Ben was an audio engineer but started to burn out working in the music industry. Friends suggested he try coding, and he discovered The Tech Academy’s self-paced coding bootcamp in Portland, OR. In six months, he changed careers, and now works at the school as an instructor and CTO! Ben tells us about the cross over between music and software engineering, why he loves teaching and working with his engineering team at The Tech Academy, and his plans to build software for musicians.
What was your background prior to The Tech Academy?
I’m an audio engineer by trade. After graduating high school, I tried going to college for music production, but I didn’t like the learning style. I went to a trade school for a year, did freelance sound engineering at various music venues, then became a house engineer at a recording studio for six years. Eventually, I was tired of working in the music industry – working in a studio doesn’t produce consistent money. I received lots of suggestions to move towards the tech industry and saw it as a good opportunity to get a change of scenery from South Carolina. I found The Tech Academy, saw they had great reviews, and decided to take a chance and move out to Portland.
What attracted you to The Tech Academy? Did you consider any other bootcamps or attending college?
I realized that I don’t do well in a lecture environment. It’s hard to maintain focus if I’m not totally interested in the subject. I needed a self-paced program like what The Tech Academy offers. A couple of other bootcamps had a similar structure, but didn’t teach certain programming languages, or they were in the wrong location, or they had a few negative reviews. Also, when I called and spoke with The Tech Academy staff, it felt like they really wanted me as a student – they were warm, welcoming, and informative.
Did you ever try to teach yourself coding?
I did a bit, however, it would have taken a lot longer for me to have reached this point on my own. One of the biggest advantages of a coding bootcamp, specifically The Tech Academy, is how the team lays out the coursework in a certain way. Having instructors and assistants available every day is also imperative to absorbing the information quickly and getting a good grasp of the various concepts.
What was the application and interview process for The Tech Academy?
I had to take an IQ test and a personality test and had to achieve a certain score on both. There wasn’t a coding challenge, the team was looking more at my capacity to learn, rather than whether I could already do the work. I didn’t need to have a background in coding before enrolling. I also talked with a staff member who wanted to know a bit about me and what I was looking for in my life and career.
Tell us about the other students who were learning alongside you.
When I was attending, the gender ratio was a bit skewed towards men but since I’ve been working here, I’ve seen that ratio shift. Everyone came from different backgrounds. Some people had been coding their whole lives but hadn’t had any formal tech education, some people had been developers in the ‘80s and ‘90s and were attending to update their resume because they only know outdated languages. Some people, like myself, had never coded before and were looking for a career change. It was a very diverse group of people, and I enjoyed that.
What was the learning experience like at The Tech Academy?
It was all self-paced. I would come in in the morning, sign on to the LMS (learning management system), where the school hosts their courses, and would select whichever course I was working on at the time. Each course was comprised of different drills or exercises, reading material, and videos, which all led up to bigger projects at the end of the course.
It was a very pleasant and comfortable environment. The instructors were nice and available to answer any questions and there was a lunchroom where we could take a break, and donuts on Wednesdays! There would usually be 20 to 30 students in the course room, or as little as five on weekends. Everyone was quiet and respectful, but there was a good energy. Everyone was very friendly. Everything was done individually until the live project at the end of the program, were we could work with other students. However, they didn’t discourage students from helping each other throughout the program. It was an environment conducive to learning, especially learning topics that require such close attention to detail.
It took me about six months to complete. Some people finish in three if they’re doing 40 hours per week, but I was going part-time at the beginning because I was also working.
What advice do you have for others who are working at a job while attending a bootcamp?
Honestly, the best way to do it is to study full-time, especially if you’re new to coding. It might be a bit easier to juggle a job with your studies if you have experience, especially if you’re currently working in development. But learning to code requires your full attention. If you’re not doing it every single day, or if you break up the learning of a concept over a few sessions, it’s just not going to stick as well, compared to working at it every day for eight hours. I ended up doing the bootcamp full-time after a while.
What was your live project and how did you go about building it?
How did The Tech Academy prepare you for job hunting?
After you complete the live project, there’s a job placement course where students work closely with the directors who help with interview techniques, finding jobs, how to understand if the company is a good fit for you, and assist with navigating trickier parts of interviews like salary negotiations or getting an offer that’s too low.
Throughout the time at The Tech Academy, there are soft skills round tables, and technical round tables every week where you can meet up with the job placement directors and run through technical interview questions, dissect questions and answers, and just dive into all the elements that might come up in an interview – both technical and soft skills. I think it’s helpful for a lot of students who have a hard time talking with people, who might not have a lot of confidence, or might not have experience in those kinds of interviews. I believe that a combination of the job placement course, the round tables, and the information presented in the course builds up to a point where you’re confident in your ability, you know how to look for jobs, and you don’t feel like you’re shooting in the dark.
What was your journey after the bootcamp?
It was a bit difficult for me to find a job right away in the tech scene in Portland. I think I didn’t have enough side projects while I was at the bootcamp, so I didn’t have a great presence on GitHub or have a lot of items to show employers. I started looking back at my notes and wrote my own code more and more every day (which was difficult). I got my GitHub more active, and then The Tech Academy called a few months after I graduated asking me to come interview for an instructor role.
What was the interview process like to work as an instructor at The Tech Academy?
It was fairly laid back, but it was also challenging. I interviewed with someone who was getting to know me, then had a technical interview with the head of the development team. I had to demonstrate a few things on the whiteboard and explain some concepts. There were a couple of things I couldn’t do, so I looked up the information when I went home and sent The Tech Academy an email follow up with the answers.
What’s your role now at The Tech Academy?
I’m both an instructor and the CTO. As CTO, I oversee the production of the learning platform and I set weekly goals for my engineering team who are working on the LMS. As an instructor, I help out students with all parts of the curriculum, and I’ve helped develop the curriculum through feedback and suggestions from students. I make suggestions to help improve the courses and I’m currently working through the C# course to update it. Instructors are assigned different courses for review to identify where changes or more in-depth explanations are needed so that The Tech Academy can present a fine-tuned product.
We also have cool tech talks every week, so we can speak with people who are working in new technology and stay up to date on the latest trends. My coworkers and I are constantly researching new languages and concepts, especially if we encounter something we don’t know.
What do you like about working at The Tech Academy? Do you have any student success stories?
There are lots of things I like about working here, the environment is comfortable, and I like all the people I work with. I’ve always been a people-person, so getting to know the students on a human level is really cool. I love understanding what their dreams are, why they came to the program, and what they hope to get out of it. It helps make the relationship more comfortable as they come to us to get help – it’s less of a student-teacher relationship and more like a friendship. Students have gone on to land really cool jobs, working in areas like robotics, and it’s cool that I’ve been able to have some small part in their success.
How has your background in audio engineering helped you in becoming a developer?
I’ve always worked with technology. Audio engineering doesn’t set you up to be a programmer, but there are studies that show if you’re a musician or in audio engineering, your brain works in a certain way that is more conducive to learning code. So apparently musicians can learn code because of the way our brains work!
Do you have any side projects going to help hone those coding skills?
I have two projects. One is a text-based “choose your own adventure” type of game and the other is a platform game where you’re a 3D ball, rolling through the platform collecting objects. It’s simple to play but is really quite fun. Hopefully I’ll get to release the games, but it’s mostly for my own fun and working on my own skills. I’ve always played video games so this is a cool new addition to my projects.
I’ve also thought about doing a project related to audio. Over the past 10 years, all these analog amps, compressors, and EQs are being digitally remodeled. All this expensive equipment was standard in studios in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, but now you can get a digital version of them for a fraction of the cost and they sound almost identical. There’s a team of developers who are taking these analog components and making a program that emulates it – I think that’s fascinating. I’d love to do something like that or perhaps create a cool app for musicians that helps them schedule their gigs or helps keep track of rehearsal dates, or any number of elements that impact their lives.
What advice do you have for people who are considering making a career change through a bootcamp like The Tech Academy?
Do it. I think the best thing to do is to find a school that best fits you, with a teaching style that fits your learning style, and offers the languages you want to learn. You don’t have to know if you want to work in front end or back end development, or if you want to work in specific languages. You should just know what types of jobs are out there and what languages are required to work in those jobs so you can identify the bootcamps that offer the languages you want to pursue. Also, ideally, if you can save up enough money to float through a few months while studying full time, that’s ideal. I wish I had done that from the very beginning.