Erin Johnson wanted more out of her career in art, so she attended Flatiron School’s Software Engineering Program in London. She designed a beautiful web application called Curatorial for her final project, and that project helped her land a job with Artlogic just five days after graduation! Watch the video Q&A or read on for a walk through the application – Erin shares the technologies she learned, advice for beginners, and how her previous career has made her a better web developer after Flatiron School.
What were you up to before you started at Flatiron School?
I graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2007, worked in marketing roles and did freelance photography. I had moved to London and earned my master's degree in museum education when I decided that I wanted to move over to the administrative side of the arts.
As I worked in different museums and galleries here in London, I found myself frustrated with the limited capabilities of the software the organizations were using. I always loved coding and I worked on it in my spare time. I decided to make a career change, but I couldn’t afford bootcamp at the time. I spent my evenings doing coding tutorials online a few times a week and I went to meetups. When I finally decided I was ready, I applied to Flatiron School and ended up getting in.
Did you research any other coding bootcamps besides Flatiron School?
To be honest, my heart was set on Flatiron School, but I did take a few short courses at General Assembly as well. When I went on a campus tour at Flatiron School, I was blown away by the community. At the time that I was applying, they were the only school that offered funding options. I got a loan through a company they were partnered with at the time. They use Skills Fund, Climb, and Future Finance now. By securing that funding, I was able to pay for the course after I had finished it. For me, that was crucial to get over that initial financial barrier. With an art-based salary, it just wasn’t feasible to save up all of the money for tuition and to support myself while I was out of work for the duration of the course. That was the main catalyst for me choosing Flatiron School.
Was it hard to get into Flatiron School? How did you prepare for the coding challenge?
It did feel difficult at the time because I was quite new to coding. I'm sure a lot of readers will find this as well, doing the coding part of the interview was a challenge because it was a new process to me. It's a two part interview. Initially you'll have a phone interview which they call "cultural fit." It's kind of like an HR interview. They want to get to know a little bit more about you, find out your interests, and understand your motivation for doing the course. The second part of the interview is the actual coding challenge. There was a set amount of precourse work that you need to do beforehand. During the second interview, you walk through how you solved the problem. I had to get used to talking through my thought process for solving the problem. They also set out a couple of other small problems during the interview to see how you would respond to other problems. That took me by surprise and made me nervous at the time but it worked out in the end!
I recommend that you do the Flatiron precourse work to prepare for the coding challenge but I'd also recommend practicing sitting with someone and talking through your thought process. That'll give you practice talking through it and show you how other people solve problems.
What was the learning experience like in comparison to the traditional classrooms you've been in?
It was very intense. Flatiron School doesn't make any false claims when they call it a bootcamp! They do prepare you for that – they’ll tell you the first week is the hardest. I definitely felt that. It was tons of knowledge and information to take in. By the time you're in week two or three, you start to get more used to the pace of it. That's different from undergraduate or master's courses where you have lectures and time to take things in. You learn a lot of information in a short period of time at Flatiron School.
The lead instructors that we had were industry professionals. We also had coaches who had graduated from Flatiron School. They were a huge support for the intensity of the course and the lab work.
How was the bootcamp structured?
Every morning we had discussion questions to practice talking to our classmates about our thought processes and concepts from the readings or homework. Most days we had at least one lecture and lab work. That all took place during the 8 hours that we were on campus during the day. We also had take-home assignments. Each module has coding challenges and a project as well. There are five modules. In the first week of each module, you do coursework. In the second week of each module, they introduce coding challenges. The third week is a paired coding project. The fifth module is just dedicated to your final project.
What was your cohort like?
I learned with students from all different backgrounds. There were people with more of a technical background. There was one classmate who came from working in the diamond industry; a few teaching assistants; one from the music industry. Our cohort was 50% women. I thought it was cool that we were perfectly balanced in the gender ratio!
In the final module, you do your final project. What did you build during that module?
I built an online image searching application called Curatorial. It allows the user to search and explore artwork online, create their own virtual art exhibitions, and see what collections other users are creating.
Because I knew that we'd have that three weeks to completely focus on it, I wanted to do something that I could have fun with for my final project! I always wished that there was an app that was more open and accessible to people who don't know as much about art.
Did you build Curatorial on your own or as a group?
Curatorial is a completely solo project. I built it on my own!
Can you take us through the features of the project?
Sure. Let's start at the Sign Up page!
The Signup page has some front end validations built into it. Once you sign up it'll take you to your dashboard.
The Dashboard keeps track of the artwork that you like, the shows that you curate yourself, and other users you follow.
On the Explore page, you can scroll through images, which are being generated by the Harvard Art Museum API.
The tags below the photo describe the content of the image (which are being pulled in by the Google Vision API)
Rather than needing to search for a painting or a style specifically you can use these to explore the content.
When you click on an individual artwork, there's a description of the artwork and tags. You can add artwork to an Exhibition.
When you curate a new exhibition, you can give your exhibition a title, summary, and description. Once you've filled out the form and submitted it, you can view your exhibition!
One of the major components that I created for this project was the Search function. You can search for objects, colors, subjects, etc. If the search doesn't find anything it'll pop up a little easter egg that says, "You're an original."
It's a great way to explore what the Harvard Art Museum has to offer, curate your own exhibitions, and learn more about art.
How did you utilize APIs for this?
It is seeded by the Harvard Art Museums API. I also used the Google Vision API to tag the content of the images so that you don't need to have a background in art history or know anything about art, to search for the content of the image to explore the art world.
What other technologies did you use to build this application?
The design of the site is beautiful! Did you use a framework on the front end or do that yourself?
Thank you! It is custom CSS that I built! In the first week of the fifth module, the focus is on the final project. You have one week during that module where you're not allowed to touch any code. We had to plan what the app was going to look like during that time. I did loads of mockups and designs. We used a program called Figma that you can use to put together the different screens and get an idea of how it's going to look.
Can you tell us about a roadblock or a challenge that you faced while you were doing this project?
There were quite a few obstacles. That's par for the course. For the most part, it was usually because I wasn't fully paying attention. I wasn’t reading an error properly, I was tired, or I was hungry. In those instances, I found it best to take a break and refocus. When I went back, I could see it more critically and realize the simple mistake I may have made.
There were a few times when it was an error message I'd never seen before, I googled it and didn't find anything, and in those instances, I'd reach out to my classmates to see if anyone else had seen it before. If no one in my cohort could help, I would approach the teachers to get help.
Did you get to showcase your final project at the end of the course?
Yeah! On the evening before graduation, Flatiron School hosts a Demo Day, kind of like a science fair. They invited people from the industry and opened it to the public. Employers who were hiring and prospective students attended. It was quite helpful for me! It gave me an opportunity to meet more people and practice talking through my project and thought processes. Plus, it's an opportunity to show off!
You're a web developer at Artlogic now! Did you meet someone from Artlogic at that Demo Day?
Artlogic wasn't at the Demo Day, however, someone from the Flatiron School Employer Partnerships Team was! He saw my project and he was the one who told me to apply to Artlogic. Artlogic had just gotten in touch with Flatiron School looking to hire someone. As soon as I saw their website, I thought, "This is exactly what I want to do!"
What do you work on at Artlogic?
I'm working as a Web Developer on the Database team. Artlogic is a database for artists, collectors, and galleries to store and keep track of their artwork, do emails and marketing, and track their sales online. They also have a branch that does custom websites and template options for clients. This job fully aligns with what I was doing before Flatiron School.
Did you talk about Curatorial during your interview with Artlogic?
Yes! That was a big part of what got me the interview in the first place. I had two interviews before I was offered the job. Curatorial came up during both of the interviews. They asked me about what my motivations were for doing the project, how I designed it, how I built it, what I would change about it next time. It truly helped me get the job.
How did Flatiron School prepare you for the job search?
I didn't get an opportunity to use a lot of the resources that Flatiron School offered because I got hired so quickly! We had the showcase on Thursday, on Friday we had graduation, by that afternoon I had secured an interview. Monday I had my first interview, Tuesday my second, and by Wednesday I had a job offer. It was fast! Flatiron School does have a full career services course that prepares you for the cultural interview. They also have resources for technical interview practice as well.
What's your day-to-day as a Web Developer at Artlogic like?
I've been at Artlogic for about a month-and-a-half now. I absolutely love it. I'm happy! I'm glad that I made the change. The kind of work that I'm doing feels like it fits more into what I want to do as a career.
At the moment I'm still in training. I had to learn a whole new language. The company uses Python, so I'm still getting up to scratch with their code base. It's going to be a couple of months before I'm fully immersed in the day-to-day which is going to be bug fixes, custom requests, product improvements, etc.
Have you found it difficult to learn a completely new language?
I was a little bit unsure about the difficulty of learning a completely new language like Python. But once you know the fundamentals, you understand the process. Because I knew Ruby, I knew what I needed to look up to write code in Python. Ultimately, it is all problem solving. As long as you have the problem solving skills and you know how to go about writing what you want to write, you can look up everything else. It's not too bad!
Looking back, is there anything you wish you had learned at Flatiron School that you use now?
More of the lower level, terminal stuff that you need to set up your developer environment would be helpful. In learning Python, that was a huge part of the learning curve. When I was trying to prepare myself for the job and set up my local environment I was going in circles over and over trying to remember what we talked about it. It was so fast at the beginning of the course – but on one hand I wish we learned more low-level programming, on the other hand, I don't think I could have taken in any more information than I did!
What’s been the biggest challenge that you've had in your journey to learning how to code?
The biggest challenge for me was having the confidence in myself and the faith that I can actually do this. That this is who I am and the path that I chose was right for me. This was a challenge I totally wasn’t expecting. I had to tell myself, “You do actually know what you're doing.” It's okay to put your hand up and speak your mind. Don't be afraid to make mistakes along the way.
How did you find that confidence? What would you say to other folks who are in a similar position to where you were 6 months ago?
The support from the Flatiron School coaches, who had gone through the course themselves already, was amazing. They would always notice when confidence levels were low and reassure us that we were simply experiencing Imposter Syndrome.
Speaking to other developers to know that we're all in the same boat also helped immensely. It's been helpful to speak to the other people in my cohort and professional developers at Meetups. I've talked to my colleagues as well to ask them if they felt like this when they first started. A few of my colleagues actually graduated from bootcamps too! It feels like a unique experience in your head but you're not alone! It's prevalent industry wide and it’s okay to feel this way.
Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking about doing a coding bootcamp like Flatiron School?
If you’re thinking about doing it, don’t be afraid to speak to other people who’ve done the course already. We’re always happy to speak to people about the course and entering the industry. Don’t let imposter syndrome stop you from doing what you want to do.