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From Culinary Arts to Coding: Alex’s Journey Into Tech with Flatiron School

By Jess Feldman
Last Updated June 11, 2020

From Culinary Arts to Coding: Alex’s Journey Into Tech with Flatiron School

Alex Hare spent a decade working in pastry, but when a catering position had her managing data and Salesforce errors, Alex realized that technology was a calling that she had to answer. Flatiron School's teaching methods immediately clicked and she enrolled in their Software Engineering Program. On top of learning to code at Flatiron School, Alex built her network by volunteering with organizations like Out in Tech – which helped her land a job as a Remote Web Engineer! See how Alex made the career transition and how her restaurant background continues to inform her tech career.

What is your education background and what inspired you to go into tech?

My undergraduate degree is in French and I spent some time performing in the theater. I then went through pastry school and worked in the food industry for a decade. My passion for culinary arts didn't die, but I started to appreciate myself more. I realized I didn't want to sit down after a day's work and feel as though my entire body was broken. So, after years working in restaurant kitchens, I became a catering coordinator, where I managed event management systems. We switched to using Salesforce, and my team started seeing these huge error messages, which looked intimidating to non-technical folks. Taking a closer look, I found myself able to read the error, pinpoint the problem, and troubleshoot a stronger solution, I realized I had a knack for it. It was stimulating to solve those kinds of problems, and I liked learning while exploring. That’s when I knew I wanted to take the next step into tech.

Why did you choose Flatiron School? What was important to you when you researched coding bootcamps? 

I'm detail-oriented and I wanted to be a million percent sure I was making the right decision, so I made a big spreadsheet of when each bootcamp was founded, what they teach, the length of the program, the cost, financial support, scholarships, and if it was in-person or remote. I also knew I was moving out of Chicago after 2019, and I hoped to find a bootcamp that was familiar with the Denver job market. After all of my research, I narrowed it down to Flatiron School.

What is the admissions process like at Flatiron School?

Flatiron School's admissions process clicked for me so fast. I loved the code platform that the admissions process, bootcamp prep, and the program itself was built on. I was able to see how lessons would be structured. I completed a short intro course at Flatiron School, and from there they judged that I had what it would take to apply myself. From there, I scheduled an appointment with an Admissions Representative. Then I went through a pair programming coding assessment.

Do you have any advice for students trying to figure out how to pay for a bootcamp?

I didn't have the full tuition already saved, but I was able to make the deposit from my savings. I did consider Flatiron School’s Income Share Agreement (ISA), but after I received a scholarship, I decided to pay for the rest of the tuition with a loan through Climb Credit.

You need to think about not only how you are going to pay for the bootcamp tuition, but also how you are going to support yourself through the program. Rent and meals don’t go away. I made spreadsheets and did my best to budget and stick to it. I tried to find any way I could cut down on spending, without being unforgiving to myself. Give yourself a cushion because things come up. I was very lucky that I didn't have any surprise health issues, or need to replace my laptop unexpectedly. I did my best to set myself up to focus on learning as much as possible, but acknowledge there were huge parts of the picture I couldn’t control, and am so grateful that I was able to accomplish what I intended. 

Tell us more about what it was like to be a student at Flatiron School! What did you learn? 

The Flatiron School program is 15-weeks long, and it’s broken up into five modules that are each 3 weeks long. During the first few weeks, we had our noses to the grindstone as we learned all the basics like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. We were given coding challenges, but they weren’t an exam that you pass or fail. Instead, they were a tool to decipher our understanding of the concepts. After the first two weeks, we were able to start projects while we continued to learn more. We covered JavaScript, Ruby, then Ruby on Rails, React, Redux, HTML, CSS, and JSON. We also covered SQL and PostGreSQL for data management. 

Class time went from 9am to 6pm, but I’d end up arriving around 8am and leaving closer to 7pm for the most time focused on coding, and the easiest commute. We would either start the day with specific questions to discuss as a group or use hands-on coding to figure a problem out on the computer. Then we would have a pair programming assignment. Pair programming is not about working as quickly as possible, but working together and really understanding what you are doing. Sometimes the person I was paired with wouldn't agree or would see things differently than me. We had to learn to collaborate and communicate effectively. We also had one or two lectures each day. Sometimes the lectures would both happen in the morning, other times it was split over the course of a day. I learned that with the lectures what you put into it is what you get out of it. There was a lot of work to get through, so I needed to use my time wisely to keep on top of my assignments.

What did you build for your final project?

For the final few weeks, we were tasked to build something with a Ruby on Rails back end and React front end. We had to create models, demonstrate the relationship between each model, and the individual pages. I wanted to challenge myself to use more data, so I focused my final project on the United States Congress. My goal was to build a fully comprehensive voter education application, from presidential candidates all the way down to local school board candidates because I think it’s important that voters know who is speaking for them. Once I got into the data, though, I realized the scale was a bit too big in two-and-a-half weeks, so I then just focused on Congress. Once the idea and my mock-ups were approved, I had to manage my own time and figure out how to build it. I used Google and ProPublica APIs, plus did a lot of research into state’s voting laws. We had one week to build our minimum viable product and one more week to fine tune it and get it as close to our ideal as possible. It was a really exciting project and I learned so much about U.S. politics.

How did Flatiron School prepare you for the job hunt?

We were introduced to the career services team in the first few weeks of the bootcamp, but matched with a career coach later on when the module career lessons began. Those lessons covered setting up your LinkedIn profile, resume writing, how to discuss your projects with potential employers, technical interview support, and culture interview support. We also did a little whiteboarding and algorithm practice, but the technical focus was truly on building developer skills. The goal is to not only say “I understand this,” but also “I have used it in these ways.” Flatiron School gave us opportunities to do practice interviews, and hosted a job fair event called Career Day where I was able to connect with a startup in Denver. Up until I secured my current web engineering role, I was meeting with my career coach weekly. 

How did you build your tech network since you came from a completely different industry?

Since I changed industries, I needed to make new friends. I attended some meetups and threw myself into the Chicago tech community. Networking was incredibly helpful. Even though I wasn't planning on staying in Chicago, networking gave me technical conversation practice, and prepared me for future interviews. I also reached out to folks on LinkedIn and Twitter for job leads, and I frequented job boards like Indeed, Women Who Code, and Diversify Tech. When I was ready to move to Denver, I started looking up companies in Denver to see if anyone had an available position. 

Interviewing for companies exposed me to a number of different interviewing styles. I did take-home assignments, surprise tests, cultural conversations, and technical interviews. In one of the pop quizzes I had at an interview, there were a few questions in a language I hadn’t seen before. I remembered some of the method signatures (how a function is written) and wanted to learn more. After searching for the fragments I could remember, it turned out to be Java, and  I decided to learn more about it on my own. That ended up being useful for the job I secured at Coat Rack Web Services.

Congrats on your first developer job since graduating from Flatiron School! How did you land the job?

I actually found my current job on the Women Who Code job board. Even though I knew I had the skills, job postings felt intimidating. When Coat Rack Web Services posted that they were looking for someone who knew Ruby on Rails, Javascript, and React it was magical because that is the very techstack I learned! My initial interview with Coat Rack Web Services covered my background and skills, then we had a more technical conversation in which I presented the final project I built while at Flatiron School. I didn't just show them the website, but walked them through the code, which was simultaneously exhilarating and nerve-wrecking. At one point, we were talking about the file structure, and my interviewer was impressed by how organized and clearly laid out my project and presentation was. A total stranger just said my work was good! That's when I knew I could do this. 

What’s your role and what types of projects are you working on at Coat Rack Web Services? 

I was hired as a remote, full-time Full Stack Web Engineer. At Coat Rack Web Services, we build out web applications for clients, with a focus on non-for-profit clients. The project I'm currently working on uses a React-Redux front end with a Javascript back end. We're pretty agile in our setup, which makes it easy to adjust based on what our clients need. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of our clients partnered with larger organizations to better serve individuals financially affected by the crisis. In turn, we've been able to quickly build out and deploy applications to facilitate that support. It's incredible to get to work on something that has such an impact in real time. 

What does a typical work day look like for a Remote Full Stack Web Engineer?

My team gets together every week to have a code check-in. We have flexible hours, so no one is expected to work from a specific time to the end of the day. We have a certain amount of hours to complete by the end of the week, which allows me the freedom to decide how to structure my day. I had a tiny bit of experience working remotely at my previous catering job, but to prepare for this first remote tech job, I asked questions to anyone who might have experience working remotely. I asked about the best ways to structure the day, set up my workspace, collaborate, and communicate. I know there is always something I can be doing, even if it's not about coding. I can always be learning what each method does or how processes work, so even if I feel burnt out by the code, I can still become a stronger developer. I have a time clock that I start and end as I work each day. I rely on it especially if I’ve been hyperfocused on a project as a helpful reminder to stop and stretch, or take my lunch.

Is this the career that you expected after you graduated from Flatiron School?

There are aspects of it that I expected and I’m energized and excited by the parts that I didn't expect. It's amazing to me how quickly time passes. If you had told me at the beginning of each day, "You are going to spend 3 hours trying to solve a problem you aren't going to solve," I would say, "No! That doesn't sound fun or exciting!" When I start logging my time for the day, I’ll sink into my ‘code-focused zone’. If I’m in my zone, two hours can feel like ten minutes.  Working remotely first thing out of the bootcamp is very different from working together in person, but my team at Coat Rack Web Services has a great appreciation of what it means to be new to this industry. Working with them has taught me so much professionally, about writing code, working with clients and the job itself. Having the space to make mistakes and know it’s ok, even encouraged as I’m learning, has been huge for me as a developer, but also as a person.  

How does your background in the culinary industry inform your career as a Web Developer? 

Working on the restaurant line, you quickly learn that when orders come in, you could be working on one dish and the ticket printer could have 10 more orders for you to do. Being able to prioritize and manage your time is essential; I had to keep moving, stay aware, and balance asynchronous tasks. Those deeply ingrained restaurant skills are something that I didn't expect to use or need as much as I do in tech. Career-changing from culinary into tech feels like I’ve supercharged the skills I already have while developing new ones.

How do you stay connected and give back to the tech community?

A month after I graduated from Flatiron School, I began volunteering for Out in Tech’s Digital Corps where I helped build Wordpress websites for LGBTQ+ organizations around the world. Our Digital Corps teams were working on international organizations as well as the United States. My group built a website for an organization based in Morocco, so it could toggle between the languages of English, French, and Arabic. I was able to meet the organizer who runs the Digital Corps initiative, and we have since collaborated through Out in Tech for another Wordpress project created for an LGBTQ+ organization for elders. 

I am also a member of Lesbians Who Tech. Last year, Lesbians Who Tech selected me as one of their Edie Windsor Coding Scholars. I also volunteered at the Lesbians Who Tech + Allies Summit in New York City. There was a career fair, mentoring, and networking. I’ve had great opportunities by just volunteering my time and connecting with people through organizations like Out in Tech and Lesbians Who Tech.

What has been your biggest challenge on your journey to becoming a Web Developer?

I have been my biggest roadblock. I've put a great deal of pressure and stress on myself, so being forgiving and understanding of myself has been really important as I’ve gone through this transformation. I struggle with getting out of my own way in order to succeed. 

Do you have any advice for folks who are breaking into the tech scene through a coding bootcamp like Flatiron School?

Going to a bootcamp, you’re learning not only how to code, but also how you actually learn. Listen to what you need, and don’t beat yourself up if your study tools are different than everyone else’s. Embrace the unknown, because it’s really just a question of “I don’t know this...yet.” With that, be kind to yourself by being patient; you’re recalibrating a lot of expectations in a short period of time, growing pains or not. Don't punish yourself if your first (or fifth!) role in tech isn't a magical fit because ultimately you are still building skills. Give yourself the opportunity to be surprised by the unexpected. Those surprises could be really awesome! For example, I thought that I favored the front end, but after working with this complex data, I'm way more interested in how it's set up and managed in the back end. I would never have known that if I didn't take a role that exposed me to more data. 

Find out more and read Flatiron School reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Flatiron School.

About The Author

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Jess is the Content Manager for Course Report as well as a writer and poet. As a lifelong learner, Jess is passionate about education, and loves learning and sharing content about tech bootcamps. Jess received a M.F.A. in Writing from the University of New Hampshire, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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