Jessica was working in local government administration where she got the opportunity to work on a technical project and found an interest in Python. After researching coding bootcamps, Jessica chose the full-time bootcamp at Coding Temple and landed her first Full Stack Developer role at Critical Mention just three months after graduation. Jessica shares the highlights of her bootcamp experience, her advice for future bootcampers, and what sets Coding Temple apart from other programs. Plus, Jessica shares how her volunteer work with Code for Chicago helped her land the job!
What inspired you to launch your tech career in 2021?
I was looking to make a big career pivot this year. My background is in urban planning, public administration and I even owned a business as an organic farmer. When I was working for the local government, I began doing more technical projects, such as data analysis and geographic information systems (GIS) mapping. I began to use Python to write scripts that helped me query fields in a data table. This made me aware of coding, but I didn't have many opportunities to use coding in my job. My interest in Python got me thinking about making a career change.
Did you teach yourself how to code before applying for a bootcamp?
I was self-motivated, taking online tutorials here and there. I did a few Coursera courses, such as Python for Everybody. I did free tutorials on freeCodeCamp and I signed up for tutorials on Codecademy.
Since you had previous experience working with data, why did you choose software engineering over a career in data science?
When I was looking at bootcamps, I was really undecided if I wanted to go into software development or data science. I did a bit of volunteering with Code For Chicago, a local chapter of the national organization, Code for America, which is made up of volunteers who build things that help nonprofits, public sector agencies, and community groups. I had been involved in a software development project with them and really enjoyed it, which got me thinking that I may prefer software development over data science.
What kinds of projects did you work on for Code for Chicago?
During my time with Code for Chicago, we built a website for a local agency to address food insecurity. They wanted a website where they could view certain data points related to this issue, such as demographic information by income levels, who in a certain area used food stamps, how many were signed up for WIC, etc. That project was interesting to me because it was a website, data portal, and a mapping portal. It was a full website with a back end and front end, and most of the back end was in Python. I also wrote a module that would scrape data into a JSON file that could be used in other areas of the application.
There are so many online coding bootcamps now – what stood out about Coding Temple?
Ultimately, I chose Coding Temple because they offer a bootcamp that has aspects of both software development and data science. With Coding Temple, I didn't have to make a choice right away between a data or software engineering career. It allowed me the flexibility to get more experience in order to make a choice further down the line.
I was also drawn to Coding Temple because:
What was the Coding Temple application process like for you?
What was most memorable about Coding Temple’s admissions process was that as soon as I expressed interest, I was immediately able to speak with one of their staff members to ask questions. I compared that experience to other, larger bootcamps where I was speaking to a recruiter who obviously had spoken to dozens of people a day so it didn't feel very personal. Coding Temple’s application process was pretty reasonable; it wasn't as laborious as some other bootcamps that felt like they were designed to weed people out instead of draw them in.
Did Coding Temple give you prework to complete before Day One?
Coding Temple had us complete prework that covered HTML, CSS, and Python. They told us to set aside two weeks to go through the material. I definitely spent two weeks on that curriculum and could have spent more! The prework used a combination of materials: for Python, there was a textbook (ebook); for HTML and CSS, we used W3Schools. The prework also had us solve 10 coding problems before we started day one of the bootcamp. I had done a little CSS and HTML in the past, but it was great to be able to dive right in before the bootcamp started. I was super motivated and excited to get started digesting information.
Did you receive any scholarships from Coding Temple?
Coding Temple offered me a Women in Technology discount plus I received a discount for paying for the bootcamp upfront.
What was a typical day or week like at Coding Temple?
The immersive experience is definitely a full-time, challenging experience. Monday through Thursday we had class all day and homework in the evenings. Every day, I would log into Zoom at 9AM. Class started at 9:30AM, so getting into class early meant I had a half hour to ask questions of the instructor and chat with classmates. At the beginning of the day, we would go over the previous night's homework and then there would be 3 hours of instruction before lunch. After an hour lunch break, there would be another 2-3 hours of lecture and then we would receive our homework assignment, which typically took 2-4 hours to complete.
Friday was a project day that would sometimes spill over into the weekend. On Fridays, instead of a morning lecture, we would be introduced to our weekend project. Half of the time, we worked in groups, and the other half was solo projects. Sometimes the weekend project could be completed on Friday, and sometimes the project would take all weekend to finish.
Did the online teaching style match your learning style?
I really liked the teaching style. When I was researching bootcamps, I wanted live instruction. Our instructor gave live lectures, but we could interrupt at any point to ask questions.
What was the online community like at Coding Temple?
Having a social classroom and camaraderie was important to me. My cohort mostly interacted on Slack. We had channels for all students, our current cohort, and our teacher and TA. Our instructors and TAs were really good about being available to us. My cohort also had our own group on WhatsApp, which was nice because it was like passing notes in class, in a good way. WhatsApp allowed us to freely and honestly interact about our comprehension of the material.
Different students have different levels of how much interaction they prefer, so not everyone was on the chat everyday, but a lot of people were. That said, I'm still really good friends with a lot of my cohort. One of my bootcamp peers actually referred me to my first software engineering job, which is why that connection is really important.
What did the bootcamp curriculum cover?
What did you build for your capstone project?
We completed one project a week, so in ten weeks we had nine projects plus our final capstone project!
Did you present your final project in a virtual demo day?
The last day of class, we presented a demo of our projects over Zoom to our instructors and other Coding Temple staff who had been helping us along the way, such as our career coach. The demo day was a great day; we were all so proud of what we'd accomplished. Our cohort was always supportive during the bootcamp process, so that final demo day was beyond encouraging. People were reveling in how far we'd all come from our first days and how excellent our capstones were.
How did Coding Temple prepare you for the job hunt?
Coding Temple prepared us for the job hunt with daily whiteboards in class, weekly Algorithm Night, and incredible Career Coaches who stuck with us every step of the way.
What kind of support did you receive in your weekly career coaching sessions?
As someone who's never worked in the tech industry, I needed someone who could guide me through that process. Interviewing for a technical job is different from any other job I've ever interviewed for — the culture and expectations are different. The career services team’s foresight and preparedness ensured we were applying for as many jobs as we could. Career Coach Marlene told us to get our resume in the hands of as many hiring agents as possible, so I applied for 150 jobs before I got the one I have now.
Which tech roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating from Coding Temple?
I applied for any Junior Developer or Developer position. I generally wasn't applying to senior roles, however I did apply sometimes and surprisingly got a few interviews.
After graduating, how did Coding Temple continue to help you in your job search?
Our Career Coach, Marlene, encouraged us to stick to a schedule post-bootcamp, and to keep coding daily so we didn’t lose the skills we just learned. She expressed great empathy for those who were new to these jobs, which I was grateful for. Marlene was there for me when I was midway through an interview process that was way over my head and she offered me advice for navigating it.
Congrats on your new Full Stack Developer role at Critical Mention! How did you get the job?
One of my fellow bootcamp students was hired by Critical Mention right after graduation. He let our cohort know that Critical Mention was hiring and so he passed along my resume to his boss. Critical Mention contacted me for an initial screening and then a week later I had a technical interview with two people from the company over Zoom. In the interview, they asked questions regarding coding topics, like What list iteration? and What is hoisting?
The second half of the interview was whiteboarding, where I worked out two whiteboard questions in front of their team. I thought it went okay, but that I should’ve been able to answer quicker. It was a lot of pressure! That same week, I received two rejections from other companies I really wanted to work for. I wasn't feeling up for the technical challenge at Critical Mention and actually considered canceling it, but decided that it wasn't a good idea to cancel an interview that a colleague got me! I followed through on the interview and the next day they called me and offered me the position — I was totally surprised and happy. When on the job search, you never know what will work out — so don’t get discouraged and keep going.
You are just about to start your new job — do you know what kinds of responsibilities and projects you will have?
Do you recommend that other new developers volunteer their time at an organization like Code for Chicago?
I highly recommend new developers volunteer their time because it offers an opportunity to participate on teams, network with established developers, and understand the workflow before going into a paid position. Code for Chicago helped me get my first real world Python experience. It was my first time working with software developers, working on a team, doing the weekly standup, using GitHub, and contributing to a project.
What has been the biggest challenge in your journey to make a career change into tech?
I think the biggest challenge is getting your foot in the door, and getting someone to believe in you enough to offer you that first tech role. In my job interviews, I was able to reference my experience with Code for Chicago — even though it was a volunteer role, it was still experience with coding!
Looking back on this year, was Coding Temple worth it for you?
There has not been a single moment that I regretted making this decision, both to attend a coding bootcamp and to do so at Coding Temple. I spent a month researching bootcamps and subjects before landing on Coding Temple. I utilized resources like Course Report because I knew it was a large investment and I wanted to make the right choice. I was nervous before I started the program, but from the first day in class, I knew I made the right choice. Plus, I’m three months post-graduation and I’ve already landed my first job!
What do you wish you knew before enrolling in Coding Temple?
Going into the immersive full-time program, I expected it to be hard and it was hard. It’s called a “bootcamp” for a reason! There were a couple times when I thought I couldn't do this bootcamp, but I pushed through and succeeded. I highly recommend the immersive program if you have the resources to do it. It is intense, but it’s great because it allows you to spend many hours a day focusing on learning these new skills with no distractions.
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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