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After two years of computer science courses in college, Mike Kerslake switched his major for a BFA in Photography and Videography. Yet his love for coding wouldn’t let him go, and Mike ended up working as a Website Strategist and Front End Developer after college. He eventually realized that he needed more skills to become a Full Stack Developer so he attended Fullstack Academy’s part-time Flex program. See how Mike balanced learning part-time with working full-time and how his bootcamp experience helped him land a new job as an MVT Developer at Isobar!

Q&A

What were you up to before Fullstack Flex?

Since I was 10, I’ve been really interested in how the internet worked. It was relatively new then, and wasn’t super popular with other kids my age. My father pushed me to learn, so I started working with HTML, CSS, and PHP. I created my first website using Adobe GoLive. Back then, there weren’t as many online resources to learn how to code, so most of it was trial and error.

By college, I knew I wanted to study computer science, but I also had a love affair with photography and videography. I struggled with picking a major – I did two years of computer science learning the foundations of coding, and Java, then switched to a BFA in Videography and Photography. During that time, I was still learning to code on my own with courses on Udemy.

After college, I really wanted to get my hands dirty with software development. In addition to photographing events on the weekends, I was also developing front end experiences and landing pages at a marketing company called Single Throw Marketing. This encompassed building on top of proprietary platforms as well as popular CMSes such as Wordpress and Joomla with Javascript, HTML, and CSS.

The more I worked in software development, and the more magic I saw, the more obsessed I became. I wanted to be able to build full applications and fully-fledged user experiences from the ground up. I needed a more formal education covering the most current technologies since the industry changes so often. So I started to research coding bootcamps.

What made you choose Fullstack Academy instead of another bootcamp, or going back to college, or teaching yourself?

My goal was to move on from my current company and get a job in full stack development. So I needed to gain an understanding of and get experience building full stack applications. While it may be easy for some people to self-teach, there are so many complicated pieces of building full stack applications these days. I wanted to learn every single detail and become proficient enough to transition into a new career.

I also wanted to make sure that my coding education would be cost effective, since I already had (and had paid for) a 4-year degree. I thought about doing a Master’s in Computer Science, but the most efficient and cost-effective option for me was to attend a part-time coding bootcamp.

I did a lot of research before making my decision – mainly on Course Report! I considered every single option – part-time, full-time, in-person, online, which city to study in, the school networking opportunities, etc. – and that research ultimately led me to Fullstack.

Any advice for other students who are researching coding bootcamps?

I’m very critical with research. Since I worked in marketing, I know how easy it is for schools to push out the content they want you to see. To get the full story, I talked to a few people who had actually attended bootcamps. I thought about Hack Reactor, but Fullstack Academy came up multiple times in my research and once I found that it was the best choice, it was the only program I wanted to do.

What made you choose the Flex program specifically as opposed to quitting your job and doing the full-time course?

Mostly finances. I factored in the costs of commuting, my current living expenses, and the program tuition. It just made more sense to me to keep earning as I attended school. This also meant I could have a safety net once I graduated and moved into the searching phase.

Another thing I had thought about was giving myself slightly more runway to learn and absorb the material than you get in a 17-week full-time program. Even broken out over six months, as the part-time program is, it’s a tremendous amount to learn in such a relatively short period of time, and having just that bit of extra legroom meant I could repeat workshops or assignments on my own in order to ensure the material clicked.

What was the application and interview process like for you? Did you feel like it was competitive?

My research led me to over-prepare for the application process. The first step is a timed coding challenge, based on the fundamentals of JavaScript and Object Oriented Programming. It was quite competitive and I was blown away when I received the email saying that I got in. Once you pass the initial coding exam, a Fullstack Fellow pair programs with you in a technical interview to understand your thought processes and how you approach problems, similar to whiteboarding. Fullstack wants to know if you can fundamentally break a problem down and approach it in a way that allows them to teach you in an accelerated way. You have to be able to stick to the goal of learning in a fast-paced environment and not give up easily.

What was the learning experience like at Fullstack Flex?

We’d get to class and finish up projects we were working on previously, or work on a problem presented by the instructor. We’d then go into a lecture where our instructor would do live programming. There are a lot of nuances in coding, so it was really good to see errors and bugs in real time while learning. It was a dynamic experience, so students could pause the instructor at any time to ask questions around why they should be coding in a certain way, etc. The material moved pretty fluidly since we were on a tight time schedule. After lecture, we would do pair programming. It was great because we built actual applications, which forces you to work effectively with someone else and to get out of your own brain. If you have another mind there with you to help, it’s a better learning experience. It’s also important that I give a shoutout to our instructor Eric Katz, who was truly fantastic. A teacher has the power to make or break a course for you, and Eric is exceptionally bright and quite funny, so he made the course and learning experience a true pleasure.

How was the day structured and how many hours did you commit each week?

You have several weekly evening classes, and then once a month we would also have full-day Saturday and Sunday courses from 9am - 8pm. The instructor also set the expectation from the start that we’d be doing at least 15 additional hours of work a week outside of class. I was traveling from the middle of New Jersey to New York City so there was a lot of commuting time. But the classes were really fun. All told, including class time, study time, and commuting time, I would say I committed 30-40 hours a week to the Flex program. As I mentioned before, I would often rework assignments or try different approaches to a workshop, because I believe repetition is important.

How did you balance your other commitments with studying? Any tips for other students thinking of studying part-time?

Balancing working full-time and studying part-time was really difficult. I warned my family and friends that I would have less time to hang out and do certain activities. And to make sure I didn’t go crazy, I dedicated Sundays to relaxing and staying away from computers.

My role at Single Throw Marketing actually changed right as I was starting Fullstack Academy. I was responsible for a lot more work, but I didn’t want anything to fall through the cracks – I wanted to give 100% to my job and 100% to my studies. It really came down to staying on a regimen – I woke up really early, studied while making coffee, went to work, studied after work, went to sleep and repeated that schedule. My company was also very flexible with me – they let me leave early for the two days I had to commute to class. I did that for 6 months and even though it was difficult, I have my new career thanks to that routine. It was 110% worth it.

Which programming languages did you learn in the Fullstack Flex program?

The course primarily focuses on JavaScript since that is now the de facto language of the web. The technologies we learned included:

We also learned CS and industry fundamentals such as Big O (for time and space complexities when developing algorithms), Agile development, and security and authentication, to name a few.

What was your cohort like? How did you support each other?

It was really amazing that I could nerd out with people in my cohort. Most of my friends are not software engineers, so they don’t understand the topics I get really excited about, but my Fullstack cohort has been able to give me that camaraderie.

There were a lot of intelligent people in my cohort who didn’t have any programming experience before Fullstack Academy. It’s amazing to see how strong minds can pick up coding when they’re really pushing themselves. It was inspiring to see people in my cohort grow in their skills. We all had really busy schedules, so it was all about staying connected using Slack – it was a two-way street.

How did Fullstack Flex prepare you for job hunting? Do you have any advice for other part-time bootcampers going through the job search?

Fullstack Academy ensured that we were ready for interviewing – they taught us the most efficient ways to approach problems, and how to prepare for whiteboarding and technical interviews. They also gave a lot of advice about formatting our LinkedIn profiles and resumes, networking, meetups, and reaching out to hiring managers. We did mock interviews and learned about salary negotiations – people hate to talk about money but it’s an important part of getting a new role! Fullstack Academy definitely challenges you, but it’s to make sure you can learn and be prepared – they did a really great job. I engaged with them a lot regarding my resume edits and preparing for interviews because I wanted to make sure I got the most out of the experience. Fullstack also has a hiring day where around 30 companies do round-robin interviews with students.

One piece of advice I can give – read the book Cracking the Code Interview. It really does help and it’s extremely important if you want to work at a company that has a whiteboard interview process. The book takes a problem and helps you architect a solution. It’s important to remember that companies aren’t necessarily looking for you to know Node and React; they want you to be able to solve problems with different technologies. Also, if you’re on the job search, make sure you have an amazing personal website. I mean, think about it: You’re looking for a job in web development! You need to have a good website that stands out.

Congrats on your job at Isobar! What is your role there?

Isobar is a digital consultancy that transforms the way companies approach marketing and business challenges. We work with a wide range of technologies, often bleeding edge like Mixed Realty. We have a huge client list like Coca-Cola, Enterprise, and Phillips. And what’s really great is that I’m working on projects at a much larger scale than I‘ve ever done before. I’m a Senior MVT Developer on the Optimization team, which is a mix of developers and analysts. We evaluate engagement and develop strategies to improve upon vital KPIs for our clients. For me, it’s developing and testing different front-end experiences within an application or site to find the optimal rendition. Everyone is incredibly savvy with technology and even non-developers understand JavaScript.

Tell me about your interview process for Isobar. How’d you land the job? Was the Isobar team impressed or concerned that you went to Fullstack Flex?

The interview process was similar to that of other companies I had been interviewing with. There are multiple phone screenings, they review code you write, and eventually, you meet members of the team in person for rounds of rigorous questions. I found that for some companies, the bootcamp actually stuck out as something impressive, especially since I was balancing the program with working full-time. I was able to express how enamored I was with development and how dedicated I was to furthering my education and expanding my knowledge, all while sacrificing my free time. My prior work experience and, surprisingly, my BFA also helped me as a candidate, because I knew a lot about the creative side of the digital marketing industry.

Are you using the programming languages that you learned at Fullstack Academy?

I use JavaScript, HTML, and CSS – things I learned at Fullstack – every day. I also work with React, depending on the site. I, of course, use Git to manage my work. Since I started at Isobar, I’ve learned about templating engines like Handlebars that I hadn’t used at Fullstack (although we used something similar), and some new aspects of the Adobe Stack such as AEM, Target, and Adobe Analytics. I’m also exploring test automation through Selenium and Nightwatch. Since JavaScript is such a large language, I’ve been learning how to get really good at its nuances. It’s so important that I understand Vanilla Javascript it at its core, and things like composition and different design patterns can make a huge difference to the quality of code you write.

What’s really cool is that you learn how to understand technology at Fullstack Academy. It really comes down to using different syntax and understanding a language’s architecture.. So then when a new technology gets thrown at me, instead of saying, “I’ve never used this and I can’t do it,” I’m able to pick it up pretty fast because I understand the paradigm, the foundations.

How has your BFA been useful in becoming a developer?

My BFA gives me an edge in that I know a lot about design dynamics. I have a design eye, I understand how certain elements fit together, how certain typefaces affect how we read the words on a page, and how different paddings and spaces can be used in page layouts. Even analytical and competent programmers sometimes don’t have that understanding of aesthetics.

It’s really helpful to have that critical design view. I can look at the different ways composition affects the user. It helps me see things through a design lens before I have to start building with code. What I like about programming is that I’m like a painter with a paintbrush, but I have sublime text and code to paint my picture onto the screen.

Since graduating from Fullstack, working at Single Throw Marketing, and then joining Isobar, how do you feel you’ve grown as a front end developer?

Fullstack Academy completely changed my life and the trajectory of my career. Of course, there are many classes you can take online and resources out there to learn, but having a community, a regimen, resources to finding jobs in this industry, and understanding how the technologies come together — that foundation really propelled my entire life forward.

After the course, my confidence skyrocketed. I felt like I could accomplish anything. Once you get through something as difficult as a coding bootcamp, you want more. Just like people who finish marathons are ready to do another, I came out of this experience hungrier to learn more technology. New problems come along and I’m confident I can solve them through programming, and that’s an invaluable feeling. You get out of it what you put into it.

What advice do you have for people making a career change through a coding bootcamp?

Just do it! It’s really easy to get stuck questioning yourself. Some people get bogged down and only focus on a new career for the money but if you like the idea of programming, it’s something you’re interested in, and you see the things you can accomplish – go for it. Fullstack Academy teaches you how to learn new things and that skill pays for itself. If you’re on the fence, just do it.

Check out more Fullstack Academy reviews on Course Report. And check out the Fullstack Academy website.

About The Author

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Lauren is a communications and operations strategist who loves to help others find their idea of success. She is passionate about techonology education, career development, startups, and the arts. Her background includes career/youth development, public affairs, and philanthropy. She is from Richmond, VA and now currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.

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