Melissa spent years working in customer service, but was looking for a new challenge. After completing free coding courses online, Melissa made the leap and enrolled in UT Austin Coding Boot Camp, offered in collaboration with edX, while still working full-time and caring for her young family. Now Melissa is a Web Developer at Westrom Software and she shares how UT Austin Coding Boot Camp gave her the career support she needed to make this career change. Plus, learn how volunteering with Women Who Code has made such a difference for Melissa in her new career!
What inspired you to pivot into tech?
I got my associate’s degree and then I started working in the customer relations department at Southwest Airlines. I always had a desire to learn about computing, so I started taking free online coding courses to see if it would be something I liked. I did like it and I started to think about how I might get into the field since I didn’t have a degree and I didn’t want to go to a university for two years.
There are so many boot camps out there — what drew you to UT Austin Coding Boot Camp?
I really liked that the UT Austin Coding Boot Camp had a full stack program. You weren’t just learning front end or back end, and that’s what really intrigued me about going to the boot camp.
What was the application process like for UT Austin Coding Boot Camp?
The application process was seamless. There was a questionnaire to make sure I knew computer basics, but I didn’t need to have any coding background or experience. It’s okay to apply if you’re a complete beginner. The admissions rep I worked with followed up with me to make sure I was comfortable with the test and he kept up with me along the way to make sure I was supported.
SInce you were a complete beginner, how did you prepare for the boot camp? Did you have to complete any pre-work?
There was some pre-work that I had to do. The pre-work gives you a basic understanding to get you started. They wanted to make sure I was ready for the boot camp and so they had some of the programs I would need to prepare for day one of the boot camp.
How did you pay for the boot camp tuition?
I went with the financing option through Climb Credit because the total tuition was a little much out of pocket for me.
What was a typical day like at the UT Austin Coding Boot Camp?
The boot camp was totally virtual, and we had classes every Tuesday and Thursday evening. Each class was about two hours long, but the rest of the course was self-paced. We were assigned a course that we needed to get through by the end of the week and a project that was due by the end of the week. During the classes on Tuesday and Thursday, we completed activities together. The instructors were able to gauge if we were grasping the self-paced content during the classes, too.
How did you juggle parenting, work, and an online boot camp?
I had to carefully organize my time since I was taking care of my family while being pregnant and working a full-time job. I made sure I was doing my coursework on class days. I also did as much as I possibly could outside of class hours when I was not focusing on my family.
I had a great support system, so I would make sure to be open and honest with whoever is going to help you along the way. You need to talk with them to make sure everyone understands that this is going to be a lot of work. It’s important to set your schedule and stick to it. It’s easy and exciting to work on your projects and coursework all the time, but you need that mental break. You need to be there for your family as well.
Did you find that the online teaching style matched how you learn?
I enjoyed the virtual aspect of the boot camp because it’s coursework that you can do on your own. You can always go back to reread and re-watch those videos. It was helpful for me and the way I learn because sometimes I needed to go back several times to understand what was going on.
There was also a lot of support from the boot camp team. They want to make sure you’re successful. There were office hours, tutoring, and career coaches that you can go to if you’re not understanding the self-paced content. I utilized all of that to make sure I was grasping the material.
What did you learn at the boot camp?
On the front end, we learned CSS and HTML. In the beginning of the course, you’re creating your portfolio so the boot camp is already setting you up for success. After that, we went into full stack learning to build that back end experience as well.
Since this is an online boot camp, how did you connect and collaborate with your peers and instructors?
Tuesday and Thursday classes are where you get to interact with other boot camp students. We also had group projects where you’re working with four or five other people to build an application. Our group worked so well together that we wanted to work as a group on all of the projects during the boot camp. We still keep in touch and help each other out!
What was your favorite project that you built at UT Austin Boot Camp?
My favorite project was the first assignment where we had to create a third-party API. My group created a COVID travel tracker. If you wanted to travel, you could put in the airport codes and it would tell you the COVID stats at those locations. If the numbers were high, it would give you an alert to advise you not to travel there and it also listed travel restrictions.
How did UT Austin Coding Boot Camp prepare you for the job hunt?
What I liked a lot is that career services start at the beginning of the boot camp. They tell you the milestones they want you to reach, but it’s self paced. Career services included mock interviews and hiring events. You can submit your brand statement, resume, and portfolio, and they will give you tips and pointers to make sure you’re ready to apply for jobs. I also attended several online events for recruiting and general preparation that I found useful.
I wanted to get started early on my own job search, so I was applying for jobs about six weeks before the boot camp ended. I hit the milestones like submitting my resume early in the boot camp, so I felt ready to start applying even before graduating.
Did career services support your job search even after you graduated?
Yes — a Career Services Director reaches out to you every couple of weeks to make sure you’re feeling supported. You can still get access to tips, mock interviews, resources, and other things of that nature. The boot camp helped me with job search and interview preparation, but applying for jobs is largely something you go and do on your own.
Congrats on your new web developer role at Westrom Software? What was the interview process like?
I found and applied for this role through Indeed, and Westrom Software assigned me a take-home test, which I enjoyed more than a live coding test. It was a pretty intensive take-home test, but I felt prepared. Basically, I had to create a full stack application with a database using PHP and MySQL. That was a language we didn’t learn in the boot camp, but the skills I learned at boot camp guided me in quickly learning this new language so I could apply it to the take-home test.
What kinds of projects are you working on for your job?
Westrom Software is a small company, and I work with a web development team of three people. Westrom has created software for delivery companies to help them optimize routes. Mostly, I work with a larger client to optimize their reporting, so I work with a lot of data and databases.
Are you using everything you learned at the boot camp on the job today?
Do you think your previous career in customer relations has helped you become a stronger web developer?
With customer relations and web development, the main thing is being able to communicate with the people I’m working with. I work directly with an analyst and a project manager. I have to use the communication skills I picked up from my time at Southwest Airlines to explain the project to them in terms that make sense to someone who isn’t familiar with technical jargon.
You also volunteer for the non-profit organization, Women Who Code — what kinds of projects are you involved with?
It’s an awesome organization! Typically, they host one or two events a month and I help them organize these events by finding a speaker and getting the word out.
Women Who Code is a community that I have reached out to many times in my career. The reason I wanted to join Women Who Code is that there’s a lot of imposter syndrome when you’re new to tech. Women are such a minority in the tech field, and it can be overwhelming at my job since I’m the only woman there. Women Who Code members have been so helpful and kind to me during my career change. Now, I let any woman in tech who’s new to the field know about Women Who Code.
What has been the biggest challenge in this journey to making a career change into software engineering?
Imposter syndrome is real. Speaking with people in job interviews who know so much about tech was my biggest roadblock. Even though I learned all of this knowledge at the boot camp, it can be really scary when interviewing for jobs. You have to get over the fact that you can’t know it all and you’re going to learn so much during the process.
For those weighing self-teaching versus a boot camp, are you happy that you enrolled in UT Austin Coding Boot Camp?
Yes! The boot camp’s structured courses helped me learn things that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I’m thankful I went that route and enrolled at UT Austin Coding Boot Camp. It’s paid itself off and it was definitely worth it.
Jess is the Content Manager for Course Report as well as a writer and poet. As a lifelong learner, Jess is passionate about education, and loves learning and sharing content about tech bootcamps. Jess received a M.F.A. in Writing from the University of New Hampshire, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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