Val had started teaching himself Android and was even getting some freelance projects – so why did he go to a coding bootcamp? He needed to formalize his skills so he could market himself as a real developer - so he turned to Thinkful’s online Full Stack Flex! It gave him the flexibility to learn at his own pace, breeze through what he already knew, and hone his coding skills. Val talked with us about his journey and how he landed a job as a Mobile and Web Developer at Accenture!
What was your background before attending Thinkful?
I had a pretty varied background before starting Thinkful, but I did have a bit of tech experience. I graduated with a degree in business management and my first job was in healthcare IT and information systems as a business and data analyst for four years. I taught myself some light programming to make the job a bit easier, worked a lot in SQL programming, and I had dabbled in website work as well. I wasn’t super happy in the role and wasn’t feeling as stimulated as I wanted to be. I taught myself iOS and Android programming through an online video course because I had always wanted to make an app, and I freelanced while working in the entertainment industry in a non-technical role as a Creative and Development Assistant for TV and film.
That’s where I was about a year and a half ago - I had a network of people giving me small freelance projects. One person gave me some small quick freelance projects for his engineering firm. Another client was working with a video streaming service with different sports teams and was making microsites in Wordpress. I also did an android app which was a bit more complicated - I sort of surprised myself and realized I had learned more than I thought!
If you were already freelancing as an Android developer, why did you decide to do a coding bootcamp?
I felt like I was winging it and because I was self-taught, I wasn’t super confident – the freelance projects were small and through people I knew. I’d had enough of the creative entertainment industry and I decided I wanted to become a “real” programmer and get more formal skills. Instead of continuing to learn things on the fly, I decided to find a bootcamp.
Did you research other coding bootcamps?
I had researched the bigger, more recognized bootcamps like General Assembly but after seeing the cost, I started looking at other options. I liked that GA was intensive, but I didn’t want to dedicate the time and money to a full-time program, so I researched more cost-effective and flexible options.
What stood out about Thinkful’s full-time flex bootcamp?
In my research, I saw that Thinkful was highly rated, had a physical presence in LA, and was flexible. I attended one of their in-person LA workshops at a coworking space to learn more information. After attending that workshop, I decided to go with Thinkful’s online Full-Stack Flex bootcamp.
What was the Thinkful application and interview process like for you?
For me, the application process consisted of signing up, doing a video interview, and starting. When I did the LA workshop, they told us that the first unit and Q&A sessions were free, so with nothing to lose, I signed up to see how it would go. I did an additional video interview before the program started, but after two days into the first unit, I knew it was great. I got the chance to see the program and realized that the Thinkful curriculum perfectly aligned with my knowledge gaps and the kind of learning format I was looking for.
Did you work full-time while taking Thinkful Fullstack Flex?
I took on some freelance work to keep some money coming in, but I was dedicating most of my time to Thinkful. I worked on Thinkful ~30-35 hours/week and finished the course in a little over 6 months.
What was the online learning experience like at Thinkful?
Fullstack Flex was a nice mix of self-learning and having resources and mentors available. The majority of the curriculum I did was step-by-step textbook with exercises and drills, and you’re assigned a mentor who you meet with once or twice per week over video chat. You also have access to tons of Q&A video sessions with live mentors so you can hop on and ask questions.
Programming is all about problem solving and Thinkful’s curriculum is project-based, which I found super effective. They walk you through the basics and then let you loose. It helps simulate real world experiences like completing a project in two weeks, reaching the deadline, and running into a problem you didn’t expect, mirroring everyday tasks in a workplace.
One time, I was really frustrated with a problem and my mentor was walking through it with me. I told him I was stressed and should have been done three days ago, and he reminded me he goes through it all the time - only he has a boss with expectations! It’s great to have a real programmer as a mentor facing the same issues in the workforce and it’s helpful to receive those little tips and insights alongside Thinkful’s curriculum.
You were originally looking at in-person bootcamps. Did Thinkful’s Fullstack Flex mimic an in-person, classroom experience?
I believe Thinkful offers a full-time, immersive course that imitates an in-person bootcamp, but I didn’t get the same experience as an in-person course because I wanted more flexibility. I already had some programming experience so I didn’t want to sit through three days of learning something I already knew. If I knew something, I was able to breeze through it and move on, and I was able to pick and choose how I approached the bootcamp because it was project-centered. I could spend time on concepts depending on whether I was excelling or struggling with them. People have different backgrounds, so the “flex” program was a huge benefit and the biggest reason why I enjoyed Thinkful.
You mentioned that Thinkful has a physical presence in LA – how did you take advantage of that?
Thinkful has meetups and events often, some you can work and study with other students in a coworking space, others were panels and networking events. I tried to attend all of these as much as possible and found a good way to meet some fellow students – but most of the work is done on your own.
What was your favorite project that you built during Thinkful?
My favorite project was the final full stack project. I live in LA, I’m a surfer, and I wanted to build a really simple surf report app. I found a free API and created a full stack surfing app that pulls in weather, tides, winds, and swells for California surfing spots.
Congrats on landing a job at Accenture! How did you get this job?
Thinkful has a great career portion of the curriculum which helps you prepare your portfolio, resume, and LinkedIn profile, and really help you put your best foot forward. I was applying and interviewing, but a recruiter from Accenture reached out to me through LinkedIn. Even though you groom your LinkedIn profile to appeal to a recruiter, it was still super surprising and cool when it actually worked! It took about 2-3 months from graduating from Thinkful to starting at Accenture and it’s been a great experience so far.
The Accenture interview process was pretty lengthy – there were multiple rounds involving initial conversations, technical and non-technical interviews, then a final interview. The technical portion was a lot of discussing technical concepts. Even though I knew the concepts, I wasn’t used to talking about them before Thinkful. Thinkful’s mock interviews throughout the course prepared me for talking about technical concepts on the fly and really saved me in the interview!
What is your role at Accenture and what are you working on?
I’ve just started as a Web and Mobile Hybrid Developer. They liked that I had made apps in the past so that gave me an advantage. It’s only been a few weeks, but I feel prepared for working in this role. I already took an internal training where I was working on a team and I felt really comfortable and I could hold my own alongside other developers who had many years of experience.
What was the biggest challenge or roadblock you faced over the last year?
The reality of the job hunt was a challenge. My process was relatively quick, but I was still unemployed for a couple of months. You’re ready to work when you graduate from Thinkful, but then it’s a whole other process before the work actually begins.
What advice do you have for other online bootcampers who are looking for jobs?
The job hunt is really tough - there’s no easy way to put it. There are a lot of jobs out there, but getting your foot in the door is going to be tough. Based on my experience, it’s about persistence in applying and networking more than anything.
If you’re doing an online bootcamp, you’re going to have to force yourself to go out and job hunt offline, and put yourself out there in every way you can - go to meetups, connect with Slack communities. One thing I also recommend is to read Medium articles because you never know what pieces of material you’ll pick up. I had a very poignant question in my interview that I had read about online and was able to answer perfectly. It could be something that just wasn’t in the bootcamp, or perhaps the bootcamp covered it on the first day and you need a refresher – they can be helpful. There are so many jobs and it’s competitive, but it’s just important to keep pushing, putting yourself out there, and meeting people.