Isaac wanted a career in software development but found that community college couldn’t teach him the technologies he’d need for the job. After doing his research, he chose Redwood Code Academy in Orange County to learn modern, full stack web development. Isaac tells us about the learning style at Redwood Code Academy, gives advice for other students considering a coding bootcamp, and explains how his final project at Redwood ultimately led to his new career as a Vendor Support Engineer at Microsoft!
How did your path lead to a coding bootcamp?
I’ve always been intrigued with computers. I got my first computer when I was 10 and enjoyed messing around with software and installing games. When I graduated high school, I didn’t know anyone who was into software engineering, so I wasn’t sure how to get into the field.
With that web development and data management experience, it sounds like you already had a pretty good understanding of technology – why did you need more skills from a bootcamp?
Even though I built a website, I didn’t fully understand the concept of web development, and I didn’t think I was prepared to get a job in software engineering. My role at the nonprofit wasn’t a very technical job, it just helped me learn how a server works. I knew there was a difference between front end, back end, and databases when it comes to building web applications – and those were things I wanted to learn about.
Why not just learn to code on your own, online?
Even though there are good online courses that you can use to teach yourself, I personally needed to have someone to ask questions when I was stuck. I honestly wouldn't think I would be in this situation without Redwood. I decided to go to a bootcamp like Redwood because I knew I would have resources, and wouldn’t have to rely on asking questions on Stack Overflow or on forums. Redwood has definitely played a big role in starting my new career at Microsoft.
What made you choose Redwood Code Academy? Did you research other options?
There were some highly recommended bootcamps in Los Angeles, but I live almost two hours from LA, so they weren’t convenient. I only live about one hour away from Redwood Code Academy in Orange County. I used Course Report to look at reviews and tuition costs, but one thing that stood out about Redwood was their part-time course. Because I was working full time, I wanted to take a part-time course at first, then enroll in a full-time program. Redwood was only one I saw which had an in-house part-time program. I talked to Redwood Code Academy founder Harrison Spain, met the other instructor, and they were willing to work with me.
I started off as a part-time student, then I switched to the full-time immersive program. My parents offered to help me out financially, so I quit my job at the legal nonprofit and started the whole course again. I got double the front end learning because the program started from scratch, then we moved on to back end and server-side technologies.
What was the application and interview process like for you?
The interview process was a little easier than I expected – I had heard from YouTube and podcasts, that some code academies were pretty selective. I had a one-on-one conversation with Harrison, he showed me what they expected of me, and what I was getting into, but there was no project to build or any coding test. After that interview, and after paying a down payment for the school, I got pre-work to work through before class started.
What was your cohort like at Redwood Code Academy?
There were seven of us in the cohort, and we all had different backgrounds. One of my friends is a mother of four and was looking into a career change and very eager to learn. She was an inspiration to me – seeing that she had all these responsibilities and still came to bootcamp for eight hours a day really pushed me. Another friend taught science at a high school, other people were trying to learn technology like me but had found it hard to pursue in community college or university. We were all eager to learn, and learned a lot from each other too.
What was the learning experience like at Redwood Code Academy?
In the morning we got a refresher of what we learned the day before and could ask any questions we had. There was some discussion, a code review, some coding challenges, and maybe some whiteboarding. After that, we had a new lesson, we’d download the class material on Github, and follow along with that until about 3pm. From 3pm to 5pm we had a lab, and the professors would hang around to help us complete it.
Every three weeks, we had one week to build an application using what we had learned so far. The instructors would help us with whatever we wanted to do, then we would present our projects.
The learning experience I had at Redwood was amazing – I really enjoyed it. I don’t regret one day I was there. It was very intense and hard, but it prepared me to be more disciplined, and I spent time after each class learning more. The professors are very knowledgeable, and Harrison has a lot of knowledge and history from his career. Everyone really cares about student success, and they were always there, even after hours, to help out.
What was your favorite project that you built at Redwood?
For the final project, we could build whatever we wanted, using any technology. I decided to build a mobile app with Xamarin, a technology that wasn’t taught in the class. That was something I was proud of – out of all the students in the cohort, I was the only student who stepped up and learned a new technology in two weeks.
How did the bootcamp prepare you for job hunting?
In our last week of class, we worked on our resumes. Harrison used to be a hiring manager, so he knew what the industry was looking for, and prepared us for job interviews, helped us out with LinkedIn, mock interviews, and whiteboarding exercises. We also worked on our soft skills, which sometimes can be forgotten as an engineer, and how to show that we’re eager to learn and want to pursue a career in technology, even though we don’t have much experience.
After our cohort finished, Harrison was still available after hours to provide job preparation. For every job interview I had, Harrison did a mock interview with me, with code challenges and whiteboarding, showed me how to present myself, and how to talk about my experience.
So you’ve been at Microsoft for 8 months now! Congrats! How did you get the job?
I’m a Vendor Support Engineer. I was approached by the recruiter from the vendor company Allyis Inc. They pursued me because of my experience with Xamarin; they reached out via email and LinkedIn, then we had a phone call. Xamarin is the mobile development technology I taught myself for my final project, and having that on my resume helped me stand out for positions using C# and mobile development. It’s a great opportunity, I love my position.
I interviewed with the account manager who is connected with Microsoft and the vendor company. Then I did a technical interview with a Senior Escalation Engineer from Microsoft. Before that interview, I subscribed to Xamarin University and studied for a whole week, so that I could answer the questions. From there I went on to interview with the hiring manager. That was more of a conversation about why I was interested in the position. They called me about two hours after that last interview and offered me the position. That was a great experience – I never would have expected to be working my first technical job at Microsoft. It’s a big blessing and a very humbling experience.
Tell me more about your role, your team, and what you are working on.
As a Vendor Support Engineer, I’m in a support role for the Xamarin framework. There is a team of 10 of us, and on a daily basis we help developers around the world with their applications. It could be your average engineer who is learning the technology for the first time, or a smaller company which is building a mobile application with Xamarin, or big corporations like airlines, hotels, governments, and banks, who use our framework for their applications. We help them with certain features that they want to implement in the application, build sample projects for customers, or help them troubleshoot if their database is not connecting properly.
We have direct contact with the Xamarin product team and let them know about issues and bugs that customers are experiencing. The support engineers are basically middlemen to communicate customer issues to product engineers.
On the team we have very senior engineers who have been working for Microsoft for over 20 years. That’s something I like because they are open to teaching, they want you to know more and always be up to date, they have seen the history of Microsoft and working with something that’s a new tech, and are very knowledgeable and willing to help out.
What was the learning curve like when you first joined Microsoft? How did they onboard you?
When I first started I was at the Microsoft campus in Texas for 6 months – from December to June. They gave me the option to stay in Texas or go back to California and work remotely, so I chose the California option, to be closer to my family and my girlfriend. Working remotely, I still do the same thing but from a home office.
At the Microsoft campus the first three months were training, preparing, getting everything set up, and making sure I had a strong understanding of what I was going to do. The onboarding process was very interesting. When I came in, they gave me a mentor who helped me out and introduced me to my role. My manager requested that I get certified as a Xamarin developer, so I worked on that and within three weeks, I took the exam and got certified. I also had to learn about customer support, and get familiar with the regulations. The onboarding process was pretty smooth. Now having been at Microsoft for eight months I feel more comfortable than when I first started.
In addition to improving your Xamarin skills, did you have to learn other new technologies when you joined Microsoft?
I’m constantly learning here. One technology I had to learn was Azure, because most of our customers use it for databases. I’m also learning about other .NET frameworks.
Even though Redwood didn’t teach Azure in their curriculum, they taught us how to research and find documentation for new technologies. So when Microsoft asked me to learn Azure, I knew how to research and break down the documentation. That has really helped me in my career here at Microsoft. You don’t know what customers might ask you – it could be about a technology I’ve never touched, so I regularly use Stack Overflow and Google to research the answer to a question.
How has your background doing web development and data management been useful in your job?
When I first started searching for new opportunities, I thought my background wasn’t going to be useful, but I did put it on my resume to show that I had worked in the past. One skill I learned at the legal nonprofit was being able to communicate with customers. I knew how to work with clients, attorneys, and the DA, so I had to have very good written and verbal skills, and be able to politely ask for information.
Have you kept in touch with Redwood instructors or other alumni?
After I graduated, Redwood made me feel more than welcome to hang around, help out students, and share my perspectives and experiences about the bootcamp. Since I got back from my Microsoft training in Texas, I’ve been in communication with Harrison and I’m in constant communication with at least two or three alumni in Slack. I feel like Redwood is like a community and we have a good relationship with each other.
What advice do you have for people making a career change through a coding bootcamp?
If this is something you’re very interested in, and something you will love doing for the rest of your life, I would say pursue it. Do your research – Redwood worked for me, and offered me a lot of tools, but there are a lot of great code schools. I would highly recommend going to visit each classroom. In general I highly recommend coding bootcamps for those who are very set on a career change and serious about becoming a software developer.