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Tyler Silva was working as a print and motion graphics artist, when solving a technical issue at work got him interested in web development. He wanted to pursue this goal without quitting his job, so Tyler enrolled with online coding bootcamp Thinkful. He graduated from their Career Path program in July 2015 and quickly found a job as a front end developer for marketing and CRM platform PeopleVine. Tyler tells us about working full time while studying, his supportive mentors, and becoming a Thinkful mentor himself.

Q&A

What were you up to before you decided to do Thinkful? What was your education background and your career path?

I have a Bachelor of Science in arts technology from Illinois State University, which encompassed a very broad background. I got to try out a bit of everything and see what I liked.

During college, I got a video internship with Illinois State Athletics, where I got experience working with sports marketing and video editing. When I graduated, I got a job at an event production company, working with US Soccer and FIFA. I was a print and motion graphics artist there for about a year and a half.

A year into that job, I noticed we could really improve the approval process which took 20 minutes to update every time we got an approval and was all through Adobe Muse. I thought, “there must be a better way to streamline this process.” I started looking into different ways to do it, then I was like, “I really I like web development; I want to take this further.” But I didn’t feel I had the skills to actually build my idea, so that’s how I found Thinkful.

In your arts technology degree, did you do any web design, CS or any back end classes?

I actually did no CS courses. The coding we did do, we did like “here’s how to make a basic portfolio site”. We worked with Processing, a visual library built on top of Java, and now there is javascript library similar to Processing called P5.js.

How did you figure out which bootcamp to do?

I actually used Course Report. I wanted to find an online school. I couldn’t do a full time bootcamp because I couldn’t quit my job and lose my steady income.

The thing that stood out about Thinkful was they offered one-on-one mentorship. Having someone there to keep me accountable for doing my work was a big plus for me. I looked at all the reviews on Course Report, I did a bit of research outside of Course Report, then I reached out to Thinkful and asked them a lot of questions. I knew where I wanted to be and had a good idea of what skills I needed. Thinkful provided adequate answers, so I chose them.

Did price or the type of language Thinkful taught affect your decision at all?

Price did ultimately make a difference because I was looking at other online bootcamps and a lot of them were a lot more expensive, especially for Career Path-type courses.

At that time Thinkful’s Career Path wasn’t too expensive, and luckily I had a credit card so I was like, “You know what? I’m gonna max this out because eventually if I get a better job, I’ll be able to pay it off.”  But I also told myself that now I had to work really hard and get this done as soon as possible because they charge you monthly.

Which class did you end up choosing?

I chose the Career Path, which was a front end course. It starts with an introduction to front end, then you do intermediate front end and Angular. Then there’s a ‘choose your own skill set’ section, followed by a career section where they look over your resume, go over your Github, and help with your online profile.

What attracted you to Career Path? Was there a job guarantee?

When I took the Career Path course, there was no job guarantee like there is now. I think what enticed me was I’m actually speaking with a recruiter who works in in the tech industry and knows what to look for, and they’re willing to help me and look at my resume. That’s the way they sold it to me and it helped tremendously.

Who was your mentor?

I had two mentors. I started with Chris and did the introduction to front end section, and part of the intermediate section with him. Then I switched over to Kyle because Kyle knew a bit more about Angular. Chris saw how fast I was progressing and said, “You need to switch because I know you want to get this done as quickly as possible so I think Kyle would be your best bet.”

You said they charged you monthly so you had set a goal to finish within a certain amount of time. Did you talk about that with your mentor?

Yeah, I was very upfront about it. I was like, “I'm paying this amount of money to do this, I want to get this done as soon as possible. I’m going to be busting my butt to get this done. I hope you’re on board with taking this rollercoaster ride.” They were both like, “ Absolutely.”

How did you choose a mentor and what was the process like? How often did you meet?

The way Thinkful works is you fill out your profile with what you want to do, where you see yourself going, and how you want this to work. Then your application gets submitted into a mentor list and the mentor actually chooses you. The only reason I know this is because I am actually a mentor now – they offered me a position and I started in February.

Chris was on Pacific Time and I was on Central time. We met on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays at 6pm CT, so it was 4pm PT for him. For the Career Path you meet three times a week. For any other course, you meet once a week. Because I wanted to finish quickly, I was putting in about 40 hours a week, on top of working full time. I had a lot of coffee and minimal sleep!

That’s amazing especially for an online course because that’s often the biggest concern, “will I get uninspired after a few weeks?” And attrition is so high with online courses.

I did sometimes feel like “You know what? It is online, I could slack off right now.” That’s why whenever people ask me about the Career Path course, I always recommend it – it keeps you accountable because you are meeting with your mentor three times a week. I was upfront with my mentors and said, “I need you to check in on me and ask ‘did you finish this?’” And they did.

Is that the type of mentor you’re going to be?

It’s definitely a case by case thing, because some people don’t want that and some people do. It’s just having the transparency to ask and be upfront and be like, “Hey, what’s your favorite type of teaching style? What would you rather hear from me? Would you rather I was hardass or would you rather I gently guide you along?” I can do both but it’s really up to the person.

Were your mentor sessions mostly you asking questions or were you actually learning material, lecture-style from Chris and Kyle?

The mentor sessions were 45 minutes to an hour long. It depended on the day because some days I was like, “You know what? I feel really okay with my code right now. Can we just have a conversation about this development style or this language?”

There were some days where I said, “I’m not sure how this works. Can you help me figure out this bug?” Then other days we just chatted about the pros and cons of the Google app engine for 45 minutes.

How deep did the intermediate section go?

It went fairly deep. It touched on coding styles and the best way to structure the code. I learned about Gulp.js which was great. I also learned about tooling, Browserify, and how to package your code, so that was really nice.

Angular was next. I learned an entire section on Angular and built about six different projects. But I think they’ve changed it now so you can choose between Angular, React, Ruby, and Node.

At the end of every section, they had you make your own project. Like, “Come up with your own idea and your mentor will be there to help you.”

Did what you learned in your undergrad or previous job overlap with what you learned at Thinkful or was it totally new material?

There was some overlap just because I already had a basic understanding of HTML and CSS. I originally learned HTML4, and at Thinkful it was all HTML5, so it was way more semantic. And it was the same with CSS.

So you get through the intermediate and Angular sections. What came next?

I think they’ve changed it since then but when I did it, you worked through all of the technical sections, then towards the end of those you start working on the career section.

I actually requested to do the career part sooner because there was a conference in Chicago called Tech Week coming up with a hiring fair. So I wanted to know that stuff so I could talk to companies at Tech Week.

What career help did you get? Did they help you prepare for interviews?

We started with cleaning up your Github, making sure everything has a ‘readme’, and is explained nicely. We looked at LinkedIn, and the best way to present yourself. We also went into resumes, how resumes can mimic your LinkedIn, and how you should change your resume depending on what job you’re applying for. A developer resume is very different from any other resume I had written in the way you present yourself. If you say you know a language on your resume, you better be prepared to talk about that language. If you’re still learning some skills, make sure you note that you’re learning them instead of just saying you know them.

I mentioned I had two different mentors, but I technically had three because I had a career mentor too. He was based out of San Francisco and helped me go through everything. When I had interviews, he talked me through how to present myself and gave me a nice pep talk.

How did that Tech Week hiring fair go?

I had an idea of building my own Angular application to present a personalized thank you message for anyone I talked to at Tech Week. It parsed its own JSON file and read the URL I put in.

At the fair, I talked to every person I could and got their business card. I had a little booklet where I wrote something we talked about next to their business card. When I got home, I typed up all these personalized messages into a JSON document and depending on the URL, it would present a personalized note and a link to my resume, my Github, my website, and enough info about me to get a conversation going. I sent out about 25 emails and I got five responses. Two responses turned into interviews and I ended up getting a job at PeopleVine where I am now.

Congratulations! What was the perception you got from companies at the hiring fair when you told them you were learning from Thinkful?

A lot of them had not actually heard about Thinkful. I explained quickly what it was and they were like, “Oh, that’s really cool! How often are you doing this?” I’m like, “I’m working and doing this full time” and they were like, “Oh, wow! Good for you!”

I think it’s important to have confidence in yourself and show you would be a worthy employee. An interview is just as much about you asking questions as it is for the employer. Just because you did an online bootcamp rather than a degree does not mean you’re any less of a coder.

Tell us about PeopleVine? What are you working on there?

We’re a marketing and CRM platform aiming to put the customer first. We’ve created a platform where all of the customer data you have available can be accessed in different parts of the platform, allowing you to create a more unique and custom experience for every person. We do everything from surveys, to newsletters, and contests.

I started in August 2015 as a front-end web developer and support specialist. Currently, I am redesigning all of the out-of-the-box templates that come with PeopleVine when you create a company.I have also started implementing Gulp into our build processes, allowing us to automate a lot of the compiling tasks that we do.

As for support specialist, we work with a few agencies, and when they need help setting up a marketing campaign or a scratch-off contest, I guide them through the process. We’re just six people, so we wear a lot of hats. We have four developers, a content strategist, and an intern.

And now you‘re a mentor, which is awesome. What drew you back to Thinkful?

I have always enjoyed teaching and I think the best way to learn – even learn new things – is to pass on the knowledge that you know. As soon as I started Thinkful, I knew I wanted to be a mentor afterwards because to help explain my ideas. If I am unsure about something, I’ll do the research and explain it to one of my students. It’s a great way to keep your skills up to date. I’ve always thought knowledge you hold onto is wasted knowledge – you should always pass it on.

Do you have advice for people considering an online bootcamp or considering Thinkful?

Considering any bootcamp in general, just know it’s going to be a lot of work and if you put in the work now, you can make your life tremendously better in the future.

I think if you are going to commit to a bootcamp, if can be even better if you’re charged it monthly. But if you have to pay it all at once, make sure you remind yourself that you paid for this and you better show up to your classes!

Find more information and reviews on Thinkful’s Course Report page, and check out the Thinkful website.

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