Laura Brennan worked in a variety of administrative jobs (including running her own bar in France!), but she yearned for a career that would fuel her ambitions to be a creative problem-solver. Laura listened to the advice of her supportive family and enrolled in BrainStation’s Web Development Bootcamp. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, learn how Laura quickly landed a job as a Technical Support Analyst at Q4 Inc. with the support of BrainStation. Plus, get a look at her freecycling project that helped her land the job!
What inspired you to pivot into tech?
I graduated from college with a music degree right as the Great Recession of 2008 hit. Over the next decade, I was employed in a plethora of administrative roles, but I wasn't happy with the paths for advancement in that career because they weren’t creative. So, I moved to rural France, where I launched and ran a craft beer bar. It was fun and a great experience, but maintaining a small business in a rural area was difficult!
Going into tech was on my back burner for a long time. My father is a programmer who has worked in software development for my entire life. My brother is a web developer and my other brother is a data scientist. You could say that technology is the family business for me, and as I kept losing interest in my admin roles, my father was gently encouraging me in that direction. After college, I took a three-month introductory course in web development, where I customized my blog with a little HTML. After some soul searching, I decided to give a career in tech a try.
Why did you choose BrainStation?
My brother and sister-in-law have experience with instructors and students of bootcamps, and BrainStation was at the top of their list. When I spoke with the BrainStation recruitment team, the vibe was right for me. They ticked all the boxes for me.
What was the BrainStation application and interview process like for you?
I started applying for the January course in November. I went to the BrainStation campus to speak with the Admissions team, and then took home a brief test. Luckily, it was HTML and CSS, which was covered in the intro course I had taken years back. I zipped through it as quickly as I could to impress them, and sent it back in the same day.
Once you were accepted into the bootcamp, did you have to complete any pre-work?
BrainStation gave me recommended materials that I could go through and familiarize myself with. In my cohort, there was a variety of experience levels and backgrounds, and BrainStation wanted anyone with limited knowledge to understand the basics by the first day of the course.
Any creative tips to pay the Brainstation tuition? Did you receive a scholarship from BrainStation?
I received the Women in Tech scholarship from BrainStation. To be considered for this scholarship, I completed an interview and a questionnaire. BrainStation also offered several different financing options, so you could pay back the tuition in 6, 12, or 24 months. I am doing the 12-month repayment plan, and I'm almost finished with it.
What was a typical day like at BrainStation?
I attended BrainStation’s bootcamp in-person until the last two weeks when the COVID-19 lockdowns forced us to transition to remote learning. Everyone would get into campus between 9:30am and 10:00am, and I would try to get there at 9:30am to do the warm up review challenges on the board. There would be a lecture period combining a classical lecture with coding demonstrations to see the concepts applied. After lunch, we had another lecture for 1-2 hours, and then we would have time to work on our deliverables.
We worked on a rolling series of projects throughout the course that we submitted via GitHub. Each project took roughly two weeks to complete and involved working on a particular website either in groups or individually.
Did the teaching style match your learning style?
Definitely! My learning style requires a formal teaching environment, and I find little success with self-paced, independent learning courses. The instructors at BrainStation were extraordinarily patient with all of our questions and did a great job catering to each student's individual experience level.
What did the curriculum cover in the Web Development Bootcamp?
The bootcamp was primarily focused on React. We used Express.JS, React, HTML, and CSS to build out projects.
Tell us about your favorite project that you built at BrainStation!
I attended a presentation at a React meetup where the presenter explained that coming up with a good idea doesn’t mean that you have to come up with something entirely new. It’s just as valuable to choose something that exists and create your own version of it! That sparked my idea of creating a freecycling website for my BrainStation project. There are a number of zero waste groups that you can join on the internet, and my project reinvents Craigslist and allows people to offer up items they do not need. I made it as a message board using React, HTML, and CSS. People can comment on a post on this website and the two can arrange the meeting.
Honestly, this project is why I quickly landed my first tech job after bootcamp graduation. Q4 Inc. came across my project segment through BrainStation's Graduates Hiring page, which is built to showcase bootcamp grads. Q4 really liked my project, and they reached out to me about a job opportunity.
How did BrainStation prepare you for the job hunt?
Throughout the bootcamp, we did whiteboarding exercises twice a week. Whiteboard is my least favorite process. I love collaborative problem-solving and programming, but standing up and solving a problem in front of a group of people is reminiscent of a mathematics class nightmare! When I was learning the whiteboarding process, BrainStation was very kind with me during my moments of sheer panic. Near the end of the program, we also had mock interviews. The student experience team led workshops on LinkedIn, interview skills, and elevator pitches.
In March, as we were wrapping up the program and getting into our capstone project, the COVID-19 lockdown started. It forced us to pivot to online learning, and as a result, we weren’t able to do an in-person demo day. BrainStation came up with a virtual demo day where each of us recorded a personal introduction and walkthrough of our final project.
How did you structure your remote job search? What strategies worked best for you?
There are as many job hunting websites as there are stars in the sky! I was using many of them, and I checked in on Indeed and LinkedIn daily. BrainStation taught us that applying on LinkedIn itself is less likely to net you a result than looking for a job on LinkedIn and then going to that company's website to apply. I made sure to follow that advice in my own job search.
The BrainStation team was fantastic! One of the student experience team members was in consistent contact and counseled me during my entire job hunt. She checked my resume for different applications, ran practice interviews, and overall, was a resource I could rely on. It gave me great peace of mind to know that I was putting the right foot forward.
Congrats on your new job as a Client Support Analyst at Q4! What was the remote interview process like?
Q4 was looking for their first West Coast hire to help provide evening support to their East Coast clients. After they liked my project on BrainStation, I had a phone call with a member of their HR team, and we went through what the job looked like, its responsibilities, and what would be expected of me. They also asked me questions about my background and skills. Thank goodness, Q4 did not make me whiteboard! Instead, I completed a take-home test over the weekend, Then, I had a Zoom video interview with the head of support and my team leader, and after that, they hired me! The interview process began in mid-May, about 2 months after graduating from BrainStation, and I started working at Q4 in early June.
What does a Client Support Analyst do?
The Client Support Analyst position at Q4 is great for someone like me who has experience in many forms of customer service and is pivoting into a technical career. As a Client Support Analyst, I have to be in contact with clients by email and over the phone, but I'm also solving real-time issues with websites in HTML, CSS, and JQuery.
What types of projects are you currently working on at Q4?
Q4 is a platform or series of different tools for investor relations sites. Many investors use Q4 to power and manage their investor relations websites. The busy periods of the year are aligned with the financial year and the end of each quarter when everyone reports their earnings. The last earnings period rush was the largest Q4 ever had, despite it being a pandemic. We had to call in more developers to help us. I'm working ahead for the upcoming earnings period by going in and staging within the CMS that Q4 has built for the back end of all of their sites. I go in and pre-create the pieces of each individual client's earnings, placeholders for the various documents they come up with, and their presentation. It's slightly tedious, but by working ahead, I think we will make our lives easier in the final crunch.
Since you were enrolled in BrainStation’s in-person bootcamp, did you feel prepared to work remotely for your very first tech job?
Oh gosh, no! I was slightly familiar with it from working partially remote in the past, but I was not working in tech then. Initially, the working remotely process was unnerving because I didn’t know what to expect. It worried me that I wouldn't understand the full picture, but I’m getting the hang of it now.
Do you have any tips for recent bootcamp grads who are just starting to work remotely in their first tech job?
Ask tons of questions! Any organization that doesn't want you to ask questions will not be fun to work for — that is an excellent litmus test for anyone interviewing for a new job. Also, getting to know people over Slack can be complicated and weird. Try to reach out to your colleagues and team members as much as possible to forge new connections with your teammates.
Is this career in tech what you expected?
Nothing about 2020 is what I expected. That said, this career is much closer to what I want to be doing and a step in the right direction. At Q4, it’s common for people to move from this role to a more technical developer role within the organization, which is what I’m currently focused on. It feels great to wake up in the morning and want to go to work because it's interesting and exciting.
Was BrainStation worth it for you?
BrainStation was absolutely worth it! I'm so lucky to come out of BrainStation's bootcamp and find a job in only a couple months. To land a job in a pandemic after just graduating from a coding bootcamp is still mind-blowing to me.
What has been the biggest challenge in your journey to learn to code?
I make it my business to know myself well, and among my flaws is stubbornness. When I start something, I want to sit there and finish it until I get it right, which means I will keep working on something well past the point where I am effective. The best thing that I do for myself in that scenario is stop, do something else, switch tasks, and let my brain mull over something else before coming back to it with fresh eyes.
Another learning curve for me has been feeling comfortable asking for help. Part of me is still convinced that if I ask for help, my employers and my teammates will know I don't know. It’s a detrimental mindset to have because the only way I will learn is to ask questions.
What skills from your background as an artist, admin, and entrepreneur are you still relying upon today in your new tech career?
Creative thinking and problem-solving serves me well in my new tech career. Being able to think my way through things from all sides. My artistic sensibilities help me shape the front end to look pretty. For my role at Q4 now and moving forward, being able to speak to clients effectively and communicate with people is something I have learned from my previous administrative roles and my time spent running my own bar. When running a bar you have to know how to talk with people! It’s a vital soft skill I still use in my tech job today.
What advice do you have for someone who is considering a coding bootcamp in order to land a remote dev job?
If you think this is something you want to do, there is no better way to find out than to try it. If you are like me and find that working through how-to guides and free resources online wasn't working for you because the motivation wasn't there, enrolling in a bootcamp like BrainStation is a great way to encourage you through it!
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