Eric Carrillo was a surfer and entrepreneur dreaming of a digital nomad lifestyle. A serendipitous encounter with the CEO of Codesmith led him to enroll in their Software Engineering Immersive in Los Angeles. As someone with no tech background, Eric tells us about failing the first admissions interview (and getting in the second time), surviving the “firehose” of information in the first weeks of coding bootcamp, and learning how to ace technical job interviews. Now Eric is working remotely from Peru as a Developer for Hilton!
How did your path lead you to Codesmith?
I went to a state school right out of high school and dropped out. I then moved to Los Angeles where I pursued a few entrepreneurial endeavors in marketing and real estate. The idea of a career with a 9pm to 5pm schedule, an office, and a suit wasn’t appealing to me. I always wanted to travel, surf, and get to enjoy life while being able to work. I had never considered software engineering. It didn’t seem like something that would fit with my personality.
By chance, I met the CEO of Codesmith, Will Sentance, at a bar one night after a shift at a restaurant in Venice, California. He told me about someone else just like me who had dropped out of college, worked at a restaurant, and is now off coding. I did a series of interviews with Codesmith and double-checked that working remotely was possible. After I checked off those boxes, I wrote a few lines of code. That’s when I realized I loved solving puzzles and the logical nature of engineering. I was in. I had thought that I would hate coding. I’m glad that Will convinced me to give it a second look.
What was the Codesmith application and interview process? Did you have to study?
There was an intense coding test to get in. I’d never experienced an interview like that before. I sat in a room a teacher and they asked me a series of engineering questions that got increasingly more difficult. From basic things like how to declare a variable, to recursion and functional programming. I definitely failed the first time. They give you three tries at the interview. If you’re still failing after three tries, they give you a mandatory wait period before you can try again. After I finished crying, I prepared more and came back to try again. I knew that I failed because I was uncomfortable with the interview process. I signed up for another interview two weeks later, and passed!
What was the Codesmith learning experience like?
The program is 13 weeks. The first half is called the firehose where students are getting hit with information every day. The instructors essentially take us from the front end through the back end. We started with HTML and CSS, worked on front end frameworks, server layers, and database stuff. Then we did two weeks of projects. After that, we were put in groups to build our final projects. The whole second half of the course is building a developer tool which we would eventually use as our main talking point when applying to tech companies after bootcamp. This project was designed so we could show companies that we’re actually mid to senior developers, not junior developers. The second half is also a lot of career development work, learning how to handle interviews, doing practice interviews, looking into the technical interviews, salary negotiations, and all of that. It’s intense but totally worth it.
What was your cohort like?
My cohort was great! We had some super sharp people. We had a guy who had dropped out of his USC Master’s program, a CS grad, a young guy coming from a non-technical background, and a former Junior PHP Ruby developer. Our cohort was about 25 people. It was a mixture of ages and a variety of technical backgrounds.
Did you have a favorite project that you worked on at Codesmith?
I still use one of my projects every day! It was one of the first projects I ever built. It’s a daily journal that has space for a few gratitudes and daily affirmations that I deployed to Heroku. I built it to be full stack. It has a Mongo database with a Node server hooked up to a React front end. I played around with React transition group animations as well. It was a simple application that didn’t require any routing or anything. It’s still my favorite. I share it with my friends. The project that we did for the senior project was fun as well, but I use that first one more than anything else I built at Codesmith.
What sort of job-hunting resources did Codesmith provide?
The pressure of the technical interview and handling imposter syndrome were the most difficult things for me. I had never applied to anything the way that I was applying for a position in tech, and for the pay that I was applying for. You need to know that you are good enough to be in the position that you are applying for and that you are worth the salary you’re asking. Codesmith talked to us about salary negotiations, which is an art in itself. They gave us the exact right things to say, so we’d know what we’re worth and how to say that.
No matter how well somebody prepares you, there’s nothing like stepping into the fire and going through a bunch of interviews. They vary so much. The breadth of material that someone can ask you in an interview is so wide that you really have to study for them. You need to show that you understand the concepts on a fundamental level.
How did you find your first role?
Out of Codesmith I was almost exclusively looking for front end remote positions working with React. I was also applying to other stuff for practice. I got a job at Hilton Hotels working as a Render Tier Developer, essentially a front end developer. Their interview process was more relaxed than some of the other ones – it was a group phone discussion with five engineers and a take-home project. The other interviews I went on were far more intense – usually four hours of grilling from engineers. Hilton was the least intense interview I did.
I started on a small team. I had a crazy start to my career! I ended up spearheading a huge rewrite of the application our team works on. Everything had to be rewritten. This changed a lot of things about how our application worked. I was thrown into the deep end on that. I had just left the US to try to do the whole digital nomad lifestyle and was living in Panama. That was intensely stressful. But it ended up working out fine. I think that was a testament to the problem-solving abilities that I learned at Codesmith.
When you first started at Hilton, what kind of onboarding or training did they provide?
There was an onboarding process. I got a tour of the repository, an overview of challenges, technical debt that we’re working on, features that we’re working on, what works and what doesn’t, and then they gave me something easy to start with to warm up to the technologies. It’s expected that you’ll take four to six weeks to get up to speed.
At coding bootcamp, you’re working on applications, but they’re so tiny compared to what we work on at Hilton. We have language translations and performance technology embedded, an underlying layer of accessibility technology, and AB testing design technology. You’re dealing with a lot more than you deal with at the bootcamp. Unless you’re coming in as a senior person, no one is expecting you to be an expert.
Did you have to learn a lot of new technologies?
I got lucky in terms of technologies. When I started I was using the exact technologies that I had used at Codesmith. I started out working with React, Redux, GraphQL. When we began the technical transition, all of that was new. I had no experience with Apollo Linkstate, Next, or Typescript so I had to learn a ton of new stuff there.
How has your career progressed since you started at Hilton? Are you a senior engineer now?
I got a promotion from that first project and became a lead developer for that pod. I was the senior engineer working inside of lower-level configurations in our Next setup. I did things like hooking up mock data and storing it client-side for better developer experience.
I recently got transferred to a bigger team, where there are people who have way more experience than me. I was sort of a big fish in a very small pond in my first pod and now I’m more of a medium fish in a bigger sized pond. It’s all about context. I did not want to be the best developer on my pod, that was not my goal. I wanted to have people who were better than me whom I could learn from.
I’ve been at Hilton now for a little over a year. I have a good work-life balance. It’s unreal sometimes that I can just do my job in Peru. Some days it’s just life and some days I realize how insane it is that I get to do that!
How does your remote job work? Any advice for people who want to work remotely?
I have a lot of freedom. I can respond to chats any time, anywhere. I can surf for a couple of hours most days and nobody’s going to be upset about it as long as I’m getting my work done on time. You’re expected to be present in meetings and get your work done. It’s really apparent when people disappear so you have to make sure you’re present for your team.
Be aware that there are certain challenges. You need to be able to organize your own day, manage your own time, and stay motivated. It’s easy to let the day get away from you working from home. If you’re somebody who is easily distracted and needs a structure of an office, know that. Having a voice in a remote team is different. You can’t just sit at your desk and be there. Your team needs to see you being active in chats, active in problem-solving outside of your specific ticket, and if you have a problem you need to be okay with asking for help.
How has your background been useful in your new career?
Skillset wise there isn’t anything that has translated over outside of entrepreneurship as a mental training ground. Being an entrepreneur is hard and demanding. The to-do list never ends. Your business doesn’t care about your friends or your relationships or your sleep. That helped me develop tenacity. In engineering, you’re constantly being thrown things where you have no idea what’s wrong or how to fix it. You have to just start biting it off in little chunks and figuring out how to fix it.
What’s the biggest challenge in your journey to becoming a fully-fledged software engineer?
Imposter syndrome was the biggest thing I had to overcome. In the beginning, I took the easiest tickets so my coworkers wouldn’t know I wasn’t a real engineer, which is obviously not true. Overcoming that meant understanding that I do have the skill set to do my job. I am capable of taking on things that are hard.
Now I am trying to walk into the fire as much as I can. I want to be put into places that are challenging, intimidating, and unknown. That has helped me propel my knowledge, gain more experience, and a deeper understanding of the technologies that we’re using. I was certainly not trying to do that in the beginning.
What role do you think Codesmith played in your success?
I don’t think I would be where I am now with just self-teaching and online learning. Maybe I could have, but it would have been a longer and harder road. It was hard even with the help of Codesmith! While the cost of Codesmith might seem like a lot of money upfront, when you compare it to traditional education and how short the bootcamp, it is pretty cheap and very fast. You totally could do it without a bootcamp but I wouldn’t suggest it.
Since you’ve graduated, do you keep in touch with anyone from Codesmith?
I actually was just talking to Will and Eric Kirsten today! One of the guys from my senior team is now one of my close friends as well. He’s coming down to my place in Peru. He also surfs. That’s how we became friends. I try and hang out with a few of my friends from Codesmith whenever I’m back in the states.
What advice do you have for people thinking about making a career change like this?
Know what you want out of it. Having an understanding of what’s important to you will inform your decisions after you get out of school so that you’re not trying to be everything for everybody.
There are a lot of considerations you should look at. If you want to make a difference in the world you can find that in tech, or if it’s the digital nomad lifestyle, you can do that. If you’re an entrepreneur there’s a lot out there for you too. Sit down with yourself and decide what’s important to you. You have a lot of options in terms of what your life could look like after bootcamp.
What’s your advice for someone who is looking into software engineering bootcamps?
Go talk to grads and do your research. The wonderful thing about bootcamps is that they publish reports on student outcomes. You can see the average salary outcomes. There are very few other industries and educational spaces where those things are available so have a look at that. I’ve spoken to grads from other schools but in the end, I found that Codesmith was the most consistent. When I was in the job market talking to grads from other schools, I felt like I was the most prepared to be out there looking for that job.
Check out the vibe of the school. Most of these places have a free night where you can visit the school, meet grads, and meet professors. All of them are going to be intense. You want to be in an environment where you feel comfortable. It’s something that is mentally, emotionally, and intellectually challenging so do your research before you jump in. Don’t worry about the cost. They’re all cheap in comparison to other paths, in perspective to what you’re going to make as an engineer, and how long it will take you to get there. I totally recommend Codesmith hands down but you need to make the decision that’s right for you.