Christopher Angeles was on the path to medical school, but after a few years as a Biology Engineer in New York, he realized he wasn’t inspired by his work. That’s when he decided to move to France, change careers, and learn how to code! After taking an online, self-paced web development course, Christopher knew he needed to invest in a bootcamp to get further in his tech career. He enrolled in Ironhack’s full-time Data Analytics bootcamp in Paris to round out his tech skills and learn Python. Learn what Christopher says was the most important part of Ironhack’s Data Analytics bootcamp, how he landed his first remote Data Engineer job during a global pandemic, and the importance of networking.
You have such an interesting background! How did you get into tech?
I graduated pre-med for biology and chemistry. I wanted to get my feet wet in the field before going to med school, so I started working in research as a biology engineer for New York University. After four years in that position, I realized I didn't want to continue down that path. I had always been interested in technology and computers, and I thought it would be cool to learn web development, but it wasn’t until 2017 when I had the opportunity to move to France that I knew I could make the transition to a new career. Since I was on a budget, in a foreign country, and unemployed, I started taking some inexpensive full stack web development classes online. Everyone I talked to said that I could easily learn it online, but it took me a lot longer than I expected to finish a self-paced course.
The online course taught me a lot, but I still didn't feel comfortable with my knowledge and skills yet and I needed experience. I connected with my old boss from New York and offered to redo their website for free. That's how I got my first web development gig! It took me about 6 months to build the website by myself, with only the resources I could find online, and it was a huge learning experience. Every day was another challenge and I enjoyed it! After doing that project, I realized how beneficial a teacher could be. I wanted to take a more intensive course, so I started looking into bootcamps again.
Why did you choose Ironhack’s Data Analytics bootcamp?
I found Ironhack by searching for English-speaking bootcamps in Paris. I thought I would do their web development course, but when I saw their data analytics course, I figured it would be smart to learn another language to beef up my resume. I veered more toward data because I already had a background in science and research that would theoretically translate well to data. My ultimate goal is to work in the video game industry. This course would help me build a career that combines coding and video games with data!
What was the application and interview process for Ironhack’s Data Analytics Bootcamp?
The first phone call was basically helping me understand what I was getting myself into. Since it’s an intensive full-time course, they wanted to make sure I knew that I couldn't miss any days. They also explained that I don't need much experience but having experience definitely helps. After that, there was a video conference interview with a short technical challenge. They asked me to answer questions using the screen-share function. If you didn't know how to code, they would work with you to figure out the problems. They wanted to see if I know any code and if the logic of the data or code made sense to me. It was a simple but important task.
Did you have to do any prep work once you got accepted but before you started Bootcamp?
Yes, there was about 40-hours of prework, which really prepared me for the course. The prework for the Data Analytics Bootcamp was an online course that was about 25 hours, then they gave me a guide to set up my computer for the course. Ironhack also gave me 6 data problems to code in Python, which was actually quite hard. Even though I knew how to code, I didn’t know Python yet, so it was challenging to write the code and manipulate the data to get what they wanted. The Ironhack team was super helpful online, though, even through the prework.
What was a typical day like at Ironhack?
It was a full-time, in-person bootcamp and we were a smaller class of about 10 people in my cohort. We were on campus from 9am-6pm every day. Monday through Thursday we had structured lessons, and in between each lesson we had a coding challenge. Every Friday, we had a project assigned to us that was due on Monday. Since we would work on the projects over the weekend, we were basically working 7 days a week on the course. The Ironhack building was open 24 hours, so we had a workspace with coffee we could go to whenever we needed it.
What languages and data analytics skills did you learn during those 9 weeks?
We learned Python, SQL, some CSS, Tableau, and Python Libraries. Most of the work we did was in Python. We only learned CSS so that we could see what we could extract from other websites. We also learned how to visualize with Tableau.
Do you recommend learning web development before taking a data analytics course?
You definitely don't need any full stack web development experience to do data analysis. In general, doing some kind of online learning before committing to bootcamp is extremely valuable. You need to figure out if this is something you like, something you can see yourself doing every day. Bootcamp is a lot of work and it costs a lot of money. Bootcamps are great but they’re a big commitment. If you know what you're getting into and know you like the work already then you can truly excel.
Did Ironhack’s teaching style match your own personal learning style?
Yeah. The teaching style was good because the instructors were there in-person all day. There were two teaching assistants and a teacher who was there all day for you and if you needed to stay later, they were there for you. Having these resources accessible is helpful. A lot of the learning happens outside of class when you're building your projects.
What kinds of projects did you work on at Ironhack? Were there any group projects?
There were a few group projects, which were helpful because a lot of us were new to data analytics. For our first project, we built a game in Python over one weekend, then on Monday
For the very first group project, we had to make a game using Python. My first project was a mess, but everyone’s project was a mess! It was comforting to know we were all in the same boat. We got to test out each others' projects – it was great to get that feedback immediately after finishing the project. In another group project, I worked with a partner on a data set to teach us how to work collaboratively on data sets. All the other projects involved analyzing and presenting data and analysis, which we got feedback for on Mondays.
At the end of the bootcamp, you work on a real-life data set with a real-life company and then present your project. Ironhack pairs each student with an actual company, and this company gives you a real data set to work on. Ironhack tries to pick companies that could potentially hire students. I really wanted to work at a video game company, so I begged my TA to get me some real-life video game data for my final project. Ironhack was able to connect me with the video game company Darewise. Darewise liked my final project, so I then went through the interview process with them – and I now work as a Data Engineer at Darewise!
In my opinion, the projects are what make or break a course. Ironhack’s projects give you an idea of what it's like to work with real data. If you put your all into these projects, then they're handy at the end of the course when you're looking for a job. Other than the course certificate, the projects are proof that you know these skills and to showcase your talent.
How did Ironhack prepare you for your job search?
Everyone is assigned a Career Coach at the beginning of the course. It was so awesome to have my own coach! I met with my coach weekly, so they could understand where I was trying to go with my career. During the last week of the bootcamp, we went through a lot of job search prep. We had lectures on how to set up our LinkedIn, resume, and portfolio, and we learned which job titles to look for on our job search. Our Career Coaches reviewed our resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and they critiqued them for us. We also had a whole segment on setting up GitHub, and we worked through interview prep and salary negotiation. For a whole day, we worked through a technical interview challenge with an instructor. They told us which challenges to expect and how to tackle them.
How did you navigate your job search during the COVID-19 pandemic?
My last day of bootcamp was when COVID-19 was hitting France and everyone was going into lockdown. Ironhack usually has a career fair where they invite companies and students to campus. You meet and talk and exchange business cards. I was planning on applying to those jobs but then that event got canceled due to the pandemic. However, since I started the bootcamp, I had been in the process of making connections and applying for jobs. I sent messages to anyone that sounded interesting on LinkedIn, and I'd submitted my resume to around 12 companies by the time I finished Ironhack.
Congratulations on your new job! What is your role at Darewise?
Darewise hired me as a Data Engineer right after bootcamp. I think one of the big reasons I got this job so quickly was because the Darewise team had already met me at Ironhack. If I didn't get that opportunity, I'm not sure I would've landed a job right away. Darewise is a small company, and right now I'm setting up their dashboard and APIs. I'm the first person to have touched their data at all. Later on, we're going to work on adding more to their back end and the data pipeline. I'll be using Python a lot more later, but right now I'm mostly doing analytics.
Since you attended the Ironhack bootcamp in person, did you feel prepared to work remotely as a Data Engineer in your first job?
I started this job just as COVID-19 was sweeping France. This was my first remote position and I was nervous! I had originally wanted an in-person job because I thought this would make the learning curve more manageable. At first, it was hard onboarding remotely because Darewise was trying to get everything settled, but my team has been helpful and responsive. They know I’m new and learning. One of the benefits of onboarding and working remotely is that everyone is connected all the time. If I have a question, they are all willing to help and usually quick about it. Now that it's been a few weeks, I'm realizing that working remotely is not as scary as I expected. Now it's nice to wake up and roll out of bed to get in front of my computer. No commute!
What does your day typically look like as a Data Engineer?
I start everyday with a morning standup with the tech team, and then I’m usually in meetings from 9am-11am. After that, I usually have a 1:1 with my manager or someone I'm working on a project with. Then, I spend the day coding and analyzing data. Since there have been a lot of meetings to test the technologies we’re using, twice a day we have a virtual coffee break to just hang out. Once a week we have a meeting with the whole company which is led by the CEO.
Have you had to learn any other coding languages or methodologies that you didn't learn at Ironhack?
I learned SQL and Python at Ironhack and I'm using those a lot. Darewise stores everything in the cloud, so they mainly use Data Studio and BigQuery. I figured it would be beneficial for both me and the company to learn the cloud system so that it would all be in one place and I would come out with a new skill. When I do have problems with the cloud, I work it out in Python and put it back in to see how it works from the language I know. Darewise uses Python to build a data pipeline to direct the data, which is a different use case for Python. It's not cleaning, editing, or manipulating the data, instead it’s using code to tell data where it should go. That experience has been helpful because I'll need it as a Data Engineer later.
Do you have any tips for people who are looking for remote data analytics jobs right now?
Network! Make it look like you're available and active online and that you're looking for work. Send out as many messages as you can. Start a conversation with people on LinkedIn by asking them if they know of any virtual meetups you can attend to get into the field. People on LinkedIn are generally super helpful. I started with only 100 connections on LinkedIn because before my career-change, I didn’t think I needed to network as much. When I started at Ironhack, a lot of the people in my cohort had thousands of contacts on LinkedIn, so that inspired me to beef up my online presence. I contacted anybody in the video game industry that held a recruiter position and spoke English. I joined Angelist, made myself a website, and I made connections on LinkedIn.
Was this career change into Data Engineering with Ironhack worth it for you?
Yes, of course. I landed my dream job! I couldn't have asked for anything better. If you like coding or data analysis, it's great to work in a tech field. You can work remotely anywhere. Everyone is locked down right now but I'm still working and starting my new career. Life keeps going on the web.
How does your background in Bioengineering help you now as a Data Engineer at a video game company?
Just like when I was in bioengineering, I’m still building. When you make a new discovery like a vaccine or invention in bioengineering, there are a lot of errors and literal bugs you have to work out along the way, just like in Data Engineering! When you do figure it all out, it's a great feeling of accomplishment.
What was your biggest challenge on this journey to becoming a Data Engineer?
The biggest challenge was making myself go to bootcamp. I realize that may sound ridiculous but it’s difficult to change your whole life. Once you decide to go to the bootcamp, you realize a lot of people are doing a bootcamp to change careers. Sometimes I think if I had just taken a bootcamp right at the beginning of this journey, I would have been in the field two years earlier!