Andrew Hartzell had a background in sales and recruiting, but wanted to make a career switch to computer programming. After a tip from a friend, he enrolled in General Assembly’s Software Engineering Immersive Online (Flex) bootcamp, which allowed him to balance his full-time gig as a tech recruiter during the day and take a bootcamp course at night. Andrew shares how the General Assembly bootcamp provided the flexibility and guidance he needed to land a Tech Solutions Engineer role at Criteo!
What inspired you to make a career change into tech?
After teaching English as Second Language classes in South Korea and Taiwan, I came back to the United States and landed a job as a technical recruiter at TEKSystems. I did corporate recruitment for software engineers and other coding career paths. I began to dabble in teaching myself to code through freeCodeCamp and Codecademy.
Why did you choose General Assembly?
I had a friend who worked at General Assembly and he raved about their program. After doing some research, I decided to enroll in their Software Engineering Immersive Online (Flex) bootcamp. With the Flex program, I was able to work full-time and complete the bootcamp at night. This was the perfect option for me as I couldn’t afford to take time off or stop working.
How were you able to juggle both work and bootcamp?
It wasn’t always easy. The flexibility of the program was tremendous and I wouldn’t have been able to complete the bootcamp without it. There were definitely weekdays when it was tiring because you’ve been working all day and have commitments at work. Whenever I was having a tough day at work, I had to remind myself before class that I made a commitment that was going to catapult me to a new career. The amount of classwork and homework was well balanced and never overwhelming.
What types of students were in your Flex cohort?
Absolutely! We had people working all kinds of jobs in my Flex cohort. Some people worked 9am - 5pm jobs and had families. Others worked in the hospitality or healthcare industries. Since this was an online course, there were students from different time zones. I would recommend the Flex option because many people made it work with their schedules!
What was the General Assembly application and interview process like for you?
The application process was straightforward. I sent in my application, and General Assembly reached out to schedule an interview. General Assembly was transparent and honest in the initial interview, and I was free to ask questions about cost, class times, and homework. They let me know the structure of the coding bootcamp, the number of hours I would need to commit, and what I might have to sacrifice or give up during this time. The interview wasn’t meant to allay my fears but instead was an honest conversation about what this bootcamp is and whether it was a good fit for me.
Did you have to complete any pre-work?
How did you pay for General Assembly’s coding bootcamp tuition?
To cover my tuition, I took out a loan through one of their lending partners, Climb Financing.
What was a typical day like in General Assembly’s Software Engineering Immersive Online (Flex) bootcamp?
The Flex bootcamp classes were held on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Every other Thursday night was dedicated to job support or outcomes. Saturday classes were from 10:00am - 4:00pm, which was nice because it was a little more relaxed and let us settle in.
On a typical day, you start with a warm-up activity. This activity could be related to something you learned in a previous class or an entirely new concept. These warm-ups were done individually or in groups. After the warm-up, we prepared for the day’s lecture and lab. Instructors presented new topics during Tuesday’s lecture and we’d complete the lab at the end. Wednesdays were often a continuation of Tuesday’s lesson, and we were assigned a fair amount of homework to do by Saturday. Saturdays were structured similarly but were longer, as we had more time to work on complex topics in class or lab.
What was the teaching style like at General Assembly?
I would say it matched my learning style. Our instructors were excellent. Our head instructor and TAs worked in software engineering roles, so it was valuable to talk to people with that background. They were able to teach us the fundamental concepts of software engineering and then tell us how companies applied those concepts differently based on their experiences.
The instructors and teaching assistants were always available for questions or assistance during teaching hours. You’re following the lecture and you’re coding along, sometimes working independently, and always free to ask questions. I don’t know if there’s another way to learn, but this style worked well for me!
What did the Software Engineering Immersive Online (Flex) curriculum cover?
What were the projects like in your course?
The projects got progressively more complicated as the class went along. Each project gave you a chance to build something real with what you’d been learning over the last few weeks. We completed a project for every unit that we covered, so we ended up doing about five projects in total. There were also opportunities for group projects, which I enjoyed because it beats doing it all by yourself! The group project helped prepare us for what it’s actually like to work on a team within an organization. The final project is open-ended. The SEI Flex instructors will tell you what you need in terms of functionality, but how you do it, what it looks like, and how it’s built is up to you! You just have to remind yourself that it’s the end of coding bootcamp and just to make it good, make it work, and have fun with it!
There’s plenty of stuff to put in your portfolio by the end of the bootcamp, between the individual projects, group work, and the mini assignments.
What was the biggest challenge during your bootcamp experience at General Assembly?
The biggest challenge was myself, as in my mindset and attitude. There are days when I thought “this is too hard” or “I didn’t understand how this works.” You have to lean on the people around you in the class. They have either gone through or will go through the same thing you are. You have to stay positive, believe you can do it, and put in the effort!
Did General Assembly prepare you for the job search?
The job support I received throughout the bootcamp was critical. In Outcomes, they make sure your resume looks professional and conveys what you’re trying to tell employers about yourself. Outcomes is also dedicated to learning what events were happening in or around your city that you could attend. These events focused on forums or discord servers to join to get yourself out there. We did mock interviews with each other, and we were encouraged to learn about the companies in our area and the types of people they hire.
General Assembly’s network is also beneficial. I am in Boston, which has a great student and alumni network to lean on. You receive support beyond graduation if you continue to engage and network. While this all sounds obvious to do on your own, it’s nice to have a little extra push. General Assembly got me thinking about what areas I’m interested in and where I would excel.
What kinds of tech jobs did you apply for after graduating?
I was looking at a variety of roles, including entry-level web development and software engineering roles. With my sales and teaching background, I was also looking for something not strictly programming. This led to an interest in solutions or sales engineering career paths.
How did you land your job as a Technical Solutions Engineer at Criteo?
I got this job through a networking connection I made at General Assembly! A General Assembly alum posted about the role at Criteo in our local General Assembly Slack channel. As soon as I read the description, I knew it was the job for me and connected with him.
Did you have to pass a technical challenge for this role at Criteo?
Yes, I had to do a tech challenge, but I felt prepared! The time you spend on class, homework and projects gives you the ability and confidence to learn new topics quickly. You’re constantly learning something new and that experience makes diving into a tech challenge a lot less daunting than it seems.
What team at Criteo are you currently working on?
I work on our Technical Solutions Team on our new business side, integrating clients into our company’s platform. I primarily support a sales team and handle all the technical integration, such as e-commerce platforms, direct source-code implementation, or marketing channels, like Google Tag Manager.
Are you using everything that you learned at General Assembly?
Everything I learned in the Flex bootcamp, I use on the job regularly, except for Ruby and MongoDB. I have also had to learn a lot on the job!
Did your role as a tech recruiter give you any insights into tech hiring?
Absolutely! Although recruitment agencies may operate differently than internal hiring, it was helpful to see behind the curtain. You gain a valuable perspective of how candidates are viewed and what qualities get candidates foot through the door. You also learn a lot about what NOT to do. My one piece of advice is make sure you’re prepared for your interviews!
Looking back at the past year, do you feel like it was worth it to take a bootcamp course at General Assembly?
Yes, I could not be happier! The people I work with are phenomenal and the company is great. It has been a good change and I would do it again. If you’re on the fence about attending a coding bootcamp, research the right option for you, and go for it!
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