Tessa had a background in communications, but felt she wasn’t using her skills to the fullest in her retail job. So instead of taking a higher level management position in retail, she took a leap and learned how to code at Sabio’s full-time web development bootcamp in Los Angeles. As Sabio’s 100th Fellow, learn why Tessa chose Sabio over other bootcamps, what it’s like being a woman in tech, and how she worked hard to land herself a full stack web dev role at 1iota!
What was your educational and career background before you decided to go to Sabio?
I went to college and got a bachelor's degree in communications. After that, I got a job with Abercrombie and worked there for about three years. I worked my way up to getting offered the position of a general manager, but turned it down because I didn't want to be in retail. I moved to Arizona with my parents and tried to figure out what I wanted to do. I decided I needed to go back to school because my career choice wasn't doing anything for me.
I was thinking of becoming a lawyer, but I thought about the amount of time it would take to go to school, and how much money it would cost. Then I thought about how I wouldn't even be making enough money afterwards to pay off all of my debt. It just wouldn't be worth it. My aunt sent me an article about people around my age who were doing bootcamps to become software programmers instead of going back to school. So I looked into it more. I even went to Course Report to look at schools – if it wasn't on Course Report I thought that it probably wasn’t a good school.
That's good to hear that you used Course Report to research schools.
Course Report is something I read about in that first article about bootcamps. I was looking at a school in San Francisco because I didn't know there were any in LA. I was in Arizona at that time, but I had a place in LA. Then I came across Sabio in LA. I came out to LA for the orientation to see if I liked it, and I loved the people. The people who run Sabio, Lilliana, and Gregorio, they had such a great feel and vibe to them. I got to sit in on one of the classes, and they were just really interested in me so from that point forward I had made the decision to go.
Did you apply to any other bootcamps when you were applying to Sabio?
I applied to one in San Francisco called Galvanize. I had a phone interview with them, and was also supposed to take a test. But at the same time as the phone interview, I had my orientation with Sabio. I decided to go with Sabio. It was less expensive, and the cost of living in San Francisco was insane. So it was a better choice for me go to Sabio in LA.
Did you try to learn to code on your own before you decided to make a decision to enroll in Sabio?
I did use Codeacademy because Sabio suggested that you try it out for three months. Honestly, I didn’t really know where to start. I didn't know all of the different types of languages. I absolutely had no knowledge of anything code related prior to joining or even having a conversation with Sabio. I really did most of my learning at Sabio.
Were there any other important factors for you when you decided that Sabio made the most sense for you?
Ratings on the quality of learning. I guess I wanted to see how they taught. I'm a visual person and I don't learn by people just telling me things. So I needed to see how they taught or how they could teach at least. I could see that they cared about their students enough to adjust to the learning style for each student. That is really hard for an instructor to do.
It’s also great that they keep their classes to 10 people or less. That was huge for me because it meant there would be a lot more one-on-one time with the instructors and more course time. I wanted an accelerated learning process that would allow me to get done quicker than another two to four years of school, but I also didn't want to be in a situation where it was moving so fast and I wouldn't be able to grasp the info. So I read a lot of people’s opinions about what they thought about the accelerated learning. Going to Sabio and listening to them talk about their past experiences and successes with students. I think they have higher than 90% job placement rate, that was huge to me. I wanted to know that I had job security once I left.
Did you ever consider going back to school and getting a four-year computer science degree?
No. Honestly I know this sounds silly, but I am too old for that. I didn't want to do anything like that, so an accelerated learning program was exactly what I was looking for. But I knew it had to be something that was in demand. The amount of brainpower that I use on a daily basis is so much fun. I love it! I’ve never had a job where you actually have to think so much. I wanted a learning experience that people would value and not see it like, "Oh, you did a little bit of training. How does that work for me?" I wanted to know that my training was going to be valuable to somebody else.
What was the interview process like for you when you were talking to Sabio? Do you have any tips?
Listen to instructors because they definitely know what they're talking about and they will prep you. They have more than 10 years of experience in that field, and they'll prepare you for what to expect. Honestly, nothing can really prepare you for that intense of a class. You just have to mentally get yourself there. So I think the best way to prepare and be ready for that test is to code.
You do about two or three months of pre-work. You should not only be coding those two or three hours a night, you should be doing it all the time, as much as possible. As much as your work schedule allows you to, you should be learning. I think a big problem some people might have had was that when they started the pre-work, they were supposed to have already done some Codecademy material. If they didn't do that, then they might struggle. Follow the syllabus. Follow everything they tell you to do and you won't fail.
How would you describe the demographics of your cohort?
There were 10 people in my group. For some reason, I was the only girl in my class. There have been about three girls in each other cohort that I've noticed. The highest age range was probably fifty something, and then the youngest was 21. I was the only black person in the class, but there were Indian, Asian, Caucasian and Mexican students. That was a little bit more diverse than gender.
Did you feel like being the only woman in your cohort had an effect on your learning?
No. Actually, I felt like it helped. I kind of have a unique situation. I always end up being the only girl doing the stuff that I do. For instance, I play golf, and that's a male dominated sport. Everything I've done has been male dominated. I think it prepared me for my future. Now that I have my job, I'm the only girl on the development team, and there's five or six of us. It actually helped at Sabio. Some of my classmates already had experience in coding, so they helped push the class to move quicker than expected because we all wanted to keep up with them.
I know I was not the best in the class, but that didn't matter to me. What mattered was that I was there on my choice. I’d already made the decision that “nobody is going to stop me, so I'm going to do whatever it takes.” I think a lot of people hold themselves back, and they don't realize what they're capable of because they're too scared, or they're afraid people are going to say they're not good enough.
Did Sabio have any curriculum around preparing you as a woman in the tech industry?
There were definitely conversations. They set us up to go to a lot of women’s meetups, so we could meet women in the tech field and network. I know that there is bias and I know that there is a stigma put on women, but I don't allow myself to be put in that box. I think the worst thing I could do is put limitations on myself. All I can do is work harder, and eventually, I'm going to prove myself.
A lot of the female Sabio graduates made themselves available to talk with me. I also reached out to some of the women from past cohorts to ask their advice on what they did and said during interviews, but it wasn't anything different from normal job prep.The interview questions to get to know you more are similar to other job interviews. The coding tests and questions about the languages you know are what make the interviews difficult.
Congrats on being Sabio’s 100th fellow! Tell us about your learning experience and a typical day at Sabio.
You try to get there a bit earlier than when classes actually start. The day starts around 8am or 9am, and class ends at 6pm, but you generally stay until 8pm or 9pm. The goal is to put in 70 hours a week. Sometimes that's a little unfeasible, but the more hours you put in, the more you get out of it. You get there, start working on whatever it is you left off the day before or whatever is on the chatroom board for you to work on.
Then the instructor would come in and we'd have a stand-up. They try to run it as if it were an actual startup company, which is a great mentality because when you go into work, you're doing the same exact thing. It's an easy transition. I can't speak for everybody else, but my transition was pretty similar to what we were learning. We then might have some lecture before spending time one-on-one with the instructor to go over any problems you've come across. It moved rather quickly.
Did the teaching style at Sabio enhance your learning? How does it contrast with teaching styles you experienced in college?
The amount of time I spent learning code in total was probably way more than the four to five years I spent learning in college. The teaching styles were great because our instructors made themselves available all the time. Even Sabio cofounder Gregorio, made himself available. We also had our Slack chatroom where we could ask anybody from the past cohorts if they could help. That teaching and learning style was very helpful.
As for the instructors specifically, I believe with coding you can teach as much as you want, but here it's a little bit more self-taught. You learn while doing. They could show you step-by-step how to do a code, but the next time you do it, they're not going to sit there and hold your hand. It's repetition, and they were there to answer questions. Instructors weren't going to give you the answer and tell you to go away. It was more like, "What do you think you need to do?” It was a lot of probing, which is a great teaching style.
What were the main programming languages and technologies taught at Sabio?
What was the biggest challenge for you while learning to code?
If I could describe learning coding, it's honestly like if all you speak is English and then somebody wants you to learn Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese, and different dialects of Chinese. You're like, "Aaah, what?" because it takes so many different languages. If you wrap your mind around the fact that it's a different language, it starts to make more sense. It's so hard at first because you're learning so many different techniques all at once, and this one doesn't coincide with this one. This is what makes this happen, but now you have to go to a different layer while using another language to do that. That was difficult at first, but then you accept that you're not going to know everything all at once, and you take the opportunities to learn what you can. Once you keep repeating it so that it does become a part of your vocabulary, you're speaking French in no time.
Was there an open feedback loop at Sabio for students and instructors?
That's definitely a huge part of Sabio. They ask for feedback at the end so that they can give it to the instructor. Ultimately, the instructors want to be there and they really enjoy teaching people what they know. They're open to learning how to teach better, and that's huge. If you say you don’t understand, they don't get frustrated with you. They say, "Okay, let's take it a step back further and let's really break it down." You could interact with instructors and never feel like you couldn't say something, which is great.
What was your favorite project that you worked on while at Sabio?
We only worked on one project, which was a huge one for a doctor. It was a website like ZocDoc, like a Yelp for doctors. Learning Angular to create the site was one of my favorite parts. Being able to see what you created happen quickly on a screen was fun for me. Without getting too detailed with it, you could click something, and it appears on the right side. and then you could delete it from the database. And this is all happening on your page at one moment, which is pretty cool.
What was your overall goal when you said, "Yes, I'm going to Sabio. I'm about to take this leap to change my career" - did you have a specific job role, in a specific industry in mind?
Obviously, most people want to find a job. I got very lucky with my job! But I had no industry in mind. I had no idea about software programming or web development. I didn't even know the right title for it. I just took a leap, and knew it was something I wanted to do. Even the basics of playing around with Codecademy, I liked it, but didn't know much else. It was like, "Okay, I'm just going to trust them and go with it." I just asked more questions to see what kind of jobs I should be looking for afterwards.
The best part about Sabio is they really do keep people focused while in the program. While you're in the program, they keep you so focused on learning the languages and not worrying about what job you're going to get afterwards. Sabio gives you at least two or three weeks of prepping for job interviews, and getting you ready so that you don't feel lost. They really break it down to you on what kind of jobs are out there. We learned how it could be out into the real world.
What are you doing now? Tell us about the interview process and your current role.
I finished Sabio about four weeks ago and got a job immediately after graduation. I’m at the production company, 1iota. My job title is Junior Full Stack web developer. I had two interviews; one where they just wanted to meet me, and the second was a test. Personally, I'm not a good interviewer, so I got lucky that my first interview ended up getting me a job. They saw the skills that I do have and they were willing to work on me to make me better.
The interview process is really hard, I'm not going to sugarcoat it. If you put in the time, and you study, there's no reason why you wouldn't ace an interview. Go to multiple interviews, practice, and whatever it is that you get asked in an interview, take it back with you, and study. You could ask your Sabio instructors, "Hey, I don't know what they meant when they asked this." Then they break it down for you.
Are you using the skills that you learned at Sabio?
I am one hundred percent using my skills. The learning is a continuation of Sabio, but I'm getting paid, and I'm learning way more intense things. I love the people I'm working with. I haven't been working here very long, but what I expressed to them was how eager I am to learn, and they're extremely eager to teach me. It's exciting!
What is a typical day for you in your new role as a Full Stack web developer?
I'm working on the corporate site. It was a project that they started me on in my first couple of weeks at 1iota. I'm using Angular. While I learned a lot of Angular at Sabio, I no longer have my instructor to answer my questions. I can ask people around me but I'm more so using my experiences of having to teach myself, like at Sabio. I'm able to Google what I need, and I'm able to find what I need. My day today was writing a page and having it go up.
Do you have any advice or last thoughts for people who are thinking about making that jump into a coding bootcamp?
Literally, it was probably the best decision I ever made. If you asked me, a year ago today, if I would do it, I would say absolutely not. But six months ago I did, and now I have a job. It's just that fast. I have a job that I love. I went from working as a server to being a full stack web developer.