Sterling Chin wanted to become a developer, but with a wife and two kids to support, he couldn’t justify going back to college so he enrolled at DevMountain coding bootcamp in Provo, Utah. Learning to code was very difficult for Sterling, but he worked hard and became a DevMountain student mentor. Sterling tells us how he overcame feelings of anxiety, depression, and imposter syndrome to land a job at a startup for 3 months after graduation, and then as a Front End Developer at Overstock, the biggest tech company in Utah!
What’s your education and career background? What made you want to switch careers into software development?
I studied Elementary Education and teaching at Brigham Young University, but I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted to do for a career. I took a one-year hiatus from college, which turned into 10 years. In that time, I worked in a handful of different industries including construction, facilities, vendor, and project management. Two years before DevMountain, I started to interact regularly with developers in a business setting. As I got to know those developers, they would explain things to me. I realized that if I could get a more in-depth understanding of what was going on, I might be able to do this as a full-time job. That experience got me thinking about going back to school. Also, when I joined another company and started working with HTML and CSS, I realized that there's a whole better world out there and I needed to move into software development.
What made you choose a bootcamp as a way to hone your skills? Did you consider getting a 4-year CS degree?
Originally, I was going to go back to a local university to get a computer science degree. But during my hiatus, I got married and had a child. I couldn't take two or three years to go back to school, so I started moving towards other options.
I learned about coding bootcamps through my network. A friend who is a software developer mentioned that his company had hired coding bootcamp grads. That was the first time I'd heard of a bootcamp as an alternative to a traditional university. That’s when I started doing my research. I went to Course Report, I read Google reviews, I looked at YouTube videos, just about everything, and came across DevMountain.
What stood out about DevMountain compared to other bootcamps in Utah?
One of the main factors was the culture. I toured the DevMountain campus in Provo, and thought the faculty was amazing. I sat down with the recruiters and some of the past and current students, and what I read online is what I saw in-person. The DevMountain staff answered all of my questions. That made a big difference to me. I'd visited two other bootcamps where the staff couldn’t give clear answers when I asked harder hitting questions like, "What's the attrition rate? How many of your graduates actually find jobs within a certain amount of time?" DevMountain had those answers and they were very honest with me.
Another reason why I chose DevMountain was that their name is well-known locally in Provo, Utah. There are a lot of companies that have good relationships with DevMountain, so I felt confident in my ability to find a job after the bootcamp. When you're going to shell out $10,000 to $20,000 for school, and you have a family, you have to be 100% sure this is what you want to do. I felt comfortable giving DevMountain my money.
Describe your DevMountain cohort. Was it diverse in terms of career and backgrounds?
There were multiple different backgrounds in my cohort. There was a wide age range – I'm in my mid 30's and there was someone who had just barely graduate high school at 18. There were a lot of different levels of education, and I was definitely not the only one who had attended a four-year college, graduated or not, and needed something different. There was one kid who was in college at the time but took a semester off to come to DevMountain.
Describe a typical day at DevMountain. What was the learning experience like?
I'm in my mid-30s and I could not fail at this. I wasn’t going to waste $10,000 to $20,000 by not working my ass off. So I’d wake up at 6am and spend two to three hours studying before class. Then at night, I'd continue studying or I'd read up on the next day's topics. I averaged about 14 to 16 hours a day studying at DevMountain.
DevMountain allowed you to immediately practice what you learned, and that application of learning is something that I never had when I was in college. In college, you have a whole day of lectures in five different subjects, with a lot of reading and superficial knowledge – no real practical knowledge. DevMountain really is a bootcamp – it was nonstop. We've all heard the phrase drinking from a firehose – well, it felt like fire hoses were coming at me from every direction. And I wasn't just drinking it, I was getting pelted from all sides.
Did you become a student mentor at DevMountain after graduation? What made you take on this teaching role?
How did DevMountain prepare you for job hunting?
The career preparation starts a week before you graduate. A member of the DevMountain careers team talks about creating a personal website and portfolio. We got help with writing tech industry-based resumes and we did a full day about Linkedin – how to search for jobs, what types of jobs to look for, how to reach out to people, and how to network with people.
DevMountain did as much as they could within the time that was given. The resources that DevMountain provided and the skills they helped me build were valuable. But part of the reason I was successful was luck and the amount of time that I put in reaching out to people, talking to everybody, and applying for hundreds of jobs. I got really lucky when I landed my first job because the company that I went to was a startup and they had good experiences with DevMountain grads. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and ended up landing an interview.
What advice do you have for current bootcampers on the job search?
Don't give up. Don't give up the hard work. And don't give up after a couple of weeks if you don't have any interviews. It may take you some time, but this is not a foot race. This is not a race with anyone but yourself. You can do this! You have to keep studying, keep learning, and networking. Don't give up on your dream if it doesn't come to you right away.
It's a full-time job finding a job after bootcamp. It was 40+ hours a week where I was doing tech interviews and technical problems that companies were sending me, while also pushing myself to learn new technologies. There's a honeymoon period at DevMountain where everything is hunky dory and you’re going great, but with any career change, no school wants to tell you exactly how hard it's going to be. Some of the people in my cohort had a very difficult time finding their first jobs. DevMountain tells you, "You have to keep moving. This is not the end. This is not the plateau. This is the beginning of the rest of your career so you need to keep moving."
What was your first job after becoming a student mentor at DevMountain?
The first job I had was at a startup and it was nothing like I expected. The CTO was my senior, and I was the sole front end developer. If I needed help on a project or some guidance, that support wasn't there. At the same time, I became very self-reliant and had to push myself. Unfortunately, three months in, the company went through some financial problems and laid off half of the developer team. Since I was new, I was let go.
What were you looking for in your next role? Did you receive help from DevMountain?
I was not looking for a startup for my next job. My wife is a stay-at-home mom, and we have two toddlers so I needed to have some security. If I was young and single, I would’ve hit up another startup right away. When you have a family and you’re rooted to an area, it may be difficult to find a job. I knew a couple of grads who were single, who found jobs at startups in Boston or California. But as the sole breadwinner here in Utah, my net was not as big.
DevMountain was able to assist me as much as they could. There were a good amount of job opportunities. Megan Barbara at DevMountain was very supportive; sending me jobs that matched my skill set, and sending my resume to employers. On top of that, I knew a few recruiters and reached out to my network with LinkedIn premium, which was amazing. It gave me a lot of insight into my capabilities and where I stood amongst other developers. And I joined tons of Facebook groups, local tech groups, and went to meetups.
When I was let go from the startup, one of the first things I did was reach back out to every company I'd ever talked to – and Overstock was one of them. I’d had seven or eight job interviews when I was a student mentor, so I contacted those companies to see if they had any new positions. The Overstock recruiter told me, "I remember you did great at the onsite interview, they liked you, but you got edged out. Let me see if I can find something.” It still took him six weeks to find something, but it was part of that process.
Congrats on your job at Overstock! Tell us about the company and your role.
My title is front end developer and I’ve been working at Overstock for about 9 months. My team has two front end developers, two back end developers, three full stack developers, two QA’s, a dev lead, one UX person, and a product manager. At Overstock as a whole, we have close to 300 developers including front end, back end, QA, and Dev leads. We have 58 front end developers at Overstock and I believe about a quarter of them are DevMountain grads. Overstock and DevMountain have a really good relationship.
Overstock as a company is pretty laid back. My team has stand-up at 9:30am, and if we need to work from home, we just call in via phone. I’ll work for a couple of hours on QA bugs, go to lunch, then continue working. When I say working, it doesn’t feel like work because I love what I do. Since we are laid back, we play ping pong, video games and grab coffee. No one's looking over my shoulder making sure that I'm coding 24/7. They know I'm doing my job and doing what's expected of me, so there is no micromanagement.
I’m pushing myself harder than I've ever pushed myself, and I think being at Overstock is harder than 99% of my DevMountain classmates who are at startups. Overstock also takes good care of their developers. Many of my classmates look at us at Overstock and wish they were here. Overstock is the largest tech company in Utah. If you’re in California, everyone wants to be at Facebook in Silicon Valley, and if you make it to Facebook, you've made it. For me, being at Overstock means I made it. It feels good.
Are you using the stack/programming languages you learned at DevMountain?
When I first started at Overstock, I was told I was pretty junior. I knew some things, but I needed more help than my manager was expecting. Now that I have been here nine months, I’m further along in my learning because of how Overstock is set up. I take my education very seriously here. I have a mentor, and a team which allows me to be very outspoken with my questions. We have a Slack channel for front end developers at Overstock which has 50 members, where I regularly ask questions.
Has your background in facilities and vendor management been useful in your front end developer job?
I think any real-world experiences is beneficial because it’s given me a different outlook. I solve problems very differently than other people on my team, because of my background.
The main skill I bring from vendor management is organization skills. I worked with 60 different companies across the country, and I used my skills to keep all of that in check. Organizing multiple people across multiple companies and working remotely also helped me with my communication skills. I get laughed at at Overstock sometimes because I keep track of absolutely everything. I'm a forgetful person, so out of necessity, I learned to be organized.
What’s been the biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to becoming a fully fledged software developer?
My biggest roadblock was me and my own confidence. I had self-doubt, feelings of depression and anxiety, and imposter syndrome. I thought, “Why should I, who just graduated from a 13-week bootcamp, be next to someone who just spent four years in college getting a computer science degree? I don't deserve to be here.” But in reality, I do deserve to be here because what I learned at DevMountain was practical, hands-on knowledge. When I ask Overstock intern applicants, who are computer science students, simple questions, some can’t even answer them. They know the theory, but they don't have the technical, hands-on experience. I know that a DevMountain grad would be able to answer those same questions right away. My biggest takeaway from all of it was that bootcamps are really trade schools equipping you with hands-on experience.
What advice do you have for people making a career change through a coding bootcamp?
A coding bootcamp is not for everyone. Don't expect this to be an easy way to make money – this is not easy. This is the hardest thing I've done in my entire life, and I have done some very hard things. You need to take a hard look at yourself and know whether or not you're willing to put in the time, effort, and sacrifice that it takes to become a full stack developer. If you're not willing to do that, then a bootcamp may not be for you. But if you are, give it your all and trust the system. DevMountain absolutely changed my life. My brother-in-law was working in a factory and went through DevMountain after me. Now he's a developer too. This hasn't just changed my life, but it's changed my family's life.