Timur Meyster always dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur. When he realized his finance degree wasn’t going to help him actually launch his own business, Timur decided to build his technical skillset to create his own products. Since graduating from App Academy in 2015, Timur has flourished as a developer, working as a Full-Stack Engineer at augmented reality company Blippar. Timur explains how App Academy prepared him for the constant learning process that comes with being an engineer and how he’s carved out a niche on his team. Plus, Timur gives back to the bootcamp world with a podcast he co-hosts called Breaking Into Startups!
Tell us about your education/career background and what led you to App Academy?
I was born in Ukraine and came to the US in middle school. Growing up, I saw how hard my parents worked and I’ve always dreamed of starting my own company. My parents encouraged me to go into a traditional profession like finance, medicine, or law. I studied Finance at Emory University thinking that I could eventually start my own company, but I realized that a lot of the stuff you learn in school, like accounting and management, doesn't translate to building and launching a product or managing a team. That was a big disappointment because I thought I would graduate with those skills.
I did two internships in investment banking, and realized I could make good money on that career path, but that I would be working long hours in PowerPoint and Excel. I wanted to exercise more creativity, and build something. I was following startups coming out of YCombinator and had the strongest urge to start something. But the one thing that stood in my way was that I didn't know how to code.
How did you start transitioning into tech?
Right after college, I worked as a Project Manager/SCRUM Master, leading iOS and Android mobile teams at Autotrader.com. But I didn't know how to code, so my job was more like a facilitator. It was very frustrating to be in meetings with engineers giving me reasons for why a project was late, but I didn’t understand enough code to push back.
I started to learn some Ruby on the side and built tools to streamline my job as a SCRUM master. At that point, I started understanding what the engineers were doing on daily basis. Having seen the code base and the types of problems they solve, I realized this was definitely something I could do as well. That's when I started looking at different coding bootcamps and came across App Academy.
What made you decide to take the next step and go to a coding bootcamp?
I took some Codecademy classes, and took the Python and Java Coursera MOOCs, but I didn’t learn enough to actually build an app. My twin brother was working in investment banking and told me how his colleague quit his job, went to Flatiron School, and got a job as a developer six months later. Hearing his story inspired me to think, "Hey, if he can do it with a similar background to me, then I can do it too."
I also considered going to Georgia Tech to get a Masters in Engineering. But I wouldn’t be able to do that because I hadn’t studied Computer Science in undergrad. On top of that, I wanted a quicker option that would get me a job.
So I decided to quit my job, learn how to code at a bootcamp, and become an engineer. My goal was to see what it takes to release apps into production, and learn enough to build my own apps and launch my own company.
What made you choose App Academy over other bootcamps?
In early 2014, I had a lot of different options. For me, I wanted to attend a bootcamp that was difficult to get accepted to, so App Academy was certainly one of my top choices. I went on LinkedIn and looked up where App Academy alumni worked – they were working at amazing companies like Dropbox, Google, and Airbnb.
The biggest selling point for me was the App Academy deferred tuition model. After college, I worked in Atlanta for two years. I wanted to move to San Francisco, but I knew it would be expensive. Most other bootcamps required you to pay tuition up front, and financing options that are available today like Skills Fund and Pave were not available then. So App Academy was the most logical option because as long as I had enough savings for my living expenses, I could do the bootcamp, get a job, pay them back, and become an engineer.
What was the App Academy interview and application process like?
The application process was tough. App Academy makes it pretty transparent and shows you the bar that you need to meet and which concepts you need to understand and practice beforehand. They're looking for people who have an understanding of basic concepts like loops, arrays, and hashes. I spent four or five months on their practice problems and using websites like Codewars to practice different algorithm problems. Honestly, it didn't come to me very easily at first. A lot of times, I would have to do the same tutorial three times before I could understand it. Preparing for the App Academy application was all about the discipline of being okay with not knowing everything at first and working my way through each problem.
What’s your advice to other applicants who are trying to get accepted into App Academy?
In my experience, you need to mentally prepare yourself to fail. The first time you follow a tutorial you’ll have no idea why it works, then the second time you actually notice patterns, and the third time around, you'll start to make sense of it and it all comes together. At some point, if you do enough of those problems, you’ll be pretty ready to pass App Academy's exam.
App Academy may have changed slightly since you graduated, but tell us about the learning experience.
It's a very intense experience. But the time just flew by, it didn't feel like I was actually doing work; I was solving problems. It's like playing a game with your friend, except instead of playing it for an hour, you're playing it for eight hours a day for 12 weeks. By the end of it, you become really good at the game because you're pushing each other, you're holding each other accountable, and you don't feel like you're doing it on your own.
The biggest difference for me compared with university was that a lot of time was spent working in groups on projects. That was unexpected because I thought there would be more lectures. We would have one lecture each day for about an hour on a new topic, then we had the other seven or eight hours to work in pairs, talk with our partners about problems, and internalize those concepts.
How did App Academy prepare you for the job hunt?
After the final projects in week 10, App Academy provides two weeks of career development where hiring managers talk about the interview process. Every day we were also paired up with someone in class to work on whiteboarding problems. Based on the history of alumni who had gone through a lot of technical job interviews, App Academy had a good idea of the types of problems that would likely get asked during job interviews.
The job search is almost like a bootcamp in itself. You’ve learned the fundamental programming skills, but for the job search you have to learn how to go out and talk about the things you've learned and prove that you're capable of doing the job. My biggest challenge was figuring out how to tell my story in interviews, so that I could tie my previous experience in.
How did you find your job after graduating from App Academy?
My friends and I organized weekend hikes and invited people we met in San Francisco to go with us. On one of those hikes, I met an engineer at Blippar, which is a top Augmented Reality company. He put me in touch with the VP of Engineering when they were opening a San Francisco office. I showed that I'd done my research about the company, and I was committed to doing whatever it takes help out the team. They gave me that first shot and looking back now, I'm really grateful because I have learned so much since I've been with Blippar.
That's such a great example of how networking can pay off! Do you have advice for other bootcamp grads on the job search?
After App Academy, I applied to about 200 companies online. I did get some calls from recruiters, but the more effective strategy was going to meetups, happy hours, and work my way in through the back door. Applying online is the easiest way to apply for a job, but everyone else is doing that too. What I did was make a list of companies where I really wanted to work, then wrote a personalized cold email to the hiring manager or senior engineer to say, “I would love to pick your brain and ask questions about the company.” You're not asking for a job, just for a phone call or quick meeting where you can demonstrate the value that you can add. I connected with some of the biggest CEOs in the Valley, like Affirm CEO Max Levchin.
You’ve now been a Full-Stack Engineer at Blippar for two years- congrats! Tell us about Blippar’s mission.
In a nutshell, Blippar's vision is to bring augmented reality to the world. But we want to empower non-technical folks like teachers, advertisers, and business owners to create AR experiences and increase user engagement.
For example, wouldn't it be cool if a math teacher could take a picture of the page in a textbook and drop in 3D models of a triangle? Then a student can now point their phone at the textbook, and see this 3D model on their own phone screen and move it around, increase or decrease its size, and see how the area changes. Another example is a restaurant owner who might add links or videos for each dish that's on the menu. So a customer can point their phone at the menu and click around on the dish items and see videos or pictures of the final product.
We have three engineering teams across Blippar. The team I work on is doing the 3D editor web app, we have a mobile development team, and then a bunch of Ph.D. researchers who are working on object recognition. In total, Blippar is about 50 or 60 people; that includes QA testers, project managers and designers.
Could you give an example of something you’ve worked on at Blippar?
Over the last two years, we built this free 3D editor tool that anyone can check out. You can move things around in 3D, drop objects, and publish in the app so that anyone who points the app at that image can see the augmented reality experience. It allows someone with no technical experience to upload 3D models, animate objects, add videos, sounds, and explanations.
A lot of the experienced senior engineers had never built an app like this before. So, in the beginning, we were doing a lot of research, to see how similar systems were designed and implemented. It's been a super cool journey because I didn't just learn about engineering, I also saw how the whole design process happens. I've learned about graphics, 3D, and how to combine meshes and textures. All my knowledge will be applicable to VR and AR – I'm really happy I joined Blippar.
I've been on this 3D Editor project the longest out of anyone now, so I know the codebase better than anyone else. Other developers might have a decade of experience over me, but in the context of this particular app, I'm the expert on debugging. That's a great feeling, to be seen as a valuable member of the team.
Did App Academy prepare you well for your first job as a software engineer?
Since you've graduated from App Academy and joined Blippar, how do you feel you've grown as a developer?
Coming out of App Academy I definitely felt prepared, but I've now internalized a lot of the concepts that I learned in App Academy by practicing them day-in and day-out. Looking back, I'm embarrassed about how I built my final App Academy project. There's so much depth to programming – that the deeper you go, the more you realize how much you don't know.
How has your previous experience in SCRUM and finance been useful in your new career?
My experience as a SCRUM master definitely helps me understand what other people on my team are looking for from me. You never work as an individual contributor when you’re on a team. You have conversations with a product manager who wants to create the best product and user experience. But from the engineer's perspective, your goal is to check off all the boxes for acceptance criteria. Having been a SCRUM master, I know that there are competing interests: QA will complain that engineers are writing bad code; designers will complain that they don't have enough requirements. I can relate and have empathy for various roles on my team.
Looking back, do you think you would have been able to transition into this career without App Academy?
App Academy also gives you strategies on how to negotiate your salary, and they teach you about data structures, algorithms and exactly what you need to pass the job interviews. All you have to do is absorb all that information. If your goal is to become an engineer, you should just do a coding bootcamp. Why teach yourself for a year if you can do it in three months?
How have you stayed in touch with App Academy or the bootcamp world?
Since I've graduated App Academy, my twin brother (who actually did a coding bootcamp too), my roommate, and I launched a podcast called "Breaking into Startups," where we feature stories of people from non-traditional backgrounds who broke into tech. Kush Patel, the founder of App Academy, is a friend of mine and we interviewed him on our podcast. We've also interviewed Haseeb Qureshi, who used to be a Teaching Assistant at App Academy, then wrote a blog post on how he was able to get a software engineering job at Airbnb making $250,000. We talked to Yousef Soomro who was a 19-year-old who went through App Academy and became an engineer.
I've definitely stayed in touch with my classmates, and via Facebook I'm able to see them get new jobs at companies like Uber, Facebook or Google, and how they are growing within their careers as well.