Alumni Spotlight

From Graphic Designer to Software Engineer after Practicum

By Jess Feldman
Last updated on November 28, 2022

Desiree was an animator and graphic designer experiencing burn out from the long hours and low pay. After some success with self-teaching, Desiree decided to pivot into software engineering, and chose Practicum because they offered a Women in Tech Scholarship through the state of Michigan. Desiree shares what she learned in the bootcamp and how it supports her every day on the job as a Full Stack Engineer, plus what she’s doing to add web accessibility skills to her toolbox.

What inspired you to pivot from graphic design to software engineering in 2021?

I went to college for animation, but it was not a career with a good work-life balance. People typically enter the career because they’re passionate about animation, but the pay is low and the hours are long. I pivoted into graphic design, where I did production design for a small local sign shop and some animation for a small kid’s show in Grand Rapids. I have a tight-knit immediate family; my sister has four nephews and one niece and she needed help while she was at work, so I switched my career to part-time to help take care of them. I love the kids but I was unsatisfied in my career. I wanted something more for myself and I wanted to set a good example to those kids as someone who could set a goal and take steps to achieve it!

I considered learning UX design, but since I had some previous engineering experience, I went with software engineering. In college, I paid rent using a website I built! I bought a core framework, PHP/MYSQL-based game, and since my sister and I were both studying animation, we came up with storylines and completely redid this code to be a larger game that people were drawn to. I found that I really liked creating the processes that drove the story, such as the interactions between the different objects and whether you had completed different features. I really enjoyed that problem-solving aspect, which is why I chose to go into software engineering.

There are so many online coding bootcamps now — what stood out about Practicum?

Initially, I wasn’t sure how I would break into tech, but Michigan promoted a scholarship program to encourage women to get into tech and other STEM industries, offering a list of bootcamps that had this scholarship opportunity. I saw Practicum on the list and got in contact with them. 

The Admissions staff at Practicum was super responsive and engaged in answering my questions. What really stood out was their investment in student success, especially as a smaller organization trying to make their name in the space.

At this point in your career, was Practicum worth it for you? 

Practicum was beyond worth it for me! It has made such a difference in my life — I feel confident in what I'm doing. Obviously there's still a lot to learn, but the atmosphere of work is so much better in this field from what I've seen in my limited experience. Generally, employers want their employees to learn so they can improve the company. The daily stress in my life has gone down significantly and I can take care of the things I need to take care of. It's been a really freeing experience and I have absolutely zero regrets about it.

Did you feel like you had to know basic coding in order to apply to Practicum?

You don’t need to know anything going into the Practicum bootcamp!  There are no requirements going in and they start right at the base of coding. 

What was a typical day like in the online Software Engineering Bootcamp?

I’m not a morning person, but I know I’m more productive in the morning before the 3pm fatigue sets in. I tried to primarily structure my learning in the morning, then I'd take lunch, and then I’d work on the project side of it for the rest of the day.

I am a people-pleaser and will say “yes” when people need my help, so my biggest challenge in this bootcamp was setting boundaries around my time! I put a sign on my door that said “working” while I was in the bootcamp so people would not interrupt me. I wasn't perfect about it, but I had strict set hours that I emailed to each member of my family and particular friends who might contact me, so they knew I was serious about committing this time to my studies. 

Did you juggle working while completing the bootcamp?

At the time that I chose to begin the bootcamp, I was on leave during COVID, which made it an excellent opportunity to pursue a change. The lockdown ended toward the end of my bootcamp and I did go back to work. I found it challenging to juggle both the bootcamp and work — I appreciated having the majority of my time dedicated to the bootcamp.

What was the teaching style like at Practicum?

I primarily relied on their recorded videos. Most of the live interactions were code reviews done with an assigned tutor, where we could meet online to go through the code or troubleshoot a specific problem. Practicum was great about catering to our schedule, no matter what time zone we were in.

Since this was an online bootcamp, how did you connect with your cohort and instructors?

I have social anxiety, so it took me a little while to warm up to interacting with my cohort. I hesitated to bring my problems to the forefront, but as I progressed in the program I noticed that others were experiencing the same feelings and problems I had! Eventually, we bonded more. 

Practicum recently had its first international get-together in New York City. I went and was able to meet some people from my cohort in-person, which was a fantastic experience!

What did you actually learn in the Software Engineering Bootcamp?

The full stack software engineering bootcamp at Practicum teaches the MERN stack, so we started with a foundation in HTML and CSS and integrated JavaScript, then went into MongoDB, Express, React, and Node.js. We did a lot with middleware for logging and error handling. WE stayed in the JavaScript ecosphere but it was primarily that MERN stack. 

What kinds of projects did you work on in the bootcamp?

Throughout the bootcamp, we worked on projects that we built from the very base level, and we saw how that interactivity could develop from there. The first static page was built simply using HTML/CSS. We used JavaScript to make it more dynamic, then we started to pull from an external API. After that, we built our own API, and we pulled from our own API to build the project up. This kind of project-work really appealed to me because it made it clear how to understand the differences in the levels.

For my project, I built an Around the World application, where you could log in as a user and upload pictures of your travels with descriptions, and then it was sent and persisted on Practicum servers. From there, you could call back, delete, and do all the CRUD app capabilities. Functionally, it was a simple project, but it perfectly incorporated all the very basic level things that I needed to learn to do.

How did Practicum prepare you for the tech job hunt? 

I had wonderful support, albeit brief because I ended up with a job quicker than I expected! This meant that I didn't go through the full careers program like I intended and I’m sure there’s information on the job hunt that I missed out on. They had a Notion page set up with very strict criteria, so we could keep ourselves organized in the job search process. We kept track of our targeted organizations and what tech categories we were interested in, then we completed research assignments about them. 

Practicum hosted mock interviews for the social interview, and they offered up to five technical mock interviews. I had to build a project in order to land an apprenticeship I had applied for, and Practicum was willing to review that for me, offer suggestions for improvement, and guide me through that process. 

Which tech roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating?

I'm naturally nervous so I gravitated toward Junior roles. I know some people who got mid-level positions, but I applied for entry-level positions. The position I got was an apprenticeship and now I'm a Junior Software Engineer! I was primarily focused on front end work because I figured that would be a good leg up, but I ended up with a full stack engineering apprenticeship, so you never know where you’ll end up!

Congratulations on your Full Stack Engineer role at Flexion! What was the apprenticeship like?

The apprenticeship was a full-time full stack role, exactly like having a position there. Every apprentice Flexion has ever had has been hired at the end of their term, which was really exciting! My cohort of apprentices and I all ended up hired! 

Flexion has a lot of different projects for apprentices. I ended up in a brand new project that they were building from the ground up. Another apprentice and I were thrown into it with a Senior Engineer and we did a whole MEAN stack project with serverless and AWS and things that I had never seen before — It was a heck of a learning experience!

Was Flexion interested in your Practicum bootcamp experience?

Flexion is making an intentional effort to hire bootcamp graduates! I am the first and only Practicum graduate they've hired yet, but I hope I'm setting a good example. 

How long did the apprenticeship last before they moved you into the Junior role?

Flexion was a three-month apprenticeship and I didn’t have to interview again. The culture at Flexion is great, so we were already friendly with each other. When I moved from the apprenticeship into the full-time software engineering role, I just kept working on what I was doing before.

What kinds of projects are you working on at Flexion now? 

The project I was just on was an education project for a commercial client. It was a project that will hopefully connect people looking to make career changes with careers that match some of the testing they've done.

Are you using what you learned at Practicum now on the job?

That and more! The project on the job was done in the MEAN stack, so it uses Angular instead of React, which was a little different. In the apprenticeship, we were working on the front end — we had to make our own CRUD app and do our own testing, which is what I did in the bootcamp. I would say I use almost everything except React.

Are you using any skills from your graphic design career now in your career as a software engineer?

Since we were working on this project from the ground-up, we got mock-ups. They weren't necessarily functional for the code we had to write, so I would frequently make design updates to it and when we presented them at the end of our sprint they got worked into the design. It was also an opportunity to point out accessibility issues that they were having.

You’re also really interested in tech accessibility! How are you incorporating that into your tech career? 

I am highly interested in accessibility! My older sister is legally blind and I have many friends with vision difficulties, which has informed me of the problems they have just applying for a job. Indeed is a huge resource, but it's not necessarily an accessible resource — there are layers of difficulty that should theoretically be really easy to solve with tech.

Flexion enrolled me in a course in accessibility with Marcy Sutton. It was an amazing class on how to look at accessibility, how to integrate it into your site, how to use screen readers, how to solve accessibility-related issues, and more about the accessibility libraries. Marcy is working on adding a certification component to the class. 

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

About The Author

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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