Think coding bootcamps are only for tech newbies? Warren Longmire has been programming since he was 13, has a computer science degree, and worked in game design, but he realized it was time to take his skills to the next level. He set an ambitious goal to work in web development at a New York startup, so he attended Startup Institute’s 8-week Web Development program in NYC. Check out what Warren took away from his Startup Institute experience, how he’s learning new approaches to technology, and his new developer role at Argo Digital!
What is your pre-Startup Institute story? How were you introduced to coding?
I've been programming as a hobby since I was about 13 years old. In undergrad, I earned a computer science degree and I worked very specifically in tools- development and game design. After being in the industry for a while, I got interested in educational gaming, mostly through research organizations. I worked in that field for about 5 years, but then once again felt unfulfilled. A lot of the research institutions were headed by people who weren't that interested in results, or putting together something that would actually sell as a product.
I’m from Philadelphia and I'd never lived in New York before. I was interested in moving to a new city and pursuing my career ambitions. I hadn't worked in pure web programming, so I wanted both an introduction to the New York tech scene and to see how programming was done specifically at high-growth companies. That's what brought me to Startup Institute.
Since you have a computer science background, and have been working in the field, what made you want to enter a learning environment like a coding bootcamp to re-jumpstart your career?
I've been programming for over a decade now, and technology has changed a lot over that time. When I was first getting started, programming was application-based. You had one programming language available to use, and it was well-documented. The structure of programming was very different. Now there are a lot of interconnecting pieces, and there are a lot more programmers focused on different things all at one time. At the same time, we have smaller and faster teams. I went to a coding bootcamp to get a refresher in tech.
In particular, I liked that Startup Institute wasn’t as concerned about my background. I felt that having programming experience at the very beginning put me at an advantage because I could concentrate on connecting with other students, figuring out how to work with marketers, and on the cross-disciplinary projects. The projects that we did off-site for hiring partners were attractive to me.
Did you research other coding bootcamps? Why did you decide on Startup Institute?
It was the personal touch. I looked at General Assembly and App Academy, but Startup Institute was the one that seemed to have more of a professional development environment. I knew how to code. I needed a coding bootcamp that would help me figure out how to move forward with my career.
What type of career goals did you set before attending Startup Institute?
I was thinking about going into a UX position. I came pretty close to learning UX. At the same time, I knew there were some holes in my skills as a web developer so I wanted to round out that skill set, so I chose to participate in Startup Institute’s web development track.
We know that Startup Institute's admissions process has changed since you've attended– the bootcamp now offers resources to help beginners skill-up so that they can be successful in the assessment and program. When you attended, it was required to have an intermediate level of coding experience. Can you tell us about your Startup Institute application process?
I had two personal interviews, and then one take-home challenge. Compared to App Academy and General Assembly, I thought Startup Institute had a much more difficult take-home assignment. They throw you right into a coding challenge and had me build a full-blown web app using a modern API. I was actually pretty impressed by that. The application took me about two days and the whole interview process was about two and a half weeks.
Who else was in your Web Development track at Startup Institute?
My Startup Institute cohort was super diverse, way more than I expected it to be. There were about three other black people with me in my cohort, which is more than I expected coming into any tech environment. It was pretty even when it came to men and women. There were only three other developers in my track, all of them were men and one of them was Hispanic.
After working on projects with startups and high-growth tech companies, the second best thing about Startup Institute was my connection with the other students. Everybody had a lot of professional experience, but each person was looking to turn their career around in some way.
I loved how many older people were on my team- people who had 20+ years of sales or marketing experience, but we're still searching and trying to figure themselves out. It was great to be able to work with them in particular.
What was a typical day like at Startup Institute?
Every day starts with a standup, just like you would have at any actual tech company. Standup is at 9:30am so I tried to get to the classroom at about 8:30am. After standup, depending on the day, we would either break off into individual instruction or a lecture.
For the Web Development track, over the course of one week, we met with an instructor for a session about a particular focus or about one larger project. Towards the end of the course, the teacher was just there for consultation or whatever issues that we had. That was about three days a week, and then two days a week we'd meet with our teams to help out at the different companies we were partnering with.
On Tuesdays, we would usually skip standup to go straight to our companies to work on our projects. The company I worked with was actually in New Jersey, so there was definitely some difficulty with that. Days would end around 5pm or 6pm, and could easily go longer depending on what your workload was with your personal projects. I had all-nighters that I spent over there trying to get things done. I actually ended up on two different projects when one team lost a programmer. It was a really great experience.
Did you face any challenges learning in a coding bootcamp environment?
In this type of environment, there will always be a lot of pushing, and a lot to learn outside of what you're being taught. I liked a lot of our teachers at Startup Institute, but at the same time, the program was loose enough that the instruction wasn’t always as focused as I would’ve liked. That was something that I had to get used to, and I had to rely on myself to put the effort and time in.
Did you have a favorite project that you worked on?
Yeah. We were working with MediaMath, a marketing company based in New York, on one of their internal tools that focused on educating marketers. There were many different articles about new techniques in marketing that MediaMath needed to add to their current curriculum. Their team needed a system to find different resources, tag them, bring them together, and notify each other about them. We built that from the ground up, and it was my first Rails app. That application and that process got me the job that I have today, still working on internal tools.
What are you doing now? Where are you working and what's your role?
I'm a full stack developer at Argo Group. The digital team is making client facing products and internal tools, and I'm working on an underwriting system to help research companies. I started in August and I am based in New York.
You had a career in tech before this, but how do you see tech differently since graduating from Startup Institute?
Before this job, I still had the notion from working in corporate environments that there's always a clear leadership structure. Startup Institute taught me that no one really knows what they’re doing. You throw yourself out there and try to do the best you can.
From day one at Argo, I had to really throw myself into the work. The group I was working with had only existed for about a year and hadn’t really decided on their direction. Over the past few months, I’ve seen so much improvement- the product that I'm working on right now has been named; we have a task management system and a new manager. I recently went to Denver to do user interviews with a new division of the company. My role is definitely expanding and I have a front end developer that is a contractor working with me for the past four months.
Are you using the same type of technologies that you learned at Startup Institute?
You know what? Honestly, no. We concentrated on Rails at Startup Institute. I had only done a little bit of Node work at Startup Institute, and that was only out of necessity. Thankfully, at my job, they were looking for people who could code and they expected that we would learn on the job. Now I'm doing full stack Node, which is what the cool kids are using, and what we are using at Argo.
What’s your advice to other people with a long career in technology? Can a coding bootcamp be right for them?
I think so; for sure. I've been through a lot of different cycles with technology at this point. You get to a point where you either learn on the job or you work on antiquated technologies at work while teaching yourself new coding philosophies at home.
I got to a certain point where I knew it was time. It's always good to humble yourself and to put yourself in a place to learn. Startup Institute helped me concentrate and learn about the people and roles inside of a business. I'm definitely very happy I did it.
Did Startup Institute help you with your job search?
I still say that I got my job through Startup Institute. I was talking to Shaun Johnson, the co-founder, and he recommended that I get onto a platform called Hired. That's where I started getting interviews. I would not have been hired if it wasn't for that conversation with Shaun, so I still credit Startup Institute for that.
Is there anything that you would like to share about your experience as a black man in the tech space?
It's been four months in my new role, and I’ve been given a little bit more flexibility as far as being able to take on responsibilities with work, but it's an ongoing process. It's always difficult as a black male. You have to be very careful asserting yourself. It's also difficult because you’re faced with hard situations, but you really can't put your finger on it. That's just the stress that comes with being a black male in America, but I'm working it out.
In the workplace, there’s sometimes a strained relationship when people are talking black slang at you, just trying to connect. I’ve had to say several times, "I'm here to do work. I'm not here to be someone that can show you how down you are." All that said, Argo is definitely one of the better corporate environments I've worked in, as I’ve experienced past situations in other workplaces that led me to leave the company.
Thank you for sharing that. Are you still involved with Startup Institute in NYC? How is the tech scene in New York?
I still go back to Startup Institute when they need help. The thing that strikes me about New York’s tech scene in comparison to Philadelphia’s tech scene is that it's just very opening and welcoming. No matter where people are at in their career- whether they have tons of money, they're VCs, or they’re just getting started- everyone is really supportive of one another’s dreams. Everybody is about making dreams come true in a way that I didn't see in Philadelphia.
Now that you’ve been through Startup Institute and landed a job, do you have advice for those looking to attend a coding bootcamp?
Find a coding bootcamp that fits; in particular, know what you're looking for. For example, if you know that you have zero tech skills, but you know how to work with people, then choose a bootcamp where they're just going to give you tech skills. But do keep in mind that tech is so fluid and it’s about working with people just as much as it is knowing any particular technology stack. Technology will change and you’re never going to know everything. So learn how people work first, and go to a place that supports that.