In this Live Bootcamp Q&A, we are joined by Philip Weiser who graduated from Coder Foundry, a .NET bootcamp in North Carolina, in March 2015. Philip is now a developer at RIA Solutions Group and is about to start a full-time job at CaptiveAire, so we’re talking all about life after Coder Foundry in addition to his experience at Coder Foundry. See the full transcript below!
Philip, tell us what you were up to before Coder Foundry.
Before I started at Coder Foundry I was working at a rug and African antique store. I had graduated from Duke University with a degree in geology and then I found out that about 95% of those jobs are only in oil and gas, and that wasn’t really my cup of tea.
I’d always been interested in programming. I took classes during high school and during college. Whenever I was working on something I always thought it would be so much simpler if somebody programmed it a certain way. So I always found myself interested in the logic and the little questions that kept me up at night.
Which classes did you take at Duke? Were they Intro to Computer Science classes or were they more advanced?
I took Advanced Data Structures and Java. It fit best into my schedule. I made mistakes, but I had qualified for it because I took the computer science AP test and scored a 4 in high school.
So you had some background in terms of a theoretical technical background. Had you built anything before you went to Coder Foundry?
I made a small Facebook game during college; I just wrote it in Action Script.
How were you exposed to coding bootcamps and why did you start doing research about them?
I was considering going to grad school for a Masters in Comp Sci but that required a one-year certificate program, so I was doing that certificate at NC State. I aced the courses; I took discreet math and Intro to Java. It was really easy and it just wasn’t the pace I wanted. I talked to one of the heads of the department and asked if I could a job with a certificate. I knew it would take me a minimum 2-3 years for a Masters if I really worked at it.
I wanted to make the career change before my wedding and move on with my wife so that kind of time scale just wasn’t realistic for me.
How did you find out about Coder Foundry?
I found a list of Top 10 Coding Schools in the South. I found Coder Foundry in Kernersville and it was suggested to me by one of my friends so I looked into it. I ended up going and talking to Andrew who was the head instructor there at the time. I think he’s now helping them start a campus in Charlotte.
I really liked the team when I met them. They seemed very business oriented; the coding school was opened by Bobby, who has two companies at the same building. Those companies are essentially what I was looking for; they do development and they do security applications development as well.
That was one of the big differences between Coder Foundry and other coding schools. Coder Foundry is run by a businessman and he opened up a coding school to help teach people what they need to succeed in tech and to hire the top candidates.
Yeah, you were seeing the actual business application of what you were learning.
From a guy who basically could be your boss if you impress him.
Was it important to you that Coder Foundry teaches .NET?
Yeah, .NET just seems like a nice, stable platform that’s always going to be used. So I decided to do that instead of Ruby, which just seems more trendy.
How deep did that curriculum end up going?
It was kind of like being thrown into the deep end or like holding onto the bumper of an 18-wheeler. You’re focused on holding onto it the whole time and when it’s over, you look back and see how far you’ve gone.
So we did a little bit of everything of the full stack as we were going, and it was definitely a ride.
You have a cool perspective as someone who started this certificate in computer science and took some CS classes in an undergrad traditional education classroom. What was the difference between the teaching style in those classrooms and the teaching style at Coder Foundry?
I always found CS classes in college settings very boring. I would fall asleep because when you have a professor just droning on, it’s really not that useful if you’re still tested on it.
When you go to Coder Foundry, instead you’re assigned a project and given the tools you need to create it, and you have to figure out what you can do with those tools.Whenever you run into hiccoughs or you’re stuck on something you can talk to an instructor.
There were two different teachers- Andrew and Thomas- and they had different teaching styles. So Andrew would say, “Here’s what you need to know to do your next step.” Thomas would instead say, “Well, where’s your long goal? What steps do you need to go to get to that really long goal?”
Then you’d talk through the logic; not low level logic but you’d talk high level logic with Thomas and kind of figure out your path then when you ran into small technical things, the square peg into this round hole data, then you’d go talk to Andrew and he would help guide you through that. Having that two-teacher approach was really interesting and much more effective, too.
I really never was bored. I think on one day we had three hours of lecture; that’s usually once every three weeks initially, when we start on a new product. They give us a spec sheet for the project then then help us set up everything needed to start the project.
So there was lecture once every three weeks or were there more frequent lectures?
We only had super-long lectures every once in a while. Usually there’s probably 2 – 4 hours of lecture a week at most; it really was very sparse. It was usually when the class collectively would start running into the same type of problem. It would essentially be like an impromptu lecture.
Also, it wasn’t just the teachers teaching. On the first day of class, Andrew and Thomas told everybody to scoot in- in every class, people sit with a seat between each other. By the time the class is over, everybody’s going to be right next to each other so you can use each other as resources, which truly happened.
We had 10 people in our class so whenever someone found a solution to a problem, they shared with the class. What I really liked was the collaborative atmosphere. It wasn’t competitive at all just because everyone’s there to get through the program. It was a very positive atmosphere too.
Teaching your classmate about a topic can be a really great way to learn too.
Was there a curriculum in place to the point where you knew what was going to be happening the next day or was it more impromptu?
It was more freeform. We know what our goal is for the three week lessons. They usually give you goals like: connect your database, write your front end and integrate your back-end and tie everything together. They let us do projects however we wanted to so I would usually tackle some problems from the front end, figure out the front end a bit then figure out what I wanted to actually have to connect.
Then there were some other people who would completely start at the back end, which is not how I would think at that point. We would each run into our different problems, which is fine because problems is how we learn.
Then we’d be shifting away from that and making it more like one-week sprints towards a project.
What was the hardest part of Coder Foundry for you?
Learning SQL was the hardest part, especially because in the previous cohort, a lot of students had around 10 years of experience with SQL, so they didn’t have a dedicated lesson. Luckily, I had taken discreet math so working with sets wasn’t that new of a concept to me. That made SQL a little bit easier for me but a lot of the people in the class were confused. The instructors ended up doing a lecture on SQL. They were very responsive to what we asked for.
What are you up to now? Where are you working? Tell us about RIA Solutions.
This is my first position and it’s a 3-month contract. I’m working with a team in Winston, Salem. They have a large coding house in Romania but are expanding to the US so they need a couple of developers in the U.S. as well. For the first two months, I worked for one of their clients in Texas. It’s funny because I didn’t know a thing about ASP.Net web forms because we only learned MVC and beyond. It gave me a framework for understanding the older technology, so I was working with websites that were 9 or 10 years old and hadn’t been touched by a developer in 5 years.
It was a very interesting transition but then I also started to appreciate what I’d learned more- MVC wasn’t as clunky as I thought.
Tell us about the projects you work on for RIA Solutions.
A lot of what I worked on was for a client in Texas; that’s about as much as I can say about it. They ran rewards websites, and I added functionality to pages and made sure that data was being passed around correctly.
They usually need me to go optimize SQL to help with load time or reporting requests; so it’s printing out packing slips and making sure they’re correct, making sure that people can order products properly, and then also so you can add customers to the database, a lot of stuff like that.
What’s funny is that in the third month of my employment at RIA, I’m actually moving to assisting in developing a very large project on telematics for the oil and gas industry.
You get to use your geology background!
Yes, a truck driver will carry around a computer with him and I’m helping work on Windows compact edition, software that runs on their helper computer so that they can then say “I picked up a bunch of oil here, this is how much I picked, this is what my measurements said…” then it sends the cellular data. I’m helping work on the software that’s actually on those devices.
So you’re working with a team based largely in Romania- is that an interesting challenge?
Yeah; I’ve actually only gone into the Winston Salem offices two times in those first two months. I’ve gone twice so that I could learn firsthand from their chief technical officer, which is pretty awesome. My direct superior is in Romania so I’d have a stand-up meeting with him every morning and tell him what I’m working on, the challenges that I expect to face and any blockers I see. Then he’d help me with any problems I had. It was pretty cool. I was effectively 98% remote.
What do you do when you run into something that you don’t know?
A large part of what I learned at Coder Foundry is when you start, you don’t know much of anything. So it’s going through the process of okay, we’re going to start working with Angular. You start with no knowledge of what Angular is, and you have to learn it. That was similar to my experience learning ASP web forms at RIA. I’ve heard of them, but I had no clue how the worked. Once I can start digging into the files and look at them I can figure out things like data binding and how they access the database.
A lot of the skill is in figuring out code because I’m not going to know everything, so I have to know how to learn everything. That’s a lot of what I worked on when I was at Coder Foundry.
How did you get connected to RIA Solutions? Was it through your own networking or through Coder Foundry directly?
It was through TJ, the lead recruiter at Coder Foundry. He’s my boy, TJ. I talk to him every once in a while. He said, “Philip, I got this opportunity, can you come in and interview for it?” I had two interviews before I left Coder Foundry. The first interview was with a very nice company, CaptiveAire, in Raleigh and they usually only hire mid-level and senior level developers. He said that I was really impressive in the interview and that I should come back and apply when I have around a year of experience. In less than three weeks from now, I’m going to be working at CaptiveAire!
I had an interview about a week and a half ago and talked to their developers, talked about what I learned at RIA, and they’re very impressed.
How large is that dev team?
I don’t think I’ve met all of them, but it’s probably 8 on the development side and they also have an embedded C team, which is where one of my classmates ended up getting hired as well.
Alumni networks at bootcamps can be a huge resource- was that your experience?
CaptiveAire really likes Coder Foundry. I’m going to be the third person that they hire. I did call up Satya (another Coder Foundry hire)- our class has kept in touch quite a bit.
What does CaptiveAire do?
They create industrial heating and cooling solutions. It’s like the big steel vents in restaurants that have fire suppression systems. You can program an entire building and then there’s a web interface to control them.
Since you graduated in March, you’ve gone through two technical interviews. How did those technical interviews go?
First of all, I know that I’m not the strongest in C#. That’s something that companies already knew because I’m coming out of a coding school, so I haven’t spent four years learning all of the little nuances of those languages.
We meet with Bobby once a week on Monday. It’s kind of like an interview. They give feedback and advice for real interviews. Those meeting are not really mock interviews; it was more of like a technical catch-up; here’s what I’ve been working on, here’s what it does, I really liked the code that I wrote for this part; I had trouble here, I had trouble there and I’m looking for a solution for this other problem I’ve been working on. Then they would give you some really helpful advice on that.
They’ll invite companies to come to Coder Foundry and interview a lot of us at a time, so it’s kind of a home court advantage - because we’re in our house and you’re comfortable.
Also, they were good at giving us information about how and why technical interviews go on like they do. That was probably some of the most valuable advice because Bobby hires technical people; he’s been doing this for 10 or 15 years.
Do you have other advice for people who are making the transition from a boot camp into a new job?
Ask for help. That’s pretty much it. It’s pretty easy if you describe the problem you’re having. That’s another thing I learned, is you could learn how to describe problems. Now I know how to look certain things up on Google, I know what things are called and that helps me locate that information. If I can describe my problem, I can solve my problem.
Have you stayed involved in the Coder Foundry community?
I’ve been back to Coder Foundry maybe once because I’ve been working and it’s about an hour away.
In my last interview with Bobby and Andrew and Thomas, we talk about future plans. You don’t want to just go home, sit down and watch TV. My plan was to do all those little things on my projects that always annoyed me but I didn’t have enough time to finish and they weren’t on the specs. I wanted to brush up my resume, keep my website up to date, and make things as impressive as I can for my new interviews which will happen at some point. There was about a month where I wasn’t hired.
Do you go to meetups in North Carolina?
Is there anything about Coder Foundry or your transition into your new career that we totally skipped over that you want to make sure people know?
When I started I was obviously very skeptical because if it seems too good to be true, usually it is. I think for my class, the last one that they guaranteed a job paying $60,000 a year within 9 months of your graduation or your money back. For me it was no risk. All I did was pay tuition and I was guaranteed to get that back if I didn’t make a salaried job. I’ve paid back my tuition within the first two months of working and I’m going to be looking at a nice job that I can probably retire at. That’s the type of company CaptiveAire is – I’ve landed the big fish! I’m looking forward to working there a lot.
That is really exciting. Congratulations on the job that you’re doing now and your future job. Sounds like you have a very promising career.
Thank you so much, Philip. I think you’ve had a really cool perspective. I love that you had a background in computer science before and did this boot camp and now are really breaking into the tech scene - that’s awesome. You also gave us really cool tips for people who are making that transition into a tech career. To find out more about Coder Foundry, check out their website!