Have you ever set a New Year’s Resolution to start coding? Melissa Cantu researched coding bootcamps for years, but resolved to make 2018 the year she made a career change. To make her goal a reality, she decided to invest in a coding bootcamp with DigitalCrafts in Houston. We spoke with Melissa about her journey going from having very little technical experience to being a lead developer for a startup in just four months!
What was your background before DigitalCrafts? Why did you decide to change careers?
I have a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing and after graduation, I worked at an insurance agency helping with their marketing and social media. I had always liked technology ever since I was a kid and my mom always supported me and encouraged me in that direction. I liked business but I was interested in coding, so I started considering schools to improve my skills. I thought that attending a bootcamp would be a faster path and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! I took a free Ruby coding course to see how much I really wanted to invest in a bootcamp, so I started in Ruby and went into HTML and CSS from there.
How did you decide on DigitalCrafts and what were you looking for in a bootcamp?
I actually researched for 2-3 years before taking the jump into a bootcamp. I was looking for schools with good reviews of the curriculum and student experiences. I also wanted to see how much students needed to know before starting the bootcamp, and what they offered in job support when the bootcamp was over.
Finally, I made 2018 the year to push my career toward coding. I looked at bootcamps in Houston again and DigitalCrafts came up - it had great reviews, and the students left great comments about the teachers and materials. I also learned that I'd get exposure to their employer network and get personalized feedback on my resume and portfolio, in addition to mock interview training.
What was the application and interview process for DigitalCrafts?
It was tough for me because I didn’t have much coding background, but DigitalCrafts provides you with enough information and guidance to do the challenge. It wasn’t easy, but it was really satisfying once I passed.
After that, you have an interview (in-person or virtual) so they can get a sense of your interest and help you understand the commitment to the program. I had a virtual interview and received my acceptance letter later that day!
How did you pay for the bootcamp? Did DigitalCrafts provide different financing options?
DigitalCrafts has a number of options to pay for tuition now, but when I did it you could either pay upfront or take a loan. I had to send a $1,000 deposit to reserve my spot and I took out a loan for the rest of the tuition through Skills Fund, recommended by DigitalCrafts, and I’m paying it back now.
Editor’s Note: DigitalCrafts now offers an Income Share Agreement where students can pay for the bootcamp once they’re employed with a minimum annual salary.
Who were the other students in your DigitalCrafts class and what were their backgrounds?
It was really diverse and people came from a number of different backgrounds. There were about 13 of us total – three of us were women and the rest were guys. It was nice that I wasn’t the only girl in the group! We all bonded really well and by the end we felt like a team.
What was the bootcamp learning experience like?
What was your final project at DigitalCrafts?
The final project was my favorite one because we got to work with actual companies and do projects for them. I worked with a digital agency that needed a progressive web app to assist people in finding quality bars, parks, cafes, and restaurants within walking distance. (A progressive web application is a web application that behaves like an app, but you don’t have to download it from the Apple or Android store.) In the app, the options shift, are removed from the list, and new places are added as you walk and your location changes.
It was a really interesting idea, but our team didn’t know how to build a PWA! I worked on it with another classmate and it gave us some great experience working with a client and building a project based on their needs.
It’s cool that you got to work with a real client for that project! If you didn’t know how to build a PWA going in, then how did you learn?
Although I didn’t had any experience with PWA’s, I felt pretty confident in executing the project. This is because at Digital Crafts they teach you how to understand and create new things and search for a solution if you run into a problem. At Digital Crafts you don’t only learn what it’s on the syllabus!
What are you up to now? Have you found a job as a developer?
I have! The agency I worked with for BeePowl had a startup client called VIPInsiders, and they needed developers for their project. The company provides loyalty programs for restaurants and they reward users with perks like free drinks with a paid membership. The agency connected me to the client, they interviewed me, and now I’m working there as a Lead Developer! The team is currently just me with the two founders so it’s really cool because I’m learning a lot and building a brand new project.
What does a normal day look like for you as the Lead Developer at a small startup?
What’s been your biggest challenge over the past year in making this career change?
When I started the bootcamp, I was feeling fine, but eventually I ran into some roadblocks that made me question what I was doing and whether I had made the right decision. Sometimes the instructor would teach a concept and I felt like everyone understood except me! But the teachers were really good and were helpful in explaining anything I didn’t understand. By the end of the course, I was much more confident.
It was such a quick transition in four months but I went from being brand new to coding to knowing enough to get a job. And if I don’t know how to do something, I know where to find the information to teach myself. DigitalCrafts also had a Career Week where they help you build your portfolio and your resume, and they give you a mock interview so you can know what to expect.
What advice would you give to bootcampers when they’re trying to get their first job?
I’d suggest practicing the coding challenges before interviews because if you know how to break down a project into individual steps, then you can understand the overall process, even if you’re not sure what to do next. Being able to present what you know is critical for an interview.
What else would you tell a friend who might be considering a bootcamp?
If you’re not sure about taking a bootcamp because you don’t have tech experience – just go for it and apply! I didn’t have a tech background and now I’m working as a software developer for a startup. I’d also recommend DigitalCrafts because it was a great experience and all the teachers were amazing.