How did Cesarina differentiate herself amongst all of the other bootcamp grads in 2020? After losing her job during the pandemic, Cesarina Garcia wanted to make a career switch to the tech industry and enrolled at General Assembly’s Software Engineering Immersive. In Week 1, she was paired with Ramesh Jayavaram, who served as her Career Coach. Cesarina and Ramesh answer our questions about the relationship between a career coach and student and their advice on how to stand out in your job search. Plus, learn how General Assembly’s career service offerings and immersive curriculum helped Cesarina land a job as a Technical Support Engineer at ICIMS.
Cesarina, what inspired you to make the jump into tech?
Cesarina: Like many people, I was unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I was considering joining the military, but eventually decided that path was no longer right for me and changed routes. I had previously taken computer science classes at a traditional university and was interested in pursuing that. I wanted to enjoy the freedom that the tech industry provides, such as working from home and the type of culture in software. I ended up choosing General Assembly and I’m really happy that I did!
What was your career goal when you started at General Assembly? To get a job as a developer?
Cesarina: My goal was to build enough confidence to pursue a job in tech. I wasn’t sure if I wanted my job to be primarily coding all day, but I did want to build a technical foundation to confidently get my foot in the door. Today, I’ve achieved that – I’m a Technical Support Engineer, so my job is actually not coding all day.
Ramesh, what inspired you to become a Career Coach?
Ramesh: Like most bootcamp graduates, I am a career changer. My background is in Mechanical Engineering and Business Administration, and I have worked in many different roles and countries. About three years ago, I fell in love with career counseling after I was invited to a workshop at my alma mater, Northeastern University, to talk about my work. I had a long line of students waiting to speak with me afterwards, which piqued my interest in career coaching. From there, I got my certification in career counseling, had a few career counseling contracts elsewhere, and now I’m here at General Assembly as a Career Coach.
GA’s mission and vision, their services, and focus on outcomes is what attracted me. I love working with GA students; they come from different backgrounds including various levels of education, ethnicities, nationalities, and locations. Helping the students achieve their career goals, start their first professional job, and ultimately change their life is the best part of working as a career coach at GA.
Cesarina, why did you choose General Assembly over other bootcamps?
Cesarina: My main criteria when choosing a bootcamp was how it would benefit me long-term. What attracted me to General Assembly was the career coaching, which was a defining asset. Other bootcamps didn’t seem to have as much of this. As a career switcher, career coaching was important to me since my background isn’t in Software Engineering or technology, so I knew I would need additional career coaching to help land a job after bootcamp.
Did you ask about career services during the admission process with General Assembly?
Cesarina: I did! In the discussions with my Admissions Producer, I asked how hands-on and thorough the career coaching was at General Assembly. I liked that there was dedicated time every week with my career coach and that there would be continued support after graduation through the Outcomes program. This support seemed vital to me because the job search can be frustrating, so I wanted some outside motivation to encourage me in the job search.
How do Career Coaches work with students at GA and what goes into the career curriculum?
Ramesh: Ultimately, my job is to ensure that Cesarina landed in a career she enjoyed and didn’t need me anymore!
Career coaching is provided to GA's full-time Immersive program students. Career coaches meet with students on a weekly basis from the first week they join the program to completion of the program. In the weekly classes we discuss outcomes goals, branding materials (resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, portfolio), interview skills, and job search strategy. After the full-time course, we organize weekly cohort check-ins to actively help students in their job search. Our goal in these check-ins is to ensure students are confident and comfortable in their job search. Meanwhile the coaches also meet with the students one-to-one multiple times to understand their background better, ensure their materials are in a good shape, and to support them and answer any questions when they are actively applying and interviewing.
We have a comprehensive career coaching curriculum to ensure that the students are ready for the job search. We focus on these things within the first three months:
We regularly collect feedback from students and either modify or add content to the curriculum so they’re getting the required support and are confident and prepared for the job search.
Students also have access to resources provided by the entire career coaching team at GA. More than 60 career coaches offer weekly webinars, employer and alumni panels, and hack-a-thons for students and alumni to participate in. There are many other resources to help students feel more prepared and confident in their job search.
Cesarina, of all the career services, what was the most helpful?
Cesarina: The weekly meetings were the most beneficial. From setting up our LinkedIn profile to portfolio preparation, they were thorough and focused on different topics to prepare us for the job search.
The Hackathon was one of my favorite parts of the Outcomes Class because it pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I learned so much from my experience! I was nervous about attending as I wasn’t sure what to expect. I learned so much from that experience and was so inspired that I wrote this Medium article. And I felt supported by Ramesh and his coaching and everyone at General Assembly in that process, which made me realize I could do this work. I learned that I could be uncomfortable and still build something great.
Ramesh: The reason my team added the hack-a-thon was to give students a cross-functional team experience with designers and data scientists who work in other fields. The Small Business Hackathon gave students that experience in a short timeframe but also let them build something meaningful.
What project did you build for the Hackathon?
Cesarina: My cross-functional team consisted of two UX Designers, two Data Scientists, and two Engineers. I assumed I would come into this experience supporting someone else’s idea, but I ended up pitching the idea we worked on! At the time, my mom was a small business owner amidst a pandemic. So we built a PPP loan predictor, called Stimulink, for small businesses to utilize to estimate their loan amount based on their location, employee size, and lender. The data scientists helped build that prediction model within a certain level of confidence.
What did you learn in the technical curriculum at GA?
Cesarina: When I graduated, I felt far more comfortable in several programming languages, including HTML, CSS, MERN Stack, and React. The curriculum teaches you full stack development, so we learned Java, Python, Django, Node.js, and other languages critical to front and back end development. Ultimately, my biggest takeaway was a new way of thinking. The curriculum rewires your brain to be comfortable in learning a variety of programming languages.
Cesarina: Absolutely! To be accepted to General Assembly through the ISA, you had to get through the interview process and pass a test. You also have to maintain good standing throughout the program. I made it my goal to never miss a class and always have my homework and project finished on time. For me, it was a great choice.
Ramesh, before COVID-19, were you meeting in-person with students, or did you always work remotely?
Ramesh: I started working with General Assembly in October 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, so I have been working remotely to date! But, I am part of the Boston team, which means I will be working with Greater Boston-area students after the campus reopens.
You both worked together remotely – how were you able to make it work online?
Ramesh: We mostly used Zoom for our one-on-one or group meetings and Slack for regular communication.
Cesarina, what was the best advice you got from Ramesh?
Cesarina: After a few of our one-on-ones, Ramesh got to know me well. I told him that I was writing a book that focused on a sensitive topic and was concerned about including that experience on my resume. He essentially said, “do you want to work for a company where you feel judged for being yourself?” I hadn’t even thought about that! In my mind, I was a tiny person asking for a job and I feared rejection. But I realized you have to value yourself and your values in the job search. Ramesh helped me build the confidence to question whether I want to be part of organizations and empowered me as a job seeker.
Today, in my job at ICIMS, I’m working for an employer who has a core value of inclusion – I ended up including the book in my resume and, when my employer brought it up, we had a great conversation about it. I also turned down jobs that didn’t meet my values.
Congrats on your job at ICIMS!! How did you land the job?
Cesarina: Thanks! ICIMS is a well-known software company in the talent acquisition space. It’s one of the best companies to work for in New Jersey. They help companies attract, hire, engage, and advance the right talent to build a winning team.
I was looking at their website and applied to a few openings they had. Ramesh was helpful in his own rite - he checked my deliverables to ensure they were up to par for job applications.
A recruiter reached out to me about the Technical Support Engineer on the Product Specialist Team, and I pursued it. I’m on day three of my job now!
The original role I applied for was actually not as technical. The interview process allowed me to elaborate on skills I learned in GA's curriculum - which ultimately painted the picture that I was technically capable beyond the scope of the original job I applied for. As I got further along in the interview process, they figured out that I could probably do a more technical role so I’m working on a team that requires more technical aptitude.
Ramesh, how difficult has the job search process been for students during this last year from a career service perspective?
Ramesh: Before the pandemic, 99.2% of full-time students who participated in our outcomes program landed a job in their field of study within 180 days of graduation. That percentage dipped in the early months of the pandemic, but it's increasing as the economy opens back up. We have also seen more graduates move toward freelance work, contract opportunities, and internships.
What is your best advice for a bootcamp grad who is about to go into a job interview?
Ramesh: One of the most significant challenges students face is conveying their past and bringing their entire selves to a job. They get in this rat race to find a job and forget that their uniqueness is their biggest advantage. You can bring your passion and your past into the job search to set yourself apart from the thousands of other bootcamp and Computer Science graduates. For example, for students who have worked in retail, you can use your existing network or highlight transferable skills. The experiences and skills from previous roles are important and will be seen as valuable by the right team and hiring manager.
As for technical interviews, companies are not just looking for someone who can solve a problem perfectly or thoroughly. Instead, they want to hire a human who can communicate, learn, and grow within the organization.
Cesarina, was General Assembly worth it for you?
Cesarina: It was absolutely worth it! If I had joined the military, I would have gone through a very different bootcamp. Between the networks I have built and the knowledge I’ve acquired, I am a different and better person after this experience.
Is there any final advice you both would give to a future career changer?
Cesarina: My biggest tip is to find a way to differentiate yourself. After I graduated, I spent time proactively and vehemently job seeking. I treated it like a full-time bootcamp to get a job. I looked strategically on LinkedIn and realized that most bootcamp grads are applying for the same jobs. In one of General Assembly’s Monday newsletters, they recommended a virtual job fair – I went into a room with 10 other people who had graduated from 10 other bootcamps and had a great moment of clarity: everyone is going for the same type of job! So I shifted my search to customer facing roles that required a technical aptitude. It was way easier to get hired that way than to search for whatever everyone else is searching for.
Also, immerse yourself in opportunities that make you uncomfortable. Unless you’re a super genius, the bootcamp will be an uncomfortable experience, but I encourage you to ask questions and put yourself out there.
Ramesh: Similarly, start networking earlier, whether you are a career changer or a recent high school or college graduate. Talk with people in the industry and understand what types of industries, companies, and roles interest you early in the process. That way, you can focus your energy on getting the right skills to get that first job.
Also, when you’re applying for bootcamps, make sure you know what you are getting into! It is a full-time job and is hard work. It is critical to understand the bootcamp’s expectations and take full advantage of the program – just like Cesarina did!
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