Rebecca was a high school math teacher for 4 years before deciding to pick up coding. Inspired by her programmer mom, Rebecca went to Tech Elevator’s Women, Wine & Web Design event in Columbus, Ohio to dip her toes into the coding bootcamp world. She really enjoyed it, and enrolled in Tech Elevator’s full-time Java bootcamp. Rebecca tells us about her experience learning to code, how she landed her job as a tech consultant at Cardinal Solutions, and why it’s so important to her to encourage more women to get into tech!
What is your pre-bootcamp story?
I went to Ohio State and studied math because I really enjoyed math classes in high school. I then tutored and taught college classes as a TA because I loved helping people learn; and I got a lot out of it. So I decided to go to graduate school to be a teacher. I made lifelong friends and enjoyed my students, but it turned out that teaching wasn’t the profession for me. After four years of teaching high school math, I started looking for different challenges.
What motivated you to start coding?
My mom was also a math major and then went into programming. I looked to my mom and said, "We have similar interests in math, maybe that extends to programming." I did a little research by going to Tech Elevator’s Women, Wine & Web Design event in Columbus, Ohio.
Tech Elevator’s coding bootcamp had been on my radar since I started searching for how to get into software development. My mom actually heard a commercial on the radio for Tech Elevator on NPR – so that planted the seed and I jumped at the chance to try it out. At the Women, Wine & Web Design event, I got to try out a little bit of HTML and CSS, and I really enjoyed it.
Did you start learning to code on your own before you did Women, Wine & Web Design at Tech Elevator?
I took one programming class in college, but I didn’t remember much.
As a young teenager, I had a MySpace account, and if I wanted a sparkly background or something like that, I would copy and paste from somebody else’s HTML code and tweak it. When I went to the Women, Wine & Web Design event, it felt kind of familiar. I had definitely played with HTML before, but I was a 13-year-old with no idea of what I was doing.
Tell us about Women, Wine and Web Design. What tools did you learn?
When I went, it was two Tuesday sessions, which were 2 hours each. The instructors walked us through setting up our own websites – the HTML and the corresponding CSS that added the style to the website. Before the class, we were given some prerequisite material to review as a reference point, which gave us an idea of what the content of the website would look like. We used really basic, free tools like Sublime Text.
At the end of the class, our final product wasn't hosted online, it was on a local machine. We could open the HTML file in on our computer and click through our website.
Over 200 women attended Women, Wine & Web Design workshops in 2017.
Was it a unique experience for you to learn with all women?
Looking back, it was. As a teacher, I had a lot of female coworkers, but now as a developer I have almost none. It was a funny first experience with coding to work with all women, but I enjoyed it. We were all in the same boat – we didn't know anything and we all felt comfortable asking each other questions. There were a bunch of volunteers walking around to answer questions, so it was a comfortable atmosphere.
What made you decide to do the full immersive Tech Elevator bootcamp?
I wanted to get to work quickly. I looked into grad school, but it would be a two-year process. It would’ve been more than two years until I got a job. I really liked that Tech Elevator and the bootcamp model was only 14 weeks. Tech Elevator also has a high job placement rate so I was hoping that I'd have a job soon after graduation – and I did!
Did you consider any other bootcamps or were you sold on Tech Elevator?
I was pretty sold on Tech Elevator. Although Women, Wine & Web Design was an isolated event, I did do my research on other bootcamps. Tech Elevator appealed to me the most because I already had a sense of the instructors’ personalities and my expectations were set from the event.
I also wanted to stay local and the reason that I went to a bootcamp was to change careers and get a job. With Tech Elevator, I was pretty positive I was going to get a job afterward, which was the most important thing to me.
Did you go through the full application and interview process at Tech Elevator?
Yeah, I did have to go through the full interview process. Compared to grad school, which required pages and pages of information, Tech Elevator’s application was simple. It was a quick aptitude test. Most of us had zero coding experience, so they don't expect you to know that much about programming. They just wanted to know that we were teachable. After that, I got a phone call for an interview.
It was nice already knowing some of the Tech Elevator staff members from Women, Wine & Web Design, and knowing the location and the classroom helped a lot.
Do you have any tips for the Tech Elevator application process?
Tech Elevator is looking for somebody who loves to learn; someone who is going to work hard under pressure. Because of the time constraint at bootcamp, you learn a lot of information really quickly. They're also looking for the right personality, which is someone who works well on a team.
Tell us about your cohort. Was it diverse?
We had around 36 students and our bootcamp was split between two different coding languages: Java and .NET. I did the Java bootcamp. Out of all the students, there were five women.
Age was all over the place. There were students who had just finished college and then there were people who had pretty long careers, but decided they weren't fulfilled anymore – some had been working for 30 years. It was really nice because we got to learn from each other – we all had such different experiences.
Rebecca with fellow students in the Elevate Space during a Pathway Program™ session.
Tell us about your learning experience. As a former teacher, what did you think about the bootcamp teaching style?
I think Tech Elevator did a great job teaching. My instructor knew so much and was really good at relaying that information. It's definitely intense because of the amount that you need to learn and be able to use, in such a short timeframe. It's not for everybody, but within those constraints, Tech Elevator does a lot with the time that they have.
At the beginning of the day, there’s a lecture with the whole class to teach us the information we needed for projects. We didn’t spend much time in a classroom because most of it is hands-on work. Three instructors are available to answer any questions. I wasn't on my own with the homework – I could always ask a classmate or an instructor.
How did Tech Elevator help you prepare for the tech job hunt? How did you transition from bootcamper to full-time developer?
That's one of my favorite parts of Tech Elevator – how well they prepare you for the job search. We had major support from their Pathway Program, which started the first day of bootcamp. It began with getting to know ourselves – what are my strengths, what can I talk about in an interview, what can I put on my resume that's going to really highlight what I’m best at etc.
We had homework assignments for the Pathway Program throughout the entire 14 weeks. The job search really kicked in at the end as the intensity of coding assignments mellowed out. We had a really unique experience where they brought employers to Tech Elevator to interview us. Tech Elevator helped us with resumes and interviewing, told us how to apply, and how to follow up. I learned so much about applying to jobs from Tech Elevator.
Tell us about your new job! How did you get the role? What was the interview process like?
The company I work for has a relationship with Tech Elevator, but I didn't meet them at Interview Day. I actually found them by Googling job postings in the area. I had a classmate who went to an interview there the day before I did, and he had great things to say about the company. It was a really quick process. I applied for the job on a Tuesday, I heard back from them on a Wednesday, scheduled an interview for Thursday and got a job offer on Friday!
It was super easy, but that timeline was not a normal experience!
Do you have any advice for bootcampers going through the job search?
Apply to a lot of jobs. Don’t just apply to one and consider it done. Tech Elevator suggested that we apply to three jobs a week. The people who got jobs the quickest applied to way more than three a week. Also, reach out and talk to people at the companies that you're applying to. Get to know more about the company before you interview.
What do you do day-to-day – are you learning on the job?
I work as a consultant at Cardinal Solutions, a consulting agency in Columbus. I’ve been working here for just over a month.
During the job interview, I asked if they had hired coding bootcamp students before because we have different knowledge and skill sets than somebody with a four-year college degree. It turned out that one of my interviewers was a bootcamp graduate who had been working at Cardinal for a few years. So the company understood my skill set and knew my limitations. My interviewer ended up being on my team and he was excited to help me get onboarded. He had a plan ready and provided me with resources to keep learning.
On a daily basis, I do pair programming with somebody who knows a little bit more about coding and the project. It’s been very helpful. My coworkers are really willing to answer questions and explain what they're doing and thinking. Sometimes I pair with the other new consultant who was also a Tech Elevator classmate – we work through code together and come up with answers to problems. Multiple people on the team have told us, "If you ever need any help, ask me." Coworkers constantly say, "Come work with me. I'll teach you about what I'm doing right now." So they've done an excellent job. I'm really happy.
Are you using Java at Cardinal Solutions? Have you had to learn new languages?
Do you feel confident in learning these new languages even though you may not have been taught them in Tech Elevator?
Yes. The learning you have to do on your own at Tech Elevator really prepares you for a new job. Because of how quickly we had to learn the material at Tech Elevator, I already had a lot of experience in how to Google good resources to use. I use a lot of Stack Overflow, and I'm learning how to use the documentation that Microsoft provides to answer questions as well. My confidence in learning on my own has increased tremendously since going to Tech Elevator.
What has been your biggest challenge or roadblock in this journey to learning how to code?
Getting comfortable with not knowing. As a teacher, you're the one person in the room who is supposed to know everything. And now I feel like I'm one of the people in the room who knows the least. So I had to get comfortable saying “I don't know,” and asking for help. That was a big transition.
Are you still connected with the Tech Elevator network?
Yes. Tech Elevator holds a regular happy hour meet and greet with other alumni, and I’m volunteering at the Women, Wine & Web Design event this year. I love volunteering with that event because there really aren’t a lot of women in technology and I'm not really sure why – I have read a couple of theories, but they don’t really make sense to me. I think women offer a unique perspective in the workplace and software development is definitely lacking in that.
What advice do you have for someone thinking about making a career change and attending a coding bootcamp?
Definitely go to meetups in your area. In Columbus, there's a great meetup community and so many software developers are willing and excited to share their knowledge and to help out. The next Women, Wine & Web Design event is in Cincinnati, Ohio on March 8, 2018.
I know that it takes a lot of bravery to quit your job and to put your trust into a whole new career that you really know nothing about. So to do that, I would say – have courage, but also work very, very hard.
Coding is not something that falls into your lap. Going through a bootcamp and getting a job takes a lot of work, studying, and practice.