Amber Riley started her career in a tech support role, but wanted to continue learning and growing in tech. She decided to pivot her career into software engineering by enrolling remotely at TrueCoders. Amber shares with us how the online coding bootcamp gave her the structure, community, and programming foundations she needed to be qualified for developer and test engineer roles. Plus, Amber breaks down how the Career Services team at TrueCoders helped her land a Software Test Engineer job at eFinancial!
What inspired you to make a career change from tech support to software engineering?
Before I started at TrueCoders, I worked for a global logistics company called Expeditors. For 3.5 years, I was an applications support specialist and I helped end-users when they came across issues with the company's applications. If there were bugs, I would have to escalate them to our development team to work on. Last year, I became an EDI specialist at Expeditors, which was a little more technical and meant that I got to read through code and try to locate bugs in applications while still working with my previous team. Because of the COVID lockdown, our company went remote, and after a few months, I realized I wasn't happy with the work I was doing. I wasn't learning anything new. I had been interested in software test engineering, but Expeditors didn't have any positions opening up anytime soon. That's when I started to look for something different.
There are so many online coding bootcamps now — why did you choose TrueCoders?
What I liked most about TrueCoders was how friendly they were! Their admissions reps reached out to me, gave me the resources I needed, and answered any questions I had. TrueCoders also focuses their curriculum on C#, which was the language I was most interested in learning.
What was the TrueCoders application process like for you?
You don’t need coding experience to apply to TrueCoders, and TrueCoders made that clear from the beginning of the admissions process. They did offer some optional pre-course work, which they suggested beginners complete ahead of the bootcamp. The pre-work was nice because it helped me understand the languages we would be working with and things I would need to focus on.
How did you pay for your bootcamp tuition?
During COVID-19, TrueCoders was offering automatic discounts on their program. TrueCoders acknowledged that many people were struggling and they wanted to provide the bootcamp at a lower price to make it more accessible. TrueCoders also offers a monthly payment plan, so I didn't have to throw all of the money down at once, which was nice. I chose to pay off my tuition over a year.
What was it like to learn remotely in TrueCoders' online bootcamp?
Since I live in Seattle, I was two hours ahead of most of the other students in the bootcamp, but it was smooth to transition into the online classroom. Our coursework was in Google Classroom and we learned everything on Zoom. All our videos and lectures were recorded, which allowed students to rewatch the lessons. The first couple of weeks involved more lectures and assignments at the end. The further we got into the courses, the more projects we did. I was pleasantly surprised by the whole process. Some of my favorite things to do during the course were the weekly assignments. I love trying to write code to get my unit tests to pass. It's very satisfying when you see those successes.
What was the TrueCoders online community like? How did you collaborate with other students?
My classmates were great! My classmates and I communicated in our Discord channel. We would hop on that and work on things together — not only projects but also our weekly assignments. We would pair up to do homework together, which was a lot of fun. There were other women in the class, and it was fantastic to work with a bunch of really inspiring and motivated people.
My TrueCoders teachers were also super great. I could message my teacher with questions at any point after class. Students were able to set up appointments with the TAs every day if we wanted help with something. Everybody was supportive and helpful — I wasn't ever hesitant to reach out to anybody.
What did the TrueCoders bootcamp curriculum cover?
We learned C#, SQL, HTML, and CSS. Outside of languages, we learned a lot about the .NET framwork. I tried to implement as much as possible from what I learned in the class into my final project. It was fun to incorporate everything from APIs and SQL to C# and Bootstrap into my projects.
Tell us about your favorite projects that you built during the bootcamp?
In the beginning, I would try to do projects individually because I was a little shy. I eventually started doing group projects where I was able to talk with and work alongside people, and that’s how I made some friends. The first extensive project that we worked on involved a randomized group, so I got to work with people I wouldn't usually work with. We built a Taco Bell geolocator, which involved writing unit tests to parse through a CSV that contained Taco Bell locations in Alabama. We downloaded a .NET Core package and calculated the distance between two points. It sounds silly, but this project was a lot of fun!
I'm very proud of my final project – I built a movie API database, like an IMDb clone, using two, third-party IMDb APIs. I used ASP.NET MVC to allow users to search for movies or TV shows. What would come back was the title, year, poster, names of the actors, etc. There was a lot of back-end work involved with this project, which was awesome because I realized that I enjoy back-end coding more than the front-end. My movie database is a website, so I still had to do front-end work, including Bootstrap, HTML, and CSS to make it look pretty. I used Dapper and MySQL to store fake emails and passwords for when people sign up for an account. I presented this project to my cohort on our last day of bootcamp. I had been struggling with building the back button, so being able to hit the back button on my website and having it return to the previous screen was its own little victory for me!
How did TrueCoders prepare you for the job hunt?
Denise from TrueCoders’ Career Services team is so great and supportive. We would have meetings with Denise twice a week to go over things we needed to watch out for when applying for jobs. You could do one-on-ones with Denise every day if you needed to!
We went over what interviewers were looking for and the questions they might ask. She would also go over your resume and help you get your LinkedIn updated, too. Sometimes Denise would have guest speakers or TrueCoders alumni talk about their experience with interviews and what helped them through the process.
Denise is excellent at getting you motivated to do it yourself by giving you great suggestions and ideas along the way. One of the best things I did in the program was meeting up with Denise as frequently as possible.
Which tech roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating?
Coming into the bootcamp, I was most interested in QA Engineering (QA stands for Quality Assurance). After graduating, I felt qualified to apply to junior developer and QA positions.
Congrats on your new job at eFinancial! What is your current role?
I’m currently a Software Test Engineer at eFinancial, an online life insurance agency.
I started at eFinancial as an intern for about three months. Being an intern, I was able to learn a lot and go at my own pace. I didn't have to jump right into the big stuff immediately. The developer teams usually have one test engineer on the team with a bunch of other devs. My mentor was a test engineer, and I was on a team with them through the learning process. I also paired up with other developers during my internship. We would read through code together, and I asked questions about the code they were writing because everybody codes differently.
Did you feel prepared for the technical interview at eFinancial?
Learning how to read code was helpful for my interview at eFinancial. I didn't expect to be quizzed on code since I was applying for a software test engineer position, but I was prepared for it!
The bootcamp itself and the career services aspect both prepared me for working remotely as a software engineer.
So far, what has been the biggest challenge in this journey to make a career change into software engineering?
I didn't believe in imposter syndrome until I got a job at eFinancial. Imposter syndrome is real! It comes from realizing that there's so much to learn, so many different languages and topics I don't yet know. It feels overwhelming at first, but I try to understand that everybody has at one point been in this position. You will learn and you will get the knowledge; you just don't have it yet.
Do you have any advice for other women who are considering a career change into software engineering?
If you're thinking about it, go for it! If you are skilled at self-teaching, watch some videos. Try to do some assignments. It can be intimidating since there are many men in the work environment, but I haven't had any bad experiences at this job. Everyone has been super welcoming and helpful.
Would you recommend an internship role for bootcamp grads looking to get into the industry?
If you land a paid internship, I'd say go for it. It's an excellent way to get your feet wet. If you do great at your internship, that company wants to hire you most of the time. Don't say no to an internship, if it's doable for you. Look for non-internship roles, obviously, but if you land an internship position, give it a try!
What are you working on as a Software Test Engineer? Can you give us an example of a project?
I'm working on a big project right now, building the integration points for our new CRM. It's been a lot of fun learning all these different things because we work with AWS and the cloud, which was new to me. It's a lot of work, but my team is excellent. Everyone's super supportive, and we're having a lot of fun.
What's the difference between working in tech support versus test software engineering?
In the tech support role, there was only so much I could learn. When I would find issues and possible bugs, I would have to escalate to the dev team to do the core research. Now, it's the opposite. If I find cool bugs, I get to look into them and read the code to see what needs to change. I get to QA them, which means I have more control and influence on the code now. I'm always learning something new, so I'm never bored.
Looking back on this career change experience, was TrueCoders worth it for you?
TrueCoders was worth it for me. There are many ways you can self-teach, but I need structure and I need to have people there that I can reach out to. I've tried self-teaching multiple times in the past, and I couldn't get into it. With TrueCoders, I had more motivation. There were people in the same position as me, plus there was more discipline and more structure.
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