People with different backgrounds, from around the country and the world, attend Flatiron School remotely through their online campus, Learn.co. So why do they want to learn to code remotely? And how do they balance studying with other parts of their lives? We spoke to three Flatiron School students, all with very different backgrounds and motivations, to learn more about their experiences juggling family, work, and travel, while learning to code. Meet Kenlyn, Lucas, and Maurice!
What is your background and how much coding experience did you have before enrolling in Flatiron School’s Online Web Developer Program?
Kenlyn: I studied biology in college, looking to help others via the medical field. My first job was at a cancer diagnostics company, manufacturing prototypes and diagnostic antibodies . Looking to expand impact by developing new products, I got my MBA at UCLA and eventually became a global product manager at the same company. During the time that I was responsible for the company’s hardware platform, I was introduced to software development by supplying market requirements to the R & D team.
After learning about pure tech product development through a couple of Product Management certification courses, I understood how short the development launch, and feedback cycles could be. You can iterate on digital products and provide value so quickly, versus heavily regulated medical devices, which take forever.
And then my life changed – I have a family now. And to do it well, product management work requires travel. So the timing seemed right to learn full stack web development because I want to be involved in developing technologies, tech skills are in demand, and there are many opportunities to contribute in the field.
Lucas: I first started to learn web development in high school. I was curious how the web works, so I taught myself HTML and CSS on W3Schools. Since then, web development has always been a hobby.
In college, I studied advertising and Spanish. When I graduated, I joined Teach For America, and taught bilingual Spanish and English at an elementary school for two years. I even tried to teach kids web development at that school, which was really interesting.
Maurice: I studied Business Management and Finance in college, and during that time worked for a nonprofit that organized a summer day camp and other activities throughout the year for underprivileged kids. After graduating, the next logical step was to get any bank job as soon as possible to gain experience and be able to update my resume. So I accepted a data entry job at a major bank. As tremendously boring and uneventful that job was, I reminded myself that I was working for a big-name bank and that’s all that really mattered. About a year later I moved to another bank and I’m still with them after 5 years.
I became interested in learning how to code about a year ago and decided to enroll in a C++ class at a local community college to get a feel for it. That was a pretty good experience and I wanted to learn more. I also did Treehouse for a few months and after a few lessons I decided this is something I definitely want to learn and eventually transition into. So I began researching schools and found Flatiron’s Online Web Developer Program. I consider myself a total beginner, just having scratched the surface with some online videos/tutorials.
Why did you specifically want to do Flatiron School’s Online Web Developer Program rather than an in-person coding bootcamp?
Kenlyn: I did a lot of research because I wanted to understand what it took to become a great programmer and find work as a developer. I heard stories of successful programmers who were self-taught and saw job descriptions that mentioned Computer Science degrees. However, after looking at Codecademy and other free resources, I had no idea what skills would make me stand out to a company. On the University side, even online meant at least 18 months of study, going into debt and maybe getting a job.
I looked at coding bootcamps and I thought 12 weeks to completion sounded awesome, but I couldn’t go to an in-person program because I have three kids under 10. I had to find something flexible enough that I wouldn't have to find childcare, yet was a great school that would guarantee a job within a reasonable time frame. And Flatiron School was it. I found them through a search for Learn to Code meetups in Seattle.
Lucas: I chose Flatiron School’s online program because it was the perfect fit for my learning style. Since I wanted to travel, I could work on Learn.co from anywhere because it was all self-guided. There is a curriculum, but it's up to me to choose how fast or how slow I complete it. The self-paced aspect really resonated with me because I could go back and review concepts, or I could move through quickly. I also really liked that it was hosted on GitHub and that we could learn through test-driven development. The main factor that set Flatiron School apart for me was their money-back job guarantee. The job guarantee made it easy for me to finally enroll and pay for the program. I started doing the free admissions course while I was in Peru and got accepted in February to start the course.
Maurice: At first, I thought an in-person full-time bootcamp would be a good choice if I wanted a speedy transition, but that would mean quitting my job, which I couldn’t afford to do. Then I looked around for an in-person part-time bootcamp. The very few options were expensive and none really attracted me like Flatiron School’s program did. My criteria were: reputation, flexibility, support, and cost. All the reviews and articles I’ve read about Flatiron School, and even the reactions from people I’ve met at other bootcamp info sessions were all very positive and people highly recommended it. Online coding bootcamp students were saying the curriculum was very similar to the in-person program and in some cases even more robust.
I also wanted something where I could study at my own pace, not feel rushed, and be able to go back and re-read material as often as I’d like. I also wanted to receive support when I need it, and I’m seeing first hand that Flatiron staff truly care about you as a person and as a student. Their ‘Ask a Question’ feature is amazing and reassuring. You can use it as often as you need, and it provides support within seconds if you’re stuck on a lab, or need clarification on a concept. Instructors also encourage Googling because that’s what you’ll be doing at a real job, but the extra support is there if you need it. They also offer a money-back job guarantee, which is even more appealing. So with all you get for the Flatiron School cost – it’s totally worth it.
Are you working full-time or part-time on Flatiron’s Online Web Developer Program and how long are you expecting it to take you? What pace are you working at?
Kenlyn: Initially, I wanted to match an in-person bootcamp schedule as much as possible, but it’s been four months and I'm about halfway through. My time commitment has evolved because I got the opportunity to become a Flatiron School ambassador in Seattle and it seemed like a win-win: I could help grow Flatiron’s presence and also dive into the Seattle Tech community. As an ambassador, I’m networking and immersing myself in the local developer environment. All that said, I guess it's going to take me a little longer. So I'm studying somewhere between 20 to 40 hours a week.
Lucas: I committed full time, but I still had the flexibility skipping a Friday because it was self-paced. I ended up finishing in about four months.
Maurice: I am doing the program part time. I try to squeeze in as much time as possible on Learn.co during the week on my lunch hour and after work. Sometimes I get to study on the weekend, which is a little difficult as I also want to spend time with my wife and two-year-old son. On average I set aside about four days a week, three to four hours per day. I’m in no rush and I’m not trying to complete the program as fast as I can. I try to remain focused on understanding the concepts, setting small achievable goals and being involved in student life. I estimate completing the program in roughly one year.
Where were each of you based while you were studying and what sort of workspace set up do you have to study from?
Kenlyn: I’m in Seattle and mostly study at home. I also go to coffee shops when I need a change of scene.
Lucas: The only constant throughout my studies was my laptop. I started the program’s intro courses while I was in Peru, then Buffalo, NY, then lived with my brother in Chicago, and finished the program in South Dakota. I did part time volunteering with an organization that I really love out there, doing web marketing and building houses on a reservation in South Dakota.
Maurice: I’m based in New York City, not far from Flatiron’s campus. I try to stop in every once in awhile – it’s a pretty cool space. At first, for a couple of weeks, I’d stay late after work to study either at Whole Foods or a coffee shop, but I missed my family so I decided I’d go home after work, hang out with my wife and son for a little bit, then study once my son goes to bed around 7:30pm. Ideally, I’d like to head to campus once a week and join their study group meetup.
What were your motivations to learn to code and what do you want to do when you graduate?
Kenlyn: I realized that most people who are successful and fulfilled in their careers are engaged in something that they're passionate about. I hit a point where, though I enjoyed my current role in medical devices, I could see that technology was having a big impact on it – and I wanted to be part of that impact.
I was also new to Seattle and not gaining a lot of traction in the tech-heavy job market. That’s when I realized that having a good college education doesn't guarantee you a job. I wanted to learn to program anyway and the money-back job guarantee with Flatiron was a big deal. There are so many innovative companies, and coding skills are in demand in Seattle. One source put demand at one and a half software developer jobs for every applicant. When I graduate I'm leaving it open as to what sort of job to look for. There's a lot of cool stuff in health technology, but as long as there's a valuable product and a great team, I would be happy. I think it's all about the people I work with. I'm excited!
Lucas: My original motivations were mostly about the creativity that comes with being able to build something, and move an idea in my mind effortlessly into something that's real, that I can share with people. It's such a satisfying process. It feeds my need to be creative. It’s also important to me that there's always something new to learn in web development.
The overarching reason I'm excited about development is that the people who are actually writing the code are the ones building the infrastructure and the software through which the rest of the world interacts. Most people are consumers on our devices; we open up an app, and we use it. I would rather be a creator who can write a website that accomplishes a specific task. Or write an app that's going to change the way that people interact with each other or with data. Being the creator of that is really amazing.
Maurice: I began reading articles about start-ups which were creating amazing looking applications and providing services that functioned so smoothly. As I read more and dug deeper, I started to realize the driving force behind it all was the code and that essentially nothing could function without it. Fundamentally, it was everything. I was also inspired by these people looking to bring about a change in the world and make us think differently. Their passion, persistence and strong belief in their product was inspiring to watch and I’d never seen anything like it before. The realization that every technology we use on a daily basis is run by code, was something so powerful, and I was curious to learn more. I imagined one day creating or designing something and just the thought of the possibility of it having an impact around the world was very motivating. Also, I was at a point in my life where I needed to seriously reconsider my career and not waste any more time doing something that doesn’t make me happy.
I don't have a specific job in mind right now. I think I need to get through more of the curriculum to have a better idea as to what I’d like to do. I still have a lot to learn. It crossed my mind to find a job that would blend coding with my finance background.
How did you find the learning experience studying through Flatiron’s Learn.co platform and how immersed or motivated do you feel when you're studying?
Kenlyn: At times I can feel a bit isolated learning online, but Learn.co is definitely a huge improvement on any other online course. The “Ask a Question” feature is great. In addition to meeting with instructors, I think Flatiron School encourages you to find solutions by yourself and collaborate because that's what we're going to be doing as developers. Overall, it's a very relevant, intentional program and I highly recommend it.
Lucas: What was most exciting for me was using real dev tools. An advantage that Learn.co has is that we’re always using test-driven development. Test driven development and test coverage is a huge piece of being a real developer. So it was a relatively graceful transition from being able to build a basic Rails app that does one thing to now writing production level code.
I had a job interview question about Git, and I was able to say, "I have used so much GitHub. I have 500 repos" – which are all the labs from Learn.co. Learn.co helps you build a very impressive GitHub profile. One of the interviewers said, "Yeah, we can skip over the whole coding project and look at your GitHub. It looks great."
With my background in education, l like that Flatiron School and their Learn.co platform are moving educational methodology forward. Instead of just filming a teacher lecturing, there are real tools, self-guided lessons, and ways to reach out to experts and get help. The learning is very individualized with an overarching guiding curriculum. That's super cool.
Maurice: Each time I sign on to the platform, I'm impressed. There’s a central dashboard outlining your progress, a section where you can create or join one of the many study groups on different topics. The curriculum is a mix of videos and text. There are plenty of labs to help solidify the concepts. I showed that amazing ‘Ask a Question’ feature to a friend in another coding bootcamp. She was amazed, and said, "I'm so frustrated. I can't get past this lab and I have nobody to ask for help. I have to wait for their weekly office hours."
I like the sense of community – everybody is so nice and helpful. They have their own dedicated chat platform similar to Slack where you can meet new people. There are also meetups, on-campus events, and online and in-person lectures. They do “Thoughtful Thursdays” where students express feelings about life, coding challenges or anything else on their mind. It’s unbelievable how many students are on Learn.co worldwide, all learning together and helping each other succeed. The other day, I was answering a question from someone in Dubai. So, I am doing an online program, but I certainly don’t feel alone.
I do feel immersed while studying, although, I often remind myself to stay focused and on-track because it’s easy to get distracted. So I try to listen to music, face a wall (which does help), and place my phone face-down. The material is there, the help is there, it’s all there waiting for you to absorb – you just need to remain disciplined during that time.
How have you managed to balance your Flatiron School studies with other commitments in your life?
Kenlyn: It generally means working around my family’s hours. If I’m really determined, I get up really early before my family is awake. At times, I also rely on my husband to take care of the kids so I can get some focused study time – especially around assessments.
Sometimes I run into walls and have to take a break, clean up my workspace, and/or get some exercise. You know what I mean? It’s trying to maintain the balance of life. You’ve got to fit it all in, but breaks are important in order to stay focused and get it all done.
Lucas: Being able to travel while doing the program was really great. I could travel on a Wednesday, then work on a Saturday. I could still hit my weekly hour goals, but shuffle them around. But the main thing was I had had this dream to go live and volunteer in South Dakota. And I was able to go and actually accomplish that while working on Learn.co simultaneously. I would work most of the day on the program, but when volunteer groups were there, I would study part time. It is really flexible, and I appreciated it that I could still hit my goal of four months.
Maurice: My wife plays a major role and she’s been so understanding as I’m working through the Online Web Developer Program. When I first started, I was putting in a lot of hours and staying late after work almost every day, but I that was taking a toll on my family life. So I decided not to stay late so often and go home to be with my family a bit more. My wife has been extremely supportive and encouraging and knows this is what I want to do. I reassure her that things will get better, we just have to get through this tough year or so. I had to find that balance where I could spend enough time with my family and also get my studying done.
What is your advice to someone thinking about doing an online remote program like Flatiron’s Online Web Developer Program?
Kenlyn: Set learning goals and figure out what options could help you meet them. Try Flatiron’s free courses to see if it’s a fit for your learning style. Worst case, you’ve learned some relevant code; best case, it fits and you will have already completed courses towards the full Online Web Developer Program.
Lucas: The most important thing to do is optimize your own self-motivated learning. Learning how to learn is an important step to getting the most out of self-directed programs like what Flatiron offers on Learn.co. There’s tons of information to absorb, so take breaks, get good sleep, and review concepts regularly to move them from short-term to long-term memory. Start on the free prep course on Learn.co and see how you like it.
Maurice: Flatiron’s Online Web Developer Program is an incredible way to learn to code, connect with so many people, and finally make that career change you’ve been thinking of. They’re passionate and serious about teaching you how to code and getting you job ready – it’s just up to you to consider how serious you are and how disciplined you’re going to be for the next 6-9 months or even beyond that in my case. Once you commit to the program, prepare a study routine for yourself and stick with it. It won’t be easy - there’ll be great days and horrible days. Keep cool and keep going. Prove to yourself that you can do this!