Robert Salas was a US Army vet with an MBA when the pandemic had him pivoting into tech. Thanks to Sabio’s Deferred Tuition plan, Rob was able to enroll in the online bootcamp to get a foundation in software engineering. After Sabio, Rob was accepted into the highly competitive Microsoft Leap Apprenticeship Program, and has since landed a full-time Software Engineer role at Microsoft! Rob shares what he wishes he knew before enrolling at Microsoft Leap, and how Sabio gave him the real life tech experience that’s helped him go from total coding beginner to Software Engineer at Microsoft.
What inspired you to get into software engineering after your military service?
After my military service ended, I used the GI Bill to get a bachelor's degree in business and then an MBA. I knew I wanted to create something and own a business but I didn’t really know what. I learned in school that it’s important to bring a skillset into a business. I was interested in marketing and had a professor who worked in digital analytics. He said I needed to know a bit of coding to get into that field. I was intimidated at first but he assured me that it wasn’t that hard to pick up and that coding bootcamps offer quick coding training.
Another reason why I got into tech is that after finishing my MBA, the jobs in my industry were wiped out by the pandemic, but it didn’t touch the software engineering industry!
There are so many coding bootcamps — why did you ultimately choose Sabio?
My professor shared resources for several bootcamps, but I did my own research to see who would accept military benefits. I wanted to use VET TEC but that program ended up running out of funding by the time I was ready to enroll in a bootcamp. Luckily, Sabio offered a deferred tuition option, so I could enroll with a loan and pay it back within six months after graduation. Plus, attending Sabio fully online meant that I was able to complete the program from my home in Texas, even though Sabio is based in California.
What are your tips for future students using military benefits for a coding bootcamp?
There are a lot of veteran benefits available, like VRRAP, the GI Bill, and VET TEC, and they all have different criteria. I recommend looking up the criteria and finding a bootcamp that accepts those benefits. I know Sabio is well-versed in all the veteran benefits and accepts most of them. VET TEC is a great option because it doesn't use up any of your GI Bill months.
What was a typical week like in Sabio’s online bootcamp?
We began every day with stand up where we shared what we accomplished the previous day, what we're going to accomplish that day, and any obstacles that we encountered along the way. Our instructors offered support on how to figure out the obstacles. During the day, Sabio offers a queue where you can ask questions and get help to get unblocked. Throughout the course, they would offer just enough tools to unblock me and keep me going on my own, which is exactly what it’s like on the job as a software engineer! When we got into the project phase, our day shifted to focus on building a MVP and giving demos.
What was your favorite bootcamp project?
There was only one big project at Sabio, which was the MVP for a startup called Welrus. We teamed up with Berkley MBA grads to build an app for individuals who are under-insured or uninsured where they could connect with doctors who would agree to offer a discounted cash price that was cheaper than what they would charge insurance companies. We built the app to enable finding providers, giving providers the ability to add services, and enabling patients to schedule and purchase services.
What’s the difference between learning in a traditional classroom vs bootcamp?
Sabio teaches in a “reverse classroom.” They teach a bit about a task, offer a new similar task, and offer all the tools to figure it out, emphasizing being able to figure out tasks on our own. It’s really effective, but so different from the traditional academic setting I was used to!
In a traditional classroom, instructors tell everything you need to know, then test you on it. At Sabio, it was the opposite. Sometimes I’d get frustrated because I wanted to have all the information outright, but I realized the self-empowerment instruction was to my benefit.
What did you actually learn at Sabio?
What was the community like at Sabio?
One of the things that I love about Sabio is that I'm still involved in the very active online Sabio community on Slack. They have a jobs channel where alumni post jobs even years after they graduate. If I get stuck on a personal project and need help, I know I can ask my question on the Slack channel and get a response.
There's also a really cool, ongoing data structures class where sometimes alumni will hop in to host their own classes and help newer people get up to speed on algorithms. It’s a great place to practice because when you're teaching, you’re solidifying your own learning.
How did Sabio prepare you for the tech job hunt?
Sabio has a series of videos to complete after the final project, which prepared us for different avenues to get into the industry. A lot of people get jobs through recruiters, so they taught us how to talk to recruiters and what they're looking for. That was really helpful, so we didn’t have to stumble through that process to figure it out alone.
They helped with our resume and what keywords to use. They also have a mock interview channel, where alumni give mock interviews for people who are just graduating. When I graduated, that was really helpful because it drilled the process until I felt comfortable.
How did you land your first developer job after bootcamp?
I got hired by a recruiter for the medical device company, Orthofix. At the time, they were urgently hiring developers, which worked to my benefit. They hadn’t worked with a bootcamp grad before, but the stack I knew really aligned with what they were working on. Their codebase was in C#, which is a difficult language to learn. A lot of companies use C# so I felt prepared for the industry and confident that I had a valuable skill set, thanks to the curriculum at Sabio.
What kinds of projects did you work on at Orthofix?
I worked on a few APIs that would transfer data from one application to another. They had a legacy sales portal and a newer sales portal that they were trying to get to, so I worked on both of those, too. Their legacy sales portal was in Angular and used C# on the back end, and then SQL server for the database. Their newer sales portal used Vue.js and C# on the back end, and SQL server for the database.
Then you got accepted into Microsoft Leap Apprentice Program! What was the application and interview process like for Leap?
Gregorio at Sabio mentioned the Leap program and encouraged me to apply. I was stressed the whole time during the interview process. To get into LEAP, you have to time it right because applications are only open for a week. You have to answer two, long-form questions about your journey into tech and why you want to be in tech. After that there are two technical interviews on behavioral and technical components, the latter being an algorithm to solve.
Did you feel prepared by Sabio’s curriculum for the Leap application process or did you need to study to prepare?
I definitely had to study a lot beforehand because Sabio didn't have an algorithm class and it was something I had to do on my own. It’s still something I have to do on my own, but the classes helped a lot. The instructors at Sabio are incredible and I still go to them regularly to keep up my skills, since those skills are perishable.
Do you feel like you needed some work experience in software engineering in order to get into Leap?
When I applied, it was required to have six months of working experience after the bootcamp, but that may not be a requirement anymore. Either way, I highly recommend working for six months before applying to Leap because it will help you get in and through the program no problem. It may also help you be more prepared for the interview to get into Microsoft, which is insane!
What team were you working on during the Leap apprenticeship?
I was working on the Windows engineering team, which focuses on building signature experiences for Windows OS. They work on the Windows operating system, and my project was to build a small feature in File Explorer.
How long did the apprenticeship last?
The apprenticeship is three months with three checkpoints where they evaluate you on 14 competencies. On the third checkpoint, they decide if they want to interview you for a permanent position at Microsoft.
Do you have any tips for other bootcampers on how to get into LEAP? Anything you wish you had known before applying?
I wish I had practiced algorithms more. Looking back on everything, if you're very comfortable with algorithms, you're already at a significantly higher chance of getting hired than someone who is not. I networked with several different hiring managers asking them all the same questions, and every one of them told me to focus on data structures and algorithms. The reason to know algorithms is that they're evaluating you for a general software engineer position, not any specific framework.
You’ve transferred out of the apprenticeship to a full-time role at Microsoft — Did you have to interview for this position?
You start at LEAP as a contractor, which is technically a vendor and not an employee of Microsoft. When you get in, you have an opportunity to interview for Microsoft, and your chances are a lot higher than somebody blind applying. When they decide they want to interview someone, there are 3-4 interviews, both behavioral and technical, and they're hard! I will soon be starting my new role as a Software Engineer at Microsoft and working on the same team that I worked on during my apprenticeship.
Are you using all of the programming languages that you learned at Sabio in your role at Microsoft?
How has your previous background in the US Army helped you in your career as a software engineer?
In the military, you have to have this sense of drive and grit to get through certain things and to figure certain things out when there's really no clear direction. That’s now helpful to me as a software engineer.
Another big similarity is working in teams, which I'm very comfortable with after working in the military because that's all you do all day long! Other people who are self-taught developers are very uncomfortable working on a team, and they're more comfortable going off on their own and figuring something out. They're really smart, but the problem is, that's not how software is made — it's made in a team.
Another thing that really helped is communicating project goals and breaking something out into tasks. This is something that I got from the military and my business education.
At this point in your software engineering career, was Sabio worth it for you?
Absolutely! I recommended it to my girlfriend and she went through it and got a tech job, too!
Find out more and read Sabio reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Sabio.
Jess Feldman is the Content Manager at Course Report. As a lifelong learner, Jess is passionate about education — She loves learning and sharing insights about tech bootcamps and career changes with the Course Report community. Jess received a M.F.A. in Writing from the University of New Hampshire and lives in southern Maine.
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