redwood Code Academy. They worked very closely together, so my cousin told me about Harrison’s background and what the school was doing. One thing led to another, and I decided to enroll because I thought it was a really good opportunity. Talking with Harrison about the level of experience that I would get out of the school, it seemed very project based. I learn a lot more from working on something. So after talking with him, I had a very good sense that there would be a good amount of quantifiable outcomes that I could gain from experience. There were a lot of very introductory and then refined skills that I could really benefit from if I wanted to get into the coding world.
Did you try to learn to code on your own at all before Redwood Code Academy? How was your transition from AmeriCorps to bootcamp?
When the opportunity presented itself, it was a pretty spur of the moment thing. I had just started going to college at Golden West, but I decided as soon as I saw the coding bootcamp path that I would drop out and start preparing for that instead. I had been at Golden West for a week and I ended up dropping out just under the wire to get a full refund. My time coming out of AmeriCorps was pretty structured for what I was going to do. I knew I was going to go to college. But then I had a couple of days where I had met with my cousin and Harrison; talking about the coding bootcamp sounded really exciting. So I discussed it with my family and decided it would be in my best interest to take this route, try to find employment for a few years, and then get into the industry. My ultimate goal being to establish myself well enough that I could start freelance work while in college.
I had about two weeks until it was starting, and Harrison was very kind. I asked him if there was anything that I should work on prior to the course, and he sent me a couple of courses in HTML and CSS to get my feet wet. I had a couple of weeks of rigorously going through some online content on preliminary subject matter. Also, Udemy was offering a new year, new me deal for their online courses which was remarkable. The courses are $100+, but they had all their courses on there for $10.
Did you consider any other coding bootcamps within Orange County or were you sold on Redwood Code Academy?
Through the work my cousin does with Technossus, I found out a lot about Harrison and Redwood Code Academy. I'd spoken with a few other people in the industry, but within the Irvine area, where I live, the consensus was pretty much the same. If you want to learn how to develop software, Harrison is the guy you want to learn from. He is the coding wizard. Learning a bit about his level of understanding and skills, and from the recommendations of the people I talked to, he seemed to be the number one person in the area to learn from.
Were you looking for a specific type of curriculum offered by Redwood Code Academy?
I know I learn better with a project or task-oriented curriculum. I benefit from being taught a lesson, and being given a task for which I have to look up information, think about what I just learned, and apply it. From what I had found out about the course, it was very project oriented. Since I graduated, I've been taking more online courses to continue to grow my knowledge base. One thing I always look for in a course is something like "Learn Angular by building 12 applications.” That's something that Redwood provided on a daily basis; new curriculum and a project that would apply the skills.
Tell us about the application and the interview process for Redwood Code Academy.
The process of getting into the class was supposed to be similar to how your first coding interview would be for a job. It’s not necessarily technical questions, but more finding out where your passions lie and why you're interested in development. It's a course for pretty much anybody with any level of background whatsoever. Redwood Code Academy goes from ground level one, to the full extent of the subject area. Regardless of the pre-work, we had about a week and a half worth of HTML and CSS, learning that definitely supplemented the online courses they provided me. It was very useful especially in the application of the skills side. It was nice to come with a beginner's knowledge of what to expect and then go in there and be able to apply those skills.
Do you have any tips for our readers on how to ace the Redwood Code Academy interview?
Yeah. Harrison has a background with doing a lot of technical interviews. The course is really open to anybody interested in web development, so you don't need to have any coding background whatsoever. The interview is actually optional. Something that's good to know all around is the idea of being honest and being very real. This applies to any coding interview, in the job field interviewers can tell if you're not being fully honest with them.
With my spur of the moment choice to go to Redwood Code Academy, I was very honest with Harrison about my background and what my interest in doing it was. I was very real about who I am and why I’m interested in doing the course. You want to make good impressions on people. Harrison and the co-instructor Billy Pruden can be very good assets for you in the future so being honest is a good way to keep that relationship strong.
How many people were in your cohort? Was it diverse in terms of age and gender?
We were about 10 people. Race and age wise, it was fairly diverse. I was definitely the youngest person in my cohort, being 20 at the time. There were three or four people in their mid-to-late 20's and six or seven people that were 35 and up. As far as gender, our group was all men.
Could you give us an overview of your learning experience at Redwood Code Academy? Share a typical day and the teaching style.
The course is separated into three phases. Phase one is front end development, phase two is back end, and then phase three is different frameworks and more specialized learning. The phases start with an introduction to that type of development. During the last two weeks, you do an end of phase project either by yourself or doing pair programming. On the last day of the phase, you do a presentation of that project.
On a daily basis, the morning and maybe the beginning half of the afternoon would be a lesson. Either Harrison or Billy would walk the class through either a new language, or more specialized concepts on the language you had just learned. Towards the end of the lesson, they'd introduce us to the afternoon project. Typically, when you're starting off on a language, they like to do console applications. For example, let's say we just learned C#. They would create a roleplaying game where you're battling monsters and collecting gold in the console application. So you’d work on that using the skills that you just learned from the class. Billy and Harrison would go around and help answer any questions that you had. On occasion, they’d finish the day with a final little lesson to refine a concept, answer overall questions, or they'd do a practice interview question. Usually, you’d get a weekly chance to go in front of the class and practice doing a technical interview question on the whiteboard.
Did you have a final project that you had to present?
What did you create for your capstone project?
My partner and I really encompassed every single thing that we had learned in Redwood for our capstone project. We used every single language and framework that Harrison and Billy had taught us, as well as any of the more specialized things we learned during the phase three section – to do with Node, using cookies, and Express.
What was a really good move on our part, and I would suggest this for anyone attending the school, is to ask Harrison and Billy "What kind of applications will we be expected to build in the job market as full stack developers and what would look good on our portfolio or GitHub?" They recommended a customer relationship management (CRM) app. It was not the most exciting idea that people came up with, but it’s invaluable for showcasing our skills and comprehension of the languages to employers.
The CRM app is on my Github and we called it Turn because it helps turn leads into clients. One of the questions that came up was whether or not we should host these capstone projects. Harrison and Billy informed us about how typically when an employer is looking at your work, they want to see your code as opposed to the application. Very rarely would they try to run it; employers want to see how well your code is written, maintained, and debugged.
Now you've graduated from Redwood Code Academy, how have you been spending your time and how’s your job search going?
What's really good about Redwood is that there's a week or two towards the end of the course where they talk about what you should do while you're applying to jobs. The job market right now is a bit shaky. It's the beginning of the year and companies are starting their new year budgets, so hiring is put on the background. There's also tax season, as well as the U.S. political shift. January 2017 and February 2017 are definitely not the easiest months for applying to jobs, so I’m still on the search.
But I'm never without something to do in regards to continuing to be an asset to myself. There are a lot of things to do, like working on projects, doing online courses to expand my knowledge base, refining the projects I'd previously done, and contributing to open source projects.
When finding your entry level position in development, something that Redwood Code Academy highly recommended was canvassing. In southern California, there are a good deal of development jobs, but in order to be really successful, you have to apply to a lot of places. One of the big tips Harrison gave, which I found to be very useful, was to get my name out there. Every morning I should be applying to at least 10 new positions. Spending every day working on a new project, learning a new language, applying to a dozen jobs is really the way I've been spending my time, and I'm finding it very useful.
Are you still interacting with Redwood Code Academy for your job search? Are they still helping out even though you’ve graduated?
When you're coming out of a bootcamp and looking to expand your value as a developer, you may also want to learn things that you're more interested in. Redwood helped provide a way to continue my learning and help my job search, which were two things I wasn't expecting to get out of the course, but have been very useful.
One of my big recommendations I have for any job seeker is keeping your connections alive. Have a circle of people that you really want to stay in contact with. It's been very beneficial for me to be very engaged with Harrison and Billy. I have lunch with Billy once a week and talk to him about the job search, different topics on coding, and ask for advice.
Are you going to different networking events in Orange County? Are you still keeping in touch with the other Redwood Code Academy alumni?
Yeah. There's definitely a bond that's formed from being in a bootcamp with a group of people. There are a lot of good groups that meet in the area and I'm a regular at a meetup in Long Beach called Uncoded. So there are a lot of smaller things aside from job skills that you gain from the coding community. It’s great to be able to talk about the industry, and learn new things. With these coding meetups, I think someone who doesn't have much previous technical experience might find themselves a bit lost. Having a better understanding of how to code has been very beneficial for getting immersed in the scene.
What has been your biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to learn to code?
When starting out it was hard for me to take the initiative of not asking questions. There's a certain mentality you need to have to bang your head against a wall for an hour for you to learn. My biggest challenge has been not asking too many questions. There are things that if I would spend the time, I could figure it out for myself as that's where the real learning comes from. Having that confidence to trust myself to figure it out on my own was a challenge for me. Billy and Harrison are very helpful so it was easy to simply call them over when you're working on a project in class, and ask them for help. I don’t want to discourage asking questions because they definitely value very good questions, but there's definitely a level of expectation that you really need to allow yourself to struggle with the code.
What advice do you have for people thinking about making that career change into software development and thinking about attending a coding bootcamp?
I would advise anybody that enjoys creative problem solving, puzzle solving, and working on putting the pieces together in any sort of project – this is a good career move. But coding is not without its challenges. One thing that programmers need to be comfortable with is the arc of the coding process. You have to get comfortable with going through moments of complete clarity, and moments of complete loss and confusion. You can’t let it emotionally affect you or frustrate you because that is part of the process. You really need to enjoy the game of puzzles and trying to solve different problems, because coding is really about breaking things and fixing them; and then breaking them again and fixing them again.