Alumni Spotlight

From Salesforce to Full Stack Developer with Practicum

By Jess Feldman
Last updated on October 7, 2022

Zachary “Rex” Rodriguez was a self-taught Salesforce developer before he hit a ceiling with his career —and with self-learning. Seeking mentorship and career support, Rex chose the online Software Engineering bootcamp at Practicum. Now he’s a Full Stack Web Developer at System Tech. Rex breaks down how he juggled part-time work while completing the Practicum bootcamp. He also talks about making the most of the bootcamp experience and whether Practicum was worth it!

What inspired you to launch a career in software engineering in 2021?

I had been working as a Salesforce Developer for three years prior to enrolling in a bootcamp. Salesforce uses a language called Apex. I didn’t have any professional experience with JavaScript, which I realized I would need if I was going to elevate my career and go after better opportunities. I had always been self-taught, until I finally reached the limit of how much I could teach myself. 

There are so many online coding bootcamps now — why did you choose Practicum?

Practicum has professional software engineers doing code review and teaching professional-level coding.

At this point in your tech career, was Practicum worth it for you? 

Definitely. If it wasn't for Practicum, I would still be doing Salesforce development. Practicum gave me a foot in the door and hands-on experience working with more senior developers. You can learn a lot on your own online as a software developer, especially compared to other fields. But I think there’s an inevitable limit to how much you can learn, when it becomes imperative to have a senior-level professional helping you. 

Since the bootcamp is part-time and online, did you have a job during the program?

I did this bootcamp during COVID, while I ran my own part-time business offering coding lessons to elementary schoolers. Doing the bootcamp while working part-time was manageable. 

What was a typical day like in the Software Engineering bootcamp

Overall, there’s not really a typical day of bootcamp. Some weeks were full of coursework, completing online lessons, while other weeks were full of projects. Practicum structures project work in 2-week sprints, which prepares you for Agile development in the real world. If I hadn't taken this bootcamp, I wouldn't have had any experience with the Agile process.

Did you learn live at a certain time every day or was it all on your own time?

I would work during the day as much as I could, then send my projects off to my code reviewer to look at at night. By the time I woke up in the morning, I’d have a bunch of feedback to work on. That actually made things a little easier. 

Practicum did offer live lessons, but I was fine with the replays and chatting on Slack and in the comments on GitHub. Some people liked having that live option but I was fine without it.

What did you learn in the Software Engineering bootcamp?

The Practicum curriculum covers everything you need to get started in MERN stack, which stands for MongoDB, Express, React, and Node.js. The coursework was really up-to-date with JavaScript ES6, plus they taught me how to create the proper directory structure for my projects so they are more scalable and maintainable. We learned backend and frontend using the React framework, which is the best in my opinion. We also learned how to translate designs from Figma into front-end code, which is another thing you need to know for the job. They could have gone into SQL-based databases, but didn't, as it’s not part of that MERN stack. 

Before Practicum, I could write code and make everything work, but I was making it up as I went along. At Practicum, I learned coding best practices, which is extremely important, especially when you get out into the field and you're working with other developers. It’s important to know how others expect you to write code. There's no way I could have known any of that if it wasn't for my instructors teaching me how to do it.

What were your instructors like? Were they software engineers?

Our instructors were all software engineers with a lot of experience. They were helpful and responsive and their feedback was great! 

Since this was an online bootcamp, how did you connect with your cohort?

We communicated on Slack, Zoom, and Trello, plus there’s the highly active Alumni Slack channel, where they do code jams. It’s a great way to network with the other students and work on projects. 

How did the bootcamp prepare you for the job hunt? 

In addition to the technical curriculum, there's also a whole career placement program, which was very helpful. Practicum offers tons of support when you’re looking for a job and trying to gain more experience. They offered a course on career development, which included interview prep and resume writing. The latter was a really beneficial takeaway for me — I learned how to account for the scanning tools used by hiring companies to weed out candidates. The resume I wrote in that course was so good, I still use it.

Connection to the alumni network is another high value I received from Practicum. I connected with other students who were looking for opportunities to collaborate. I also had weekly interview prep with a career advisor, where we would do mock interviews and discuss my hiring progress. 

What kinds of projects did you work on in the bootcamp?

For one project, we created a photo-sharing app from scratch — we coded the back end, front end, and enabled users to log in, upload photos, and share photos with the other users. We created our own API, with a shared database so we could see photos that the other students uploaded. 

We also did the News Explorer Project, where I connected to a third party API that had news stories from all over the world. I was able to search through them, log in, and save favorite articles. 

These are the perfect building blocks for anything one might develop. Most websites need a login, a database, different users, and connection to other 3rd-party APIs. These simple projects gave me the tools to take on future projects in the real world. 

There's modal components, which you'll use for pretty much every project. Practicum teaches you how to write scalable code with the proper directory structure. Plus, we got insight on when to use the context, the API, and how to best break up your code into different components, and reuse components.

Did you present your projects at a Demo Day?

We didn’t do a big presentation, but there were optional extra credit projects, like creating our own implementation for a company’s site.

We presented our implementations and the company chose which one they liked the best!

What tech roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating?

I mostly looked for a Front End Developer position because it seemed to be the most popular path for folks just starting out. Living in Boise, there are local jobs that pay less but are less competitive, or fully remote jobs out of California and Washington that pay more but are more competitive. 

How long after graduation did it take you to land your first job? 

The first job always takes the longest, which for me was about five or six months. Since I was also moving at the time, I put in about 2-3 months of daily intentional applications. When I was hunting for my second tech role, it took me about a week and a half.

Tell us about your tech career since graduating from Practicum! What was your first job? 

I worked as a Front End Developer at Curious Media for one year. 

What kinds of projects did you work on for Curious Media?

For a small company, they worked with big clients! I worked on projects for PBS, the Pokémon company, Time, and Time For Kids. Basically, they would give me a design in Sketch or Photoshop and I would turn it into a web front end. For example, if PBS had a new show, they'd do the promo site for the show and a lot of games, and we would build that out. We also worked on mini-games for a Pokémon advent calendar. I wanted to move into a full stack position, which is why I moved to a different company.  

And now you’re a Full Stack Developer for System Tech. How did you get this job?

System Tech lays fiber optic cables and installs security systems, but I work in the new software startup within the company that they're building out. 

When I applied for this job, I sent over a sample project that caught their attention. Both System Tech and Curious Media said the same thing — that my project was very well-organized. That’s something I learned to do at Practicum.

What kinds of projects are you working on at System Tech?

One project is the internal employee management software for the company. We also have two public-facing projects: one called Ticket Llama, a ticketing platform, and the other is similar to GoFundMe, but for charities. 

I use what I learned at Practicum every single day! At System Tech, I use the same tech stack that I learned in my bootcamp.

Have you had to learn anything new while on the job?

Absolutely, but that’s being a developer — you're always learning! This was particularly true of my last position at Curious Media, when we’d sometimes have to use different tech stacks. For example, the Advent calendar for Pokemon was all in Vue, so I had to learn that. Our backend developer came from a PHP background, so often we would use a back end that was in PHP. Learning new things on one’s own is a vital part of being a developer. 

What is your advice for making the most out of the Practicum experience?

You need to be a self-motivated learner. Start learning as much as you can on your own before you start the bootcamp. In terms of your results — you’ll get what you put in. There are a lot of resources available for you through Practicum. They have everything you might need, but you have to take initiative and you have to take advantage of it. Ask a lot of questions, sign up for extra projects, network with the other alumni, and really get the most out of your time.

Find out more and read Practicum reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Practicum.

About The Author

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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