blog article

From Spoken Languages to Coding Languages with Bloc

Imogen Crispe

Written By Imogen Crispe

Last updated on October 31, 2018

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    Table of Contents

  • Q&A

With a passion for spoken languages, Sami wanted to challenge himself in the world of programming languages. As a Hebrew teacher and parent in London, UK, with various commitments, he enrolled in Bloc’s remote self-paced Web Developer Track to learn Ruby on Rails and JavaScript on his own schedule. Sami tells us about the similarities between learning spoken languages and programming languages, how supportive the Bloc team was throughout the program, and how he landed his remote job as a remote Ruby on Rails developer!


What were you up to before Bloc and why did you decide to switch careers?

I studied Social Policy and Criminology at the London School of Economics (LSE). I wasn't sure what I wanted to do at the time, but I became interested in ancient languages, particularly Biblical Hebrew. I'm Jewish, so understanding the Hebrew language in its biblical sense was a part of my upbringing. After university, I spent time studying and understanding this language, then started teaching it to others. It was a very difficult language to grasp because it has a different alphabet, and the writing is completely different. It's so foreign if English is your first language.

So I became a teacher of biblical Hebrew. The more I did it, the more I enjoyed it. But I was looking for more scope within languages. I have the patience to sit and work with languages. From there, I thought, “what if learned a different language, like a computer language, a more modern language?” That's how I started thinking about learning programming languages.

What made you choose to do an online bootcamp like Bloc, rather than going to a local bootcamp or university or teaching yourself?

I’d already spent three years at university and I wasn't ready to commit to another three years in computer science. I started teaching myself online, but I realized there is so much information out there, I needed someone to give it framework or a structure. I believe that everything I learned at Bloc could be learned online for free, but it would take five or six years to get to the level that Bloc helps you get to in just six months.

I looked into coding bootcamps here in London. There are not as many options as in America. A 12-week immersive General Assembly course was the only other viable option. With Bloc, the curriculum is self-paced instead of being 12-weeks full-time. Because it’s self-paced, I could take between six months and a year. That meant I could sit and learn at a pace which was more comfortable for me, and I could immerse myself in learning and understanding things. I would never have been able to take in that vast amount of information and truly understand everything in 12 weeks.

The fact that Bloc was remote was also huge for me. I was married with one kid at the time, and I was still teaching Biblical Hebrew, so it gave me the flexibility I needed to build it into my current schedule. I didn't need to rip my life apart to pick up a new skill.

What was the application and interview process like when you applied for Bloc?

The way I understood Bloc is that they could cater for any type of student. They were happy to accept someone who had never coded before. And that was me. I didn't know how the internet worked, I didn't know about servers. I'd heard of HTML from high school, but I hadn't heard of CSS or JavaScript.

Did you feel like it was a risk to enroll in a coding bootcamp before you knew you would like it?

To an extent, yes. But on the other hand, because I was already coming from languages, I knew the learning process I would go through. I kept reminding myself that when I started learning biblical Hebrew, every single day was a struggle. So I already understood that it would be a slow process. But everyday you learn more and more of the language until you become fluent. There definitely was a risk and there were parts which were overwhelming. But I was happy to take it step-by-step, day-by-day and see where it took me. I wasn’t putting all my eggs in one basket. I was still teaching and focusing on my family life. It was almost like learning to code on the side.

What was the learning experience like with Bloc? Can you tell me about a typical day?

I set aside five hours a day within my schedule to work on Bloc and I was really disciplined. I made sure no matter what, I did those five hours a day.

On the Bloc site, everything is really nicely structured. You have a dashboard or roadmap and can see each section – ie. section one is HTML, section two is CSS, section three is JavaScript. Each section has a number of checkpoints. You click on a checkpoint, read the text, and watch a video. And at the end, there'll always be a task to complete. I found that really great. According to how many hours you put in, Bloc guides you on how many checkpoints you are meant to be completing each week. The checkpoints were a good length and the task at the end was good at reinforcing everything I had learned in the checkpoint.

After you finish learning a language – HTML, CSS, JavaScript, or Ruby – you do a couple of projects. Bloc helps you download your own code editor, set up your development environment locally on your own machine, and deploy everything to GitHub. You could even deploy to Heroku, which is a server to host websites.

After every section, you have an assessment over a Google Hangout or Zoom video call. That was brilliant because it mimicked how we would be assessed when we apply for jobs. The assessor would ask questions, ask me to explain code, then ask me to write some code.

How often did you meet with mentors or interact with other Bloc students? Was the fact you're on UK time ever an issue in getting help?

Depending on your pace, you either meet with a mentor once or twice a week. Initially, I was doing the faster pace, so I was meeting my mentor twice a week for half an hour each. Then I slowed down my pace and my mentor meetings became once a week for half an hour. It ended up taking me a year and one month. There are so many time zones in the US that we always had a crossover. I kept the same mentor throughout the program.

All the students had access to various Slack channels. There are over 2,000 Bloc students, so there was never a shortage of people online to discuss problems with. There are also technical coaches who are there to answer your questions. It was unbelievable. Any time I got stuck, I never felt like I was on my own because I could ask somebody to help me on Slack. If no one was able to answer my question, or I wasn't getting a quick response, I could also go to my mentor. But my mentor was the last point of call. I think people get concerned when you're remote that you might feel alone and have no one to ask for help. It was never like that at Bloc.

You mentioned you had a teaching job and you've also got a young child. How did you balance the bootcamp with those commitments and stay motivated to graduate from Bloc?

Bloc helped me stay motivated with the way they present the material, meetings with mentors and working with other students online on Slack. There’s a channel called “Wins” in Slack. A Win is when you've completed a checkpoint, an assessment, or a project. There’s a  healthy peer pressure to finish checkpoints.

I also had a really great mentor who was always helping me to stay motivated. I was also just personally motivated to learn a new skill.

Did you see any parallels between learning coding languages and learning spoken languages?

Completely. It is so similar. There are, obviously differences, but when you sit down in front of a coding language, like JavaScript, everyone talks about syntax. Syntax in coding is almost the same as when you look at a word in English or any language. The syntax has a very similar function – something needs to be there to make sense. Whether that's an IF, or an ELSE or brackets or a semicolon. That kind of attention to detail is very similar.

When you use a spoken language, you are trying to communicate with somebody else. And that's all the programming language is doing – communicating with the computer and telling the computer what to do.

How did Bloc prepare you for job hunting?

It was amazing. I can't speak highly enough of the way they helped me for my career. Bloc has a whole Careers Team. Every so often in between a section in the curriculum, there were career checkpoints where you work a little bit towards your career.

We made a spreadsheet to help us figure out the different sectors of tech which we’re interested in working in, and the careers team used it to build up a picture of what each student is interested in. They also help you build your own personal website, and explained how to turn that into a portfolio. They talked me through setting up a LinkedIn page, made sure I looked at certain websites to help me find jobs, made sure I was networking, and really helped me all the way.

I had practice job interviews and technical projects, which a hiring manager might ask me to do within a limited timeframe. When I got to my first job interview, I'd already done coding interviews with Bloc and a test project. So when the hiring manager said, "You've got a week to complete this project," I was far less flustered and overwhelmed because I had done that with Bloc.

When it came to searching for jobs, there was so much information. There were times when it was very overwhelming, and I was getting no responses. But the careers team and my mentor would check in and could see my progress in a spreadsheet, so I wasn't alone in the job search. There's just that unbelievable level of support. The career support was almost as good, if not better, than the programming curriculum.

How long did it take you to finish the course? And then how long did it take you to find your job?

By the end of the course, I was such a decent junior developer that I had a job the day after I finished the course. I finished the course on a Thursday, and by Friday, I had a job at Green Gorilla Software. And not only did I have a job, my boss told me that I was able to command the highest salary that they had ever given to a junior developer.

Congratulations! How did you find the job at Green Gorilla?

I was doing everything to find jobs. I was doing networking and looking all over forums. In the end, this one came just from a Google search.

I work for Green Gorilla Software based in Worcester, UK. I'm a remote Ruby on Rails developer. The company builds in-house software and websites. We take on all different types of projects and try to deliver an MVP within three months. The team is small – about four or five developers, plus marketers and salespeople. They are a remote company. I know in America that's very common, but in England, that is so forward-thinking and dynamic.

Working here has been so cool. They literally threw me into the deep-end, which was unbelievable. The day I joined they said, "We want you to lead a project for us.” I was developing in Ruby on Rails from day one doing work for a client. They put so much trust and faith in me, and it's just helped my skills to grow and really become part of their team. They're an unbelievable company in that way.

Were you specifically looking for a remote job?

Yeah, my ideal goal was to work remotely. By learning to code remotely with Bloc, I already a handle on how to work remotely. The hiring managers at Green Gorilla were very happy to see that I had done a remote course because they understood I could work remotely.

Did you have to learn on the job at Green Gorilla, or did you know everything you needed to know from Bloc?

The bulk of things I knew. One new thing was a very small CSS framework we use called Bulma which took a few hours to learn. I also learned a database called Postgres, which I hadn’t learned at Bloc. But it wasn't a steep learning curve – I had already done or seen most of the technology at Bloc.

What's amazing with Bloc is that when they add to the curriculum, I still have access to it. So even though I finished Bloc and I paid my tuition, I can keep learning new technologies as the curriculum is continuously updated.

How have you found your background in teaching and languages useful on the job as a developer?

The ability to sit and be patient is constantly helping me as a developer, because I'm always learning new things every day. But in an interpersonal sense, coming from a teaching background has given me the ability to communicate with people. Green Gorilla not only hired a developer, but also someone who is able to converse with others, get on with people, and have a laugh. I'm also able to speak to clients. 80% of my day is coding, but 20% of it is pair programming, speaking to my team, and speaking to clients.

I also have some experience writing documentation, which helps when we need to write about how our system works, or the changes a client wants and what we're going to do.

What has been the biggest challenge in your journey to becoming a fully-fledged software developer?

Initially, when you sit down to learn a new skill, you think, “I want to understand everything and take it all in." And with coding, that's just not possible. I’ve had to get comfortable with not knowing things and being able to live with unanswered questions. That's a really hard thing to get my head around. But once I got into my job, I realized that everyone experiences that. Other developers are never afraid to say, “I don't know this, or this doesn't make sense to me."

When you look back over the last year and a half, what kind of role has Bloc played in your success?

Technically, I think I could have gotten here without doing Bloc. I think anyone could do it without a bootcamp. But I think without Bloc, it would have taken me five or six years, whereas with Bloc’s guidance it only took a year. So Bloc has played a huge role in helping me to learn programming and then get a job with it.

What advice do you have for other people thinking about making a career change through an online coding bootcamp?

I would highly recommend it. I think you need to know that you’ll be disciplined. But once you know that you're happy to sit and to be disciplined, it opens up a whole new world. My advice would be, just go for it. If you can sit, then you can be disciplined. And you're happy to do a little bit day by day, taking it step by step, eventually, you'll get to where you need to get to.

When you're struggling, then you can lean on the students at Bloc, technical coaches, and your mentor, and they will genuinely really help you and guide you.

Find out more and read Bloc reviews on Course Report. Check out the Bloc website.

About The Author

Imogen Crispe

Imogen Crispe

Imogen is a writer and content producer who loves exploring technology and education in her work. Her strong background in journalism, writing for newspapers and news websites, makes her a contributor with professionalism and integrity.

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