Anna Maxam was having a hard time finding a job in her field after college. After hiring managers told her she needed more programming experience, she decided to enroll in The Software Guild’s Java Bootcamp in Minneapolis. Just 18 months later, Anna works as a Senior Software Engineer for Target! We caught up with Anna to find out more about why she chose The Software Guild, the Minnesota tech scene, and how she landed her job with Target.
What did you do before coding bootcamp at Software Guild?
I went to a 4-year liberal arts college and have a degree in Sociology and Anthropology and a minor in Women's and Gender Studies. I'm passionate about social justice, so coming out of college, I was interested in getting involved in social justice but wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. I ended up working at a café to take a breather and have time to explore my options. For about nine months or so before starting coding bootcamp, I was looking for sociological research positions in the Twin Cities. I thought that would be a way that I could fulfill some of my social justice passions while also catering to my more natural skills in math and science and logic. I realized there weren't a lot of positions in the Twin Cities if you didn't have a master's or Ph.D., which I didn't.
What made you decide a coding bootcamp was the right path for you?
I got close to landing a research position and I was even the runner-up for a few. They were for mostly analyst positions at non-profits, positions like research analyst or research assistant. When I asked for feedback, I kept hearing that I needed more coding experience because statistics is important in research fields. I had taken one computer programming course in college so I knew a little bit about coding and I understood why that would be important for research roles.
Learning to code is something that can be applicable to a wide variety of fields that I’m interested in. I see a huge potential for technology to impact social justice, spread access, educational efforts, transportation, and disability assistance. It has a major potential to do good in the world.
Why did you choose Software Guild in Minneapolis? Did you research any other coding bootcamps?
I was looking at three-month coding bootcamps, and I briefly considered some other coding bootcamps around the country. In the end, I didn't feel confident enough to up and move to another city. It can be difficult to find housing and I already had a lease in the Twin Cities. In the Twin Cities, I looked at Software Guild and Prime Digital Academy. I also considered the University of Minnesota coding bootcamp.
Timing-wise and financially, Software Guild fit the bill. I knew that I wanted a full stack bootcamp, so Software Guild won. I actually had a friend who was already in a cohort at Software Guild so that strongly impacted my search. I was able to ask them way more detailed questions than what I could find on a school's website or talking to an admissions person. I asked them about the in-classroom experience, what the interactions with instructors were like, the class size, the availability of getting help, additional guidance, all of those things.
There are also so many online bootcamps, but I know that I benefit more from the classroom experience. I wanted to be working with other people and immerse myself in the community during bootcamp so I chose to do an in-person bootcamp.
Any tips for future bootcampers about paying for a coding bootcamp?
I heard beforehand that you should drop everything when you go into bootcamp, but I did end up continuing to work during the bootcamp. That helped financially a little bit. I was working 15-20 hours a week at the café – it was a hectic time!
Was it hard to get accepted into The Software Guild?
I had to take an aptitude test online. There were multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions geared toward logic. I studied for that and I ended up doing pretty well. I also took the Software Guild introductory course. After that, there was an interview with someone from recruitment at Software Guild that was more of a personality and behavioral fit interview. I heard back that I was accepted after that interview.
Who else were you learning with in your cohort? Was it diverse?
There are two tracks within a cohort at the Software Guild that are offered simultaneously. There's a Java track and a C#/.Net track. I was in Java. My class started out with 15 people and we graduated with 13 people – it's definitely a rigorous bootcamp. I've seen students fall off with other bootcamps as well. At the Software Guild, they have an agreement that if you end up leaving within the first half of the bootcamp, you can come back at another time without having to pay again.
There was a lot of diversity in terms of age, educational background, and career background. Between the two cohorts – Java and C# – ages were from 18-55. Educational backgrounds ranged from someone with a Computer Science degree from the ‘90s to someone who had never taken any CS classes before. There was an EMT, people who were in customer service positions, high school graduates, and some with master’s degrees in different fields. Gender-wise, there were three women in the Java track to start, and we graduated with two. There were only a couple of women in the C# cohort. Racially, it was more white than anything else, but there was definitely a range of other racial and ethnic backgrounds.
What was a typical day at Software Guild like?
On a typical day, we had class from 9am-4pm. You could only be absent two days or less in the three-month bootcamp. There were usually around 2-3 hours of homework each night and then 10-15 hours of projects each weekend. I formed a small study group with some other people. We would stick around after class ended and do our homework there. Not very many people did that but it was helpful for me to stay on top of things. Plus, it meant there were people you could ask questions while you were working on problems.
Did the teaching style fit with your learning style?
It did for me, but I will acknowledge it doesn't for everyone. I'm comfortable in a classroom environment. I've always been someone who asks a lot of questions and I feel okay being an eager learner. It's important to know your learning style and know what works for you – pay attention to that when you’re looking for bootcamps. Ask those questions before you get into bootcamp.
The first half of the day was more instructor-led. We’d go over concepts from the previous day first and then dive into individual or group work. In the afternoons we had some sort of educational video paired with reading or documentation on a new element that we were learning. There were usually some practice questions or applied implementation to learn that concept. Then there was time for questions. After questions, there was more collaborative work and we got our homework assignments.
What's the tech scene like in Minneapolis?
There is a pretty active tech environment here – in fact, I’m speaking at a conference at the end of February so I have some statistics about Minnesota!
Minnesota is 17th in the country in net tech employment with over 250,000 people in tech occupations.
Tech employment is 8.2% of the overall Minnesota workforce with unemployment in tech sectors usually sitting at 0%.
There are more jobs here in tech than the workforce can fill, so there are a lot of entry points! There are a ton of Meetup groups, bootcamps, online programs, and some of the community colleges offer one-off computer science courses. There are a lot of ways to get involved. Minnesota, at the government level, is working to increase accessibility to the tech field especially because there are more jobs than people within the industry.
The cost of living in Minneapolis is affordable compared to the other tech hubs. Plus, it’s not like being here you're going to be in an outdated environment. There are companies like Target here that are always working to incorporate what's new and fresh in technology while also maintaining stability and security.
You've been working in the real world for a year-and-a-half now. What have you been up to since you graduated from Software Guild?
I'm working as a Software Engineer at Target! I recently got promoted to Senior Software Engineer in November. It was fast! I've been working there since bootcamp. I got the offer a month to the day after graduating. The process of interviewing with Target was pretty extensive. It took a full month of interviews and coding challenges to get the job.
How did you get the job? Did Software Guild help you get hired at Target?
Software Guild incorporates speed interviews with actual hiring managers into the last couple of weeks of the program. It’s great exposure to what it's like to be in a tech interview. Target came to our speed interviews, but I did not interview with them at the time. I wanted to focus on non-profits but then after graduating, I was throwing résumés everywhere because it's what you have to do. It was also good practice to take any interviews that came my way. The Software Guild Employment Manager sent some graduates’ résumés over to Target and my résumé was included in that. Target contacted me!
Did you feel like Software Guild prepared you for the technical interviews?
It definitely helped, but they were still challenging. I would not have been able to do anything in the technical interview if I hadn't gone to Software Guild! That said, we learn a lot at bootcamp, but there are definitely foundational skills that you’ll have to keep working on. Someone who has a four-year degree and has been working in applied ways with computer science for multiple years is going to be in a different position than we are coming out of bootcamp. We know a lot and we can study, but there are also gaps.
What were your job interviews like?
With some companies, there was just one technical interview that was heavily technical and that's all they cared about. Target had a mix of more behavioral and cultural fit and baseline technical interviews at first and then there was a big coding challenge project. That interview process worked a lot better for me. I appreciated that more because it was something that you were able to take home and do on your time and learn what you needed to learn. It felt similar to what it's going to be like on the job. You're never going to know everything. There are always going to be new things that you're interacting with. To me, it's important for companies to know what an applicant is going to do with a challenge or unknown technology.
Did you feel like there was a bias against hiring bootcamp graduates?
I think that companies or interviewers were a bit more wary of bootcampers, but I don't think that I experienced anything extremely overt. It was questions like "How do you measure up against someone who has a computer science degree?" or "How does bootcamp compare?" Basically, hiring managers were wondering how two people can be at the same level when they have different educational backgrounds. I think the difference is that bootcamps focus more on the applied experience.
What do you work on in your role at Target?
I am working in the transportation supply chain sector of Target. My specific team has mostly back end and some user-facing applications. We work on mobile apps and a web app and back end services. I've done a mix of all of it. In the beginning, I spent most of my time on the back end, but I recently broke into the mobile app and a little bit of web.
Are you using the languages that you learned at Software Guild in your role at Target now?
At first, I started working in Java, which is what I learned at bootcamp. More recently, my team switched to using Kotlin for our backend microservices, which are mostly Springboot apps. We use Groovy, Spock, and Cucumber for testing. For mobile, we have Swift for iOS and Kotlin for Android. For web, we have an older app in AngularJS, but we've been exploring React and TypeScript for future frontends.
Do you have any advice for someone who has just graduated and is looking for a tech job?
It's important to know why you’re going to bootcamp and what about it makes you excited. Be able to answer the question, "Why do you want to be in tech?" and also know what kind of company you want to work for. Know for sure that you want to make that investment of hard work and money.
Knowing what you want in a work environment is going to be important. While companies are interviewing you, you should also be interviewing them. You want to put yourself in an environment that's going to help you succeed. If you're someone who needs mentorship and guidance, ask about that and make sure that you're at a company that supports that. If you're someone who wants to be more independent or not working on a team, know that! That's something that I heard from hiring managers who gave our cohort advice while I was in bootcamp. I took that advice to heart and I think that's been a big factor in my success. I made sure that I got a job somewhere that was going to help me succeed.
When you look back at your journey from college to Software Guild to this tech job, was the career change worth it?
Overall, yes. Coming from a bootcamp and being thrown into an environment where almost everything is new was hard. We learned a lot in bootcamp but there's so much more to learn. In an educational environment where you don't have production systems and multiple environments, it’s hard to learn concepts at scale. But this was the perfect outlet for me because I didn’t want to go back to another two- or four-year degree program. Most of all, bootcamp helped me fall in love with coding and springboard me into a career that makes me excited to go to work every day. I'm so appreciative that Software Guild was available.
What’s your advice for future bootcampers?
It can be extremely valuable for people to take a free coding course online or get some sort of exposure to programming before you jump in. I know that the people in my cohort who had never touched code before definitely had a more difficult time than people who had some exposure. When you're going to make that big of a time and financial commitment, it's good to know what you're getting into.