With a background in Literature and administration, Liishi Durbin wasn’t sure if she could ever learn how to code until her job led her to managing a database. That’s when she decided to ask around in her network and find out how she could become a developer in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Liishi discovered that most software engineers in the Boston area heralded Launch Academy as the best option to prepare for a new career. Liishi tells us all about the Launch Academy interview process, the two scholarships she earned to help reduce tuition, and what the online classroom experience was like. Find out if Launch Academy was worth it for Liishi!
What inspired you to pivot into tech in 2020?
I originally intended to become a teacher after graduating from Boston University with a degree in Literature. I quickly learned that teaching didn’t suit me, and so I began doing administrative work for admissions in higher education. It was satisfying to contribute to a team that helped students in their educational career, but I felt that I could develop my career further by pursuing my interest in coding. At first, I did a lot of self-rejection, telling myself that I didn't have a logical brain and wasn't fit for software since my background was in literature. Working on the admissions team, though, I managed a database, which taught me two things: I am a problem-solver and I work great on a team. I faced my fears and began teaching myself how to code using Codecademy and edX, and I also began asking those in my network who worked in tech what the day-to-day was like as a developer. Before I found out about Launch Academy, I thought that I would need to get a CS degree to make this career change.
Why did you choose Launch Academy instead of a CS degree to help you make a career change?
When I spoke to software engineers in my network, Launch Academy kept coming up! Launch Academy has a good reputation among employers in the Boston area, and businesses know that Launch Academy graduates are well-prepared for today’s tech positions. I also liked how they fostered their large alumni network. I knew that I could lean on it to find business solutions and job opportunities.
After connecting with Launch Academy alums, I learned that Launch Academy doesn't require its students to have a technical background. Launch Academy is interested in people from a variety of backgrounds with communications skills. They are looking for students they can teach and foster into successful developers. I liked that they weren't just leveraging the experience of a few brilliant coders and taking credit for their success.
What was the Launch Academy application and interview process like?
Launch Academy includes logic puzzles in the application process, which I practiced for a few weeks before the interview, but there isn’t a coding challenge or pre-assignments. The interview process included an hour-long conversation with one of the school’s founders, and then I gave a short, five-minute presentation about anything I wanted to highlight, technical or non-technical. The interview process was relaxed and low pressure.
Did you have to complete any prework?
Were you working a job while enrolled in the bootcamp?
I was working full-time while completing the prework. Once I got to the 10-week, immersive bootcamp portion, I had to quit my job and dedicate my entire workday to completing the program.
How did you pay for the Launch Academy tuition?
I received a scholarship for taking the Pre-Flight course. I also received a small scholarship that gives financial relief to individuals in under-represented groups within technology.
Due to COVID-19, Launch Academy now offers a hybrid-learning experience. What did that look like for you?
Launch Academy gave my cohort the option to learn on campus part-time or to go fully virtual. To maintain social distancing, they split my cohort into two teams, so one team was in the space while the other team was virtual for that day. At least one instructor, known as an Experience Engineers, was on campus. The on campus instructor delivered a live lecture through Zoom so both the on-campus and online students could be present for it.
Ultimately, I chose to do the bootcamp through the fully virtual path because I had such a great experience learning virtually during Launch Academy’s prework portion of the program. Despite working from my living room, I was in complete contact with my cohort and instructors.
How did you interact with others in Launch Academy’s online classroom?
We communicated primarily on Slack and we would also pair program over Zoom. This is standard for engineering teams and tech companies, so it offered me great career practice.
What was a typical day like at Launch Academy online?
It felt like a full workday! I began the day around 9:30am in a meeting with the Experience Engineer and my mentor group, a small group within my large cohort. Typically, these conversations were about the material they released the night before. These morning meetings were an opportunity for students to learn by teaching. A cohort member would take the lead of teaching a section and the Experience Engineer was there to guide the conversation and answer any further questions, add extra knowledge, and connect everything together for the group.
After that there would be a morning facilitation that covers a portion of the topic for the week. After lunch, we would have a coding assignment, more pair programming, and an additional facilitation session. We would also practice pair programming together as a large group, taking turns writing one or two lines of code to build a small program. The day would end around 5pm, just like a workday.
Monday through Wednesday we were assigned additional material to work on. Sometimes I would work until 10pm or later, going through the materials and doing coding reps. I also worked on assignments over the weekend.
Did the teaching style match your learning style?
I learn well with facilitations, and I found them extremely helpful. Launch Academy makes sure that you are learning through repetition. They teach you a pattern within programming, and then they teach it to you repeatedly until it becomes solidified in your brain. I enjoyed that experience. They gave us specific instances for pair programming too because the best way to test your knowledge of something is to see if you can teach it.
What did the curriculum cover in the Launch Academy Software Engineering bootcamp?
We learned a full stack. In my cohort, the curriculum covered React.js for the front end and Ruby on Rails for the back end, using PostgreSQL for the database.
What kinds of projects did you work on in the bootcamp?
Both the group project and the capstone project took two weeks each to complete. For the group project, they put us in groups of five and asked us to build a review site using Git Workflow and Continuous Integration. For the capstone project, we created “breakable toys” where we could build any full stack web app we wanted to.
Did you present your capstone project at a Demo Day?
Due to COVID, instead of presenting in-person to hiring partners, we made pitch videos where we talked about our capstone projects, ourselves and our career goals. Once those videos were finalized, the Launch Academy Career Services Team sent them out to employers. We also had a mock demo day where former alums watched our pitch videos and offered feedback.
How did the Career Services Team prepare you for the job hunt?
To make me an optimal candidate to employers, Launch Academy’s career services team worked with me 1:1, personalizing their career guidance and preparing me for the interview process. They listened to my background story and helped me to develop an angle to pitch.
Since graduating, how is Launch Academy continuing to help you in your job search?
Launch Academy doesn’t just throw you out into the world after the program is over. They make sure that graduates continue to code and keep their skills sharp. There is a post-grad career services curriculum that lasts about 8 weeks. It includes additional materials and guidance, offering structured ways to make your job search productive.
I applied for internships and junior roles because I had no technical background going into Launch Academy. I was still interested in learning more on the job.
Congratulations on your internship at One Door! What are you working on and learning at your internship?
The One Door team knows my skill level well because they have many Launch Academy graduates. They typically hire their engineers from a bootcamp, putting them through an internship process before making them junior developers on their team. Right now, I'm learning how to be a contributing member of an engineering team, so I’m assigned tickets, work with product managers, and triage. One Door works with a stack similar to Launch Academy; their back end is Ruby on Rails. Since I’m new to One Door, the code base is overwhelming, but I’m still finding familiar things within it.
Do you recommend other recent bootcamp grads consider an internship?
It depends on your individual skill level at graduation. I would recommend this path if you are switching from a career that is entirely different from software engineering and you want to continue to learn. Most times, people rush to get there quickly and land a developer job. Sometimes taking a slower path is more beneficial in the long run.
What has been your biggest challenge in this journey to make a career change into software engineering?
The emotional aspect was my biggest challenge. Imposter syndrome is real. You'll feel it every step of the way. I would ask myself, "What am I doing here and why am I doing this?" Remind yourself of the answers to push yourself even when you feel like a fraud. Keep pushing forward.
Looking back on this experience, was Launch Academy worth it for you?
Yes, I am so new in my career and I have no regrets about investing in Launch Academy. I am definitely happy that I went down this route and became a software engineer. Launch Academy works! It gets people where they want to go.
Launch Academy is an extremely challenging yet rewarding experience. I went in knowing that it was going to be intense, but pushing myself into such unfamiliar territory was an emotional experience. Prepare yourself for the emotional impact, but know that it is 100% worth it. Stay disciplined, motivated, and focused.
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