Matthew Whisman went to college after leaving the Air Force, but his Computer Science degree left him with a few skills gaps. After working for a startup, Matthew decided to enroll at Coding Temple to round out his education and learn more about front end frameworks. Now Matthew is a DevOps Engineer at a large healthcare company, and we caught up to find out if the rigorous, full-time coding bootcamp training has paid off. Plus, Matthew shares his tried-and-true advice for making the most of the online bootcamp.
What inspired you to launch a career in software engineering?
Like so many other people, I wanted to make a career change. I was in the mortgage industry and I didn’t see it going anywhere, so I’m glad I got out. I wanted to do something more technical like when I was in the Air Force. I wanted to be working on more objective projects for my job instead of working in a realm like sales where decisions are based more on emotion.
I initially went to the VA (Veterans Affairs) to learn about a simpler career like HVAC or being a lineman. I wasn’t looking to go back to college, but the VA decided to send me back to school. I originally requested cybersecurity since that was the big buzzword at the time, but the VA ended up putting me into a general computer science track. I attended Stark State College in Ohio and then I transferred to the University of Akron where I got a Bachelor’s in Computer Information Systems Programming. I got an internship at a small startup and I realized the curriculum we were learning in college wasn’t covering all of the bases, so I started looking for some additional tech training.
Did you learn programming languages in your CS program at college? What was it lacking?
I learned both programming languages and CS theory at college. I did C++, Java, Python, Visual Basic, and a little .NET. As a side note, I found that my associate’s program had far more programming in the curriculum. Both degree programs were lacking when it came to frameworks and other front end programming. They touched on a lot of theory, which is a good foundation, but jobs are looking for more practical knowledge. That’s where I was seeking to fill gaps.
What set Coding Temple apart when you were looking for tech training?
Namely, the program content I saw when I looked at the Coding Temple curriculum and weekly schedule. The advantage of my degree was that I knew just enough to be dangerous. I knew what I was looking for instead of coming in with fresh eyes. I liked that Coding Temple’s curriculum covered the languages and frameworks I was looking for since I knew what was used in the workplace.
They also control their class sizes so I knew they weren’t just churning graduates out. Other bootcamps make you put in a ticket if you have a question and Coding Temple was not like that. That was extremely important to me and I feel like that played out to my and my cohort’s advantage.
Did you use any veterans benefits towards your bootcamp tuition?
Coding Temple works with the VA. I was set to use a program that is now called Veteran Readiness and Employment, but the VA changed the guidelines and I wasn’t able to receive help. (The VA is always changing things on the fly.) Instead, I used the financing options available and got a consumer loan. Coding Temple was extremely helpful and sympathetic. They went above and beyond to provide an additional discount so that I could attend.
Did you have to do a technical challenge to get into Coding Temple?
I did a technical challenge, but the bootcamp caters to total beginners and the challenge wasn’t anything insane. It was general computer stuff, checking aptitude and mindset to see if students can sit down and learn the material. I felt the assessment was good — if I hadn’t known anything, though, I don’t think it would have kept me from getting in.
What did you learn in Coding Temple’s full-time, online bootcamp?
What’s the difference between learning tech skills at a coding bootcamp like Coding Temple versus college?
In the university setting, each week you read a chapter and have a small assignment. You do the assignment at home by yourself and there isn’t much opportunity to ask questions. I was going to school during COVID which brought its own problems, but even in a general setting, there aren’t as many opportunities to ask questions.
With Coding Temple, we went more in-depth with the material and we were able to do it remotely. I was able to sit with my coffee and ask questions as we went. We got full demonstrations with face-to-face instruction compared to college, which relied on a book. If I had questions after the lecture, instructors were available. We also had a Slack channel for any questions.
At a bootcamp, you’re also learning in a concentrated timeframe. At Coding Temple, we did two weeks of Python and covered more than an entire semester’s worth of instruction at a university!
Since this was an online bootcamp, did you feel connected to your cohort?
Definitely. You’re with your cohort on Zoom every day and you can see them, talk to them, and stop to ask questions. It was truly like sitting in a room together. You get to work with everyone at some point in a small group setting and that helps bring a communal aspect to it. That made it easier since it can get difficult and stressful from the intensity no matter what you do.
What kind of projects did you build at Coding Temple?
We did a lot of projects! We started with functional programming and then shifted to object oriented programming. One of the projects was to create a program that would manage a parking garage’s spaces, tickets, and prices. There were always good scenarios to apply the problem to instead of just having to write a program. We did some Flash projects and front end React projects. We started with simple ones to get used to front end frameworks along with HTML and CSS. I hadn’t done much of that in college and I needed practice. We also had a final project with more freedom to plan.
Did you end up presenting a project at a Demo Day?
Yes, everyone had 5-10 minutes to present and all of it was interesting. A lot of people did some front end stuff. I did a Flask project involving API calls with Airbnb data. It was good practice to explain what I did and how I did it as if I was speaking to an employer because they all ask those questions.
How did Coding Temple prepare you for the job hunt?
They did a ton to get us ready. You start by meeting with Marlene and going over resume stuff. I had a resume from college, but Marlene tweaked it wildly. I got it done early and was submitting applications while the bootcamp was going on. You also start with a mock interview right off the bat and if you land an interview, you can schedule a session to help prepare. That was immensely helpful because I had a couple of interviews before I graduated!
After the resume, we talked about LinkedIn and what to avoid or display as well as how to network. We also covered the website to use for job searches. There were weekly job search workshops at the same time and day. You can even attend workshops after you graduate while you’re looking for jobs. There’s a lot of support for maintaining and upping your skills.
Since you’ve completed both a computer science degree program and a coding bootcamp, do you think you need a college degree to work in software engineering today?
I had the advantage of working as a Junior Engineer while I was in college for two years. The caveat is that COVID caused the startup to shut down. I had a large experience gap, which meant I was still going for the same jobs as everyone else. Coming out of the bootcamp, I had the advantage of having my degree, which helped because there are still employers that want to see degrees. Most jobs you see list a degree or relevant experience, so a degree certainly isn’t required.
How did you land your DevOps Engineer role at Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC)?
I heard about them from my wife’s aunt’s friend who works there and they’re a big company in the area. I was looking on their website for any job listed that required less than five years experience, but I didn’t let time requirements deter me. A lot of people from our bootcamps land jobs that require between three and five years of experience because they have the skills. I applied for a couple of developer roles and was offered the DevOps position!
Was HSCS interested in your Coding Temple experience?
Yes! Even though I had a college degree, Coding Temple is part of the full package. You gain so much relevant experience from it and you can’t separate that from your degree. I spent most of the interview talking about what I made at Coding Temple and next to nothing about my degree. Employers really see the degree as just a checkbox.
They also asked why I specifically chose DevOps because it’s a little niche and they wanted to make sure I wasn’t putting out random applications. They asked why I was leaving the developer world and I think that’s where my degree helped. I had experience with higher-level system design, but honestly, any grads out of Coding Temple could have applied for this job and potentially beat me out for it.
What team do you work on at HCSC?
When they offered me the DevOps position they said they would like to make a new position for me and tailor it a little bit more to my specific skill sets now. That was a big deal to me. I'm technically a Systems Analyst/DevOps Engineer and they wanted to track me to a more overarching DevOps Engineer. They were looking for somebody that had a more programming-specific background to help with certain tasks. Some of the people in DevOps come from a networking or a security background, so they don't necessarily code. It's truly a team where you're merging a lot of disciplines and it seems they recognize a need for that. I was lucky enough to be that person.
What kinds of projects are you working on at HCSC?
Non-technical people may think that when you code, you type up all of the code and that’s it. Realistically, though, someone has to test it — and that’s where DevOps comes in. Certain environments need to be set up to make sure this stuff works, and that we're all using the same stuff. That sounds like it would be easy, but when you get into it, there's much more than that.
In my DevOps role, we use containers and virtualization and things of that nature. HCSC is a big company — They have people making apps and desktop applications that are only used internally. They have things that are forward-facing with their websites and all kinds of stuff that are used in hospitals. They have to make sure that all these things are working properly. There’s a whole team dedicated to that and making sure things deploy seamlessly so it won't all break the second we try to merge it all together. They use a lot of containerization like Docker and Kubernetes and cloud stuff like AWS and Azure.
Do you still use what you learned at Coding Temple?
Yes, you always keep that core foundation of skills. I’m always going to be a developer with my own projects. I’m involved with Flux Makerspace in the Cleveland, Ohio area.They do a lot of mini bootcamps and projects for people who want to get ideas off the ground. I still do that in my free time. Certain tools like Docker take programming to maintain them, so it’s important to keep those base skills alive and active.
How does your Air Force experience help you now in your tech career?
It gave me a unique background in certain electronics, but really my Air Force experience gave me more of a general skill set, like following directions, troubleshooting, and taking things in a stepwise fashion. In tech, you need to be detail-oriented and sequential in your thought process. This is also the way you have to think when you’re a programmer.
At this point in your tech career, do you feel like enrolling at Coding Temple was worth it?
Yes, 100 percent. My brother asked if I’d have this job without Coding Temple and the answer is I doubt it. It filled in all the gaps from my college education. I would have gotten a job, but I wouldn’t be paid as well as I am now because of the diverse background I have. Even paying for the bootcamp myself, it was worth it. I don’t regret it for a second, and I would recommend it to anybody.
What’s your advice for making the most out of the online Coding Temple experience?
The number one thing I would tell people is that you can do this. Anybody can do it, but it will be difficult. It’s not a joke — even with a background in coding, I found the bootcamp difficult. If you do it full-time, you will not work or do anything else. They’re upfront about you needing to tell your friends and family that you’ll see them in 10 weeks. Don’t try to move in the middle of it and don’t start a new job. It’s going to take all of your time and energy, but it’ll be worth it if you put the effort in. It’s a short amount of time to essentially change your life. We went through more in the bootcamp than college and that degree program was stretched over several years. It’s difficult, but it’s doable if you approach it with the proper mindset. Be serious — you’re not going to be social. Dig in and let your mind be absorbed by the material.
Find out more and read Coding Temple reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Coding Temple.
Jess Feldman is the Content Manager at Course Report. As a lifelong learner, Jess is passionate about education — She loves learning and sharing insights about tech bootcamps and career changes with the Course Report community. Jess received a M.F.A. in Writing from the University of New Hampshire and lives in southern Maine.
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