When the demands of lengthy concert tours kept Audio Engineer Tre Ammatuna from his wife and three young kids, he wanted to find a career that allowed him to be closer to home. He had dabbled in web design, so decided to enroll in Hack Reactor Remote and study from home in Athens, Georgia, rather than commute to another city. Tre tells us how he stayed focused and motivated during Hack Reactor's 12-week online course, why he wouldn’t change a thing about his process, and explains how he landed a software engineering job in another state when he graduated!
How did your path lead you to Hack Reactor Remote?
I spent over a decade working as an Audio Engineer in the studio and for live concerts. Essentially, it came to a point where, in order to keep progressing, career-wise, I would need to go on tour and travel a lot. However, I have three young children whom I wanted to be there for. That’s when I knew it was time to do something different.
What made you want to switch career paths from audio engineering to coding?
I’ve always been into electronics and technology. In high school, I was part of a program that concentrated on these subjects and I used to read huge 600 to 700-page books on HTML/CSS and modding Doom. When I got into audio engineering, I did design work for musicians and venues on the side – including updating WordPress sites, designing logos, cards, and flyers, and designing the UX flow for venue and restaurant point-of-sale systems, before I ever knew what UX was. When I decided to change careers, I still had a couple of freelance contracts going. But, in my web design work, I kept butting up against roadblocks that were more complex than just adding a plug-in. I realized I needed to learn how to code in order to achieve the results I wanted. That’s what brought me to this career.
Why did you choose to attend Hack Reactor Remote rather than going back to college or teaching yourself?
I knew there were plenty of online resources. But I have three kids, and there’s an attention span that goes with that. I knew I needed support and structure. I looked at getting another degree in addition to my audio engineering and business degrees, but that would have taken years. With a family to provide for, I wanted an intensive program so I could get my new career going quickly. That’s why the concept of a bootcamp really appealed to me.
I learned about Hack Reactor through Course Report. I read the reviews grads left on your site. Some were good, others were bad. I contacted those grads, and spoke to them about their experiences. I discovered that those who left bad reviews, did so due largely to the intensity of the program. At Hack Reactor, you're in class 11 hours a day, six days a week, and most of us put in more time than that. If you’re not prepared for that, or not used to that level of intensity, it can be overwhelming. I was used to working 15+ hour days at music concerts and was in a hurry to progress quickly in my career. So based on my conversations, Hack Reactor sounded like the right program for me. Ultimately, I chose the remote program because my family and I were living in Athens, Georgia, and I couldn’t uproot myself or them for three months.
What was the application and interview process for Hack Reactor like?
What was your online learning experience at Hack Reactor Remote like?
Every day kicks off with an algorithm challenge, to prepare students for whiteboarding interviews. In the first hour you have a solution lecture about the previous day’s problem and then you’re given the current day’s problem to work on. The first half of the program is split into two-day sprints on different subjects. The first day of the sprint starts with a live or recorded lecture, then over 24 hours, you and a partner video-conference, and work through the objectives together. On the second day, you get a solution lecture and possibly a few other exercises to work through to cement your understanding. In the second half of the program, you work in groups through projects where you can decide what to build, what the tech stack is, and then start building it.
How did you stay focused in a remote program like this?
I always had someone to interact with, talk to, and keep me motivated and focused. You are never alone at Hack Reactor. I hadn’t seen this before in online learning, and I believe it’s a big reason Hack Reactor is so successful. There’s a huge sense of community. I still talk to people from my online cohort several times a week. I've done online learning in the past, and it's been kind of a failure. But Hack Reactor, in my opinion, does it right. I give them huge props for that.
I also had the luck of having wonderful people around me. I have to thank my amazing partner because while I was doing the program, she was completely supportive and took care of the kids 24 hours a day. The program was six days a week, so I would leave the house from Monday to Thursday to study at my mother’s house, then I would drive home for three days a week and have time with the family. At home I have a good office room, and students I would partner with knew my situation, so if the kids came in I would say, “Hey, I need to take a 5-minute break.” I made sure expectations were set and everyone knew what was going on.
Were you with the same classmates throughout the coding program?
Yes, you stay with your cohort through the entire program and they really become like a family. People came from very diverse backgrounds. The youngest student in my cohort was 16; the oldest students were in their 40s. We had students from Australia and Germany. There was also a great ratio of women and non-binary students. I really enjoyed the diversity.
Who was teaching you the material?
Each class has a tech mentor, counselor, and administrator. We’re also assigned HiRs – or Hackers-in-Residence – the equivalent of teaching assistants. HiRs are former students who are hired as apprentices to help teach the next cohort. There were about five per class when I was there. The principal teachers do the bulk of the instruction work, then HiRs act as a help desk to call upon when you’re stuck during a sprint, perform mock interviews, and help with resume building. Then each cohort has one or two “Shepherds” who are the main community builders –. they help you work through blockers on coding, act as student counselors, and organize after-hours events like guest lectures and Saturday “Social Hack Nights” where we would get together, play games, and have some fun. I actually worked as a Shepherd after graduating and it was an amazing experience.
How did Hack Reactor Remote prepare you for the job search?
From Day One, they start preparing you for job interviews with algorithm challenges. Then, during the second half of the program, you work with your outcomes coach and HiRs to get your resume together, and conduct mock interviews. When the program is over, you still meet with your outcomes coach once a week, for six months, or until you get a job. The alumni network is also amazing. We have a Facebook group and a Slack channel with over 4000 alumni and staff in it. They’re constantly providing support and advice.
You’ve had several different roles since you graduated. Your first one was with Microsoft. How did you approach searching for a job out-of-state?
I received great advice from a long-time industry recruiter on doing a job search remotely. He told me to do three things:
- Be prepared to travel to an onsite interview immediately, whether they pay for your plane ticket or not.
- Be prepared to relocate quickly, whether you get a relocation assistance bonus or not.
- Make it seem as if you live in the city where the job is. Hiring managers are initially looking for a reason to say no to a candidate. So, they are more likely to pass on your resume when they see you are not in that area. Don’t give them that reason!
Now, I’m not saying to lie. Just have an effective plan you can share with a recruiter to show you that you are coming to their city whether you get this job or not, so there’s no reason not to represent that you are already there. Once you establish a rapport with the recruiter, you tell them, “I'm not there right now, but I can be within two days for our on-site interview, and within two weeks to start work.” This alleviates a huge amount of pressure, and demonstrates your dedication to living there.
That’s exactly how I approached the search that landed me with a contract job with Microsoft. I was in Georgia, but I wanted to move to Seattle. I removed my location from my resume and set my LinkedIn to show I was in Seattle. I had SkyMiles saved to purchase a plane ticket for any interviews that came up. When I got the position, my partner and I packed up the house and two weeks later I flew to Seattle while she and the kids visited family for the first month. I found us an apartment, then the family joined me here.
What kind of work where you doing for Microsoft? How did your career progress from there?
For that position, the 3rd party recruiter found my profile on one of the job sites where I uploaded my resume, such as Indeed.com. They contacted me about the position, and set up phone interviews with the lead dev and manager of the team. I had a three-month contract position with Microsoft, working on a team in their Research Group. I completed the contract, then started pursuing my next career move.
I found my current position at Avvo a few weeks later through the SeattleJS meetup. These meetups are big in Seattle, and often hosted by tech companies. It gives companies the opportunity to show off their offices and find new devs. Avvo was hiring at the time, and I talked to their recruiter for more than an hour at that meetup.
What does Avvo do? What is your role there?
Avvo is a legal marketplace that helps people find the legal help they deserve. It does this by providing detailed profile reviews, and ratings of licensed lawyers nationwide. Approximately 97% of all lawyers in the United States are indexed in our system. If someone needs legal advice, they can go on our site – anonymously if they wish – and have legal questions answered by real lawyers for free. If they need more help, they can use our systems to find the best lawyer for their situation.
I work as a Front End Engineer on our attorney-facing team. For the past year, I’ve been rebuilding the dashboard and admin portals for attorneys and working on the next iteration of our front end stack.
What technologies are you using at Avvo? Are they the same ones you learned at Hack Reactor?
What kind of ongoing learning support does Avvo provide?
Avvo is very supportive of helping newer developers grow. They partner with Ada Developer Academy, which offers a free bootcamp for women and gender diverse people in Seattle, and Apprenti for paid apprenticeships. I’ve also been working with them on education initiatives, creating “Lunch and Learns,” and bringing in 3rd party workshops on subjects like React, GraphQL, and Webpack. We also have the concept of “20% time,” which Google started, which means one day a week we can use our time at work to dig into, learn, and build anything we want as long as it pertains to our job in some way.
Also, my manager is great! He’s greenlit almost every ongoing learning opportunity I’ve asked for – books, online courses, or workshops. As long as I submit a plan, detailing what it is, how much it costs, how it will benefit me, and how I’ll share this information with the rest of the team, he’s all for it.
Was your background in audio engineering useful in learning how to code?
I always love to say that my mind works in a very creatively technical, and technically creative way. It’s one of the reasons audio engineering appealed to me. I didn’t build the microphones or write the music, but I used those microphones to record the musicians and then blend it all together through all that crazy gear you see in studios.
I see parallels in my work then and my work now. In my work now, UI and UX designers create the interfaces - kind of like the musicians created the music. Back end engineers make the equivalent of the microphone. Then, I take these two together, and I create what the consumers actually interact with. Or, to extend the metaphor – the music people want to hear. It’s been a pretty fluid transition.
Looking back on the past two years, what role do you think Hack Reactor played in your success?
I wouldn’t change my process at all. Hack Reactor was the perfect program for me. Hack Reactor doesn't just teach technology and how to code, it also teaches you how to learn.
They embrace the concept of “just-in-time learning,” which helps you solve problems right in front of you. That gave me confidence, and helped me progress faster than I ever would have on my own. While I had many experiences with my freelance work that helped out, within a year of graduating Hack Reactor I got my position at Avvo which is mid-level, not junior. I attribute much of this to the training I received at Hack Reactor. They gave me the know-how and the confidence to do a lot more than the basics. And I also learned how to learn very quickly in the moment.
While I could have gone the self-taught route, it probably would've taken me longer to get to where I am now. I came out of Hack Reactor with a family of people who are now my network in the tech industry, which I wouldn't have if I were self-taught.
What advice do you have for other people thinking about making a career change through an online coding bootcamp?
Know your limits. Programs like Hack Reactor can be life-changing – but they're not for everyone. Find the program that works best for you. Also, get out in the community and talk to people. There are a lot of great networking MeetUps, especially in tech hubs like Seattle.
One of my role models is Kent C. Dodds. His mantra is “Consume, Build, Teach.” It’s not a new concept, but it basically shows that to gain real mastery a person should consume education, build something based on that learning, then teach what they learned in the process of building. Teaching not only helps others, it also cements your learning and shows you the holes in your understanding of the subject. You can grow and give back at the same time!