Alumni Spotlight

From Middle School Teacher to Software Developer with Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp

Jess Feldman

Written By Jess Feldman

Last updated on October 31, 2022

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When middle school teacher MaiAda hit a ceiling in her education career, she decided it was time to pursue her hobby – software engineering. MaiAda enrolled in Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp, offered in collaboration with edX, to develop a new skill set and discover a new career path. MaiAda’s commitment to learning and her dedication to her Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp projects helped her land a Software Developer position at a fintech startup right after graduation!

What inspired you to pivot from teaching into tech?

I was a middle school teacher for six years, but software development has always been a hobby of mine. I was a nerdy kid that grew up in the age of Neopets and Myspace – you could teach yourself basic HTML and CSS in order to build things. As a teacher, I strove to give my students real world experience and technological literacy, so I used tools like Google Classroom when I taught.

When I wasn’t being compensated for my work as a Lead Teacher, I began to burn out on teaching. I started considering a career in curriculum development and with so many curriculum companies online now, I thought developing my technical skill set would serve me well. I also liked the idea of developing an educational app. I already knew how to code so it made sense to grow my skills. 

What stood out about Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp?

The main thing that stood out to me is that Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp is a full stack program. In the full stack program, you’re building something from the back end to the front end. Boot camps are a big investment and I wanted to put my money towards something I couldn’t learn online for free. Being someone who already had a decent tech skill set when it came to the web design portion of HTML and CSS, I wanted to be in a program that could teach me something I couldn’t teach myself.

I also reviewed the student portfolios of different boot camps to help me decide on a program. When I looked at the student work from Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp, it was more advanced and demonstrated things I couldn’t teach myself. Seeing those student projects helped me understand that in this program I would develop and improve my front end knowledge while gaining a skill set that I would have struggled to learn independently.

What was the Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp application process like for you?

The application is more about understanding if you’re a problem-solver and if you’re able to look for answers when you don’t know something. Parts of the application included bits of actual code, which was easier for me since I already knew how to code a bit and I knew how to look for an answer on Google. I actually got a perfect score on my assessment!

Did you receive any scholarships or financing from Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp?

I took out a personal loan that covered the majority of my boot camp tuition, and I was lucky to have family that gifted or lent me money. There was a slight discount on the overall tuition if you paid upfront before the start of the class.

That said, I do feel like there should be more financial assistance opportunities at boot camps. A boot camp is a different process than applying to a four-year degree program where there are a lot of opportunities for scholarships or financial assistance. Tech already has a diversity problem and we need scholarships to incentivize people to get into tech who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford a boot camp.

What was a typical week like in the Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp?

I was in a part-time, in-person program, which meant 10 hours per week. My class met two weeknights and one weekend day each week. To me, the in-class part of the boot camp is the tip of the iceberg; it’s not where the learning happens, but where you get access to resources that will help you learn. I spent 20-40 hours a week coding outside of class. I had a desk job and any time there was downtime, I would spend it coding. I didn’t have a life and any time I had a free moment, I was coding!

What did you learn in the boot camp curriculum?

We covered everything that I previously knew about programming – HTML, CSS, and an intro to JavaScript – in the first two weeks of the boot camp. Then we went into jQuery and we spent a lot of time learning programming logic. We got into frameworks at the end of the program, and we learned React, MySQL, and Node.js.

As a teacher, what did you think about the teaching style? Did it match your learning style?

I had a great teacher and Teaching Assistants that I could ask questions of as well as a cohort I was working alongside and learning with. I appreciated that the curriculum had a lot of hands-on material. Hands-on learning is always important, but it’s especially important when you’re learning to code. At Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp, it wasn’t just the teacher lecturing at us; we also learned examples and got time in class for challenges with the TAs and teachers there to support us. It was like having supervised practice-time.

You mentioned hands-on learning – what kinds of projects did you work on while in the boot camp?

Each week, we had a homework assignment to build an individual project. We also had three group projects throughout the program. We were assigned our group for the first two group projects, and for the final project, you got to choose your group or you could work alone. For the final project, we could use whatever technology we had worked on until that point and you had a minimum requirement for what you needed to use. 

The first group project was pretty open-ended, but we did have to use an API. That was cool because we were getting to work with others to come up with an idea that we were excited to see developed and using the skills we had gained to create a real app. 

What did you build for your final project?

For the final project, my group built a social media site. It was called Pairigy and it was created to help others locate the tech talent they need to help them create an app. For example, if you are a full stack developer, where are you going to find a graphic designer or someone that knows cybersecurity? With Pairigy, a user creates a profile with their skillset and the projects they're working on. Then they can connect with people to fill roles for their project. It’s like LinkedIn for tech, but also a community space to connect. To build this app, we used React as the front end framework, MongoDB as our database, Node.js, React-Redux, and Sass as our CSS compiler.

How did Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp prepare you for the job hunt?

There was a demo night for our final project where people from the industry came in to see our projects and talk about what we built. 

We had a career counselor who helped you with your resume and job materials, but what boot camp students need to keep in mind is that you should be honing your skills and networking throughout the boot camp. You want to impress your teachers and TAs as well as work well with your peers because every person you’re working with in the boot camp is someone you’ll network with to get a job afterward. Make sure that you’re not just trying to pass with a certificate.

Which tech roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating from Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp?

I worked really hard during the boot camp and my final capstone project was advanced, so I graduated from the boot camp looking for a role where I wouldn’t be handheld. The job I got after the boot camp is in a startup where it was very much jump-into-the-fire and get going. That said, I don’t think that’s true for every boot camp grad and that’s okay! Some boot camp grads might want to be in a role where they’re receiving mentorship and support to strengthen their skills.

Tell us about your Junior Software Developer role at Creditly Corp!

Creditly Corp is a fintech company and the app I’m working on is called Credit Genie. The main goal of our product is to assist people with debt relief by giving them access to services. I got this job through one of my boot camp instructors! My instructor asked me if I was interested in the company, and had his coworkers come scope out my final project at our demo night.

What was the interview process like at Creditly?

Creditly Corp had me present my capstone project during my interview, and they asked me what features I wanted to add next. Then they had me start to build those features in front of them. I felt like it was a much more accurate representation of what I would look like in the middle of a project. This style of interview felt very collaborative since we were bouncing ideas off of each other as I was coding. Essentially, it was a simulation of what it would be like to work together. 

What is your team at the startup like?

It’s a pretty small team, and as a startup, my job feels like all-hands-on-deck. There is one other junior developer on the team, and the rest of my coworkers have many years of experience. My group is super supportive and I have mentorship, but it’s a position where I have to be self-motivated and rely on myself a lot.

Are you using all of the tools and languages that you learned at Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp or have you had to learn a lot on the job?

I’m evolving and adding new languages to my tech skills toolbox. On the job, we use AWS which I didn’t learn in the boot camp, but everything feels familiar and I can build on knowledge I previously had. My role now is more front end, but I think I’m stronger because I had the experience of having to build out a back end while at the boot camp. When I talk to the back end developers to inform them about what I’m doing on the front end, I can visualize what they’re talking to me about. Even if the tech stack doesn’t align with what I did in the boot camp, I have continued to build the foundation that was laid in the boot camp. 

Looking back on this experience, was enrolling at Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp worth it for you?

Absolutely! I definitely feel like it was worth it. I still connect it to things I used to love doing and in terms of a career, the boot camp paid for itself immediately. As a former educator, I now teach a free coding class.

What has been the biggest challenge or roadblock in this career change journey so far?

Initially, I had a lack of confidence since there’s a steep learning curve when you start learning JavaScript and the logic of programming. It’s intimidating and it takes a while to get the hang of it. In the beginning, I remember thinking about how kids in high school teach themselves how to program, and here I was, unable to figure it out. I had to learn that it’s okay for it to take time to build an understanding; it doesn’t mean you’re not capable. It’s part of the process and it will click if you just keep trying. 

Find out more and read Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp, offered in collaboration with edX.

About The Author

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps. With a background in writing, teaching, and social media management, Jess plays a pivotal role in helping Course Report readers make informed decisions about their educational journey.

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