Danielle started out in the creative field of journalism but lost her passion for writing in the process. After being laid off, she explored other career options and discovered BrainStation’s Toronto Web Development Diploma Program – a different creative outlet! She now works as a Full Stack Developer at Knockri, an AI startup dedicated to removing bias in the hiring process. Danielle tells us about learning amongst a diverse group of people, the beekeeping app she built for her final project at Brainstation, and how she’s rediscovered her love for writing in her spare time!
What’s your career and education background and how did your path lead to the program?
I was an English major at the University of Guelph. I wrote for the school newspaper and wanted to be a music journalist. I wrote for a couple Toronto newspapers, got connected to a Toronto radio station as a freelance writer, and eventually was hired as a full-time content writer. After about two years, I realized I actually wasn’t happy. I had felt stagnant and had lost my passion and creativity for writing.
While I was exploring other options, I ran into a friend who had graduated from BrainStation’s UX/UI program so I started looking into their Web Development Diploma Program. My mom works for IBM so I had always been exposed to the technical world. I had a Wordpress blog on music when I was in school and had learned how to do HTML and CSS. It was really an overnight decision – I talked with a few close people in my life and decided to pursue coding, knowing I had loved working on my blog, and it could be a good option for me.
Did you consider teaching yourself or going back to college instead of a coding bootcamp?
After I signed up for BrainStation, I took an online full-stack web development course through Udemy to prepare myself for the program. I did consider the self-taught route, but knowing how I learn, I decided it wouldn’t be the best option for me. I needed the structure of going into a class and having an instructor, I liked the social aspect versus staying at home and doing it.
I looked into some university programs but I didn’t want to dedicate another few years of my life to school. I wanted my career change to be as quick as possible so I could get back into the workforce.
What made you choose Brainstation over other Toronto coding bootcamp options?
For bootcamps, I looked into a few in Toronto but because I knew someone who had attended BrainStation and could attest to it, it really influenced my decision. I was at a point where I needed my next choice to work so I didn’t want to take any chances.
What was the Brainstation application and interview process like? Any advice for future applicants?
I had an initial phone interview, which allowed the team to get to know me, where I was coming from, and why I wanted to attend. I then had to complete a prep course and submit my work for review, which served as a coding challenge to get into the school.
What was your cohort like? Who were the people taking the bootcamp alongside you?
There were about 30 students from a wide range of career backgrounds, and the ages ranged from 19 to over 60. Some people came from arts backgrounds like me, some were from engineering backgrounds, and some were still in university. It’s great because we all stay in touch through a Facebook group and can follow each other’s careers.
What was the learning experience like at BrainStation? What was a typical day like?
The program was a combination of lectures, projects, homework, and weekly graded assignments that we had time to work on during the week.
My main instructor was awesome! He was so passionate and was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. He was teaching the content, then three teaching assistants provided one-on-one help and answered questions. The BrainStation staff knew how to adjust the content to different learning styles, which was important for me with my non-technical background. Some concepts were more difficult for me and others to grasp compared to people who had previous experience in programming. There were different learning styles and levels of knowledge, and the teachers did a great job adjusting and catering to everyone’s unique needs as a student.
Did you have a favorite project?
My favorite project was my final one: a beekeeping mobile app made in React Native. I’m a beekeeper in my spare time so it was a fun way to combine my two passions! The final project was the last two weeks of the program, so it was cumulative of everything we had learned. You could create anything you wanted and we got to present our projects at Demo Day, BrainStation’s graduate project showcase. We had lots of support from the teachers and were able to experience what it would be like to work on a real industry project.
How did BrainStation prepare you for the job hunt?
During the program we visited different companies in the city – from tech startups to Google – and got to see a day-in-the-life of a web developer. We did office tours, went to different tech and networking events, and the BrainStation team helped us fix our resumes and LinkedIn profiles. We also did practice interviews and whiteboarding with instructors to help us take the skills we’d learned and apply them to real life.
Since graduating, I’m still good friends with a lot of the people who work there and I’ve gone back for alumni panels and regular Demo Days. It’s definitely a community I want to be part of and they’ve made efforts to keep me part of it.
How has your career taken off since leaving BrainStation? What are you up to now?
I initially stayed at BrainStation as a Teaching Assistant for the next web development cohort. After that, a friend from BrainStation referred me to a position as a React Native developer at a tech startup. Since I had done my final project in React Native, I was able to present that project as a practical assessment for the role. During my next job hunt, I relied on networking and interviewed with different companies. Then Knockri actually reached out to me on LinkedIn to set up an interview for a Full Stack Developer role, and I got the job!
Congrats on landing the job! What does Knockri do and what is your role there?
Knockri is an AI startup that uses technology to help companies during the hiring process. Our goal is to fight the unconscious bias that can happen in that process. Our platform allows candidates to upload videos of themselves before they get an interview with a company, then those videos are assessed using artificial intelligence with an unbiased approach. It’s the first step in the hiring process.
As a full stack developer, I’m currently working on the website and the app, specifically mobile work. It’s similar to what I was doing at the first startup and so I’ve been able to continue what I was learning. It’s a small, diverse team – there are only seven of us – so I have my hands in everything and have been learning a lot!
Are you using the skills you learned at BrainStation or have you learned new technologies?
How does Knockri support you in additional learning and professional development?
Knockri’s been very supportive of me as a newcomer to the industry. I’m lucky to work with developers who have been doing this a lot longer than I have, who are willing to share their knowledge with me. We work hard but we’re also looking for opportunities to teach each other and share knowledge. Just this morning, we talked about doing side projects together that have nothing to do with work that would give us opportunities to teach each other new things. One big thing I’ve learned moving into this industry is to always ask questions. I’m definitely in an environment that gives me a safe, comfortable space to do that, and to vocalize any concerns.
How has your background in arts and writing helped you in this new career?
I’m glad you asked that! It’s something that has been a lot of fun to incorporate into my new career. When I was in writing, my creativity had dwindled, but when I started in tech and development, I actually started writing again for my own blog. I was able to code the blog myself, and started writing about my experience as a new web developer and in this new career.
I think there are a lot of correlations between writing and coding. Coding can be very creative so I feel like I haven’t let go of my arts side by going into tech. I have a great balance of the two parts of my past and my present.
What’s been your biggest challenge in your journey to becoming a software developer?
My biggest challenge has been getting past my own psyche and self-doubt, and overcoming the Imposter Syndrome feeling. I definitely felt that first-hand, and it took a lot for me to regain my confidence and overcome self-doubt.
Toronto has a great tech community, so I’ve surrounded myself with supportive people who have created safe spaces for me to learn and grow. My company also reminds me all the time that I’m good at what I do – that’s important to me.
What advice would you have for other bootcamp students?
It’s going to be hard, a lot of work, and there will be times when you think you can’t do it and you want to give up. It’s easy to get discouraged but just push through because coming through on the other side makes it all worth it. Check your ego at the door, ask for help when you need it, and you won’t regret it.
Imogen is a writer and content producer who loves writing about technology and education. Her background is in journalism, writing for newspapers and news websites. She grew up in England, Dubai and New Zealand, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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