After losing her job at the start of the pandemic, Sarah Shatto realized that reskilling could change the trajectory of her career. She decided to enroll in the remote Software Development bootcamp at Code Fellows after receiving a scholarship for those impacted by COVID-19. Sarah shares how the Code Fellows instructors supported her as a single parent and how the interactive curriculum helped this extrovert build a network online and land a job as a software engineer at Nordstrom!
What inspired you to make a career change into tech?
I attended school on-and-off and earned an Associate’s degree in Design. For the last seven years, I worked full-time at the Apple Store, and I felt stuck in retail. I am also a single mom to a 4-year-old who began to get pretty sick right at the start of 2020, which meant I ended up exhausting my PTO to care for him and lost my job right as the pandemic hit. I was interviewing for a job at Nordstrom’s Photo Studio as an in-house Apple Technician, but Nordstrom went into a hiring freeze because of the pandemic, and their hiring team couldn't do much besides encourage me to hold out for the job until the freeze was over.
With my career on hold, I was unclear what the future held for me. I moved back in with my parents and felt the need to do something productive with my time. While I had some technology-related customer service experience, I had never looked into learning how to code. I did have other essential pieces of the puzzle, such as graphic design, software, and IT knowledge, but I was intimidated by coding.
There are so many coding bootcamps now — what stood out about Code Fellows?
I had a few friends who went through Code Fellows that enjoyed their experience and had landed solid tech careers. As a parent, I wanted a career like that, and I felt that the skills I would learn at Code Fellows would complement my graphic design background. Besides my friend's glowing reviews, Code Fellows’ scholarship opportunities were a game-changer.
Code Fellows also promised an interactive, fully online experience, which was essential to me. I am not typically an online learner. I'm a people person, and I enjoy being in-person, learning alongside classmates, and bouncing ideas off one another. I did my research and decided to apply for a tuition scholarship!
Which scholarship did you receive from Code Fellows?
Code Fellows has great scholarship opportunities targeted towards those with backgrounds that are underrepresented in tech. Since I was out of work at the time I was applying to the bootcamp, my scholarship gave me reduced tuition, which meant I ended up only having to pay half of the bootcamp tuition. Even with the scholarship, though, going to this bootcamp and paying my unemployment towards tuition felt like a big risk. I come from a blue-collar family where if you don't have the cash in hand, you don't do it. I have never risked that much money on myself before.
What was the Code Fellows scholarship application process like?
The scholarship application process was pretty informal — they just wanted to know my story and determine my financial need. Code Fellows was interested in knowing where I was from, what brought me to Code Fellows, and why they should take a chance on me. It felt more like an informal essay over an entrance exam.
Did Code Fellows require you to complete any pre-work?
The pre-work is something I loved about my bootcamp experience. I had completed the Code 101 class about six years ago. It is a day-long class, and I took it to support a more introverted friend of mine who didn't want to attend the class alone. The 101 course focuses on HTML and CSS, and it was beginner-friendly and accessible to new learners. Anyone considering enrolling in Code Fellows should enroll in the Code 101 class!
In addition, once you're officially enrolled, Code Fellows gives you pre-work that you can complete before classes start. That pre-work is essential as it gives you a great preview of what you're going to learn. It helps set up a foundation for your learning, so that things seem less intimidating in class as you go over them.
At Code Fellows, a bootcamp student progresses from Beginner (102) to Advanced (401). How long did it take you to complete each level?
I tried to move through the program as fast as possible because I wasn't sure when I would be offered a full-time job. You have to pass a test at the end of each class in order to move into the next level. Since I previously finished 101, I ended up completing 102 (Intro to Software Development), 201 (Foundations of Software Development), 301 (Intermediate Software Development), and 401 (Advanced Software Development).
Code Fellows offers day and night courses. The day courses go at a faster pace, and mostly meet Monday through Saturday from 9am-6pm. I took the days "track" for 102, 201, and 301. 102 was completed in a week, 201 and 301 each took a month while on the days track. While it’s intense, for everything you are learning, this is a great structure to immerse yourself and build up the level of knowledge to move forward.
When I made it to 401, I switched to nights because I began working full-time at Nordstrom. This meant I was working full-time during the day, attending my 401 class full-time at night, plus raising a child!
What are your tips for others who are trying to juggle a bootcamp, full-time work, and parenting a small child?
First and foremost, invest in some good coffee! I also think there is some component of high risk, high reward. You can't enter into a career like this without spending a little bit of money and losing some sleep. I would recommend, however, incorporating self-care into your routine as much as you can. I had a huge village of people in my corner who supported me in the program, especially when it came to child care, emotional support, and homework help. Make sure to reach out for help to those around you and keep a tight schedule. Don’t forget to schedule in your self-care.
Who were your bootcamp instructors and how did they support you?
Code Fellows has full-time instructors who care and are on the edge of their seats to help students. The teaching I experienced at Code Fellows was unmatched from any other teaching experience I've been part of. The Code Fellows instructors were excellent at being able to determine the different experience levels in each class, and tailor the curriculum to include everyone, while also providing resources to those who needed more help than most. My teachers embraced me, were well aware of my situation, and consistently reached out to me to ensure I kept up with my classwork and projects. My 401 teacher was especially helpful. He was patient and understanding of my situation as I worked my full-time job. He spent hours outside the class to ensure I was getting what was needed from lessons and exercises.
Since this was an online bootcamp, were you able to connect with other cohort members?
This is one of my favorite parts of my bootcamp experience. I'm a people-person and love connecting with others, and Code Fellows used a bunch of tools to encourage student interaction. We used Zoom for class, and it was entirely interactive. Code Fellows required that we had your cameras on during instruction to encourage participation, and they encouraged us to have discussions. The instructors were great about facilitating this. Our labs were done through Code Fellows Campus, which creates a virtual lab of small rooms for people to interact. For the cohorts I was in, these tools were the key to my success. In 102 and 201, I was still doing a lot of work alone. In 301, I accidentally landed at a virtual table of 3 people who happened to be in my class of 30. We were able to chat and decided to do coding challenges together. We became good friends both inside and outside class and are still good friends now. We called ourselves the Code Bros!
What types of people were in your cohort? Was it a diverse group?
There are different levels of personalities that come to Code Fellows. There are natural self-starters with coding experience using the Code Fellows framework to ensure they didn't miss anything and build on existing skills. However, you are also seeing more and more people who are being forced out of their usual jobs and enrolling in Code Fellows, despite not having coding or computer science experience. I am an interesting middle-ground: I knew enough about hardware and software to have a baseline framework but didn't have a coding background. I love learning and wanted to get as much as I could out of this bootcamp.
While I was completing the bootcamp and there was a lot happening in the world. For example, I live in Seattle and there were many Black Lives Matter protests happening while I was in bootcamp. Code Fellows took time to enter into conversation about what was happening in the real world. They also offer Slack channels for specific groups of people to come together, like LGBTQ+ and Parents Who Code, so they can talk about their experiences. This mattered when you were investing so much of your time and energy into the experience. It made me feel like this is an institution that I want to pour my time and money into. Overall, Code Fellows was nice to have a place to be every day, which helped prevent the feelings of isolation that many experienced during the pandemic.
Do you need to finish every level at Code Fellows to land a job?
I felt I needed to go through the 301 and 401. I maybe could have gotten a job after finishing 301, but with my background, I wanted to wait and get the advanced knowledge in 401.
What did you actually learn in the bootcamp curriculum?
One cool thing about Code Fellows is they are always looking at what industry standards and shaping their curriculum around that. They pride themselves on giving you the best edge in a coding interview. They are also feedback-centered and send students feedback surveys at the end of each week to ensure we are happy with the curriculum.
What types of projects did you work on at Code Fellows?
Because I focused on Java, most of my projects were web applications.
How did Code Fellows prepare you for the job hunt?
Code Fellows puts a heavy focus on behavioral interviews, which puts you steps ahead of everyone. Their whiteboarding strategy also gives you a unique framework to approach problems by breaking them down and organizing them. Code Fellows matched their strategy framework with what was asked of us in interviews.
About a month ago, I was able to shadow Nordstrom's interviews for their engineer hiring day and I could see their interview criteria. From that experience, I believe the way that Code Fellows preps students for interviews puts you way ahead of those with a Computer Science degree.
What roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating from Code Fellows?
Congrats on your new job as a software engineer at Nordstrom! How did you land the job?
Code Fellows talked about the importance of networking, so I reached out to a senior engineer at Nordstrom and requested an information interview to learn about his experience in an engineering role. Once we spoke, we hit it off and he recommended me for their next engineer hiring day.
What was your technical interview experience like at Nordstrom?
It was terrifying! I probably ranked among the lowest in my cohort in technical abilities. However, I was one of the strongest in interviewing and connecting with people. In all of my technical and mock interviews, I felt confident in telling my story, being myself, and leaning into the fact that I'm not like every other coder. Nordstrom recognized that, while I might not have all the answers, I have the resources, I'm coachable, and I am a real person that would make a good teammate.
When I received my interview feedback from Nordstrom, they liked how organized I was in approaching and breaking down the problem, even if I didn’t arrive at the best solution in the given time. Nordstrom was interested in hiring someone who could learn and understand what was asked of them in the problem.
Nordstrom is such a big company! What team are you currently working with?
I work on the Customer Engineering Team as a front end developer on the Nordstrom Rack website. Nordstrom Rack is phasing into a new website, so I am working on indicators to the customer on upcoming changes and website differences.
So far, is this career what you expected?
My career has fallen in line with what Code Fellows prepared me for. I am currently using what I learned in Code Fellows, however, I know many other folks in my cohort who have had to learn many new things for their jobs. The only shocking factor has been how non-collaborative my job is. There was so much interaction in Code Fellows and, thus far, I haven't had that experience which is hard because I'm such an extrovert! I think the most important thing that Code Fellows teaches is how to lean into resources when you don't know the immediate answer. That is a defining characteristic of this industry and being able to be comfortable with not having all of the answers is essential.
What has been the biggest challenge or roadblock in this journey to make a career change into software engineering?
The biggest challenge has been not having enough patience with myself. Software development is an industry marked by constant change; you will never just "arrive" by having all of the answers. In the beginning, it can feel tempting to get discouraged with yourself as you look over the vast amounts of information in front of you, but give yourself room to grow and learn little by little.
Was Code Fellows worth it for you?
Code Fellows has changed the trajectory of my life, and I could not be more grateful. Before enrolling at Code Fellows, I spent years working long hours in the retail space and was terrified in not knowing what was ahead for me. After losing that job, I didn't know what it looked like to move forward. Code Fellows met me where I was at in the learning process and provided me with the tools I needed to pursue a solid career in tech that enabled me to provide for my family and not worry as much about the future. I'm the first person in my family to be a college grad and to pursue a tech-oriented career. I'm no longer worried about being able to take care of my son or losing my job.
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