What were you doing before you attended Fullstack Academy?
I took a couple of computer science classes at Northwestern and found them interesting, but it was too late to change my major and I didn't consider a tech career path at that time. I started a business rotational program at Morningstar because I was unsure of what I wanted to do as a career. In the business program, you start out in a support role to learn the product and company structure. For about a year in between customer service calls and support tickets, I started teaching myself how to code. I did a Morningstar program to learn statistical analysis with R and SQL and I found it interesting. After doing an apprenticeship with Morningstar’s Quantitative Research team, I asked the program supervisor if I could switch over to its tech rotational program. Morningstar was receptive to it but told me I needed a more formalized education. Morningstar generously sponsored me to go to Fullstack Academy with the plan that I would come back and work as a Software Engineer when I finished. I took a leave of absence from work for those four months to focus on the bootcamp. Everyone else in my cohort had quit their jobs to do this bootcamp and planned to get new jobs after. This was a unique way to get into coding bootcamp, and it was nice to have a post-bootcamp plan.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to switch into tech at their corporate job?
Be transparent about what interests you. You never know who might be receptive to that. There is so much that a company can gain from technical employees. Show that you’re a dedicated employee who is interested in learning and performing well. The benefits that both you and the company will gain from those four months at a coding bootcamp could be incredible. So, there's no harm in asking, especially if you're going to quit your job to do the bootcamp regardless.
Why did you choose Fullstack Academy in Chicago?
I was hoping to stay in Chicago because I already lived there. The tech scene in Chicago has been growing quite a bit, and there are a lot of startups now. Fullstack Chicago had only been open a couple of months before I applied. I heard great things from students who had graduated in New York, though. I reached out to people on LinkedIn to ask questions about the school. I also liked the Course Report reviews that mentioned the good hiring rate for their graduates.
Looking at the Fullstack website and seeing the types of projects that students were able to build at the end made me feel like I would learn everything I needed to in less time than a CS degree.
What was the application process like at Fullstack Academy?
What was the most helpful thing to learn for the Fullstack Academy admissions interview?
What did a typical day look like at Fullstack Academy?
There were three different phases to the bootcamp.
The Junior phase was all about getting everyone on the same page. Fullstack has a platform where all of their documentation is located, so you can go through some intro classes online and remotely.
During the Senior phase, we’d do a lesson on a certain topic in a classroom setting followed by pair-programming on a problem set. We were paired with a different partner for each new module, and together you'd work on going through the solutions. There were always fellows, which is a teaching assistant position you can apply to after you finish bootcamp, walking around answering questions. At the end, the instructors would go through the lesson with us and answer questions. This setup allows you to experiment and find the answer. When you get your first job, you're going to be in the weeds coding and you're going to have to look up answers in docs if you get lost.
The Project phase was all about projects, and this was my favorite section. You're learning a new thing every day during the first two phases. You don't realize how much you've learned over the course of those few weeks until you put it all together in the project phase. It's exciting to be able to apply all those new skills!
What was your capstone project during the Fullstack Software Engineering Immersive program?
My group worked on a project called Drawsome. Essentially, it was a social media site for drawing. Instead of posting a picture, you draw on somebody's wall and they could draw back in their comment. We used a library called PaperJS for the drawing.
How has your career changed since graduating from Fullstack Academy?
I went back to work at Morningstar after graduating from Fullstack Academy and worked as a QA engineer for a month or two then as a Software Engineer.
Two and a half years later, I'm a Software Engineer at Google in New York City now and I work on one of its ad products. I feel like I got lucky! One of the Google recruiters reached out to me on LinkedIn. Part of Fullstack Academy's curriculum is updating your LinkedIn, so I had kept it up-to-date. Google obviously seemed like an amazing place to work, but I don't think I was confident enough in my abilities to apply to something like that on my own. In retrospect, I realize this was total imposter syndrome. Working at Google has been awesome. The perks that you hear about are real!
How did Fullstack Academy prepare you for Google’s technical interview so that it felt less intimidating?
The interview process culminated in an on-site interview at the Google office, which was a long day of whiteboarding interviews. I hadn't done any whiteboarding or interview prep in almost two years! I gave myself time to brush up on that before the Google interview process, and that included looking back at the resources from Fullstack Academy and practicing with a friend that was also interviewing for software engineering roles. During the last phase of bootcamp, we worked on interview questions and practice interviews.
What are you currently working on at Google?
What has been your biggest challenge in your path to becoming a software engineer?
Doubting myself and the process. I got overwhelmed by all of the resources. There is definitely some imposter syndrome if you don’t go down the typical CS degree route. At bootcamp, you learn what is needed right now in the job market, whereas a CS degree teaches the theory but not always the applied knowledge. My sister got a CS degree, so sometimes I'll call her to see if she learned something I don’t know. It's reassuring to know sometimes that she didn't even learn something that I'm struggling with. That's a helpful benchmark for me now.
How do you stay on top of changing technology and continue to grow?
At Google, there are a ton of different meetups and resources, and outside of work there are meetups too. Currently, I’m still learning a lot on the job. To keep up with new tech in general, I like to listen to podcasts like How I Built This and Reply All.
Jess is the Content Manager for Course Report as well as a writer and poet. As a lifelong learner, Jess is passionate about education, and loves learning and sharing content about tech bootcamps. Jess received a M.F.A. in Writing from the University of New Hampshire, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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