U.S. Army veteran Isaac Winters grew up around code, but after medically retiring from the Army, he had difficulty finding a career path that suited his needs. When a tech internship reaffirmed his coding skills, Isaac enrolled at Sabio to round out his skillset. Learn how Isaac got VET TEC to cover his tuition, how Sabio’s instructors “threw me in the deep end, but didn’t let me drown,” and how Sabio’s remote coding bootcamp got Isaac job-ready to be a remote Full Stack Developer at Equiant right after graduation!
How did you get interested in tech?
I spent four years in the Army as an Intelligence Analyst before I was medically retired. After recovering from breaking my back and hip in the military, I earned an associate’s degree in Culinary Arts & Restaurant Management from Le Cordon Bleu. I genuinely enjoyed working as a chef for several years, but my body was in a lot of pain from standing all day and the pay wasn't great.
Why did you choose Sabio?
I began looking into remote bootcamps that Veterans Affairs would pay for. That list was pretty small at the time, but Sabio was at the top of that list.
What was Sabio's application and interview process like? Was it hard to get in?
I found out about Sabio on a Wednesday and my cohort started the following Monday! I sent an email to the Sabio team and they said I could begin on Monday if I passed their assessment test. The assessment test was four hours long and easy to complete because of my internship experience. I then left my internship so I could start the remote Sabio bootcamp.
Did VET TEC cover your Sabio bootcamp tuition?
VET TEC isn’t school-specific, so you apply for VET TEC before choosing the bootcamp you want to enroll in. I had already received an acceptance letter from VET TEC, so I applied that to Sabio. VET TEC is dependent on funding for the program, but in my case, it paid for everything!
What was a typical day like for you in Sabio's Remote Immersive classroom?
My day was 10am to 10pm with the instructors available from 10am to 6:30pm, Monday through Friday. I would get up and spend some time with my wife and take the dogs outside before I would get on my computer to work on Sabio projects for 12 hours. Sabio gives you a lunch break and I took a dinner break. After the instructors left for the day at 6:30pm, we completed our tasks (which was like our homework) for the day. They ran like a regular development shop and we used Trello to keep track of those tasks. On Saturday, we had a six hour day, and I took Saturday night and Sunday off.
Did the teaching style match your personal learning style?
Yes! One of the nice parts about Sabio is that it runs parallel to the on-campus classes. I was given daily tasks and a Trello card with my assignments by instructors, and to work with our cohort mates. The instructor explained what the architecture should look like for 45 minutes, and then followed up the next day to explain how to implement it. Sabio threw me in the deep end, but didn’t let me drown. They let me struggle because that's what development is about! You need to find solutions yourself.
Since you were in Sabio’s remote bootcamp, how were you able to interact and communicate with your classmates?
I didn't have any problem connecting with my peers. If we were not talking to each other, then we were doing something wrong. The standard was to jump on a Zoom call with anyone you needed to speak with. The only downside to the remote classroom for me was the inability to network with my cohort. I wasn't able to grab lunch and share my thoughts in a group. Networking online takes a different skill set than what you experience in real life.
What did you learn in the Sabio remote curriculum?
Tell us about your favorite project that you built at Sabio!
How did you structure your remote job search?
Because of the nature of tech, keep in mind that everyone in tech is doing a remote job search – even when searching for an onsite job. At Sabio, we had live resume review and interview prep to help get us job-ready. I started my job search a month before COVID-19 locked everything down, so the interview process would start out on the phone and on Skype, then I went into the office for interviews. I wasn't specifically looking for a remote job; I was looking for the best job I could find. I applied for every position that I might be able to fill, even senior development positions. I think I sent out 550 resumes before I landed my job!
That said, I think developers are often scared to turn down jobs that don’t fit them. You shouldn’t be scared; you need to find an employer who respects you. Whenever I went into an interview, my goal was to discover if the company and I were a good fit for each other. I wasn’t just trying to prove that I was the best candidate for the position.
I actually got my current position through a recruitment agency. I know recruiters get a bad rap in the tech world, but I found them invaluable. Finding reputable recruiters is instrumental in the job hunt because they will fight to get you in. I kept a spreadsheet tracking the jobs I applied to so that I could share it with my recruiters. I didn’t want to accidentally apply to the same job more than once.
Was it more challenging to do the technical interviews remotely?
Yes, because expressing ideas and whiteboarding on a computer is weird. Using the technology I had on hand made it difficult to make a good first impression. How do I draw competent shapes in Microsoft Paint with a mouse that won't look ridiculous? I was lucky that the company who hired me wanted an on-site interview.
What was it like to interview for the developer position at Equiant?
Equiant told me to be prepared to do a complicated whiteboarding interview, so I was stressed. I had a Skype phone call with the Director of Development and in the call we mostly spoke about my previous projects. I followed the advice given to me, "If you can show them you're competent, they won't ask you to prove to them that you're competent." My goal going into that interview was to impress them with the work I had done, and essentially bury them in my competence. By the time we came to the "Can you solve this complex algorithm?" portion of the interview, that question becomes less relevant to the conversation because I had already proven that I definitely could.
What projects are you working on at Equiant? Did Sabio teach you everything you needed for your new job or have you learned any new programming languages?Equiant hired me as a Junior C# Developer, but I am now a Full Stack Developer, just a couple of months after they hired me, on the Software Team. The Software Team consists of three smaller teams: a .NET team, a SQL team, and a React team. I'm working on all of those teams as needed. I’ve had to learn new tech stacks like Docker and Kubernetes, and the C# work I do at Equiant is intrinsically more complicated than what I did at Sabio because it's moving into the microservices world.
My boss loves that I’m able to write React, SQL, or C#! Before Sabio, SQL was not a part of my skill set. Now, I'm consistently put on tasks for a Full Stack Developer, and that makes me feel valuable to the company. That is a gift from Sabio. On my own, this would have taken years to figure out.
What is your typical day as a remote software developer?
At Equiant, we use Microsoft Teams to stay connected. We have an 8am morning standup and a 2:30pm meeting to discuss afternoon blockers every business day. Unlike being in an office, I track all of my tasks and the hours that I work on those tasks. I generally work 8am to 4pm, but Equiant is flexible about hours so long as work is getting done.
The biggest benefit of doing the remote Sabio bootcamp was learning to be comfortable jumping on a video call with coworkers. At Sabio, if you weren't having 5-6 video conferences a day with your instructors and peers, you weren’t doing it right. Being able to easily communicate with my team remotely was instrumental in my ability to succeed at Equiant.
What is your advice for those just starting a remote developer job?
Working from home has been an adventure for me. The risk of remote work is losing balance in your life. I'm blessed that my boss respects my downtime. I am really intentional about separating where I work and where I hang out. In my current apartment, my desk is separate from my living room. My advice to other developers is to have a separate space for work. It helps me to set work aside.
Has your military background helped you in your new career as a software developer?
As an Army Intelligence Analyst, you need to have attention to detail. In software development, attention to detail matters and it makes me faster and more efficient in my job. You can avoid chasing a missing semicolon for 2 hours if you can recognize that it wasn't there in the first place. Coding bootcamps are intense, but I had the self-discipline to get to my desk on time and be there until the end of the day and that's a gift that the military gave me. Nobody was looking over my shoulder, so that willingness to work hard was essential for my success.
What has been your biggest challenge in this journey to becoming a developer?
The fear of incompetency or imposter syndrome is always there. People are appreciative and pleased with my work, but I'm intimidated by my peers’ educational backgrounds, thinking “does a computer science degree make them better developers?” I have to remind myself that what makes someone a better developer is an eagerness to learn. It isn't about what you did in school, it's what you take from the experience. Your mentality is more important than qualifications. An ambitious mentality makes you a better developer; being able to admit you're wrong and improve without needing to be told to.
Imposter syndrome is a bit like asking which artist is better: Van Gogh or Monet? Neither. They are both artists who dedicated their lives to improving their craft. That is the mentality you have to commit yourself to when becoming a software developer.
Do you have any advice for veterans considering a career in software development?
Money is the wrong reason to change careers. If you don't love being a developer, it will be just as lame as any other job. If you want to be a developer, you must love solving problems. You can easily learn the basics online for free, so try it and see if it's fun for you. If you choose to go through a coding bootcamp, put everything you have into that program.