When John Ray Martinez immigrated to Canada from the Philippines, he was already years into an IT diploma but found that his credits didn’t transfer. While completing a computer science diploma program in Toronto, John Ray came across BrainStation’s full-time Web Development bootcamp and decided to enroll. His cohort was 10 weeks into their program when COVID-19 transitioned the in-person bootcamp to remote learning. John Ray tells us how shifting to remote learning impacted his tech skills for the better, how he landed a remote internship at Konrad Group, plus what the coding bootcamp taught him that he never learned in his university computer science courses.
What were you doing before BrainStation? What did you find helpful when you did self-study after college?
Why did you choose BrainStation? Did you research any other bootcamps?
I wanted the community that comes with a coding bootcamp like BrainStation and I was impressed by BrainStation’s Demo Days, where graduates showcase their capstone projects to potential employers. I also liked their curriculum and the career help they offer students after graduation.
What was the BrainStation interview and application process like? Once you were accepted, did you have to complete any pre-work?
The first two weeks of bootcamp were essentially prep work for everyone in the cohort. BrainStation calls it a Async Week – it's all online, asynchronous learning. BrainStation offers prep courses for anyone who wants to do brush up on material before completing the enrollment application.
Since you were at BrainStation when COVID-19 hit, you experienced both an in-person and online bootcamp. How did BrainStation help your cohort transition from in-person to a remote bootcamp?
We were supposed to be in the classroom for 10 weeks, but because of the pandemic, we only did eight weeks in-person and then the final two weeks online. When we switched to remote learning, we mimicked the in-person schedule as much as possible and BrainStation continued to do live lectures on Zoom. It didn't affect the curriculum that much. We were also focused on our capstone projects those last two weeks.
I initially chose BrainStation because an in-person learning experience was important to me. I knew I could study online on my own, so I wanted to go to an actual classroom where I could focus without the distractions and be motivated by others in my cohort to keep pushing myself. Our cohort is pretty tight-knit, though, so it wasn't hard to keep in touch with them once we moved from in-person to remote. We could also easily reach out to our instructors and TAs through Slack and they would quickly respond within normal working hours.
Do you have any advice for someone who is about to learn in an online setting?
You must have the discipline to separate home and work. That's not just advice for bootcampers; it's for anyone who's working remotely right now. You need to have separation and you need to have a work-life balance. Set some boundaries. This was tricky for me when BrainStation went remote because I have a bunch of distractions at home.
What did the BrainStation curriculum cover?
How did the teaching style in the BrainStation coding bootcamp compare to your computer science classes at Seneca College?
College is a longer program, so they can take their time to teach you skills. On the other hand, I learned the same skills and more in only three months at BrainStation. At BrainStation, we also had two instructors and three teaching assistants in our class of 30 students. We had the individual attention we needed to succeed. In college, there was just one professor for around 40 students. Having more attention at BrainStation made a big difference for me.
Tell us about the projects that you built at BrainStation!
We completed a one-week sprint and a one-day sprint as group projects. During the one-week sprint, we built an app based on a mock-up, and we used mostly React and NodeJS. The one-day sprint was done in BrainStation 3D where we worked with data science, web development, and UI/UX. Those group projects were extremely helpful to me. I did this bootcamp for these collaborations because that’s what it's like in the real world.
I'm a gamer, so I knew that I wanted to create a game for my Capstone Project. It was an individual project, and we had to complete it in two weeks. I based my project off of a car arcade game, and I decided to call it Suber, a combination of Uber and sober. The game was created to raise awareness of intoxicated driving. To simulate drunkenness in the game, if the player hits a cup of beer in the road, your vision becomes blurred and later your controls become reversed. The other challenge of the game is staying awake. When the game begins, you'll see a meter on the right. When it reaches about 20 seconds, your screen will start blinking to simulate falling asleep. The player has to wake up their character by shaking their mouse. When I was creating it, half the time was me developing it and the other half of the time I was just having fun playing it! To build it, I used React and Sass.
How did you present your projects when you were learning online?
Since we could no longer do the Demo Day in-person, we each recorded videos or “demo reels” of our capstone presentations. BrainStation posted these demo reels on their website along with our resumes. It was kind of like a yearbook!
How did BrainStation prepare you for the job hunt?
BrainStation taught us how to become more visible on LinkedIn, which was really beneficial for me because before this bootcamp I only had Facebook and Instagram. We had a couple of workshops that showed us how to tell our story to interviewers, and we submitted our resumes three times throughout the bootcamp for review. During the latter part of the course, we had mock interviews with real recruiters and senior developers.
BrainStation hosted Power Hours, where they invited industry professionals and alumni to discuss their career path with us, what their day-to-day tech lives are like, and share job search advice. I thought the Power Hours were helpful. BrainStation also put together three tours of different tech offices, but due to the pandemic, we only got to go on one tour. On that tour, we went to Konrad Group, which is where I'm working now.
Tell us about your internship at Konrad Group! Did you get this internship through BrainStation?
About a week after graduation, BrainStation recommended me to Konrad Group, and then Konrad Group reached out to me to set up an interview. Originally, I interviewed to be a Development Programmer, but they only had an internship available in the Quality Assurance department. QA is technically a different field than development, but I knew it was still a great opportunity. I want to be exposed to what happens in the big picture at an organization. I wanted to see what happens in a scrum meeting, what the industry code looks like, how QA works, and I knew I could apply those fundamentals I learned at BrainStation to this position. So, now I work in the QA department! It’s a full-time, paid internship with a five-month contract, and I am on two project teams and a department team. Since we couldn’t meet in-person, my onboarding consisted of multiple Zoom meetings over the course of a few days. I met with all of my coworkers that way, and so far my team has been super helpful to me since I've been onboarded. When I get to the fourth month of this internship, my team will assess whether I can be hired on as a full-time employee and if I can change departments.
What kinds of projects are you working on at your QA internship?
I'm working on projects for two different teams and both projects are focused on Adobe Experience Manager (AEM). It’s my first time working with AEM, so I have had a lot to learn. Basically, we are building components so the user can drag and drop to create their own content without having to come to us every time they want to change their website.
Working on the QA team, I now have an idea now of what usually breaks, what I should look up to solve problems, and what the most important aspects are. Accessibility and cross-platform compatibility are more important than I realized — my eyes have been opened!
Is BrainStation continuing to support you in your job search since you graduated?
BrainStation actually reaches out to you after graduation to help you out. Even though I was lucky to get my internship right after graduation, Michael in Career Services has still been keeping me on track in my job search. He follows up and makes sure that I’m putting effort into my job search and he also offers me advice.
Since you've graduated from BrainStation, how are you continuing to learn online?
I’m learning new technologies by doing projects. A lot of people used firebase in their capstone projects, but I didn't, so my friend and I decided to try making a chat app with firebase. I also joined a hackathon with a group of other people from Brainstation that was hosted by Microsoft. I'm constantly learning on the job, too!
Would you recommend going to a coding bootcamp over a traditional computer science program at a university?
I think you can make it in the tech world without formal computer science study as long as you have the fundamentals. You need to know the logic and the ideas behind computer science before you can jump into it. Without the theory, you’ll have tools that you don’t fully understand. If you believe that you are a fast learner and you can keep up, then go straight for the bootcamp. If you have trouble catching up with materials and aren't interested in researching beyond the curriculum to make concepts clear for yourself, then you should get some other learning experience first. When you get behind in a coding bootcamp, it’s hard to catch up.
What has been your biggest challenge in this journey to becoming a developer?
The trickiest part for me has been overcoming imposter syndrome. It was overwhelming at first. Once you finish the bootcamp, you think you're ready to go straight to work, but then you look at the job postings and they want years of experience, stacks you haven't learned yet, and you question whether you're good enough to go for these jobs. I realized that being sad about it doesn't help, so whenever I came across things I didn't know, I would read up on them and push through to learn whatever I needed to to get through. It’s hard but you have to get through the imposter syndrome.
Are you happy with your decision to go to a coding bootcamp?
Definitely! BrainStation gave me the confidence that I needed and the fundamentals. I didn't know how or why things worked before bootcamp. By going to bootcamp, I closed a lot of gaps in my tech knowledge. If I had known that a coding bootcamp was an option when I first arrived in Canada, I would have gone straight to bootcamp instead of going to college.