In 2020, J. Michael Cahal was burnt out from his career as a high school music teacher and needed a change. Knowing he could make more money as a developer in Atlanta, he took his longtime interest in tech to a new level by enrolling at Springboard. Michael described what it was like to take a self-paced intensive program online while still working full-time, and how crucial Springboard’s mentorship program was to his success and confidence as a developer. Thanks to Springboard’s career support, Michael landed his first role as a web developer at Kennesaw State University weeks after graduating!
What inspired you to change careers from music into tech?
Over the last 11 years, I have been a music educator and a high school band director. It is a demanding and time-consuming career and I started considering a career change that would offer more flexibility and family time when I got married two years ago.
I’ve always been interested in tech and was blown away by the tools available to me as an educator that helped deliver instruction and ease logistics. I’m also familiar with using production software from my home studio, which got me curious about what went into building those applications. I knew I wanted to create, build, and develop something. When I started exploring these programs from a web development perspective, I saw a conceptual parallel between music composition and web development.
Did you teach yourself how to code at all before applying to Springboard?
There was a coding challenge in the Springboard application, but it was more of a baseline understanding to see where I was at and to ensure I had the basic knowledge needed to be successful in the bootcamp. You don’t need to have a deep knowledge of coding to get into Springboard. For anyone who didn’t know how to code, Springboard offered prework a few weeks prior to the start of class. My previous experience advanced me past this prework.
What set Springboard’s Software Engineering Career Track apart?
When searching for the right bootcamp, I knew I needed a flexible schedule. I wanted a curriculum I could do on nights, weekends, and school breaks so I didn’t have to quit teaching. As I searched, I spoke to someone at each coding bootcamp I was interested in, which allowed me to see their company culture.
First Step Coding had some suggestions about schools to attend after the intro course. What piqued my interest in Springboard was that they had a connection to the instructor of First Step Coding, who put together the curriculum for the software engineering track! I could tell that Springboard had their finger on the pulse of the industry and I felt confident in their insight to guide me. When I spoke with the admissions rep, they clearly explained that the curriculum was self-paced, with a guide to help you gauge your progress. Springboard also offers weekly 1:1 mentorship, which I was really excited about!
Was Springboard’s job guarantee important to you when choosing this program?
It was important in the sense that it gave me confidence in Springboard. I felt sure that I could find a job in Atlanta because of both the booming tech job market and the effort I knew I would commit to finding one. Springboard’s job guarantee also put my family at ease.
What was a typical day like in Springboard’s Software Engineering Bootcamp?
Springboard’s bootcamp is self-paced, so it offers you different options in course length. For example, if you wanted to finish the bootcamp in 9 or 12 months, you would know what that timeline would look like for each option.
The curriculum was diverse! Each unit had an overview sheet to review before the unit started with corresponding videos and a few coding exercises at the end. We would go through units, videos, and exercises, then have a project to work on. We uploaded our assignments to Google Drive for our mentor to review. I made it a point to do a few videos and exercises daily including on the weekends. At the end of each unit, there was an assessment to show how well I was doing, which allowed me to learn the next unit.
Did the Springboard teaching style match your learning style?
It did. I didn’t need a lot of personal attention and I felt comfortable going to people in my cohort with questions. I also met with a mentor once a week and I was able to contact them anytime. If I was ever struggling, I always had someone to reach out to.
I enjoyed the video teaching approach because it allowed me to stop the video and go back and rewatch if I missed anything or needed more time with a topic, concept, or skill. Learning this way made it so I didn't have to spend more time on things I already understood. I could move on at my own pace.
What did you actually learn about software engineering in the bootcamp curriculum?
What is the online community like at Springboard? Were you able to connect with your cohort?
It was great to have a supportive community to discuss our work. The curriculum at Springboard actually included checking in and posting to Slack and LinkedIn. I also started attending Meetups with local developers in Atlanta, which helped feel connected to others in the field. The community and support I received from Springboard was so helpful in making this career change.
Mentorship seems to be a key component at Springboard — What was your mentorship experience like at Springboard?
My mentor was a freelance developer named Ron, and he was so supportive. Ron answered all my questions and acted as my guide. He was really encouraging during the overwhelming moments when I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel; he helped me balance that perception. When I was stressed about finishing my capstone, he reminded me that the bootcamp often has tougher deadlines than the real world. Those encouraging moments really helped me through the tough points. We still keep in touch. I reach out to him once every 6 weeks with an update on my career.
What kinds of projects did you build while at Springboard?
At Springboard, I built two capstone projects that were both web apps. Sharing these projects with potential employers on my job hunt really helped me!
My second capstone project is an app that is a social platform for a home gardening network. The app is also a reference guide for plant information regarding watering, sun exposure, climate, etc. For those starting plants from seeds, they can journal, take pictures of their progress, and see what other gardeners have done.
How did Springboard prepare you for the job hunt?
The career support at Springboard is phenomenal but intense. At first, I didn’t like it because it was overwhelming, but I'm really glad I got that experience because it took the edge off the real job hunt. From the time I completed the bootcamp all the way through getting my job, they were right by my side. The career support included several mock interviews (coding and behavioral), resume support, and meetups.
When I finished the bootcamp, I really enjoyed meeting with a career support specialist once a week. They were constantly offering ideas for me to implement. They always have something else to offer, something I hadn’t considered.
What kinds of tech jobs did you feel prepared to apply for?
I applied to many junior developer roles, but I also applied to non-entry level jobs. Since I’m still new to the field, I wanted to find a role that would enable me to keep growing and learning as a developer. Going into the tech job hunt, I knew my strengths operating within a company are communicating well, being assertive, understanding the team, and knowing how to lead or lead down depending on the situation.
You’re now a Web Developer at Kennesaw State University! Did you feel prepared for the interview?
I felt really prepared for my interview at Kennesaw State University. There wasn't much of a technical interview for this role, but they were really impressed when I shared my capstone projects.
What kinds of projects are you working on? Are you using everything you learned from Springboard on the job?
So far, is this the career you expected?
Absolutely! Going from teaching to working on a development team has taken some getting used to, but this career is what I expected and has been fantastic and fulfilling.
What has been your biggest challenge in this career change journey?
The biggest challenge so far has been having the faith to make the career change happen and believing I could do it, especially because I was coming from such a different background. My family’s support through this process has been paramount in making this career change happen and encouraging me through the process.
At this point in your career, was Springboard worth it for you?
Springboard was definitely worth it for me. They did a great job preparing me for the field. Springboard reiterates the importance of continuous learning. A major takeaway I received is the wisdom to know how to prioritize what is most important to learn. Since graduating, I am a better judge on what to learn next and how to learn it.
Do you have any advice for other educators thinking of making a career change into software engineering?
Figure out what you want and don’t get down about where you’re at!
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