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From Sports Coach to DevOps Engineer with Holberton School

Imogen Crispe

Written By Imogen Crispe

Last updated on June 24, 2019

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Jacob began his professional life running a water polo club, but kept thinking about the coding he explored in community college. He decided to switch careers into software and enrolled at Holberton School! Jacob tells us how the income sharing agreement and curriculum made Holberton stand out as the best option, and how a project at the school inspired him to pursue a DevOps career. Find out how Jacob’s background coaching water polo continues to influence his approach to his new job as a DevOps Engineer at GLIDR!

What’s your background and how did that lead you to Holberton School?

After high school, I went to Riverside City College in Southern California to study electrical engineering, then switched to physics and math. My very first programming class was a 16-week Introduction to C++ course. I enjoyed the class because the instructor was a businessman who owned a company that had government contracts programming rockets. That was my first realization of what programming could do – I thought it was incredibly cool, started researching, and looked around on online spaces, but I didn’t touch programming for another three years or so.

I finished community college and started my own water polo club (I had always loved the sport). While it was fun, I wanted a career change but I knew I didn’t want to go back to college. I started looking into bootcamps, was accepted to 42 School, and had actually passed over Holberton – why pay when I could get it for free? However, 42 was a 3- to 5-year program, so I decided to research more schools and discovered Holberton had an income share agreement (ISA). I went for it and now I’m here!

What else appealed to you about Holberton School?

In my opinion, using an ISA made it a no-risk deal for me. The ISA aligns the incentives of all parties involved: I knew I had to make the most of my education, and that Holberton would provide me the environment and structure to help me get there. I really liked that I didn’t have to pay until I got a job.

I also liked that Holberton was longer than the regular 3 to 6 months bootcamp because I’d be able to get more subject matter in. I also liked that they taught C because it gives you a fundamental understanding of the computer – which other bootcamps may not teach. The school helped me discover my future career in DevOps, which I had never really heard about until roughly 6 months into Holberton.

What was the application process like for Holberton?

I sent in an email and then there were three phases:

In the first phase, I was tasked with answering a selection of questions that took an hour or two. While a lot of the questions were, in retrospect, quite basic, I didn’t feel like the purpose was to test me on obscure computing facts. Instead, I think they were preparing me for the mentality of finding and using every available tool and resource, then accurately applying what I found.

In the second phase, we had to design a website from scratch by implementing HTML, CSS, and then Javascript. I started getting really excited about attending because I realized I would get out whatever I put into this project. I liked it that it was freeform, I was able to complete it early, and the amount of effort I put into it was reflected in the project itself. That piqued my interest because, for the first time in my life, a project had tangible results and a purpose.

The third part was an interview with the team. As soon as I got accepted to Holberton, I knew it was going to be difficult but I had to do it. I had been beating myself up for not pursuing my passions and I finally had the opportunity to do so. It really wasn’t a decision to attend Holberton – it was a compulsion and an instinct and I decided to trust my gut.

What was your cohort like at Holberton?

We had the biggest cohort to date with 35 people. I was very surprised to see the diversity in the room, especially the different career backgrounds. One fellow student, now a friend of mine, was a lawyer and hockey player. Another had gone to Juilliard School of Music. There was a yoga teacher and a number of people who had worked odd jobs and had never taken a CS course in their life. The school attracted a certain type of person – someone who decided to take a leap and make an investment in themselves.

What was a typical day like at Holberton School?

Students are not required to go to school every day, but I was one of them who did. We arrived, saw what the assignment was about, and then everyone had a different approach to tackling it – some people watched videos, some people read documentation. When you came across an impasse, you could ask your classmate for help and collaborate together. While they were always available, you didn’t have to ask the staff for help often – you might go days without asking a curriculum question! Now that I’m working full-time, this peer learning curriculum was good preparation for how I spend my time in my DevOps career.

What was your favorite project you worked on?

There were several I really liked, particularly a project where we had to make our own Linux shell, and a project where we had to develop the complete frontend and backend of an Airbnb clone. My favorite project was when we started exploring networking and DevOps – that opened my eyes to how servers are run and how necessary they are to running to all the written application code. Suddenly, I could see the big picture and everything I was learning clicked into place; it wasn’t theoretical anymore. I spent a lot of time on this project, studying how servers work, the different components of infrastructure, and it sparked an interest in DevOps.

What drew you to pursuing DevOps as a career?

Holberton offers C in its curriculum, but I hadn’t realized it was unique in touching on DevOps – it was pretty invaluable for us. The founders have a background in cyber liability and DevOps. I actually really didn’t enjoy DevOps at first but I realized I wanted to write algorithms and you usually only do that as a back end engineer – I had this idea that all the cool kids did back end and I wanted to be a cool kid. But mostly, it was because I didn’t understand what DevOps was. However, like eating something like caviar for the first time, as you do it over and over, you start to enjoy it and DevOps really sparked my interest. I started configuring my own servers until I became comfortable with it and had a full understanding of what it takes to run a server – a career in DevOps then became a possibility.

How did Holberton prepare you for job hunting? What types of career support did you receive?

A lot of the career support came during the curriculum itself – you have the opportunity to go to meetups, connect with senior engineers, and maximize the number of connections in San Francisco. As soon as you finish the nine months, you can stay and specialize further or they help you tackle the job hunt and suggest how to keep your education going. Even in nine months, it’s not possible to learn everything you need to become a true Full Stack Engineer. So, if you want to jump in and start yourself working early through the Career Track, they will guide you on how to spend your time after the program to best prepare you for your new career.

Tell us about your DevOps internship – how did you come across it?

I had moved home and was applying to a number of jobs, both backend, and front end. Some required projects, some didn’t, and I was also studying a lot to prepare myself for DevOps roles. Eventually, I saw the internship at Taos and remembered meeting them at the school when they came to recruit new school grads. I also liked that they had a 12-week internship program for DevOps – it was most important to me to get the experience, so I applied and got it.

How did you land a full-time job after Holberton School?

I applied to over 100 companies, would send personal notes to heads of departments on LinkedIn, and leveraged chatrooms for DevOps industries with thousands of professionals. I’d go through their job postings and if I saw a job that was above my experience, I’d message the hiring manager and ask if there was a junior position available. That was quite effective.

For continuing education, I spent a lot of time reading and augmenting my skills. There are seven different topics that I chose to focus on, but as a junior you won’t get exposure to all of them. I decided to spend a large portion of my time dedicated to a project that I could present on GitHub. I taught myself the Django framework pretty quickly by using the skills I learned at Holberton, and then implemented the seven types of tools that every DevOps junior should be aware of. I came up with what I call “Hartman’s DevOps Toolbelt”:

  • Linux
  • A public cloud like AWS
  • A configuration manager like Ansible
  • Containers like Docker
  • Container organization like Kubernetes
  • A CI/CD pipeline like Jenkins
  • Infrastructure as code (IaC) like Terraform

As a junior engineer, if you can go into an interview and talk about a project that touched all of these technologies, it’ll go a long way. I felt like being able to talk through practical projects, which is how the Holberton School program taught me, really gave me an advantage over four-year college graduates. Sharing a project like this was an opportunity to show that I could produce something useful and that I was passionate about DevOps. I had the audacity to teach myself and put it in a format that was presentable in an interview and it worked!

Congrats on landing a role at GLIDR! What is your role there and what was the interview process like?

Thanks! GLIDR was originally founded to assist college students in learning how to validate their product ideas. Our founder created a piece of software that could assist anyone who has an idea with validating it and seeing if there’s a demand. It helps users come up with pros and cons, do testing with hard numbers and research, and ultimately helps make the decision as to whether the product is a good idea. We’ve created a new product that attempts to do product validation for a wider audience outside of universities.

I’m currently in my fifth week and as any new engineer knows, it’s a challenge. You need the first few months to become accustomed to the company’s processes and technologies. Most of my time has been spent on our infrastructure with our cloud provider, using an IaC language, and orchestrating containers. As a DevOps Engineer, we manage our infrastructure, automate processes, do lots of scripting, and have access to more than developers do – we’re interested in security, speed, reliability, and having a big-picture understanding of the entire system behind our product.

How has your previous background been useful in becoming a DevOps Engineer?

I relate everything I do around being a water polo coach. I was very passionate about that job and I learned how people are incentivized to do things. My biggest takeaway was that if you can create a system that aligns the incentives of all the stakeholders, it becomes a vastly superior system. That’s relevant to any tech company because you have managers, contributors, and investors, and it’s important that the system that binds them all together allows them to achieve their individual goals.

I also think community college is vastly underrated. My education was equivalent to the classes students were taking at the local university, but we had a smaller class size with professors who had a passion to teach. Going to community college allows you to practice being an adult sooner than going to a full-time university and living in a dorm. I’m not knocking it, I would have enjoyed going, but attending community college and working at the same time really speeds up the transition from childhood to adulthood. Also, because most people go to college, going the non-traditional trajectory gives you a unique perspective.

What advice do you have for people who are considering making a career change through Holberton?

You’ll get out of Holberton exactly what you put into it. It’s entirely possible to do what I did. I was a water polo coach with an associate’s degree and I knew I could program. I know what my talents are and I knew I had the ability to program, it was just a question of how hard I was willing to work. If for whatever reason you want to do something different, it’s entirely possible if you have the propensity and the desire to change.

Find out more and read Holberton School reviews. Check out the Holberton School website.

About The Author

Imogen Crispe

Imogen Crispe

Imogen is a writer and content producer who loves exploring technology and education in her work. Her strong background in journalism, writing for newspapers and news websites, makes her a contributor with professionalism and integrity.

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