Connie and Kyle just graduated from Thinkful’s first Full Time Web Development Bootcamp class in August and built a game called Gerald the Raccoon for their final project. Both grads came from non-technical backgrounds, but realized they enjoyed coding, so they enrolled in Thinkful’s remote online coding bootcamp. Connie and Kyle show us their final project (they even shared their screens), and tell us why Thinkful felt like a brick and mortar school.
What were your education and career backgrounds before you decided to go to Thinkful?
Connie: I graduated with an environmental science degree and the work I found when I graduated wasn't super satisfying. A lot of it was for profit and not really in line with what I learned in college. Somehow I ended up in the mortgage industry, and found that the technology in the mortgage industry is not very advanced. So I got interested in learning more about the technological side of things, and did some research. That's how I ended up wanting to learn how to code, and eventually I found Thinkful.
Kyle: I graduated from Cal State, LA with a degree in business and accounting. I worked at a large CPA firm for about two years. The work was pretty challenging, and I really liked that it was changing all the time. It was project based, but for the amount of hours that I was working, I just wasn't that interested in accounting. I wanted to be building stuff.
While I was in college, I coded all the time from Codecademy, and I was really interested in it, but I was living in LA, and there weren't many bootcamp options in LA at the time.
How much coding had you done by yourselves before you decided to do Thinkful?
Connie: I spent some time on Codecademy, but it was hard to stay motivated. I also tried learning Python from a few books, but I just felt that a bootcamp was the right choice to learn everything I needed with actual guidance from people.
Kyle: I coded with Codecademy, Udacity — just a bunch of free resources I could find. I would get really into it, then I wouldn't have the structure and I would kind of give up for a while. Then I would get back into it again and give up. I was really just looking for some structure and some “between the lines” guidance from some experienced instructors.
Since you are both in San Francisco, did you consider doing in person, full-time bootcamps rather than an online bootcamp like Thinkful?
Connie: Yeah. One of the other bootcamps I was considering was Hackbright, the all-women's bootcamp. I thought that was really interesting. I attended one of their informational sessions, which was really helpful as they had some alumni and instructors talk. But their bootcamp wasn't starting around the time I was looking. I think it was a month or two before their next cohort would start. Then I saw Thinkful, and I reached out.
I was initially considering Thinkful’s part-time program because I wasn't sure if I wanted to quit my job and dedicate all my time to it. Then they reached out to me about how they were starting a full-time program and I just went with it.
Kyle: Yeah, I did too. I was looking at a bunch of bootcamps and what initially made me go with Thinkful was their part-time program before they had a full-time program. It was easy to make payments per month, the payment options were great, and it was easier not to commute to San Francisco. It was flexible. When Thinkful started their full-time program they offered me a discounted price. So Thinkful was the best option for me as they had already treated me well with the part-time programs, so I decided to go with them.
Were you worried that studying online wouldn't be as immersive, and you wouldn't be able to focus as much as having actual people sitting next to you?
Connie: I had some reservations. I didn't even get a chance to try out the part-time program before going into the full-time program. I had actually never taken an online course, not even in college. But one thing that was really hard to get used to was the fact that we started 6am Pacific Time, 9am Eastern time. That was one of my biggest concerns*. I was hoping to eventually adjust to it, which I did, but it was not ideal.
Kyle: I knew that it was going to be structured well, so I wasn't too concerned with it. I was concerned with not getting as much attention as you would in a brick and mortar school, but that was definitely not the case at all. I probably got more attention than I would at a brick and mortar school. Waking up at 5am every morning was probably the hardest part, and I never got used to it, but it was definitely worth it. I got all the attention I needed. It was really immersive, and you're constantly working with somebody so it was really engaging.
*Note: Classes now start later to accommodate west coast students.
Did either of you have any methods for helping yourselves get in the zone for bootcamp? Did you have a little workstation set up that you went to each day?
Connie: I had a desk, but beyond that it was just making sure I woke up on time, get a little water and food. I just made sure I was awake, and that was pretty much it.
Kyle: I had to leave my house to go somewhere else to study because my roommates are always loud. So I would go to my house owner’s private office to work, and that was a good way to separate my living area from where I would do my Thinkful work. It felt much better than being online in my bedroom.
Tell me about a typical day and the learning style at Thinkful.
Connie: We'd start off reflecting on the previous day or the previous week, and go over any questions we had about concepts we had covered. After that, one of our instructors would present a lecture with some slides, and go over coding examples to illustrate a new concept. Sometimes it would be a code along to cement the concepts in our brains.
After that, we would do some pair programming. The pairs were predetermined the day before. At some point we’d take a break, regroup with the entire class, discuss what we'd been working on, or what we'd been stuck on, and go over some concepts that maybe everyone didn't 100% understand during the morning session.
Then for the rest of the day, we would continue pair programming. During each pairing session, we'd have a TA coming around answering questions, making sure that we were doing everything correctly.
How do you interact remotely with your instructors and other students?
Kyle: In the morning when there would be a lecture-type scenario, we'd be in Thinkful's OWL room, which is their video conference room. We'd all be there, and we'd see each other, our screens and the day’s concepts. When we were pairing together, we used Screenhero where you can share desktops and use a separate cursor on the other person's screen, and even type into their editor. It's kind of creepy, but it worked really well.
How did you come up with the idea for your final project Gerald the Raccoon?
Kyle: We knew we wanted to make a video game because during our curriculum, we were too busy and weren't able to play video games for months. So we decided to make a Gauntlet-type dungeon crawler game. Somewhere along the way, we deviated from that and decided to make a game about a pissed off raccoon who's trying to kill farmers and we named him Gerald. We really wanted to make a random dungeon crawler 2D canvas game.
Awesome! Can you share your screen now and show us what the game looks like?
Our treasure chests are garbage cans. You click them, and you destroy the mobs so you can get to the next level. I'll show you our death screen, which says "you're dead sucker. Do you want to play again." We spent about three weeks on it. I'm not going to lie. It was initially an incredibly frustrating process. I think we went in not realizing how difficult creating a game is when you don't have any game developing knowledge.
One of the difficult things that we encountered was figuring out the algorithm for the mob because we needed a way for the mob to be able to track where you are and follow you and attack you. And so that was definitely one of the most difficult things that we encountered.
How did you come up with the actual game design for the characters and the graphics?
Connie: The graphics, like the background, the tile, these are sprites pulled from the actual Gauntlet game. A lot of people have these little individual tiles readily available for use. You can use a series of numbers to determine things like, "Do you want to use a straight piece, this corner piece or this corner piece?"
For the characters, we were looking for sprites that were available. I came across a Kirby game, and they had some sprites available. So I just suggested to Kyle, Simon, and other teammates, “How do you guys feel about having a raccoon?" Everyone said, "Sure." Everything was random and on a whim and somehow it all came together.
You mentioned you had to use a few technologies that were new to you. How were you able to learn those in that short timeframe?
Kyle: We researched resources online, but we found that most resources for the required technology were really bad, especially for making games with HTML5 Canvas. It was really frustrating. For three solid days we were trying to find a tutorial that would get us close to making this game, and we couldn't find one. We knew we needed just one unified basic starting point, and around day three we found one. Basically, you have to connect the dots of what you learned from each individual tutorial and start building from that.
What was the biggest challenge you had while building this and how did you overcome that?
Connie: The biggest challenge really was starting. Game development is not covered at all in the full-time Thinkful course. But we wanted to try something new, something that we hadn't done before, so the biggest challenge, as Kyle said, was finding the correct resources, resources that would actually be helpful.
One big piece of advice that we got was to pull a template from an online resource. Instead of trying to build something from scratch, we pulled a really basic template and then refactored the code in a way that made it useful to us. Having a template, and finding a really good tutorial eventually made everything click.
When you were working on the game, how did you collaborate on that remotely? How were you able to tweak it and work on it together when you weren't in the same room?
Kyle: We frequently did conference calls and shared screens. We talked on Slack all the time, and we used Screen Hero. We constantly kept each other updated, and we used GitHub of course to collaborate.
What are your future plans for “Gerald the Raccoon.” Are you going to keep working on it or adding more features or anything like that?
Connie: I don't think either of us really has time right now, but one future goal is to make it suitable for smaller screens. Screen responsiveness would be a really interesting challenge to tackle in the future.
What are you both doing now? Are you looking for jobs or are you working on projects?
Connie: It's a combination of looking for a job, refining skills, and learning new skills. At Thinkful we focused on React as opposed to Angular so I'm taking the time to learn Angular. Kyle and I just recently concluded an internship, and now we're back on the job market.
What was the internship?
Connie: It was a two-week online internship just to get a taste of what freelancing would be like. We were working at a really small digital agency helping build out one of the apps and learning about different technologies. In Thinkful we used GitHub, but at the internship we learned a bit about BitBucket, and we were assigned tickets via Jira. It was a really brief internship to get a taste of what real life coding is as opposed to being a student.
Before you graduated from Thinkful, what sort of career support or advice were they able to give you?
Connie: It's a lot of advice actually. I think one of the best things about Thinkful is the careers services. It's ongoing. Not only are you going to get advice on how you should polish your resume, your portfolio, your LinkedIn, among other things during the course, but they're also giving you advice on how to approach your interviews; how to go about a phone screening, and how to get practice with a whiteboarding interview, data structures, and algorithms. Career Prep is really helpful in pretty much every way in our job search.
Was Thinkful's job placement team able to help you with any kind of networking in your area or anything like that?
Connie: Yeah, definitely. It's really helpful. They know recruiters more so in the New York City area because that's where they're based, but they do know recruiters in the Bay Area, as well as engineers distributed around the country. So they'll help us do the outreach and help us connect.
Kyle, how useful did you find that career help from Thinkful?
Kyle: It's been really helpful, especially the mock interviews. We're allowed to take as many mock interviews as we need to really get practice with whiteboarding, and answering tough technical questions, as well as just common presentation and confidence. I felt that part was really good. Their advice on how to approach the job market is really helpful, and we get constant guidance afterward. We have stand-ups every morning, even now, and we have meetings twice a week with our career advisors, so it's helped a lot.
Are you looking for any specific types of roles?
Connie: For me ideally, I am looking for front-end roles. I feel that's what I'm going for at the moment. Check out Connie’s portfolio.
Kyle: Yeah, same with me. Check out Kyle’s portfolio.
Are most of your cohort mates from Thinkful looking for front-end work or is there a big range that you've come across?
Connie: I think for the most part, as far as I know, everyone's looking for front-end work.
What sort of advice do you have for people who are thinking about changing their careers and doing an online coding bootcamp like Thinkful?
Kyle: They should definitely spend some time coding and learning from online resources. People should set a structured schedule, and see how that goes for them, and to see if they are comprehending from an online perspective. They should know that with Thinkful, it feels like a brick and mortar school that's online. It's not really like a learn-at-your-own-pace type of scenario. I'd say as long as you can make sure that you have a really good quiet area to do your work, that's really all you need.
Is there anything else either of you would like to add about your experience at Thinkful bootcamp?
Kyle: Yeah. I felt like Thinkful was constantly making sure that they were doing their best to serve our needs. The Thinkful staff members are really adaptable, and really committed to wanting to make it a program that gets you results, and really turns you into an engineer who can go out, learn on your own, and get a job. I think a lot of programs can be kind of stagnant, structured, and immalleable. Thinkful did a lot to make sure that we were doing okay.