Shantal wasn’t satisfied with her career trajectory in finance and wanted a creative job that offered career growth. She enrolled at Tech Elevator to get the technical-skills foundation and support she needed to make a career change. Having attended the bootcamp both in person at Tech Elevator’s Philadelphia campus and live online, Shantal shares her tips for making the most of both experiences.
Shantal landed her first Software Engineering role at JPMorgan Chase & Co. – before graduation day – thanks to the robust employer network, but she’s not the only one! Tech Elevator has a 90% bootcamp graduate job placement rate, reported via CIRR. Learn more about Shantal’s experience at Tech Elevator and her career change.
Your background is in the finance industry, so why did you choose to go into software engineering instead of data science or data analytics?
It's typical for people with a financial background to explore data-driven careers, but I chose to go for software engineering because I've always been intrigued by the creative potential of coding. I'm attracted to creating things from scratch, and I wanted to build technology from the ground-up.
I also wanted a career with a clearer trajectory that would secure my future. Following the rise in technology and computer-dependency over the decades, I knew entering this industry would provide constant growth and development for me professionally and personally. If I stayed in my former career, my career trajectory would have led me to HR and people management roles, which were not inspiring to me.
Did you teach yourself how to code before considering a bootcamp?
The internet offers endless resources to learn how to code! If you have enough discipline you can teach yourself how to code for free. As for me, I once built MySpace and Xanga webpages, and I took some courses on SEO from Udemy because they were applicable to the work I was looking for at the time.
When you were looking for a coding bootcamp, what stood out about Tech Elevator?
When I was comparing bootcamps, Course Report was an invaluable resource in my research. I was searching for a program that could do more for me than I could do for myself. I was looking for accountability, an employer pipeline, and relevant skills for technical roles. After reading student testimonials, hiring results, and other metrics, Tech Elevator and its Pathway Program stood above other programs offered.
Tech Elevator opened my eyes to the viability of pivoting into a tech career through a coding bootcamp rather than enrolling in a four-year, computer science degree program. The pace of innovation is so quick that often the technology you learn at the beginning of a college degree is obsolete by graduation. I wanted the opportunity to learn with an intensive curriculum in order to make a quicker transition into the workforce. Tech Elevator takes a holistic approach to preparing future software engineers for their tech career in the current world. An unexpected feature that also set Tech Elevator apart from the rest was how they prepare students for working remotely in this modern, post-COVID era.
Was it important to you that Tech Elevator had a campus in Philadelphia?
I was looking at bootcamps before the COVID-19 lockdown, so at that time it was important for me to learn in-person because I was treating this bootcamp experience as my job. I wanted to put my full effort into acquiring these skills, and I wanted to experience an accurate reflection of what normal work life would be as a software engineer. I was also seeking the collaboration and accountability that comes with working with others. Having that in-person space at Tech Elevator’s Philadelphia campus was valuable because I could be fully invested in the moment.
What was Tech Elevator’s application process like for you?
Tech Elevator has you take an aptitude test first. I got a high enough score so I moved onto the application. After my application was screened, I attended the behavioral interview in person, which was followed up by a longer, technical assessment.
I went into the technical assessment thinking it would be riddled with difficult math questions I couldn’t answer or that they’d ask about the differences between hardware and software. They didn’t ask any of that and I didn't have to know how to code to complete the assessment. Instead, this assessment covered skills like critical thinking, logic, and spatial awareness. There were logic problems, and I reviewed diagrams and oriented schematics in order to see patterns and designs. There were some math problems centered on geometry and algebra, such as finding missing variables, as well as some mathematical word problems.
Did you complete any prework for the bootcamp?
There was definitely prework! I was at the edge of the due date for the application and I wish I had applied sooner so I would have had more time for the prework.
The Tech Elevator prework consisted of:
A unique and special aspect of Tech Elevator was their use of the StrengthsFinder results. When we did pair programming, our partner’s Strengths style could be complementary or contrasting, which gave us practical, valuable experience working with others.
Did you receive any scholarships or financing to attend the bootcamp?
I took out a loan through Ascent Funding (formerly known as Skills Fund) and had one of my parents co-sign on it. I took out more than the tuition so that I could pay for living expenses. The bootcamp is so intense, so it’s pretty much impossible to work simultaneously with this program. I’m a year out of the bootcamp now, and I’ve already paid off this Ascent loan of $19,000, thanks to the salary of my new software engineering job!
Your cohort started in-person on the Philadelphia campus before the Covid-19 lockdown pivoted your cohort to live online. What was the difference between learning in-person versus learning online at Tech Elevator?
I loved being in-person at Tech Elevator’s Philadelphia campus because I was able to form relationships with my instructors and peers. By the time we went fully remote, we already had great relationships established so socially it was a seamless transition.
Going remote changed how we improvised as we learned. In the in-person bootcamp, if you walked past someone in your cohort and a question suddenly occurred to you, you could quickly get their attention. That changed when we went remote. We queued our questions instead of getting immediate answers.
For me, managing my time was more difficult in the online bootcamp. When I was in-person, I would set time to do homework after class ended because I had to catch a train to go home. Going fully remote, I had more time, which made it feel like I could work indefinitely. I could stay on a call until midnight doing homework with my classmates because we had nowhere else to be.
Did you still feel connected to your instructors in the online bootcamp format?
Yes. Even though we went remote, the instructors were constantly available. They pivoted quickly, knowing they'd need a constantly accessible Zoom room. For those of us working until the last minute on a deadline, instructors intentionally made themselves available late into the night to support us however they could. The instructors did a great job at having that infrastructure in place when we went fully remote.
What did the Java bootcamp curriculum cover? What did you actually learn at Tech Elevator?
The most valuable thing I learned at the bootcamp was how to learn the right way to thrive within the tech industry. The frameworks and technological skills are great to learn, but the real value is learning how to learn in a short amount of time, under duress or a deadline, and how to produce a viable result. That's what it's like to work in the real world; you're given a deadline, you might not know everything about the system you're trying to implement, but you learn along the way, iterate, and create the desired result.
What did you build for your Capstone Project at Tech Elevator?
After each module, we had a pair programming project with another person that focused on the frameworks and technologies we had just learned. My projects included building my own vending machine and creating a website that displayed information about National Parks.
After the final module, we had two weeks to work with 4-5 students to create a comprehensive capstone project that utilized all the frameworks and skills we had learned over the 12 weeks. With this final project, we had to manage and delegate work across multiple people and deal with different work styles, using the Agile framework. We built this project while also having interviews with Tech Elevator’s hiring partners for real positions, so it was fun but also a lot of pressure!
For my capstone project, we built a brewery finder website. One of our teammates was a former bartender who knew all the best breweries in Philadelphia. We made an interactive webpage that allowed the user to search by brewery to see their beer lists, make reservations, and curate their favorite beer list. There was also a Brewery Near Me feature, which was a map that oriented the user to the closest brewery to them. My group organized our project in a way that would reflect a real working environment. We had daily standups and meetings to keep us accountable. Our instructors acted as our fake product owners and gave us requirements for the application that we had to build toward.
Tech Elevator’s Pathway Program solidified foundational concepts for me, like:
Which tech roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating from the bootcamp?
I felt prepared to apply for roles as a Computer Programmer, Software Developer, Junior Full Stack Developer, Software Engineer, QA Tester. I could have applied for Front End Developer or Back End Developer positions, but I wanted something that incorporated both. I even felt comfortable applying for SCRUM Master because we learned Agile skills and SCRUM modalities in the bootcamp.
Congrats on your Software Engineer role at JPMorgan Chase! Did you get the job through a connection with Tech Elevator?
Yes, I 100% did! My biggest stress was how long it would take me to find a job after graduating from the bootcamp because there were so many hiring freezes in 2020 due to Covid, but I got a job offer before I graduated from Tech Elevator! Tech Elevator hosted a panel during the bootcamp featuring people who had made a career transition without a computer science degree, and my future boss was in that panel.
The reason why JPMC covets me as a software engineer is because I bring a different perspective for problem-solving. If they only hired engineers with CS degrees who have a set idea of how things should be designed, JPMorgan might not innovate as much. They want a diversity of perspectives for building their applications, and that’s why they like to hire bootcamp graduates.
What was the interview process like at JPMorgan?
JPMorgan was interested in me because of my past financial experience, and they had faith in the skills I had learned at Tech Elevator, so I got the job by just doing a behavioral interview. In the interview, I talked about the projects I did at Tech Elevator. It definitely shows the trust and faith that JPMorgan Chase has in Tech Elevator graduates.
JPMorgan is such a huge company! What kinds of projects are you working on?
I work on a small team of five people, and the majority of us are bootcamp grads! We’re working in data delivery, migrating and replacing a legacy system with a new proprietary technology that only exists in-house at JPMC. We’re making it so that these older applications are fit to be deployed to the cloud, so they can be housed in a new data center that has a higher standard for data quality.
Do you still use everything you learned at Tech Elevator on the job?
I still work with Java, but I'm working with a new framework that is based on Java and is not something I can Google to figure out. Since it was developed within JPMC, if I need an answer to something, I can actually reach out to the engineer that created it. I also use SQL and APIs. I don't have much use for front end design right now, since I'm not building webpages.
What has been the biggest challenge in this journey to become a software engineer?
Learning how to let my personality show in this little square on Zoom and to know that it's okay to show up as my authentic self on the job. I'm not sure I would have had so much difficulty if we were in-person because it's easier to read body language and have these human interactions in-person. During my first couple of months in my new job, I was very conscious of observing the behaviors around me, not rocking the boat, or deferring to the opinions of others. As I've become more comfortable with voicing my opinions, unafraid to let others really know me, it has only served to benefit me.
How have you grown as a software engineer since graduating from Tech Elevator a year ago?
When I first graduated, I was Bambi in the woods, finding my way. I found my footing after the first few months on the job, deferring to more senior engineers for what I should be doing and how I should be programming. Over the past year working at JPMorgan I've grown in confidence, and now I’m paving the way with my own design patterns. I have more conviction and am more willing to take initiative and not constantly question or think I have to perform to the status quo. There are so many ways to solve a problem and since the pace of things is changing so quickly, it's more valuable to be able to adapt on the fly to find a solution rather than try to find a road map.
Do you have any advice for other women considering getting into software engineering?
There's a place for you in the tech industry! Women are highly capable of using technology, so there is no reason that women shouldn't be designing the systems that are blatantly marketed to us. Women tend to see things more holistically, design in a more compassionate way, and are more considerate of the user that will ultimately be benefiting from whatever program or application they’re developing.
As I've spoken to my male colleagues who have the equivalent education to me (including some who graduated from Tech Elevator), I’ve realized that they are typically more willing to apply for engineering jobs even if they don't tick every box in the job description. I’ve learned that you don't need to hit every box on the job listing — 60-50% of the ask is enough to apply for a job.
I think women are more reluctant to take risks. Doing Tech Elevator was a big risk for me. It was expensive, and I attended during a chaotic time. I encourage women considering entering this industry to recognize that your risk will be rewarded and your viewpoint is valuable. For any woman getting into tech, I definitely recommend following or signing up with the national organization, Women Who Code, which has local chapters including Philadelphia.
At this point in your career change journey, was Tech Elevator worth it for you?
100%. Going to Tech Elevator has paid off big time for me. I'm so happy I took the risk because it totally changed my life. I am now interested in the work I'm doing, and I feel positive and optimistic about my future because of this career path that I've chosen. I could get fired tomorrow and I know I could have a new job by Friday because it's such an in-demand industry. It feels empowering to be valued for the work that I do.
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