Before Epicodus, Aundra was a recent high school graduate with a few odd jobs under her belt. After tutoring and producing content for websites, she wanted to learn the programming languages that powered them, so Aundra set her sights on software development. See why Epicodus was the best choice for Aundra, how she spun her first internship into a full-time job, and how her career has blossomed over the past three years! Plus, Aundra shares the advice her dad gave her before her first day at Epicodus – it’s perfect for anyone starting a coding bootcamp.
Aundra, what is your pre-bootcamp story? What were you up to before Epicodus?
My story is probably a little bit different – when I graduated from high school in 2014, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I didn't have the funds to go to college and it wasn’t worthwhile to get a loan for college if I didn't know what career field I wanted to go into.
I spent a couple years doing some odd jobs – tutoring math at a local school and doing content development with Fannit.com. I was writing for Fannit and tutoring around the time that my interest in programming and web development was really piqued.
Did you have any experience with technology or web development before Epicodus?
In high school, I worked on a website for my speech and debate league. I saw how that website created an opportunity for them to welcome new students to the club and simplify their processes. I was really drawn to that mission of how tech could improve people's lives.
Once I decided that I wanted to do programming as a career, I looked at ways to get started. I started off thinking, "A college degree would probably be the best way,” but as I looked at the college degrees that were available, they were all too broad for the work that I wanted to do. They covered studies and courses that weren't really related to web development. I then looked for online schools and schools in my area, but nothing seemed like a good fit. There was certificate program that had potential, but it was going to take me two years to complete. That's when I started considering bootcamps.
How did you decide on Epicodus? Tell us about your research process.
The combination of Epicodus being in Portland (not far from my home) and the tuition being affordable made me choose Epicodus. I also wanted to learn onsite as opposed to working remotely. It offered the opportunity to have hands-on experience every day in a classroom where I was required to be, and other students would be there with me. Plus, Epicodus offered an internship. All those elements combined made Epicodus stand out to me out of all the other competitors.
Today, the first five weeks of Epicodus is actually free; that wasn’t the case when I attended Epicodus – January through June 2016 – but their tuition rates were certainly lower than other competing schools. That element did factor into my decision.
How did you find the application and interview process at Epicodus? Was it difficult to get in?
I had a phone interview, but Epicodus doesn’t require any prior knowledge. They have an intro to programming course and so they almost assumed that you probably wouldn't know anything when you got started. I had done some self-teaching before I applied – I had a Treehouse account and I used Google searches and YouTube videos.
Once you started at Epicodus, was it a diverse learning experience in terms of gender, race, age?
Yeah, it was definitely diverse. Epicodus has done an excellent job of being very clear that the whole school welcomes people of all shapes and sizes. Whoever you might be, you are welcome at Epicodus and we're going to work together.
There were about 30 people in my cohort. There was a lot of great collaboration and we worked really well together. It was about 50% women, and 50% men – I was really delighted by that.
How was the Epicodus learning experience? Walk us through a typical day?
Monday through Thursday, all had pretty much the same structure. You had to be in by 8am. At 8:15am, you would be marked as tardy. Attendance was enforced, but very appropriately because at Epicodus there's this mindset of you get out what you put in. If you were there by 8am, you would meet your cohort and the teacher for class to get a summary of what's going on in the day.
Then you would pair up with somebody for pair programming for that day, and you would start right into the curriculum for the day. And it would be anything from watching training videos together or working on a project together or doing some research. There was a wide variety of tasks and projects for a given day. But then on Fridays, you were assigned a solo project, which is basically your code review for the week. It was a way for students to have time by themselves. There was the one day in the week where you did not pair program that was meant to be solo work. And it was an opportunity for you to test your skills and for the teachers to see what you were absorbing, and your strengths and weaknesses.
Fridays ended up being one of my favorite days. I really enjoyed pair programming and learning alongside other people. But having that day to sit down and focus and work on my own solo project was a really delightful experience. I appreciated how they split up the time like that.
Did the Epicodus teaching style match your learning style?
I felt like the teaching style did work for me – you don't get help from a teacher unless you ask for it. You are responsible to dive in and ask questions, work on things, explore, research your own questions, and try and find answers. And if you get stuck – which happens – the teachers are there to help you.
Epicodus did a really good job of preparing me for what real-world work was going to be like. You run into a problem, you're responsible to do everything you can to figure it out, and then you pull in a coworker to give you a hand if you get stuck. In that sense, the curriculum gave me just enough to move forward and learn and grow, without holding my hand too much and making me feel lost as soon as I hit the real world.
Do you have any advice for getting the most out of a coding bootcamp?
My dad is also a software engineer and he shared three big tips with me prior to me starting school.
Tell us about your final project that you built at Epicodus!
For our final project, I worked in a group of four to build a sports website. The goal was to provide a website for people who want to play pickup sports/spontaneous games in a city or a neighborhood. You can list your own sports event and invite people saying, "Hey, we're playing pickup at this park at this time, come if you're interested."
How did Epicodus prepare you for the job search? Do you have any advice for other bootcampers who are going through the job search?
Epicodus did quite a bit to help me prepare for my job search, and not just from a technology standpoint. At the time, I was 19 years old and for both jobs that I'd held previously, the employers reached out to me. So the whole process of writing a resume and including keywords (especially technical keywords) was a new experience and a challenge for me. I appreciated that Epicodus created an opportunity for me to have interviews where I got to meet with people and practice those skills.
Epicodus took the time to help me prepare my resume, taught me how to write a cover letter, and they reviewed my LinkedIn and GitHub profiles, and supported me with a lot of good feedback. As a young lady, I tended to second-guess myself quite a bit and be more on the timid, shy side. So some of the best feedback I got was to enter my interviews with a level of confidence and to be confident in what I know, and in my ability to figure it out. That mindset made the difference for me in my interview with my first company, Zeppidy.
Tell us more about that first job at Zeppidy – how did the interview go and what did you work on there?
At the end of your training, Epicodus offers an internship program. We got to interview with potential internships and practice our interview skills through that process. I was placed in a 5-week internship at Zeppidy with three other members of my cohort. And when that internship ended, Zeppidy hired me on full-time as a Junior Web Developer.
Zeppidy was an online platform that provided a streamlined home buying and selling process for agents and DIY sellers. In the interview, I really didn't know as many of the answers as they would have liked, but I took my best guess at all of them. And that's what stood out to the CEO who was in the interviews. Even though I didn't know the answer, I gave it my best shot and I acknowledged where I didn't know stuff, and how I would have gone about exploring and getting more information.
How was the transition from a coding bootcamp into the “real world?” Were you prepared for your first job?
I felt like Epicodus had given me enough training to be able to grow from there. Also, there was a senior developer that worked in the same office I did, and so I got a lot of support, advice, and instruction from him as well.
You’ve since moved onto a second job at Learning.com – why (and how) did you make the change?
My transition out of Zeppidy was a bit unexpected – Zeppidy went under in March of 2017. I went directly from working on a Tuesday to job hunting on a Wednesday. But at that point, I felt like I had a lot of skills and experience. It was a very unique and wonderful opportunity to grow, and it put my foot in the door to other opportunities in this industry. That’s what gave me the experience I needed to find the opportunity at Learning.com. I also reached out to Audrey from Epicodus, who is in charge of alumni job support. She gave me a few contacts to broaden my field and search.
I transitioned to Learning.com as Web Application Developer and have worked there for about 1.5 years. Currently, our development team is hard at work building a catalog of our k-8 curriculum so teachers and district administrators can have a better understanding of the valuable resources we offer schools and students in regard to digital literacy.
Now that you've been a developer for over two years, how do you feel your skills have grown as a developer?
I've grown more than I can imagine, but my skill growth falls into two separate categories. There's hard skills and soft skills. And over the two and a half years, I felt like Epicodus really gave me the jumpstart in both areas. I learned how to learn new programming languages, frameworks, libraries and tools, and how to think like a programmer.
Epicodus also created an environment where I was challenged and it really tested my growth with soft skills like communication, collaboration, and strategizing my architecture and all the other skills that fed right into a real-life work experience.
What has been your biggest challenge or roadblock in this journey to change your career and become a software developer?
I’ve seen two challenges. On the one hand, I can have a serious case of imposter syndrome – I feel like I don't know anything, I'm not good at my job, and I'm a terrible programmer. You underestimate yourself and you get caught up in your shortcomings, as opposed to recognizing your strengths, powering through, learning and overcoming those weaknesses.
On the other hand, there’s the pitfall of the “expert beginner,” where you forget how much more there is to know. You get so comfortable in the basics that you don't continue to push yourself in the knowledge and explore the opportunities to continue learning and growing. The biggest challenge for me is keeping myself between those two pitfalls — continuing to push myself and grow without doubting myself and criticizing myself along the way.
Would you have been able to get to where you are today without Epicodus? Could you have just taught yourself?
Without Epicodus, I would not be where I am today. Epicodus offered exposure to a lot of different types of programming and code, and a lot of different styles/languages that would have been hard to find on my own. It's easy to go too thin in your knowledge of the language and maybe a little too deep into the nitty gritty of the language, but Epicodus gave you just enough to equip yourself with the skills you would need going into a real work situation.
I also really appreciated the network that Epicodus offered. I worked with people from 8am to 5pm every day, collaborating with them, meeting new people. It created a network of people so that when I graduated, I still had people I could talk to and brainstorm with and share experiences with. I don't think I would have gotten that if I had been teaching myself or learning remotely. Our whole cohort is still part of a Facebook group and we will drop job opportunities in there, check-in, and ask questions about tools or tech. I've also met up with a few of my other alumni friends and gone to lunch. And I’ve gone back to the school to see the teachers. They were great – I really miss them.
Ultimately, the Epicodus training was all great. The internship at the end was my opportunity to actually apply my skills with the support of Epicodus, which ultimately created an opportunity for me to really get into the tech industry and do what I love.
What advice do you have for future coding bootcampers who are still on the fence about making a career change?
You get out of the program what you put into the program. Epicodus has a lot of great tools and resources, but it's going to take work and effort. And that's almost the most rewarding part.
When I was hired at Zeppidy, the biggest thing they looked for was programming history, GitHub, and what projects I’d been working on. They wanted to see that even after I graduated Epicodus, I was continuing to learn and push myself, discover, and innovate. Even after the bootcamp is over, there's a whole world to be discovered. So don't stop. Don't get comfortable. Keep pushing yourself and stay steady in your efforts to learn and grow.