Scott was a school teacher in Montreal for 17 years before he started teaching himself web design and freelancing on the side. When he decided to make the full career change, Scott enrolled in DecodeMTL coding bootcamp in Montreal. Now he is a front end developer for AppDirect and loving it. Scott tells us about his favorite project at DecodeMTL, the classmates in his cohort, and his surprise at finding a great new job so quickly.
What is your pre-bootcamp story? What is your educational background? Your last career path?
I was a high school math and English teacher for 17 years. In the last four years I started freelancing in web design, building basic sites with WordPress. Last year I decided I wanted to do web design full time. I didn’t just want to design, I wanted to code and program and design. So I looked for coding bootcamps, and DecodeMTL was the only one available in Montreal.
When did you decide to quit your job and go from freelancer to full-time developer?
I think it probably started when I was looking forward to summer break too much, and I found I was enjoying my part-time job more than my full-time job. I knew then that it was time to make a change.
What types of resources did you use when you were teaching yourself how to code?
I learned on my own out of necessity at first. I taught at a nonprofit learning center, and we didn’t have funding to pay for much, so whenever anything needed to be done on their website I just did it. I learned as I went and found I really liked it, and then kept going and going. I was lucky enough to build a small network of customers. It was very interesting and it took up more and more of my time, which was a good thing. I learned using Lynda.com, Codecademy, and some books, but mostly online.
What made you feel you needed more than self-teaching?
I could learn design on my own, but when it came to the development side, I felt I had maxed out on self-teaching. I had programmed a little bit in PHP for WordPress, but I wasn’t quite sure where to go from there. I wanted to be in a full-time class with other people who are interested in the same thing, with a teacher who could guide us – that was probably the most important thing. I looked at some online bootcamps but they were mostly on the west coast and a lot more expensive. It made more sense to do an in-person bootcamp here in Montreal.
Did you ever consider doing a four-year CS degree?
No, only because I knew that college curricula are so many years behind what we actually need to know, so it wasn’t going to help me get a job or move forward. It would have been a nice base for theoretical concepts, but not enough practical knowledge.
Was your class diverse in terms of gender, race, life and career backgrounds?
It was a pretty good mix, we were 12 people, there was only one girl in our cohort. But in the one before and the one after it was more of a 50-50 ratio. The students were from all different backgrounds. The woman in my cohort was also a teacher, and came from Boston to do the program. It was good mix of ages – I was almost sure I would be the oldest one but I wasn't. About a third of them were career changers, the others were just getting started.
Was it important for you to learn a specific programming language or stack?
What was the learning experience like at DecodeMTL? Tell us about a typical day.
The classes are 10 am to 6 pm. Each day would usually involve a sit-down class from 10 am to 12 pm, then lunch. In the afternoon we did exercises based on what we had learned in the morning, and sometimes break back into one group do little 20 to 30-minute teaching sessions, then continue with the exercise. There was lots of time to do lots of practice. And there was also the option to stay after 6 pm – there were TAs available until 9pm every night.
What sort of coding projects did you work on?
We had one small project in the first few weeks, then a second bigger version of that project, then at the end we worked on our own personal project. My favorite project was the team project, where we built an app called Savvy Aardvark that would tell you whether or not you could eat something by scanning the barcode, based on certain dietary restrictions you had entered into the app. I am intolerant to MSG, which is how I came up with the idea. It was a lot of fun, and we were planning to keep working on it but I got roped so quickly into the job search that I haven’t even looked at it since the end of the bootcamp.
How did you find your first developer job?
Within the first week after graduation, I was already out on interviews. I found the opportunity at AppDirect through word of mouth. I was also interviewing with two or three other places, but this one escalated very quickly. It was by far the best position and offer I got. I had to do two interviews, then I had to do a project challenge, then another interview in person, and a final interview. So in total, there were four interviews and a challenge. They gave me 10 days to do the coding challenge, so I took 10 days. It was replicating a Twitter app, and pushed me, which was good. If it had been too easy, it wouldn’t have been as interesting a job.
Congrats on your new job at AppDirect! Can you tell me a bit about your role and what the company does?
AppDirect is a cloud marketplace and management service that enables companies to sell apps to their customers. It’s still a startup but it now employs almost 400 people working in Montreal and San Francisco. The Montreal office is full of senior developers. It’s great to be with people who know so much more than me. My official title is Front End Developer, but my role will likely evolve in the next few months. I’ve been trying to understand the application, finding and fixing bugs. It’s been a great experience so far, and very interesting because it’s completely different from my past career.
In the first few weeks, even up to now, I’ve had time for learning. It took me almost three days to set up my computer properly, then after that I’m slowly working on bugs and simple projects. I’m still in training, so I work alongside other developers for the most part. I work on my own but if I have questions I have people to ask.
How did DecodeMTL prepare you for finding your new job?
DecodeMTL does help graduates prep for interviews, etc., but I started job hunting right away, so I participated less in that. I believe the founder, Kevin, does follow up with everybody, and has them come in at least once a week.
Do you feel like you accomplished the goals you set when starting a coding bootcamp?
I had hoped to get a job as a developer, but I wasn’t sure how quickly that would happen. I had given myself a few months to find a new job, but this by far surpassed my expectations. When DecodeMTL finishes, most students go on to become interns for two to three months, and I completely bypassed that stage. I think my freelance experience helped out in that respect.
What does a web developer’s day to day look like?
During DecodeMTL, I actually found myself wishing that this was my day-to-day job, working on developing products with other like-minded people. And that’s what I’m doing now – I’m hunting bugs, and that’s an adventure in itself, because I don’t fully understand the code base yet, but I’m getting there. The whole culture is very, very different from teaching in a high school.
Are you using the stack/programming language you learned at DecodeMTL?
So far I’m using a lot of what I learned, but I do have to learn a few more things. Here they use mostly Backbone, so I still need to get Backbone down. They also use Java but right now, that’s beyond my scope.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
Probably accepting that I can't know everything right away and I have to take the time to learn it. I would really like to be able to just know everything, but web development is not like that, so that’s a big challenge, I have to accept it’s still a learning process, and it’s okay to not know.
It’s definitely a never-ending process of learning. I take the train to work, so I have a lot of time to watch videos, or do some reading and keep up to date.
What advice do you have for people making a career change after bootcamp?
Do it! You have to be sure that being a developer is what you want. But I should probably have done it a long time ago.
Is there anything you’d like to add about your experience at DecodeMTL?
It was a great experience, we learned a lot, and it was a lot of fun. It was mostly just fun to be with people who were all excited about those little bits of code. I guess if that excites you, then you’re in the right place!