A lifelong passion for math and problem-solving inspired Nic to pivot from teaching music to learning software development at Nucamp’s online Full Stack Web and Mobile Developer bootcamp. Nic explains how the affordability and flexible scheduling of Nucamp’s online bootcamp made it possible for him to keep his full-time job while learning. Find out how Nic’s leveraged his existing skills and bootcamp experience to land a role as a front end programmer at Principal Financial Group – plus, Nic shares tips for those considering a career change now.
What inspired you to pivot from teaching to tech?
I’ve always been interested in music, math, and problem-solving. Influential mentors in college inspired me to study both math and music, but I got more of a push towards music so I became a music teacher. I loved connecting with people and helping them find their passion in music, but about five years into teaching, I discovered the job was less about helping students find that spark and more about following regimented standards. This separated me from what I wanted most in my career, which was problem-solving and being inspired by working with others.
In addition to the professional disconnect, the time commitment for teaching was intense. During busy times in the school year, it was not uncommon for me to work 70-90 hours a week. This inspired me to start exploring my other interests. I had some front end programming experience and I wondered how I could get back into a field that would utilize problem-solving and critical thinking.
What set Nucamp apart from other coding bootcamps?
I enrolled at Nucamp before the COVID-19 pandemic. I live in Des Moines, so for someone like me who is not in a bigger city and can't attend a larger workshop, Nucamp’s online bootcamp was a major factor.
What also set Nucamp apart from other bootcamps was that the time commitment was small enough and cost-effective enough that I was able to keep my job as a teacher while I dove into this world.
How did you juggle working full-time as a teacher and doing the bootcamp?
One key factor of attending Nucamp is that you don't have to quit your job to attend the bootcamp. It’s not that the bootcamp is easy — Nucamp’s bootcamp was a lot of work — but much of the curriculum is self-paced, so there’s flexibility around when you do the work. On Saturdays, my cohort would join online to discuss and learn deeper concepts.
The bootcamp was a lot of work, but it was manageable. It took me ~24 weeks to graduate, and Nucamp says to allocate 2-3 hours/night to the bootcamp. Some nights would require a half hour to an hour of studying, while other nights demanded closer to 4-5 hours a night of work when we were covering more complex topics. Bootstrap was pretty straight-forward to learn since we were leveraging a lot of pre-existing code. Learning React, React Native, and Node.js definitely required closer to 15 hours a week. Overall, I was putting in about 8-10 hours per week on my own, plus the 4-hour Saturday workshop. The Nucamp staff, mentors, and instructors were all extremely accommodating which eased the process significantly.
How did you afford the Nucamp tuition?
I think Nucamp is way more affordable than the average bootcamp – around $1,800. Nucamp offers payment plans, and coupled with the fact that I didn't have to leave my job, made it a lot easier for me financially.
What was the Nucamp application and interview process like for the full stack bootcamp?
Did you have to complete any prework?
We had a week of prep work before our official first class together. That first week ensures you have a good foundation so you're ready to go into the first workshop on Saturday. We got our spaces set up for class and made sure we had what we needed before diving into the bootcamp. Nucamp set up our cohort on our own Slack channel where we could get immediate help from mentors and instructors for technical support. There was also an online app and we could text instructors if absolutely necessary, so there were several ways to get help before class began.
What was a typical week like in Nucamp’s Full Stack Web and Mobile App Developer bootcamp?
Monday-Friday, the next section of self-paced videos and assignments opened up online. The expectation was that students would complete this work before Saturday so they were prepared for the Saturday workshop.
Our Saturday class was held over Zoom and typically lasted 4 hours, from 9am-1pm CST. For the first hour or so, the instructor led a review of that week's material over screen share. Depending on the depth of the material, we would have 1-2 hours of review, then there would be time for questions, peppered with breaks as needed.
During the second half of our Saturday class, we would get a workshop assignment. The instructor would demo a finished product for us, and then would reach out to see if we had any questions.
Did the teaching style match your learning style?
We had different instructors depending on what part of the course we were in. The teaching styles change, so if you didn't gel with one instructor, you would have a different instructor in 3-4 weeks, which was really helpful in building out my skill sets. Sometimes our instructors would have a student-led class, which I appreciated. Plus, the Slack channel was always available when you needed to reach out for support.
Nucamp made it a point that students follow the 20-minute rule: If you can't figure something out in 20 minute, go to the Slack channel for help. When you’re in a workshop, if you can’t figure out something in 10 minutes, go to your instructor for help. Nucamp stressed the importance of leveraging your instructors for help. It was a nice reminder every week.
What did you actually learn in the Nucamp curriculum?
Because you did this bootcamp remotely, how did you connect with your cohort and instructors?
Nucamp supports the formation of a community. We had our peer's info if we wanted to reach out to folks inside the cohort. One of my favorite parts of the Nucamp Slack channel was that it wasn't a dead channel. There were pages dedicated to HTML, Bootstrap, React, React Native, and there was a general chat channel where my cohort could share fun stuff or things they figured out. My peers could also post their personal portfolio to get feedback. There was a job search and networking channel for tips on the job search, too.
What kinds of projects did you work on in the bootcamp?
In class, we built “The Nucamp” website, which instead of a bootcamp, it was a recreational camping/outdoor gear website. We started off with templates and gradually the project became more complex:
We had two portfolio projects for the front end and back end portions of the course. For both of these projects, I created a webpage that tied in my love of music and education. I approached my projects as though an independent singer/songwriter wanted an individual portfolio website created that would enable them to submit articles to it, bookmark and save articles, and give them the option to add multimedia or a dynamic list of tour dates linked to other sites. I later built a mobile version of this website in React Native, created a merch store using Redux, and built the back end in Node.js.
At the end of the bootcamp, were you able to present your final project?
Nucamp hosted a graduation ceremony where students could choose to walk through their website. For those graduating with honors, you could submit a 5-10 min presentation video where you explained your website and how you leveraged the tools to build it. Instructors review it and give it the green light for graduating with honors.
How did Nucamp prepare you for the job hunt?
Nucamp offers an optional career services program after you graduate from the bootcamp. The class explains how to build out your resume, network, and build a LinkedIn profile. Since I landed my software engineering job before I finished the bootcamp, I didn’t utilize this resource.
What roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating from Nucamp?
Tell us about your current job at Principal Financial Group! How did you land the job?
Did you feel prepared for the technical interview?
Before I started the interview, the hiring rep for Principal Financial Group asked me what language I was most comfortable coding in and let me approach it in whatever language I wanted. I felt comfortable with their challenge given the knowledge I gained from Nucamp. Right away, I was able to apply functions and methods I had learned in class.
What kinds of projects are you working on now?
I'm a software engineer working in a Scrum team that is developing React apps. My department handles retirement funds, like 401Ks, and we use mainly internal-facing apps, which makes the work pretty flexible.
Are you using all of the programming languages that you learned at Nucamp?
Since you did Nucamp online, did you feel prepared to work remotely in your first job?
It was a weird shift to work remotely after always teaching in-person, but at the same time I felt comforted by the preparedness I felt after completing Nucamp’s remote bootcamp. Working online feels like a natural extension of the course, just on a different platform.
You started at Principal Financial Group in a contract position — do you recommend that other recent bootcamp grads consider contract jobs?
Contracting roles can be a great way to gain experience, build trust, and get on-going work.
How has your past career in music education helped you in your career as a software engineer?
Teaching is all about rolling with the changes, whether those changes are from administration, national standards, different students each year, or the general environment of academia. Teaching requires adaptability and the ability to work with different people all day.
Now as a software engineer, being able to work with people is crucial. There are daily challenges to working with others, like when the requirements get updated and you have to delete those thousand lines of code you just wrote or when you disagree about how something is being approached. To a certain extent, yes, knowing a specific programming skill set is important, but in my opinion, it's so much more important to be flexible, willing to learn and grow, and realize you're not going to know everything going into the role.
So far, is this the career that you expected when you applied to Nucamp?
Attending Nucamp helped me feel comfortable shifting into this career. Nucamp did a great job preparing me for what the world of programming looks like, how to communicate with others, and familiarized me with requirements and how to build into them. Even though this last year has been unexpected with the COVID-19 pandemic, to Nucamp’s credit, this career has been what I expected.
What do you wish you knew before enrolling at Nucamp?
Before enrolling at any bootcamp, Nucamp included, realize that you're going to feel imposter syndrome at least once a day. It gets better over time, but it will keep happening. As new developers and engineers, we’re not expected to know everything. Even people who work in the field for ages aren't expected to know everything! A bootcamp is a great place to learn, but you have to go in with the right mindset. Be ready to learn and know that you're not going to know everything as you go in.
I made a mental shift that has really helped me as I spend more time as a programmer. When I come across something I don’t know, instead of thinking that I’m failing, I feel grateful that it’s another opportunity to learn something new.
Do you have any advice for other career changers?
Consider what you learned in your previous roles and leverage them in your new one. Just because you're not in those roles anymore doesn't mean you can't leverage the knowledge and experience you built while you were there. Your experiences are valuable and continue to be valuable. More than what makes you a good developer, think about what makes you a good employee and apply that to your new role.
For those people weighing self-teaching versus enrolling at a bootcamp — Was Nucamp worth it for you?
As someone who appreciates the assistance, support, and perspectives of others to build on my own knowledge, Nucamp was absolutely worth it for me. Going into this bootcamp inexperienced in the content, I gained so much. Nucamp taught more than languages; they taught the flexibility and collaboration needed to leverage peer support. Hearing from experts in the field, having instant access to support on Slack to answer my questions, and having this curated curriculum made it entirely worth it. When you factor in the cost effectiveness compared to the average bootcamp, that I could keep my job while I was doing it, and juggle these responsibilities with ease, Nucamp was a no brainer for me.
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