Jessie Young graduated from the second cohort of Dev Bootcamp and went on to take an apprenticeship at thoughtbot, where she works today. Jessie tells us about how she found her passion in tech (even after getting a degree in humanities), the difference between an internship & an apprenticeship, and the types of students who thrive at Dev Bootcamp.
What were you doing before you attended Dev Bootcamp?
I was working in marketing for a startup. I was mostly doing content creation, analytics, and event planning and management.
What sparked your interest in programming? Why did you make the switch?
I had been working for startups for about 4 years. My first company was moving to Rails in 2009, so I heard the word “Rails” at work a lot. I had no idea what it meant, but I remember making a mental note to look into it.
I was a philosophy and political science major in college and joined my first company because of my interest in health care policy. But what I took from that job was that I was more interested in the technology itself than the ties to health care policy. So when that job ended, I kept working in the tech industry. And because I loved tech, I figured I should get more familiar with the technical side of things. I went to a RailsBridge workshop when I moved to San Francisco in 2010, and then another one, and another until eventually I was good enough to teach the workshop.
Which bootcamps did you apply to? Why did you ultimately choose Dev Bootcamp?
Between the time I attended my first RailsBridge workshop and the time that I applied to Dev Bootcamp, I had been studying Ruby and Rails on my own for over two years. During that time, I was doing online exercises, meeting up with friends who were also learning, and regularly attending hack nights. I even asked my company if I could intern in the engineering department. When that didn’t work out, I applied for unpaid internships at other companies, but never got an offer.
The first time I heard of any bootcamp was Hungry Academy in DC. I couldn’t believe it! It sounded perfect and Jeff Casimir, who ran Hungry Academy, was really cool. But ultimately, I didn’t get in. Jeff didn’t tell my why I got rejected, but he did tell me about Dev Bootcamp, so I emailed Shereef Bishay (one of Dev Bootcamp’s founders) and went to sit in on one of the first cohort’s sessions. It was great.
Do you think you were ever at an advantage having a background in the humanities?
I don’t know if a humanities background is an advantage, but I do think one of my unique advantages was that I was already tapped into the tech community. I knew that there were people at tech companies who needed engineers, and I was an avid consumer of technology and understood the trends.
On a different note, I don’t think having a degree in computer science would have been a big help at Dev Bootcamp. Ruby and Rails are not what you learn when you get a CS degree.
What kind of students were in your cohort? Did you find diversity of the group?
There was a lot of diversity. There were people new to programming, CS majors, recent college grads and people who’d had entire careers in a different field before deciding to attend Dev Bootcamp. What surprised me the most was the age diversity. I was 26 then and I thought I might be one of the older people, but I was pretty much exactly in the middle.
So there are a number of online boot camps and online classes that teach Ruby and other languages- why did you choose an in person class and why was that important?
Through that experience, I found that It’s just really hard to stay motivated when everything is a struggle and you’re alone. At Dev Bootcamp, it was never a struggle to stay motivated because I was surrounded by enthusiastic peers and teachers who could help me when I was stuck and couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Did you (and your cohort) complete a project at the end of the program? What did you choose?
We built an app that was really similar to Lift, right before Lift came out. We used Stripe to process payments and users would wager an amount of money that they would complete their goal. If they completed the goal, they would get their money back. If they didn’t, we would keep it. Not the most brilliant business idea I’ve had, but it was fun to build.
Describe your experience after Dev Bootcamp- Did you feel fully prepared to interview and why did you end up taking an apprenticeship?
We had a big hiring day, where a bunch of employers interviewed us. In the weeks after graduation, I went through multiple rounds of interviews with over a dozen companies. In the end, my top two options were a year-long fellowship with Code for America or a 3-month apprenticeship with thoughtbot. Code for America would allow me to mix my interests in tech and civic engagement and I’d been following the program since its inception. thoughtbot would allow me to see many different projects and had a great reputation in the Rails world because of its open source contributions and popular blog.
I ended up choosing the apprenticeship with thoughtbot. It was kind of scary choosing a 3-month position over a 1-year position, but I was 90 percent sure I had what it took to be hired after the apprenticeship. Plus, it was the opportunity that would enable me to grow the most. I knew that after 2-3 years at thoughtbot, I would be a kick-ass developer, and that was my number one priority.
Tell us what an apprenticeship is!
Dave Hoover just gave a talk on apprenticeships, where he provided an analogy for those who are familiar with internships but not apprenticeships: an internship is like dating, and an apprenticeship is like an engagement.
The goal of an internship is usually for the intern to get the feel of a job and then move on. The goal of an an apprenticeship is to get the necessary training to be hired for the job. That is certainly the case at thoughtbot, where the majority of apprentices are hired as full-time developers or designers after their apprenticeship.
What are you up to today? Where are you working? What does that entail?
I’ve been at thoughtbot for about 1.5 years. We’re a consultancy, so I’m on a new project about every 4-6 weeks. I have worked on everything from apps for huge companies to prototypes for individuals who come in and need something to get investors excited about their idea. To date, I’ve worked on 12 different projects; mostly for startups or nonprofits.
What has been your experience as a woman in the tech industry? Do you feel it changing?
When I was hired at thoughtbot, I was the only female developer (they had hired women in the past, but there weren't any at that particular moment) in the entire company. Now, as the company has expanded, we’ve been hiring women more aggressively. Today, we have six women in the San Francisco office. My happiness levels have increased since we started hiring more women.
One of the challenges is that a lot of the women here come in as apprentices, which means they’re all junior. Our most senior people are still all men. This is something that only time can change, but it’s one of the continuing challenges of women entering the field at a lower level. It’s going to be a while until I can sit at a table with five female senior developers.
What kind of person would you recommend attend Dev Bootcamp? What kind of person won't succeed?
People who will succeed are those who have tried (and even failed) to learn programming on their own first. I get a fair number of emails from people who are interested, and about 20% of them have never touched code. They might work around engineers, but they haven’t actually taken the time to sit down and learn a programming language. Dev Bootcamp costs over $10k and requires you to quit your job and devote three months to nothing but learning. I wouldn’t take that leap without knowing for sure that I enjoyed creating web applications.
There are students who don’t complete DBC. Dev Bootcamp has a refund policy more formalized so that students who fall behind can start over at any time. By week 3, there were a few people who just weren’t able to keep up and had to start over. I think that experience was upsetting to the whole class, because we all cared for each other and wanted to continue on together. I’m not sure why those particular students fell behind, but I would guess that it had to do with how much time they had spent learning Ruby and Rails pre-Dev Bootcamp. There will always be people who can come in with no experience and keep up with the class. But if I had started Dev Bootcamp with nothing but a few RailsBridge workshops under my belt, I would have floundered.
People who won’t succeed might be people who see this as a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s true that developers make more money than people in many other professions, but I can’t imagine that money alone would have been enough motivation to get me as far as I’ve gotten today.