Luke was ready to make the transition from chemical engineer to software engineer, but wasn’t ready to quit his full-time job. He found part-time coding bootcamp Anyone Can Learn to Code in San Francisco, learned to code while working full-time, then got real-world experience in his apprenticeship with The Difference Engine- an opportunity that ACLTC guarantees all its grads. Luke tells us the secrets to managing his time, the immense benefits of doing an apprenticeship, and his new job as a junior software engineer!
What is your pre-bootcamp story? What is your educational background? Your last career path?
I have a degree in biology and chemistry from California State University Long Beach. My first job was doing wet titrations in a chemical analysis lab, then I got a job as a chemical engineer with OM Group in San Francisco. I work with customers to provide support to internal engineers who are using the chemistry that our company provides.
I actually really like my job, but the manufacturing industry is tapering off in the U.S. because of increasing building and labor costs, and stricter environmental regulations. If I wanted to continue in this career, I would have to spend a lot of time in China where it’s cheaper to build the same products. So that’s what prompted me to learn to code, and living in a tech city like San Francisco I already have a lot of friends in the industry.
So you’ve been able to continue working full time while studying at Anyone Can Learn to Code?
My boss is awesome and really accommodating, so I was able to keep my job. He let me leave by 4pm so I could get to Anyone Can Learn to Code’s 6:30pm start time. I also work in a remote position, so I already have a lot of freedom in my job. They don’t micro-manage me as long as I get the job done.
What hours did you commit to studying at ACLTC?
The mandatory hours at Anyone Can Learn to Code were 6 pm to 9:30 pm Monday through Thursday, then 9 am to 5 pm on Sundays. I usually spent additional two hours a day studying, and on Fridays and Saturdays I worked on my capstone project. There is so much to learn, so you get out of the bootcamp what you put in. Some people get the impression that you just pay X amount of money for a coding bootcamp and get a job. But that’s not the case – this industry is highly competitive, so you have to put in the time if you want to get a job after a coding bootcamp.
Did you try to learn to code on your own before you thought about a coding bootcamp? What types of resources did you use?
I did some tutorials online that were super basic, then I realized it was something I was really interested in. I took one semester of courses through the City College of San Francisco. I did courses in PHP, HTML, CSS, MySQL, internet theory, and UNIX. It was a full-time course and I really liked it. I had to decide whether to continue studying at community college, or do a coding bootcamp. The bootcamp was more expensive than City College, and at City College you could get a certificate in web development. But after considering how long it would take to complete the college curriculum, I decided on a bootcamp because it was accelerated and the investment would pay off in the long run by saving so much time.
Did you research other coding bootcamps or just Anyone Can Learn to Code?
I looked at Hack Reactor and App Academy first. Then I found Anyone Can Learn to Code, which was appealing because it was part time, so I could keep my current job. It was a way to minimize the risk because even if I took the bootcamp and for some reason it didn’t work out, I’d still have a job in an established career.
I also liked that ACLTC was offering the apprenticeship where you get real-world experience. When I speak to other bootcampers at meetups and hiring events, some are finding it difficult to get real experience, so doing an apprenticeship is really helpful and appealing to employers.
Was your class diverse in terms of gender, race, life and career backgrounds?
There were 14 people total, plus the instructor Mark, two full-time TAs, and one part time TA. It was pretty diverse as far as race. I believe there were three women. People had a variety of different backgrounds; some from finance with MBAs, others worked more in the social aspect of the community. There was a mechanical engineer, people working in retail, and other people were medical assistants so it was very diverse. And most of them were working full time like me. There were a few just working part time, and one or two who had quit their jobs.
How did you pay for it? Did you use a financing partner? Did you get a scholarship?
I paid for it out of savings, I had the available capital. They split it into three portions – $1000 to hold my spot, then half of the remainder at the start and the other half in the middle. And I believe there was a financing partner I could have used. This one is a lot less expensive than some of the other ones. Some others run about $16,000, or take 18% of your first job salary like App Academy.
Was it important for you to learn a specific programming language or stack?
What was the learning experience like at Anyone Can Learn to Code? What’s a typical day and teaching style?
We had a calendar outlining what we were going to be doing throughout the semester on different days, but it shifted if we were ahead or behind schedule. Mostly we were ahead of schedule so we were learning topics faster than expected. In each session the teacher introduced the topic for the day, showed us a working example we could watch or follow along with, then we’d do an exercise where we implemented what we just learned. If you completed those early there were harder bonus challenges you could do where you’d have to Google search how to complete it.
What was your favorite project?
The favorite project I did was my capstone project, Ride4less.us. It compares the cost of Uber vs buses and BART in the Bay Area. But it can work anywhere because it uses Google Maps API and the Uber API, so anywhere those services are available it would work.
How did you transition from being in class to being in Anyone Can Learn to Code’s apprenticeship, The Difference Engine?
It was easy because you go from 25 or more hours including class time and outside study, to 20 hours a week. Now you’re working on a live project and you’re already pretty familiar with writing code every day. The hard part for some people is that the apprenticeship is all remote; we weren’t going to class so we had to manage our own time. I know that could be a challenge for some people, but ACLTC is changing the apprenticeship format soon to include some face time each week.
Tell us about the apprenticeship. How long was it?
We started Anyone Can Learn to Code on site on November 1, 2015; finished on Thursday January 16, 2016, then started the apprenticeship the following Monday. We had our first group meeting, set up our first two-week sprint, then started working immediately. Ours was six weeks, but they’ve changed it now so it’s 17 weeks with the flexibility to commit to six-, four-, or three-week segments.
How did the projects work in the apprenticeship? How were you assigned work?
We were placed in groups of two or three and each had a project. We used Trello and Slack to communicate and assign tasks. Instead of stand-ups in the morning we did Slack ups. My group usually met up in person on weekends or once a week for five or six hours to work together, then if anybody was stuck somewhere we could help find a solution.
How did you interact with staff from Anyone Can Learn to Code throughout the apprenticeship?
We had a project manager from ACLTC Chicago who was doing client communication. We would have a meeting every couple of weeks and demo the project with our project manager and client, to hear feedback and give our input. We also had a senior developer, Mark our teacher, and if we were stuck we could reach out for help. But we didn’t really need that much because at that point we knew how to solve problems on our own with the help of Google.
What sort of projects have you worked on in your apprenticeship - can you give us an example?
We were working for the nonprofit Women Who Code to add some features to their website and build out an API for them. My team was on the web client, and the other team was working on the API. We worked very closely together because the web client needed to communicate with the API. We were working on building the section for people creating new accounts. When people logged in it would send the info to the API, save it, then you would be logged in. It was pretty challenging and had some real world applications, so it was really cool to work on a live project like that.
Were you using the languages and technologies you learned at Anyone Can Learn to Code or have you had to learn new material?
Why did you decide to do the apprenticeship rather than immediately start applying for jobs?
One of the main reasons I chose this bootcamp was to get real world experience, because you may have worked on a personal project, but now you’ve experienced working in Agile environment, working with a real client, and meeting deadlines. Employers like to see that. To me it’s a no-brainer to do the apprenticeship.
What are you doing now? Have you started looking for a job?
I am still working directly with Women Who Code as a volunteer because after the apprenticeship finished, in between getting a job as a full-time software engineer, I needed something to work on. So I reached out to the CEO, and she told anyone who was working on the project were most welcome to continue.
I was looking for jobs during the apprenticeship and I had one technical interview for a more senior position, which I struggled with. I realized I needed to spend more time learning about the type of things asked in technical interviews. So I studied the book “Cracking the Coding Interview”. After hearing of students struggling with technical interviews, ACLTC founder Jay Wengrow also wrote a book that looks at technical questions and computer science theory, and is now going to be part of the curriculum. So I was spending time doing that, and yesterday I verbally accepted a position as a full-stack web developer starting mid-April.
Congratulations on your new job! Can you tell me about the company you’ll be working at?
The company is an engineering firm that does engineering consulting, building out platforms for companies who need engineering support. I’m going to be starting with them in a three-month apprenticeship as a junior engineer, then transition into a full-time software engineer role. So I’ll have three months of training and mentorship, focusing on learning and levelling up my skills.
Do you think the fact you did the ACLTC apprenticeship made it easier to find a job?
Yes. It shows you've worked on a live project, and also sets you apart from other people who have graduated from a coding bootcamp, who don’t have the opportunity to do real-world work. Anything that can set you apart helps. As anyone will tell you, getting your first job or your foot in the door is very difficult.
How did you find the job?
A friend introduced me to the CEO via LinkedIn. I had a phone call with them, then went in for a technical interview. I’ve found networking through shared contacts is the best way to go if you’re looking for a job, especially an entry-level job where you don’t have the craziest resume or the most experience. Getting out there and networking face to face is a great way to get interviews because if you’re just applying on LinkedIn job boards, the chance of getting a response is pretty low. I’m pretty lucky because I didn’t have to search that hard, and you hear about some people who look for months before they get a job
What job and career advice did you get from ACLTC?
All the staff are really supportive and they want you to succeed, so it’s not like you pay the money, go through the course and once you’re done they kick you out. They are very much still in touch and willing to help in any way they can. Before one of my interviews I spoke to a TA who did technical interview prep with me just one on one. It was completely outside of the bootcamp.
What advice do you have for people making a career change after a coding bootcamp, who are maybe considering a post-bootcamp apprenticeship or internship?
I would say make sure it’s something you’re passionate about, because it takes a lot of time, and it’s not an easy transition. I know software engineers make good money, but if that’s your only reason for becoming a software engineer, that is probably not the right reason. There is going to be a lot of work and you need to have the passion and drive to get through it. I was highly skeptical of the whole situation before taking it and thought about it for a couple of months before making the decision to do it. I thought, can this be true that you can do a 15-week course and apprenticeship and then get a job in the industry? It goes against your usual idea of education – having to go through four years of college to get to an opportunity like this.
If you’re thinking about it and you’re going to choose a coding bootcamp I would highly recommend Anyone Can Learn to Code. The people who work there are great and very helpful and I was successful in changing careers pretty quickly after finishing the bootcamp, so I can’t speak highly enough of it.