When Victoria found her career as an Athletic Trainer to be too demanding, she started teaching herself to code and wanted to learn more. She compared various options, then won a scholarship to attend Flatiron School’s online self-paced Software Engineering Bootcamp! Victoria tells us how supportive the Flatiron School instructors, career coaches, and other students were, why unexpected life events made her value being in a self-paced program, and how she landed her job as a Software Engineer Coach!
What did you do before Flatiron School?
I graduated from college with a B.A. in History and a B.S. in Athletic Training. Then I got my Master's in Athletic Training. After grad school I landed a job as Head Athletic Trainer with a minor league hockey team in the East Coast hockey league. It was a great experience, but it woke me up to what I didn't want. I realized I wanted a more set schedule. I often worked 100 hours a week. It was insane and unhealthy. After that, I got a job at a high school as an Athletic Trainer and thought it would be great because I had a set schedule. But I didn't have the same passion for the profession anymore. So, I quit that job and took a step back.
Did you consider any other bootcamp options? Why did Flatiron stand out?
I was living in Chicago when I started looking at bootcamps. It was the resources that they have for students, especially the online program, that made Flatiron School stand out. There wasn't a campus in Chicago at the time, so I was sort of forced to go the online route. Flatiron School offered a huge amount of support before, during, and after the bootcamp, and I loved that. There was live help, ways to interact with students, instructors, and career coaches. The career coaching was absolutely phenomenal. I don't even think I understood how extensive it was going to be until I got to that point and I am incredibly thankful for it.
Congratulations on your scholarship! Can you tell me about it?
I received the Women In Tech Scholarship. If I didn't have that, I honestly don't think that I would have been able to pay the month-to-month balance. I am grateful for that. I found it through the Flatiron School website. I had to fill out a quick form and answer a couple of essay-style questions about my goals and my background. I heard back within two weeks. It was quick!
Do you have any tips for anyone applying for that type of scholarship?
Be authentic. A lot of the time, people want to say what they think people want to hear. If you say what you think they want to hear, it's just going to look like the run of the mill application. There are a lot of other people who are doing that same thing. Be yourself.
What was the Flatiron School application and interview process like?
It wasn't difficult. I was nervous about the technical interview even though I was well prepared – I went through most of their bootcamp prep. There was a cultural interview to make sure I was the right fit for the online self-paced program. That was a great interview. I walked away thinking, "I definitely want to go to this bootcamp." That interview fully convinced me to go. It was definitely different than the other bootcamps I interviewed for.
How did you structure your days for the self-paced coding bootcamp?
I always started early. I would usually get up around 6am, and be on my computer getting started between 7am and 8am every day. I always stopped around 5pm or 6pm because by then I'd feel like I'd absorbed so much information. I always worked from home.
How was the Flatiron School online curriculum delivered?
The curriculum was awesome. It was all housed on Flatiron School’s Learn.co platform. The first lesson of a topic taught you how to do something the hard way. Once you got it, the next lesson would teach you a shorter way to do it. I liked that they taught the long way first. When I was interviewing with companies sometimes they didn't want me to just show that I could use a tool, they wanted me to demonstrate that I could create it. Because of my Flatiron education, I knew how to do that. If I had taught myself, I may not have known to learn those things. Flatiron does a great job making sure you are well rounded and you understand why things work the way they do.
How often did you interact with other students and instructors?
The section leads and tech leads would lead lectures. There were also student-led lectures where we would review topics and share our projects. You have support from every angle. I did study groups a few times a week, sometimes three in a day! I was always learning and interacting with other students. I never felt like I was ever alone which was great for me.
My favorite feature of the Learn platform was the “Ask a Question” sidebar. I also liked that you can see which students are working on the same lab as you, then click on their icon to talk to them. There's also a “Friends” list where you can see where your friends are in the curriculum. There were multiple times when a friend would be ahead of me and already working on the next lab. I could message them if I was stuck and ask for help.
I could also hop on Slack and message instructors or tech leads if I was having trouble. They were quick to answer almost every time. If one of them couldn't answer because they were already helping someone else, sometimes other students would jump in and help. Everyone was willing to help and that was one of the greatest aspects of the online program. You can ask for help at any point and there is always going to be someone there.
How would you stay focused and motivated?
I set a schedule at the beginning of the day with goals. I would take an hour for myself to work out. In athletics, I was always moving. Switching to a profession where I sit and stare at a computer screen was a major transition. I had to learn how to do that for myself, without having a teacher there to tell me it's ok to walk away from the computer for a bit. A lot of times I would understand something better or it would come easier to me after a break. There were days when I would work longer and not take a workout break because I was frustrated. But the breaks kept me motivated and focused.
The self-paced program was awesome. I don't think I ever had a hard time with motivation. It was more that I got frustrated sometimes not learning things as quickly as I wanted to.
What was your favorite project that you built while you were in the program?
How long did it take you to finish the program?
It took me 10 months. I started in late April 2018 and finished in early February 2019. I was originally hoping to be done in September, but I had a lot of life things happen during bootcamp. My fiancé got a job with Facebook in San Francisco so we moved there from Chicago three months after I started Flatiron School. I didn't make much progress on the bootcamp the month we moved. I also lost one of my best friends and I lost my cat. I was still working on the curriculum that whole time but I spent a lot of time processing grief. That was what was great about the self-paced program. I wouldn't have been able to finish a more structured program with everything going on.
How did Flatiron prepare you for job hunting?
They provide us with a career coach. It was absolutely amazing. We had to meet certain requirements each week to be eligible for Flatiron’s money-back guarantee, including:
Make 8 meaningful connections via networking. My coach did a great job to make sure I got out, met new people, and marketed myself.
Make 5 Git commits each week. Doing Git commits keeps you coding and practicing. My coach would ask about the projects I was working on, have me set goals each week, and give me ideas for practicing my coding skills.
These things were all extremely important for getting a job, especially in the Bay Area.
Flatiron School also organized mock technical interviews with Skillfull. I learned that no interview is the same as any other. Some are algorithm-based, while others are on the basics of a specific language. We also had a mock cultural interview with our career coach. They help you come across well in an interview with a recruiter.
They also have technical support. If I had a technical interview coming up or was working on a take-home project and got stuck, I could request for a tech coach to help me prepare. I got that support while I was going through the program and during the job search. I didn't even know that support would continue after the program and during my job search.
What was your job search like? How did you land your current role?
Halfway through my job search, I was having a hard time getting past that first interview phase. After graduating, I had 10 technical interviews, 20 first-round interviews, and a few third-round interviews and call-backs. My career coach set up a second mock cultural interview with a different career coach to help me get a second opinion. It was awesome that they helped me reassess halfway through my job search! I didn't expect to get as much help as I did when I was first looking at Flatiron School.
Unfortunately, it has been hard. It’s such a competitive job market in the Bay Area. I went to a final round interview with a startup and even though they loved me, they didn't have the resources to hire a junior developer. They offered to interview me again in a year when I had more experience. I got a lot of that. Companies liked my personality but wanted me to have more experience. That was rough to hear over and over again.
I applied for my current job when Flatiron announced they were opening a campus in San Francisco. I went through the technical interview which involved debugging a student’s code. Then I had an interview with the campus director and lead instructor and it felt like all we did was laugh through the whole interview. It made me want the job even more because I liked the people! Now I'm working at Flatiron San Francisco and it’s a fun group to be with.
What does your role at Flatiron School involve?
I’m a Software Engineer Coach. I help students in the immersive program debug code, understand topics better, answer questions, and resolve project issues. I’m hoping to start leading small lectures and lead some meetup workshops. I'm trying to get as involved as possible. I loved my experience at Flatiron School and I feel like I'm giving back this way.
Flatiron School helped me find a passion for something. That's mostly why I took this position. I had also been debating whether I wanted to be a Production Software Engineer or go into the education realm. This is the perfect job right now – the contract is only for a year so I can learn which career route I prefer and get a year's experience on my resumé. I'm also looking forward to the networking events that Flatiron School hosts, meeting the students, and all of the people they know. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody else and networking will happen naturally.
How have you found your athletic training background to be useful in your job?
When I was a graduate student I was a clinical preceptor, helping undergrad students implement their theoretical skills into real-life scenarios. That's essentially what I'm doing as a Software Engineer Coach. The lead instructors teach the students the topics in lectures, then I help students implement the things they learned into their projects.
The people skills and communication skills I learned in my last role have also been transferrable. I had to be in constant communication with doctors, the captain of the team, the coach of the team, the strength and conditioning coaches, chiropractors, everyone. It prepared me to communicate well with my team here.
What would you say was the biggest challenge in your journey of learning to code?
Honestly, my stubbornness. When I was in college, I would always study for hours on end. I had a hard time making sure I was eating and drinking regularly. During the bootcamp, whenever I was having a hard time or I hit a bug, I would get tunnel vision. I would look up and realize I had been working on one thing for three hours and wonder where the day went. So the hardest thing for me was learning to be conscious of when I'm doing that and step away to clear my mind. I've learned to do more active learning by taking a break.
What advice do you have for other people thinking about making a career change through an online coding bootcamp?
I actually have a blog post about this! Especially for people that are switching careers dramatically, know that your skills are applicable! Your professional experience and past schooling is worth something. I didn't believe that for a long time. It felt like I had wasted time and money on my degrees to not even be using them.
Deciding to go to a coding bootcamp is not the easiest thing, but it's worth it. For one, the salary is much more than I ever made as an Athletic Trainer. It's worth the money, especially if it's a great program like Flatiron School. I would have been satisfied with paying the full tuition without my scholarship. I would have struggled, but it would have been worth it.
As far as doing a self-paced online bootcamp, you have to make sure you have a deep motivation to get it done. It would be easy to fall off the wagon and not work for a few days. If you aren't strong-willed or don't have a deep motivator, a self-paced program may not be right for you. If you need that structure, then there are programs that are not self-paced!