Sean Witt was a sound engineer for The Who in London, and managed a number of Guitar Center stores in the U.S. before deciding to join the tech industry. His mom suggested he try coding, so he joined Dev Bootcamp’s first cohort in their new Austin location. Sean tells us why he likes Dev Bootcamp’s approach to learning, how diverse his cohort was, and the similarities between music and coding. Plus we hear about Sean’s new job as a Data Engineer at Umbel!
Could you tell me about your pre-Dev Bootcamp story. What was your education or career background before you decided to go to a bootcamp?
I've been in the music industry for the last 10 to 15 years. When I was about 20, I started working at Guitar Center in musical retail sales. From that point, music became a passion of mine. I went to school at the School of Audio Engineering in London for record production. Right after school, I landed a job working as an engineer in Pete Townshend's private studio! That was a great experience. That led me to go on tour with The Who for several tours, doing miscellaneous stuff for Pete and the band. That was a wild experience.
Then after a period of time, Pete shut the studio down. So I moved back to the DC area where I started back at Guitar Center and worked my way up to be a general manager of both the DC stores, and also the Round Rock and the Austin stores. Round Rock is just a suburb of Austin.
Wow what a cool background! What was it that made you decide you wanted to change career paths and go to a coding bootcamp?
I wanted something more professional, and the tech industry has been so prevalent here in Austin. It was always really intriguing to me so I was looking at different avenues of doing that. I looked at either going into tech sales or customer service roles, but neither of those were something I wanted to do long term.
My mom is a vice president of a tech company, and she was pushing me to check out coding. Eventually, I started poking around on Codecademy and doing some minor coding challenges. Then I started looking into different bootcamps around the country, but mainly here in Austin, and I saw how a coding bootcamp could help me accelerate my entry into a tech career.
What was it that made you think that you needed to go to a bootcamp rather than continue teaching yourself?
I never really thought that I'd be able to learn enough by teaching myself and I am blown away when people do. I picked up a lot, and there were so many things that I was learning, but I didn't really know how to apply them or what they were for. So it came to me pretty quickly that, "Oh, I need a mentor. I need someone to show me." It was a pretty quick decision for me to know that I needed some help.
What other bootcamps did you consider and why did you eventually choose Dev Bootcamp?
The main two I was looking at were Galvanize and Dev Bootcamp, and then MakerSquare. I went with Dev Bootcamp because I liked their attitude and process of learning how to learn. It’s the idea that "no one's going to spoon feed you anything" but through the course materials, researching things, and working with your partners, you can figure out a solution to almost any problem. Plus I like their work with the whole self– the engineering empathy, where they teach you how to be a better employee and teammate. I felt like that step was going to be just as important as just knowing hard coding skills.
I really liked the vibe, the people, and the experience they provided. It was a no-brainer for me.
Were you also interested in what technologies or languages the bootcamps were teaching?
Did you at all think about going to college to study computer science?
Yeah, I did but to be honest, it was too much of a disruption to my life. I really couldn't afford it or take the time off work to do it. I looked at doing part-time or even going to Austin Community College, but it wasn't worth it for the amount of time I would have to commit, and I would get half the education that I would at a bootcamp. The bootcamp seemed like such a practical way to get hands-on experience.
What was your cohort like? Were they quite diverse in terms of gender, race, life and career backgrounds?
Yeah, absolutely. I was really surprised. We did a lot of work at Dev Bootcamp talking about diversity in tech in general, and we would see numbers about women in tech that actually shocked me. I don't have a ton of experience in the tech field, and our campus was run by women, and our cohort was about half women. So to me, it seemed evenly split. I just didn't realize that it was such a male-dominated field until I was told so.
We had 10 people in the cohort- four female, six male and they were quite diverse as far as race, age, and background. It was good. It was kind of a non-issue, and we didn't really think about it; we really focused on all being equal.
What was the learning experience like there? Maybe you can give me an example of a typical day and teaching style.
The theory behind a lot of it is "No one's going to spoon feed you anything." A huge part of Dev Bootcamp is teaching yourself how to learn. Some exercises put you in a situation where you don't know what you're doing, or why you're doing it, but you know what the end goal is. Through the course materials, through researching things, and working with your partners, you have to figure out the solution. We repeated that over and over. They gave us the confidence of "you can figure out anything." By the end of it, none of us had any fear about learning a new language, or anything new because we've done it day after day.
A huge benefit of Dev Bootcamp was having so much hands-on experience. On any given day, 90% of our time is spent coding. In the mornings we would do a small breakout on the stuff that we did yesterday to explain it further, or we would do a new topic. They were very open about us introducing topics as well. So we could say, "Hey, could you do a lecture on this topic?" and our teachers would put it together and do a half hour to an hour lecture on it.
On top of that, any time you ever needed any assistance, we always had our mentors and teachers there, standing no more than five or 10 feet away ready to help at any moment. You could always schedule pretty much an immediate one-on-one with any instructor. It was cool always having the safety net of someone there, but also constantly doing what we're going to do in the real world – which is just figuring stuff out.
Can you tell me about your favorite project that you worked on at Dev Bootcamp?
One of my favorite ones was a hackathon where we were given 24 hours to come up with a concept and make it happen. A small group of us had gone out a few nights before and were walking around randomly looking for a bar or restaurant to go to. So we made an app that uses Yelp technology to find the 22 closest bars to your area, then fills out a Monopoly board with all the bar names and links to their information. The concept is you can have a group of people and you play this monopoly board trying to hit every bar. You could adapt it for restaurants, movies, or whatever you want. Like real Monopoly, every time you go to one of those bars you would get a house, and if you went four times you would get a hotel. It was a cool concept and came together in about one day.
I'm interested in how Dev Bootcamp prepared you for the job hunt. What kind of career advice did they give you?
It's tough to find a job and I don't think Dev Bootcamp sugarcoated it at all. From the very beginning, Dev Bootcamp made it pretty clear they don't do placement, and are not going to guarantee you any salary. So I had realistic expectations. I think that other bootcamps make too many promises about what they can do for you in the job search. So what Dev Bootcamp encourages is taking how hard we were working in the course, and transferring that level of effort on to a job search when we graduate.
The careers developer Whitney O’Banner is absolutely incredible with her knowledge on how to interview, negotiating salaries, and all sorts of tips that you just never pick up on your own. I've been in the job force for almost 20 years now, and I learned more in one week from Whitney than I had ever before. I also realized the mistakes I had been making in interviews.
Dev Bootcamp also brought in actual tech recruiters to do mock behavioral interviews with us and give immediate feedback on how we did, what to avoid, what to say. We all did complete LinkedIn and resume overhauls, and the recruiters gave us feedback on our resumes. We set up technical interviews where we would do a Google chat with actual members of the tech industry who would give us full scorecards on how we performed.
When did you graduate from Dev Bootcamp and what are you doing now?
It has been about five weeks, and I got my first job offer a week ago.
Oh wow congratulations! What's the job?
I’ll be a data engineer with a company called Umbel. They're a sports and entertainment data company here in Austin. It’s a really amazing company, with great perks and benefits. I couldn't have landed a better place. I'm really excited to be there.
How did you find the job?
I found it through Whitney, our careers developer. She had made some contacts at Umbel and several other businesses, and basically organized screening interviews for the students. After a long process of interviewing with Umbel, I finally got the job offer.
As a data engineer what are you going to be doing there?
It's multiple roles. Part of it is client facing and part of its programming which is a great mix for me and my background. I haven't started yet, but as I understand it, we're going to be cleaning up clients’ own data, then combining it with other data sources to produce more analysis on their markets so they can target their marketing towards certain demographics. It's very cool, extremely powerful technology, and it’s the way of the future in my mind.
Are you going to be using the same languages and technologies that you were learning at Dev Bootcamp or are you learning some new tech for that?
Yes and no. he job is going to be in Python and Django – I got the job without learning Python. Yet, I strongly believe that Dev Bootcamp doesn't just teach you a language. It teaches you how to learn any language. We all knew, that at least half of us would not get jobs in Ruby, but it was a good foundation for us to learn the in depth concepts of programming, and then we can translate those concepts to other things. Also, I'm finding it a breeze to switch over to Python. It's not bad at all.
What was the interview process like? Did you need to know any Python?
One of the interview challenges was actually to do a program in Python, which I completed. It's a very cool interview process, where they have you play a videogame that they made. It's a wrestling game where you do wrestling moves against their wrestlers over the internet and, kind of like Tic-Tac-Toe, certain moves beat other moves. You have to figure out how to beat their players by their patterns and what they're doing. That game was all written in Python, so I had to figure that out and submit that to them.
I'm interested in how your previous background in music and recording has been useful or applicable to learning to code and getting into tech?
I think music in general comes from a mathematical mind. If parents want to get their young kids into programming, I think music is a good way to start. It teaches you mathematical structures, and in a weird way, problem-solving. The other thing it teaches you is how to deal with other people. In a musical setting, you've got to be in a band that might have some big egos and tough people to work with, and you've got to work around it. A huge thing in the tech world is just working with other people.
Do you think this background was useful in getting your new job as well?
I think it was very useful. Because Umbel is a sports and entertainment company, a lot of their clients are big festivals and sporting teams, so coming from a music business background is a good segue. My experience at Guitar Center with customer service is also good for client-facing side of the job. So I had very applicable skills to this particular job.
Now that you have graduated, how will you stay involved with Dev Bootcamp, your cohort, and the other alumni?
Many are still in the process of job seeking, so we try to get together every few weeks for an accountability group where we talk about what's been working in our job search. I can bring info on how I negotiated my salary or other things I did that helped me get a job. We try to all stay in touch like that.
As far as Dev Bootcamp, they do regular meetups at the campus for the entire community, and host certain tech groups. There are open source programs that are made here in Austin, so they have groups who come in to do that. I try to go to some of those and just keep up with the community and Dev Bootcamp.
What advice do you have for other people who are thinking about making a complete career change and going to a coding bootcamp?
I think the number one piece of advice is– you can do it. It's not impossible. It is not easy, but it is possible to change your life in just six months. But with that, you have to want to do it. I think a lot of people are intrigued about the tech field because the salaries are good, and the offices look cool. The work is still work, and you have to love to do the actual coding part of it to succeed. If that stuff wears you out, if you don't find it fun, you're eventually not going to want to do it. If you're passionate about it, it's going to be the best decision of your life.
What would you say is the best thing overall about your experience at Dev Bootcamp?
The people. Meeting the staff who've been so accommodating, so inspirational, and helpful, as well as the students. In just a couple of months, I have a real community of friendships that will last forever and mentors who will never go away. To have all those people who are there to support me and me supporting them no matter what we do in the future, is just invaluable.