Written By Jess Feldman
Cam studied accounting in college but decided to make a career shift during the pandemic. Following his interest in tech, Cam chose Codesmith to future-proof his career and learn software engineering. After graduating from Codesmith in 2020 and working as a Software Engineer at Google, Cam and one of his classmates launched their own decentralized audio-visual curation community called heds. Cam shares how he pivoted from accounting to software engineering to tech entrepreneurship in just two years and how to use the coding bootcamp experience as a launchpad for your dreams.
You had some experience working in tech prior to Codesmith, so what motivated you to enroll in a coding bootcamp in 2020?
I graduated from Howard University with a degree in Accounting in 2020. I worked with many tech clients, which informed my understanding of how they worked and how to use different technologies in accounting that are similar to coding, but without the ability to build anything myself.
During the pandemic, I was deciding what to do with all the free time I had. I was trying to decide between getting a CPA certification or learning to code. Those two paths would take the same amount of time, but the CPA exam only fit one niche, whereas learning to code would grant me a skill I could use immediately and build upon. I was interested in tech because I wanted the ability to create things on my own and develop a skill applicable to the 21st century.
There are so many online coding bootcamps now — What stood out about Codesmith?
Codesmith stood out from the rest of the programs I looked at with their philosophy of teaching individuals how to learn more than just how to code. Other programs felt similar to the traditional way of learning I had gone through all my life, with things like assessments, grading, and project-based learning. Codesmith offers high-level information that is up to the individual to learn and practice through pair programming. I was looking to become a better learner and Codesmith hit that mark.
What were your career goals when enrolling at Codesmith? Were you planning on becoming an entrepreneur after graduation?
I was anticipating working for a startup, since I’d just graduated and knew it might be harder to sell my experience to a larger company. I also wanted the experience of working hard for something I believed in. My goal was to work for startups that believed in me and that I believed in their product. The work-life balance wasn't a concern to me; I just wanted to be a part of something that other people were passionate about.
Did you have the idea for your company, heds before Codesmith?
No, I was just in the right place at the right time! My co-founders, Mike and Ramtin were roommates who came up with the idea. I happened to meet Ramtin at Codesmith — I was a Fellow and he was one of my Residents. Mike came up with the idea — they're both music producers and instrumentalists and I was the engineer! I was working at Google at the time, and Ramtin was working at a startup. Between us, we started building really fast, sharing our knowledge from the different places we were working.
How did your experience at Codesmith help you become a tech entrepreneur?
It goes back to understanding how to learn, anticipating failures, and looking forward to them, which is what I enjoy! Codesmith is definitely a fire hose of information, especially the first four to six weeks, but I was surprised how much I retained after that. Codesmith trains you to embrace those uncomfortable situations and go forward, understanding that you will eventually figure it out in the end, even though it seems impossible right now or even the next two to three weeks. That theme occurs again in the hiring phase, when it seems impossible, and then suddenly you have a job! I learned to enjoy the ambiguity of whatever challenge is coming.
What they taught us two years ago is still what me and my team use today! All three engineers at heds are Codesmith grads. Our other engineer, Nicole, was a Fellow and Ramtin was a Resident. Codesmith taught us the MERN stack (MongoDB, Express, React, and Node), which is the majority of the front ends you see and interact with today.
The Codesmith admissions process can be pretty rigorous. Did you feel like you had to know basic coding in order to apply to Codesmith?
Codesmith offers a free CSX program, which is perfect for getting into the program by developing habits needed to thrive in the bootcamp. I didn’t have any previous tech industry experience before Codesmith and I know plenty of others who didn’t and they’re doing just fine now!
You’re now a Prep Program Instructor at Codesmith! Any tips for applicants on the best ways to prepare for Codesmith?
Since this was an online bootcamp, did you feel connected to your cohort and instructors?
Absolutely. I think we might have connected more because we were all amidst the pandemic when we attended, but we always hung out before or after class or on the weekends. Everyone was there to just hang or go over extra problems. I could not have asked for a better community and experience going through the Codesmith coding bootcamp.
Were there other entrepreneurs that you were learning alongside in your cohort?
There were a few other people that had ideas of companies they wanted to start or were thinking about taking that leap towards the end, but I would say the majority of the people I met were just trying to get a software engineering job, including myself. This was never a goal of mine that two years after Codesmith I’d want to start a company — it just happened to be the case, but there were definitely a few people that had aspirations of entrepreneurship.
What kinds of projects did you work on in the bootcamp?
We built three main applications and one NPM package, which helped me feel more confident going into larger codebases. Testing is a pain point for a lot of engineers, so my team and I built a testing application that generates tests for them. Generating tests for someone else's application offered us a deeper understanding of how applications actually work because we had to understand the base framework. We also built MERN stack applications, sending data back and forth, understanding forms, validation, and standard web interactions.
Did these projects help you conceptualize what you wanted to build after bootcamp graduation?
It’s similar but the scale is much larger now than the Codesmith project, but still it's basically the same thing. We have an MVP outlining what we want to create and then we talk about stretch ideas. I have two other partners and it feels very similar to what I was doing exactly two years ago today! What you do in Codesmith reflects what you’ll do in the real world — if you start a company, you'll be starting from scratch, just like Codesmith!
How did Codesmith’s career services prepare you for becoming a tech entrepreneur?
Codesmith career services helped dispel the mystique of the business of tech, such as understanding salaries with stock options and seed round, which was crucial for a lot of us. At the time they didn’t focus specifically on tech entrepreneurship, but as more Codesmith alums start to build their own companies, they’ll probably start incorporating more of a roadmap to tech entrepreneurship.
From the baseline level, they gave a lot of information that would support anyone looking to start a company to ease any confusion on how to start and where to look, whether that's Y Combinator or some other bigger funds. Codesmith is connected with a larger network that could definitely get you the right information.
Tell us more about the business that you launched after Codesmith!
heds is a decentralized audio visual curation community living on the ethereum blockchain. We create monthly playlists as a 10-minute music video that we sell as an NFT. We'll get a major artist or producer to provide an audio sample to the community and then the community will flip that sample, using at least one second of it and submit it to us. On average, each tape will receive between 35-40 submissions, which we then anonymize.
The way it's decentralized is that the previous tapes we've sold count as voting tokens, and so previous holders can vote on these submissions. They vote for their favorite ones, and we prune it down to 20 submissions. We give those 20 back to the curator, and they pick their final ten. Then my co-founder, Mike, will make the music videos in 3D renders using Blender and stable diffusion, and it ends up becoming this 10-minute music video NFT. It's a way for us to onboard artists onto Web3 to offer different ways of making a living off their art, as well as validate it as music and art that people appreciate. We offer artists bigger platforms in the Web3 music space. So far, we’ve featured artists like Masego, Mr. Carmack, Daniel Allan, and Josh Pan.
Since heds depends on cutting edge technology, do you still use any of the Codesmith tech stack today?
We only use the Codesmith tech stack! There’s nothing we learned at Codesmith that we don’t use at heds. The only thing that Codesmith doesn't teach is blockchain, which is essentially just a different database to talk to. As far as what we use right now, Web2 and Web3 front ends are the same; it’s just the back end is a bit different. For example, instead of saving your data to Instagram’s database, you’re saving your data to the blockchain. I was well-prepared with what I learned at Codesmith.
You worked as a software engineer (at Google nonetheless!) before launching heds. Do you recommend recent coding bootcamp grads gain some software engineer work experience before becoming tech entrepreneurs?
I would definitely recommend getting software engineering experience for at least a year. My co-founder and I both did and it helped us understand how a real engineering team works and how to communicate with the other departments in the company, like the business team, marketing team, or product manager. It was important to have the experience of meeting deadlines and work through team interactions about the status of a project before starting a company.
It also depends on what you're trying to build. If it's obviously very cutting edge, a startup would be more advantageous to learn how to build fast, but still safe. At a company like Google, meta, or Amazon, they’re so big that they can’t push out new features at the same speed that a startup can. Determine your end goal and what you hope to learn before jumping in. The key is: Don't stay forever. You're never gonna know everything. Work for a software engineering company for a year or two. But after that, you should definitely go for it and launch your company.
At this point in your career, was Codesmith worth it for you?
It was totally worth it for me to join Codesmith. I would probably be an accountant somewhere if I didn't!
Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs considering enrolling at coding bootcamp like Codesmith?
Take it day-by-day and create an action plan for yourself, understanding that nothing will actually go according to plan! That’s not an excuse not to make a plan. Just go for it and bet on yourself.
Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps.
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