After a severe injury disrupted her dreams of competing in the summer Olympics, equestrian Bronte Sewell took a chance on her nascent love of tech and enrolled in Flatiron School’s Software Engineering Program. For 15 weeks, Bronte rode her bike 10 miles to Flatiron School’s San Francisco campus where she learned the tech stack and soft skills she would need to land her first developer job. Bronte shares how the Flatiron School community supported the remote job search, plus her post-bootcamp journey from internship to a position as a full-time developer.
What inspired you to pivot from being a professional equestrian to breaking into tech?
I grew up in New Zealand on a farm, and after graduating from high school, I moved to Germany to pursue my passion for horseback riding. I was competing all over Europe and also selling horses – working 14 hour days, six days a week. My goal was to compete in the 2020 Olympics, but in the beginning of 2019, a horse flipped and landed on me, breaking my tibia. After an intensive surgery, I wasn’t allowed to ride horses until I fully healed.
While I rehabilitated and worked on making my full recovery, I moved to San Francisco. I had never done anything major with my love for coding, so that summer I enrolled in a Computer Science course at a university. We learned HTML and a tiny bit of CSS, but the course was slow and unchallenging! I also took a course on Udemy and just Googled a lot, so I was very self-taught.
Why did you decide to switch from a university computer science course to Flatiron School’s Software Engineering program?
My university course was online, and I wanted to do an in-person coding bootcamp with a strong sense of community and up-to-date, quality curriculum. That’s what made me want to join Flatiron School: community and network. At Flatiron School, there are so many opportunities to network, and that's important when jumping into the tech industry.
What was the Flatiron School application process like? Did you have to complete any prework before your first day of the program?
What was a typical day like for you at Flatiron School? What did you learn during the program?
Every morning, I would bike the 10 miles to Flatiron School’s San Francisco campus. I would arrive at 8am and class began at 9am. The day was divided between lectures, labs, and pair programming. There were a lot of group projects, which was great because in real-world situations, you have to work as a team. I made an e-commerce project, a parenting website, andeven a YouTube TV streaming platform. Flatiron School gave us so much freedom to be creative. My cohort worked well together – I still keep in touch with them! They are like family.
Did Flatiron School's teaching style match your personal learning style?
Yes! Flatiron School gives you a consistent pattern and gradually introduces concepts. Every few weeks, they give you a survey because they want the course to suit each individual cohort's needs. They tailor each class to compliment every student.
What did you build for your final project?
For our final project, we used all of our skills and knowledge to build a full stack website. In the beginning, I did a competitive analysis to decide how to build the best parenting advisory website. I decided to create algorithms for parents to track their children's growth. There were also courses categorized by age to provide good curriculum and chatrooms for the parents to grow together as a community with daily questions. And I collaborated with my own mother and father who have been teaching parenting courses all around the world for over 30 years.
To build the website, I used Ruby, Ruby on Rails, Active Record, and SQL on the back end. On the front end, I used React, Bootstrap, Web Socket, and Redux. Flatiron School didn't teach me how to use languages, like Web Socket, but instead prepared me to learn and adapt to new concepts quickly and easily. I am actually still working on this project in my own time, and it will go live soon! So look out for PG Parenting!
How did Flatiron School prepare you for the job hunt?
After you finish your final project, you enter the career services phase of the program. You are paired with a career coach and set up your goals. There was a whole process of getting my resume ready, doing a mock culture interview, and a mock technical interview. You would think that during COVID-19 I wouldn't be able to find a job, but supported by my career coach, I found an incredible opportunity working with an intelligence medical software company called Meditab Software. Right now, I'm completing a 6-month, website development & SEO internship at Meditab that will lead to a full-time position. I'm working remotely now due to COVID, but some of my team may be going into an office soon.
How did you find your developer position at Meditab?
During my job search, I was checking every platform, from Glassdoor to AngelList and ZipRecruiter. I never realized how many different search terms you could use when searching for tech jobs, and I think that's important to keep in mind. I didn't just look up “web development” when searching for jobs, but also “web developer,” “front end engineer,” and “entry-level grad.” I found this Meditab opportunity on my own, but it was Flatiron School that helped me learn how to find the right job for me.
Since you attended Flatiron School in-person, did you feel ready to work as a remote developer right after graduation?
I wasn’t exactly ready to work remotely, but because of the support from my career coach at Flatiron School, I never looked at this new experience as something negative. It's challenging and I love a challenge. So far, onboarding and working remotely at Meditab has been an amazing experience. Meditab is really supportive and gives me challenges to help me grow and develop.
What kinds of projects are you working on at Meditab?
Currently, I'm working with the marketing team, and building a new and modern website for their cosmetics. Basically, we’re rebranding their whole website. I'm learning more about web development and marketing. After I finish this project, I will move on to client-based web development projects.
Are you using the languages that you learned at Flatiron School?
I’m using some of the languages from the curriculum, but I think that every job will have something new and slightly uncomfortable that any new developer has to learn. Flatiron School gave me the basic foundation, and I'm glad that they set me up to know how to find answers. That makes learning new languages doable.
Do you recommend that other bootcamp grads consider doing an internship before taking a full-time position?
At a time like this, I think you should take any opportunity. Once you're in an internship, you're halfway there. Since I didn’t have a college degree, an internship was a great way to demonstrate my skills and learn more. I wanted to get my foot in the door and prove myself.
How are you keeping connected with the San Francisco tech community during COVID-19?
The internet makes it easier to stay connected. My cohort from Flatiron School jumps on a Zoom call every few weeks to catch up and find ways to learn together. There are a few people in my cohort who are working on algorithms together a couple times a week. Others are doing projects together. I'm also joining online Meetups outside of Flatiron School. Online meetups make it easy to connect, but I still hope to do Meetups in person again someday! There are also sites where you can collaborate on projects or do hack-a-thons together.
Has your previous career as a professional athlete made you a better software engineer?
The athletic mindset of getting up again after you fall has been invaluable. Coding can be uncomfortable when you don't know what to do, but these are the times where you have to push through. Finding small successes each day helps you to reach the next level. It isn't easy, but you have to keep pushing yourself to get through it.
My biggest challenge was just dealing with an unfamiliar environment. I was used to working outdoors in the country all the time. I didn't know what to expect when I decided to join this program. After the first few days, I realized that we were all in it together. I found people in my cohort that I could relate to and that helped me to adapt. Being on campus was a great decision because I was able to lean on the Flatiron School community. As a cohort, we were able to push through together.
Even though you changed careers during a pandemic, was it worth it? Would you recommend becoming a web developer to a friend?
Yes, I'm very glad I made this career change. In several years, a huge percentage of jobs are going to be remote, and the best remote jobs will be in tech. Working remotely in tech means you can work from anywhere in the world, and that's so good. For me as an athlete, that means I can participate in international competitions and continue in my new tech career. That's what makes this career so special.