How Mo Shifted from Artist to Web Developer with Momentum

After years as an art consultant, Mo Glatz needed a new creative challenge. She tested the waters with free Python tutorials before deciding to make the full career-change into Software Engineering at Momentum in North Carolina. Mo shares why Momentum was the perfect fit for her, how networking helped her land a great job in tech, and what her job is like as a Systems Programmer at Duke University!

What were you up to before you went to Momentum and switched into tech? 

After I graduated with a Fine Arts degree in Ceramics, I became an art consultant and later a manager for a company that makes art more accessible in public places, such as hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and cruise lines. I was good at my job, but I didn't love it, so I left to try my hand at cake baking and decorating at a small local business. The cake business made good use of my creativity, but ultimately it wasn't mentally engaging. Some friends of mine had switched into tech, so I did a few coding tutorials on my own to see if I could wrap my brain around the concepts of web development. I researched the best programming language to start out with and discovered that Python is relatively intuitive and a popular choice. I introduced myself to Python with free online tutorials, and once I was sure I could do it, I decided to give a coding bootcamp a try.

Why did you choose Momentum’s Software Engineering Immersive bootcamp?

When I was researching coding bootcamps, Momentum jumped out at me because they seemed more personable and diverse, plus they offered a refund policy if I didn’t succeed in getting a job in tech. I also liked that they were local to Durham and had a good track record, and large network as both founders are pioneers in the code school space. Being able to use that network and Momentum’s career services was the biggest selling point for me. It also helped to know that my friends went through Momentum and recommended it.

What was the admissions process like at Momentum? Did you complete any pre-work before beginning at Momentum?

The bootcamp is meant for folks at any level of experience, so Momentum did not do coding challenges in their admissions process. I submitted an online application to show my interest in their program. Momentum then gave me a tour of the campus, and I was able to shadow an hour-long lecture session. After that, I had my interview in-person with the Head of Career Services and one of the instructors. During the interview process, they were establishing if I would push myself to succeed and if I fit their school’s teaching style and class structure. 

Prework wasn't required, but it was strongly encouraged. Momentum offers Foundations, a two-week course, which is covered by the bootcamp tuition. The Foundation course covers basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. It was a part-time night class, so people who were working a full-time job could still take it. 

How did you pay for your Momentum tuition?

I looked into Momentum’s financing options, but chose to use my savings to pay for my tuition up-front. 

What was a typical day like at Momentum?

The program I went through was 12 weeks, but Momentum has since extended the program to be 16 weeks. We would kick off the day at 9am with lectures, followed by lab work based around whatever we learned in lecture that morning. During the lab period, we would grab lunch, and then reconvene in lecture later that afternoon. Sometimes in the afternoon lecture, our instructors would teach an additional piece or go over a difficult concept a second time. Especially as we worked further into the course, this afternoon period became a troubleshooting session to discuss issues we were having with the assignment. After the afternoon lecture, we had another lab. The instructors and assistants were around to help us, as well as alumni that would come in to offer support when the instructors weren't available. 

Monday through Wednesday, we had small assignments due the next day. On Thursday, we were given a larger project due Monday. It was an overview of everything we had learned that week. The assignments were focused on real-world examples and asked us to build useful things. The majority of the work was independent, but we still were encouraged to work together. On Fridays, we had guest speakers who covered different topics, such as imposter syndrome.

Did Momentum’s teaching style match your own personal learning style?

Yes! Momentum was careful to meet every kind of learning style. My teacher would explain the subject verbally as he showed us slides and wrote live code in front of us. He would explain what he was doing line-by-line and how it connected to the rest of the concept. Then he would give us a few minutes in that lecture time to try it for ourselves before diving back into lecture.

What did you actually learn at Momentum? Which technologies were covered in the curriculum?

The curriculum was full stack Python. We went deeper into HTML, CSS, and Javascript. In the beginning, we learned version control with Git and GitHub, working straight from the terminal. We also focused on object-oriented programming, Django, REST API's, test-driven development, different databases, SQL, JQuery, and Ajax. 

Due to how intense the coursework was, mental health was a topic of discussion throughout the program. Momentum maintained a focus on self-care and prevention of burnout during the entire program. In the beginning, folks would stay up late to finish an assignment and the next day would be tired. Our Momentum instructors explained that if you have to choose between homework and eight hours of good sleep, always choose good sleep. Staying up late doesn’t make you efficient the following day. If you’re tired, you won't be able to absorb new information. Since graduating, I now volunteer at Momentum to welcome in new cohorts. Whenever I am asked what piece of advice I can share, I always say, "Sleep! It's important and will help you get better the next day."

Tell us about the projects you built at Momentum!

The first two group projects were building interactive web apps, including a Twitter clone. For our final project, every student in the cohort had to submit a pitch online describing their idea for an app. Momentum selected half of those submissions to continue with. If your submission was chosen, you had to give a 2-minute presentation about your idea. From there, the class voted on their top three picks. The results decided which final project we were each assigned. 

I was assigned to build a project management and organizational tool for folks going through a gender transition. This tool linked to local resources for different LGBTQ+ businesses and other resources that a user could utilize for meetups, networking, or counseling. Users can create a personal and unique transition plan. 

There were three of us in my group, and we divided the responsibilities – I worked on the front end, another team member dove into the back end, and the third member of our group switched back and forth. One of the requirements of the project was to learn a new technology that wasn't covered or was barely touched on by the bootcamp curriculum, so our group built this project as a Python + Django application and utilized various libraries for our self-taught components. 

How did Momentum prepare you for the job hunt?

Momentum begins career services early on in the program. First, we had our headshots taken and started a LinkedIn profile. Momentum reviewed our resumes, giving us helpful edits. From there, we did mock interviews and had weekly meetings with the Career Services support team. Each week focused on different aspects of the job search – for instance, one week would be a HR interview focusing on soft skills and another week we would discuss what was expected in a technical interview. Momentum encouraged us to participate in networking events, and discussed what to expect at large networking events and what kind of people we would meet. Momentum also had us use a Trello board to help us track and build our contacts as we were networking and meeting people from various companies. They had us take notes of the various companies that we were interested in. Momentum also arranged field trips to different companies, like Ansible, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Adwerx, where we were able to meet the people who worked there and learn more about the projects they worked on. 

You are now a Systems Programmer at Duke University! What does a Systems Programmer do? 

I work on the IT team at Duke University’s School of Medicine - Department of Anesthesiology. My official title is Systems Programmer but really I'm a Front End Web Developer. Our team is small, so I wear many hats!  I'm writing and testing code, handling design, dealing with bug fixes, and acting as IT support for the clinic. We were working at Duke University’s campus Monday through Friday, but since the COVID-19 lockdown, we have all been working remotely. Regardless of whether we are working in-person or remote, each morning we have the entire IT team meet for our daily standup. We utilize GitLab for our ticket tracking and their issue boards. We maintain a lot of communication and collaboration on our team. We also have meetings with our stakeholders to go over what we have done that week. Before COVID-19, my team was doing in-clinic visits for user testing where I would work with the clinic staff to make adjustments to the application that we’re building. 

What kinds of projects are you working on as a Systems Programmer?

My team is currently building an application that helps manage patient assessments and appointments for Duke University and its partner, the Duke Innovative Pain Therapies Clinic, a non-opioid prescribing clinic. With our application, a patient can complete a series of online assessments that help doctors understand their pain better, where their pain might be, what type of pain they are having, and how long they have had it. The tool we built has a dashboard system where the clinic staff can see the patient appointments and if they have completed their assessment. The staff can send reminders to patients or be prepared to give them an IPad to finish the assessment prior to their appointment. All of that data is managed and used during the patient’s appointment to better target their course of treatment. This app then connects with an in-depth reporting tool that helps doctors track their patient’s progress to see if treatment is working or if they need to make adjustments. 

Since we only began creating this application when I joined the team, I had the honor of being able to start the project in the system, which I never thought I would do. I'm building the codebase with the understanding that it needs to be primed for scalability, and I'm also active in the UI/UX design phase. The application uses a Python Django framework, a SQL database, and also utilizes CSS, HTML, and Javascript. When we designed the dashboard, my team broke it down into chunks and created tickets in order to plan our sprint cycles using an agile methodology. This project has also allowed me to learn a lot about accessibility guidelines.

How did you get your job at Duke University?

I graduated from Momentum in January 2019, and I began my job at Duke University about three months later. During the job search, I continued to go to meetups. I showed up early to one of these meetups, and helped the presenter and a few others set up the space and catering before everyone else arrived. I found out that one of the people helping set up the event worked at Duke, and she told me about the project her team was working on. She asked what I did, and I told her I was in the job market and explained what I was interested in doing. She told me they had two openings on her team, and shared her email address so I could send my resume directly to her. After that, I had a couple phone calls with her team and an in-person interview, and then I was offered the job! 

What’s your advice for recently graduated bootcampers who are now on the job hunt?

Don't get discouraged. Networking was huge for me, and even though it is hard right now because of social distancing, you can still attend online events and join online meetup groups. Try to network in any way that you can. The advice I give bootcamp students at Momentum is to be yourself. You aren't doing anyone a favor if you are pretending to be someone you are not. You want to talk to people that you click with and look for companies that you feel will be supportive of you and your needs and goals. 

How do you continue to learn after bootcamp?

Some of that happens naturally when we are developing a new feature for our project. We need to research different libraries that we use to build out new features. I also subscribe to the Grep Beat newsletter so I get updates on the local market and new things coming out. I’m also active in the Momentum alumni network, and we are currently planning bi-monthly, extended learning opportunities for Momentum graduates. 

What’s been your biggest challenge or roadblock in becoming a developer?

Myself. Imposter syndrome is so huge and very real. I kept asking myself, "Am I smart enough to do this?" and that was working against me. At the same time, I love a challenge, so I’d counter that thought with, "Hell yeah, I can do this!" Thankfully, my imposter syndrome has become weaker with time. 

Being able to exercise my creative license at my job has given me a sense of belonging and confidence. I wanted a company that was supportive of work-life balance and didn’t micromanage me, which is very true of my environment now. I also wanted to work with a supportive team that allowed me to exercise my creative license. Those were all important details to me in the company I chose. 

Are you happy that you went down this route to becoming a developer? Do you think now is a good time for someone to make a career change into tech?

Absolutely! In this career and industry, you get to be a forever learner. In previous companies, I would get bored, but tech is an industry where that will never happen. It's constantly growing; new languages, new frameworks, and new libraries are always coming out. I'm mentally engaged. Every day at my job, I get to solve puzzles. And the industry isn't going out-of-date soon, if ever. Tech is in high demand and that makes me feel secure in my choice. For anyone who is considering making the career-change into tech, if you have the resources, then I absolutely recommend it.

Find out more and read Momentum reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Momentum.

About The Author

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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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