Written By Jess Feldman
Unsatisfied working in the construction field, Ashley Austin looked to Codesmith’s Software Engineering Bootcamp in Los Angeles to help him career-switch into software engineering. When COVID-19 swept the U.S., Ashley’s bootcamp moved from in-person to remote with live online instruction. Learn how Codesmith supported Ashley’s career change both in-person and remote, exactly what he did to land a job as a Platform Operations Senior Software Engineer, and his advice for other new developers navigating the job search during a pandemic.
What were you up to before pivoting into Software Engineering?
Before Codesmith, I worked at AT&T and then as a Project Engineer in construction. I was kind of bouncing around between these technical jobs, trying to find something that spoke to me. I knew that my last job wasn’t what I wanted to do for the next five or ten years of my life. When I tried to find a job as a Project Engineer, jobs for Software Engineers came up on my search. In college, I had wanted to study computer science, but my school didn't offer that major when I was there. I have always enjoyed math and I was okay with the idea of writing formulas every day at work. That’s when I began researching how to become a Software Engineer now.
Since you had already worked in tech, why was going to a coding bootcamp the next step for you?
I felt like I needed to learn how to learn new programming languages. I knew that if I could go to a school that was going to give me the information I needed to know and teach me how to learn it, I could take the leap to change my career.
Why did you choose Codesmith?
I chose Codesmith for the community. Before enrolling, I went to some Codesmith workshops and they made it easy to learn. In my very first workshop, I wrote a function and I got it to spit out some type of output. I truly liked doing it! Their teaching style is intuitive and the instructors were super nice. It was also comforting to know that I wasn't the only person that was looking to change jobs. Being surrounded by the people in those workshops helped me.
What was the Codesmith application and interview process like for you?
The first interview is a personal interview where they ask you about yourself and make sure that you're ready for the program. Once you pass that portion, then you have a technical interview. I was the most nervous about the technical interview. The technical interview is made up of a series of problems. Codesmith is not just about being able to write the function. You need to be able to actually articulate your logic. So in that interview, you have to code problems and speak your logic out loud.
How did you prepare for the Codesmith application process?
To prepare for the technical interview, I made sure that I was speaking out loud while I was writing practice code. I made sure to meet up with other people who were also trying to get into the program to go over the problems together. The Codesmith community made the bootcamp application a great experience.
Your bootcamp began in-person in Los Angeles, but then you had to switch online due to the Coronavirus pandemic. How did Codesmith help you transition to being a remote learner?
The transition was fairly easy. By the time that we switched to remote, Codesmith had already groomed us to be able to handle the transition because they had taught us the process of learning how to learn. Lucky for me, because I did Codesmith’s remote prep courses, I was well prepared for the transition. For Codesmith, it seemed like this was a relatively easy transition because they already offered Live Online lectures. I found that the lectures were just as impactful online as they were in person. When I transitioned online, I was almost in the Senior phase. At that point, the lectures weren't so much about the technologies, but more focused on getting a job and high-level concepts. Even if I was still learning technologies, though, I don't think learning in their Live Online format would have been a problem.
Codesmith gave us a week or two off so that we could figure out what was going on with the world and whether or not we would be able to come back in-person. Codesmith then gave every student a $1,200 stipend so we could set up our at-home workspaces. They also gave us an option to not continue with the program and get a refund if we didn't want to do remote learning. I chose to stay, but I thought it was admirable that Codesmith offered that option, though.
Once you switched to Codesmith’s remote bootcamp, how did you communicate with your instructors and cohort?
Codesmith sent out a calendar to all of us to stay on track. We had morning standup meetings, and I communicated with my cohort about our projects. When I was doing the bootcamp in-person, it was like school. You show up at 9am and you're there all day. The remote program felt more like I was a grown-up. Switching to remote learning allowed me to get an idea of what working within an agile system would be like. We had our morning standup, and I had teammates who I was working on a project with. We worked on our MVP and kept in touch about our stretch goals.
Overall, did Codesmith’s style of teaching match your own personal learning style?
Yes! There’s a saying at Codesmith: Research, Parse, Implement. You learn how to research, you parse it out, and then you implement it. That is engineering at its finest! There is not an engineer who knows it all. You figure it out over and over again.
To be a software engineer, you have to be the type of person that's okay with failure because the more you fail at something or work toward a solution, the closer you get to that solution. If you don't start failing to get to that solution, you won't learn. I'm that type of person. Codesmith taught us from the beginning that it was always okay to get an error as long as you're willing to figure it out. Codesmith awakened the problem-solver in me. I like to figure out solutions, and Codesmith gave me the tools and information to implement that.
Tell us about the projects you built at Codesmith!
At Codesmith, you build five projects within two months! It's truly an immersive program. In the workplace, you'll probably have multiple features that you need to add and often in a two-week sprint. You have to get it done.
Our first project was a solo project, and it was a blank canvas where we took the information we learned about Node.JS, ReactJS, and Redux and built whatever we wanted to.
Our second project was a solo project that was a duration project. Similar to real life, we took someone else's project from within the cohort and iterated on it to make it better.
We also had group projects, where we got to choose anything we wanted for the group project as long as we used the technologies we learned.
There was also a reinforcement project at the end of the bootcamp where we reinforced whatever technologies that we wanted to learn more about, like React, Redux, Node, or GraphQL.
The fourth project was a production project that we built in two weeks. It was the most impactful part of Codesmith for me. The purpose of the project was to create developer tools. We needed to pick a current technology that was missing something and create a tool that added to it. In this project, you're building a tool! It's not like you're building a newsfeed app, a React app, or something that's been done many times before. We came up with the MVP, had a stretch goal, and we chose technologies that we wanted to dive deeper into as well as technologies we didn't know about. As scary as it was, this project was the part that was truly engineering. I went from not knowing how to approach it to now looking back at that project and thinking, "That's not too hard! It was just uncharted territory!”
You graduated from bootcamp just as COVID-19 was sweeping the U.S. – how did Codesmith prepare you for the job hunt?
Codesmith has a Career Services program that is embedded into the immersive bootcamp. Aside from learning how to learn, this Career Services program is what you want to go to Codesmith for. The program lasts for 2-3 weeks during the immersive, but there are still career workshops that you can go to after you finish bootcamp and until you find a job. Codesmith helps you with the application process, where to find jobs, and how to make your resume. The resume was the most important part of this for me. We had three rounds of resume-writing where the career department edited our resume for each round. That's the most intense resume I've ever written! They also taught us how to apply for these jobs with the proper etiquette, and they walked us through how the interview process would go.
Codesmith also offers networking days where we spoke to people at companies that were hiring. You get about 15 minutes with each person at the networking day, and some of these were conducted like a phone screen, but others were just a casual conversation. Depending on the company, you may end up landing a job from that talk! If they're not hiring, it's still a good chance to ask the right questions and practice with people who are in the industry now and have been through the application process before. It was cool! I interviewed with someone from PayPal, Beauty Counter, and IBM.
Once you graduated from Codesmith, how did you structure your own remote job search?
A group of us from my Codesmith cohort agreed to do our remote job search together. Every day at 9am for three weeks, we did one-hour mock interviews and we would rotate through people in the group every day. Codesmith introduced the mock interview process to us, and we just ran with it. We also purchased AlgoExpert, and we scheduled slots so that we could all use it. We took every measure to ace the job search process and be as prepared as possible. I made sure to give as real interviews as possible, and even made a sandbox React app so my friends could practice doing a coding challenge.
To be honest, it takes a village to get you hired. I'm grateful for that process. There were days that I didn't want to wake up and do an interview for an hour with a friend who wasn't giving me a job, but it was worth it.
Do you have any advice for someone who's just graduated bootcamp and is looking for a job now?
Keep in mind that going into the interview process, you have to be okay with knowing that you're not going to be the best fit for every company. You're not going to ace every phone screening. That's okay! That doesn't mean that you're not fit for another job. That closed-door only means that there's another open door waiting for you, you just have to get there.
And while there aren't many jobs where you'll be solving algorithms every day, remember that iron sharpens iron! You have to look at algorithms like crossword puzzles for engineers. Stay sharp and know how to use these tools in the way that writers know how to use words. Some people are wordsmiths, some people are codesmiths. No pun intended. Don't put too much pressure on yourself. You might not be the master of it, but the more you practice it, the more comfortable you'll be.
Do you recommend bootcamp grads on the job hunt right now work on open source projects, too?
Yes, absolutely! Take it seriously. Know that contributing to open source projects is an actual job. Most tech companies start off as open source. If your program doesn't already offer the opportunity to work on open source projects, do it yourself like I did! The process of contributing to open source is exactly what happens in the real world. It's great practice. Set deadlines for yourself. Get a group of people together to work on it with you if you can. It will only benefit you.
Tell us about your new job at Boulevard! What’s your role and what do you do?
Boulevard is a business management tool platform for appointment-based companies, like medical spas, salons, or barbershops. We've all been to a salon or barbershop where the person that was supposed to cut our hair is running late. Our tool at Boulevard is to help manage the appointment process and help a business owner manage their business from beginning to end.
I am a Platform Operations Senior Software Engineer. I was originally hired on as an Onboarding Software Engineer to bring our clients on to the system.
How did you find the job?
I found this job on LinkedIn. During my job search, I applied to almost 100 jobs, and this job fit me the best! About a year ago, I had actually written an app idea about how to help barbers be more on time, so it was a crazy coincidence that I got to interview with the company that actually does that! I even shared this during my interview with Boulevard.
What was it like to onboard remotely for this job?
It was a surprisingly great process. Boulevard did a great job with remote onboarding. They have a whole training platform, which was something that immediately made me love everything about the company. Companies that onboard you better, help you become more of an empathetic engineer for what it is that you're engineering. This kind of onboarding ensures that you understand your platform and why each component was created to help the end-user.
What types of projects are you working on right now? Are you using all of the programming languages that you learned at Codesmith?
What does your day-to-day look like now that you're a full-time, remote Software Engineer?
We have standups every morning, and we have an all-hands standup on Mondays with everyone including management. We get a recap of what went on last week, any new hires, any news. Then after that, we jump into our separate standups. I usually meet with our customer success team, where they can tell the ops team about any outstanding tickets or issues clients are having; then we break and go to work on our tickets!
Did you feel prepared to dive into working remotely after Codesmith?
I felt fully prepared. The process of going remote while building my developer tool project helped me understand what it would be like if I had to transition during a job. Working remotely right after bootcamp didn't affect me at all. It actually helped.
Do you have any advice for new remote developers who are just starting out?
Keep at it! Research, parse, and implement! You have all day at home, right? So you have all day to do research! Find things that you didn't know and learn more about them. If anything, this time will make you a stronger engineer.
And you may not be able to interview in person, but that doesn’t mean that you lose yourself or your personality in the process. At the end of the day, you can be a great engineer and know all the technologies, but you need to be a good human being, too. Be an empathetic engineer.
What has been your biggest challenge in switching careers into software engineering?
The imposter monster. Once you start to knock out your goals list, you start to question if you deserve it. There may be someone that has five years of experience, but you have just as much know-how. But if you question whether you're a real Software Engineer, you'll have a roadblock. Once you realize that, you should stop questioning yourself. You'll probably always have that imposter monster inside of you. It might come back here and there when you're dealing with problems. You have to truly believe in yourself and know that you’re supposed to be there.
Are you happy that you went down the path of becoming a Software Engineer?
Definitely yes! I am incredibly happy and I could not imagine doing anything else. There was a reason everything happened to me the way it did. I left my last job right after they had given me a raise because I knew that the raise I was being given wasn't compensating me for the work I was doing. I wanted to get into a career and an industry that pays you what you're worth and doesn't care what you look like or where you came from. Tech is an industry that cares about what you can do and whether you're a good culture fit. If you're thinking about bootcamp, if you're in bootcamp, or if you've just graduated, it is possible to make this career change! Trust the process, and, more than that, trust yourself. This is an industry that is continuously growing. There's a place for you. Just like there's a new iPhone that'll come out every year, there will always be a new company starting or a company that is growing that will need you. Keep at it.
Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps.
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