Ten years back, Brent Solomon worked for a top tech company, but his adventurous spirit led him to travel the world as a U.S. Marine. His lifelong passion for tech led him to enroll in devCodeCamp’s full-time remote bootcamp, where he refreshed his skills plus learned the programming he needs to land a job in today’s tech world! Find out what stood out about devCodeCamp in the application process, how Brent used the GI Bill to cover devCodeCamp tuition, and his advice as an instructor to future bootcampers. Plus, Brent shares how the supportive, remote bootcamp community at devCodeCamp has made all the difference in his career change.
What inspired you to pivot from working in finance to software engineering?
I actually started out my career in software engineering! Around ten years ago, I was working as a software developer for SAS, a top private software company. I was a new college grad, unsure of what I really wanted to do, and I had an unfulfilled sense of adventure that needed to be nurtured before settling in the working world. I quit my job and joined the U.S. Marine Corps, which was hands-down one of the best decisions I ever made. I got to travel the world and experience so many unique moments that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do. I lived in Japan, Germany, Afghanistan, Alaska, California; I've seen a lot of the Middle East, a lot of the South Pacific. I started off as a radar technician, then switched to an accounting role.
When I moved to North Carolina to be near family, I found a job with UNC Chapel Hill at Measure Evaluation as an Assistant Finance Officer then later became a financial analyst at LabCorp. I enjoyed that role and could have kept doing it, but I was ready to switch back to tech. Tech is the future and I had a fear of getting left behind. When COVID-19 hit, I was at a crossroads, which inspired me to listen to my heart — I decided to get back into software development.
Why did you decide to enroll in a coding bootcamp instead of self-teaching?
Self-teaching amounts to watching YouTube tutorials and coding what they code in the video, which isn't what I wanted to do. I wanted to be presented with new projects, which for me, is the best way to re-learn coding concepts. I had foundational knowledge going into the bootcamp, but I’d been out of the industry for a decade and I had to take another bootcamp to get up to speed and be relevant. Things change in tech on a daily basis, but in ten years, it surely changed a lot! There’s always something new to be learning. I chose to enroll at a coding bootcamp because it offered structure, but also an unstructured element that allowed for self-learning. For me, a bootcamp was the happy medium I was looking for.
There are so many coding bootcamps now — what stood out about devCodeCamp?
I was deep into my bootcamp research and reached out to several bootcamps. The thing that stuck with me about devCodeCamp was that the Chief Operations Officer Michael Terrill reached out to me personally and we had a Zoom call. Michael was knowledgeable and personable; he let me ask all the questions I had and he was sincere in his answers. Even though we were strangers, it felt like we already knew each other. That face-to-face dynamic and honesty made a difference to me.
What was the devCodeCamp application and interview process like for you?
With some prior coding knowledge, the application process proved to be less of a hurdle for me. The interview was primarily about getting a feel for the type of person I am and an opportunity for devCodeCamp to learn more about my background.
Once accepted, did you have to complete any pre-work?
I forgot a lot in a decade and definitely needed a refresh. I'd primarily used PHP in the past and hadn't done any work with C#. I had to re-learn how to think in the logical way necessary for coding. The prep-work thoroughly benefited me.
Did you use veterans benefits to cover your tuition?
Thankfully, I was able to use my GI Bill to cover the entire tuition! I’m a huge supporter of the GI Bill because it affords so many valuable opportunities. Paying for my bootcamp tuition with the GI Bill was a seamless process. I verified my information, signed a few places, and the devCodeCamp admissions team did the rest.
What was a typical day like in devCodeCamp’s remote bootcamp?
LOTS of coding. Instructors depended less on Powerpoint and more on coding. They understand that learning comes from practical application. We would log on in the morning and receive lectures that were important to the current project. For the rest of the day, we would start working on the project assigned. One cool thing I really appreciated was that every student was assigned a senior developer mentor and there was time set aside each day to meet with them.
Tell us more about your mentor at devCodeCamp!
My senior developer mentor, David, was amazing. He was so knowledgeable, patient, and a great teacher. David was always there to help out whenever I was stuck or unsure about something. He would hold special sessions to teach me specific concepts. I was blown away by his support.
What did you actually learn in the bootcamp?
As a veteran, did you find parallels between going through a coding bootcamp and your military experience?
For sure! The military teaches such a valuable skill set that you don't find anywhere else. Even when the task seems insurmountable, at the end of the day, it's all about mission accomplishment. Any way you know how, you get it done. You don't complain about it, you just do. That mentality was instilled at the onset of my military bootcamp and that's the approach I took to be successful in a coding bootcamp and as a software developer.
Did you find that your cohort was diverse? Were there other veterans in your cohort?
Our cohort was definitely diverse. It was neat to learn with people of different genders, races, and backgrounds. There were also other veterans, and we automatically bonded with each other through our shared experiences.
How did devCodeCamp foster community remotely?
It’s hard to form connections in a remote program, but devCodeCamp went out of their way to form a community. I connected easily with my cohort, and since we’ve graduated, we often talk in our Slack channels.
Did you build any group projects?
We first built several group projects before we were on our own. We even did a group capstone before our solo capstone, which was a nice recreation of a code sprint. For the group capstone, five individuals had one week to come up with a polished app. Our group did a Craigslist-style website based on bartering. We used a Trello board to keep up with our tasks as well as our Git repository. Since it was a group project, we went with languages that everyone was most comfortable with. We used ASP.NET MVC to build our group project.
What did you build for your capstone project?
I built an app for gamers on platforms like Twitch that allows them to easily interact with their fans who join to view the stream. Gamers can create polls on the fly to invite viewers to decide their next move. It’s a form of choose-your-own-adventure. If they’re at a crossroads, they can ask their viewers which path should they take.
I wanted to learn something totally new to build my capstone. devCodeCamp offers so much freedom within their program, and they allowed me to learn and use Flutter in this project, even though it would be challenging. Our cohort presented our capstones on the last day of the course.
There are some unique challenges to remote work, but devCodeCamp bridges that gap with group projects. These projects replicate what it would feel like to remotely collaborate on a team within a company.
How did devCodeCamp prepare you for the job hunt?
devCodeCamp has a robust career services team that is all-encompassing. My career coach, Eric, was also a veteran and he was in constant communication with me. First, he got to know me and then tailored my job search to what might suit me and my current skill level. He ensured that I had an effective LinkedIn profile and resume, then he hosted mock technical interviews so I felt prepared for the real thing. The thoroughness of devCodeCamp’s career prep is impressive.
What tech roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating?
You’re now an instructor at devCodeCamp! What are your responsibilities?
Everything in coding builds on the foundational concepts. I encourage my students to practice outside of a specific project and I offer additional assistance so they can get that foundational understanding. Not long ago I was in their shoes; I know exactly what they're going through — the anxiety and apprehension of making that leap into programming.
Coding is not easy. Neither is shifting careers and diving into the unknown. I am happy to guide people through that. I take this role seriously and I make sure I continue what devCodeCamp has been doing and provide the best level of service I can.
Do you have advice for anyone considering a software engineering career?
My advice is follow your heart. You get one life, so you might as well do what you enjoy. Find what you're passionate about and that's what you'll succeed in. If software development or tech is the field that you feel called to and find enjoyment in, then follow your heart and make that leap. I did it and I don't have one regret at all.
Looking back on this career change, was devCodeCamp worth it for you?
Making this career change with devCodeCamp was one million percent worth it for me. My wife can attest that this is the happiest I've been in a job. I'm happy in my role and I love what I do. I love tech and I love being back in it. Being able to learn from so many talented individuals on a daily basis and see so many eager young students with so many different personalities is a gift. Every day is fun, rewarding, different, and challenging in a good way. It's exactly what I was looking for.
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