Rony Iraq was a microbiologist, but when he moved to Austin, Texas, he decided to follow his passion for tech. He chose UT Austin Coding Boot Camp, offered in collaboration with edX, to pivot his career into software engineering. Rony shares what it took to make a career change through UT Austin Coding Boot Camp’s part-time, online coding boot camp. Thanks to the real world skills, professional insight, and networking he gained from the boot camp, Rony is now an Associate Software Engineer at Paylocity!
What inspired you to pivot from microbiology to software engineering in 2021?
I moved to Austin with my girlfriend who relocated for her job, but I couldn't find any opportunities out here. I heard Austin was an up-and-coming place for tech, so when I saw the advertisement for UT Austin Coding Boot Camp, I decided it was time for me to lean into the routine and structure of dedicated coding courses rather than trying to learn on my own.
How much self-teaching did you do before you decided on the boot camp?
I tried self-teaching for a while but I never made it that far because it felt like the self-teaching resources taught me what to do but not why we do it that way. Our first class at UT Austin Coding Boot Camp dove into the why of programming, coding, and computers, so we had a foundation to build from.
There are so many coding bootcamps now — what stood out about UT Austin Coding Boot Camp?
The fact that UT Austin Coding Boot Camp is associated with UT Austin definitely grabbed my attention! I was impressed that UT reviewed and approved the curriculum. Their willingness to put their authoritative weight behind the boot camp made UT Austin Coding Boot Camp my first choice.
In your experience, did you feel like you had to know basic coding in order to apply to UT Austin Coding Boot Camp?
Not at all! From the beginning they made it clear that this boot camp is designed for both people with no computer experience as well as someone with a computer science degree who wants to work on something more specific. UT Austin Coding Boot Camp took us from step zero and taught us how to code. They offered enough resources to self-learn when needed.
What was a typical week like in the part-time coding boot camp?
A typical day for me was working on my homework, learning the new technology, re-watching the course lectures or taking the live class. I took advantage of the fact that I was part-time and wasn't working, so I could soak it all in. The boot camp provided lots of extra work, like practice with algorithms.
What was your cohort like? Were they career changers, too?
People who just graduated high school were taking this boot camp as well as people in their 40s with a family who were trying to start their own business or change their career. There were people like me in their late 20s, early 30s, just trying to find a good, well-paying career. It was a little bit of everyone — I didn’t see there was a majority of one group or another.
Most of my classmates were working and taking the part-time course. I was one of a few in the cohort that wasn't working.
What were your boot camp instructors like?
Our instructors were professional software engineers. My instructor had a wealth of knowledge in real-world coding for large companies. We also had several TAs that had attended the boot camp, who all had something to share regarding the real coding world.
What kinds of projects did you work on in the boot camp?
The whole boot camp was split into three segments. We had homework every week that we worked on independently and between each segment we had a bigger project where we could work collaboratively with a couple of other people within our cohort, often utilizing office hours.
The point of our projects was to make something digital that everyone can use to make life a little bit easier. These included building a to-do list, a weather app, and a blog. In one of my group projects, we built a digital vaccination card, and in another group project, we built an app that integrated Ticketmaster and Google Maps to find relevant concerts nearby. We got to choose what we wanted to build with the technologies we'd learned at that point.
How did the boot camp prepare you for the tech job hunt?
Each week, along with homework and courses, the boot camp offered job coaching tips. They encouraged utilizing the resources of an assigned career coach to support us in: interview prep, resume review, setting up our LinkedIn account, how we should present ourselves, and what we should showcase in our portfolio. Using a career coach wasn’t mandatory but I chose to take advantage of it. I’m confident that the boot camp’s career coach offered me a leg up in finding work after graduation.
Which tech roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating?
I took the Full Stack for Web Development boot camp, so I felt that a web development job would be appropriate for me. I also still applied for back end and front end roles.
The first tech position I got didn't have anything to do with web development — it had more to do with data manipulation and data movement between different programs. Even though that wasn’t what I studied in the boot camp, what I learned at the boot camp was enough to get me my first job!
Tell us about your first job after graduating from the boot camp — how did you land the Automation Engineer role at Cloudsnap?
I got this job through the boot camp! My current co-worker also attended UT Austin Coding Boot Camp and reached out to the Student Success Manager, Sean, that their company was looking for more employees. Having graduated from the boot camp, he could confirm that another alumni would have enough of a skill set to work in this position. Sean referred me, I applied, and then was offered the job!
Did you feel prepared for the technical interview?
The panel that interviewed me was more interested in my thought process than what I knew technically. It was a calm, slow, kind interview. When I missed a simple question and felt silly for not getting them, they assured me that if I were to get the position I would learn it and get used to it. I’ve heard plenty of interviewing horror stories, but I couldn't have been happier with my interview with Cloudsnap.
What are the responsibilities of an Automation Engineer? How does it compare to a Software Engineer?
The level of coding is a little bit easier in the Automation Engineer position compared to the Software Engineers who are on our team. Essentially, Automation Engineers were using these workflows to take data from one program and move it over to another. As an Automation Engineer, I took data that I got from API endpoints, and manipulated and formatted them into syntax that the other program would accept. I knew enough about data and how it's structured within code from the boot camp that I was able to pick it up fairly easily for this position.
Now you’re an Associate Software Engineer at Paylocity! How did you get that position?
Cloudsnap was a startup that was acquired by Paylocity in January 2022, so I’m technically still with the same organization but it’s restructured. We're essentially doing the same thing, but the languages and the level of input we have in the actual code is going to change, allowing us to do a lot more.
Right now we don't commit to GitHub, but with these new changes in this new role, we will be part of the GitHub account now and committing those changes and merging, so we have a lot more responsibility in that sense. The level of communication with clients is also being reduced, which is nice for me. While still doing a very similar function, there's still a lot of changes and a lot of the adaptability that's needed, even once you have a position like this.
Have you noticed a difference between working at a startup versus a larger company?
Absolutely! Cloudsnap employed 30 people as a startup while Paylocity has about 5,000 employees! So it was a pretty big change for us. Obviously that closeness with your peers isn't as strong or available comparatively when you have so many more of them. The financial conditions of both of them are very different as well — different employee benefits and pay compensation.
What we had to do as a startup felt more fast-paced, juggling five or six projects at once — it was an environment that I liked being in. Moving to a large corporation feels slower because there's more hands that things have to go through and you have to wait for progress. It’s been invaluable to have the experience of working at two different size companies. I'm really enjoying the pace right now, being part of a larger corporation.
At this point in your tech career, was UT Austin Boot Camps worth it for you?
So far it has been a great choice! I changed my career, I enjoy what I do, and it's given me infinitely more opportunities than I had before. It prepared me to have a learning mindset, to always keep learning. UT Austin Boot Camps offers other boot camps like cybersecurity that I am interested in, and if I have time, I would consider doing another boot camp with UT Austin Boot Camps.
Are you using any skills from your former career as a microbiologist now in your career as a software engineer?
In the tech industry, my documents are API documentation, whereas in a laboratory, I had standard operating procedures (SOPs) that inform how a piece of equipment works or how to do something. Whether working with a physical or digital object, both industries require the ability to read quickly, thoroughly, and comprehensively.
I also had client experience in both positions, which helps anywhere, being able to talk to and understand people. Having that from the microbiology world was helpful moving into a startup where I was working with a bunch of people for different companies.
What is your advice for making the most out of the UT Austin Coding Boot Camp experience?
My biggest piece of advice is to use all the provided resources you can. You're paying for it and it offers an advantage to be presentable to someone hiring you. Also listen to your instructors when they offer insight on something they use daily in their job. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something. The instructors at UT Austin Coding Boot Camp were more than willing to review content and offer 1:1 time to ensure we understood something.
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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