Alex got her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and previously worked as a program manager for a manufacturing company. As she started to think about future projects to pursue, Alex knew she would need programming skills. After meeting Jeff Casimir at Turing, Alex was convinced. We talk to her about how she’s feeling after the first module, the support she’s seen for diversity at Turing, and some of the projects she’s already started working on.
What you were up to before you started at Turing?
Previously I worked as a program manager for a manufacturing company. I managed productivity projects across several plants, working with engineering and operations teams.
Does that Mechanical Engineering undergrad degree require any computer science classes?
It required a small amount. I took a few courses in C and C++ programming. I thought I’d never do anything related, but later realized that some of my future goals required knowledge of programming, so I came full circle.
What was that inspiration? What were those future goals?
I think eventually I’d like to start my own e-commerce business. In addition, my husband and I have some ideas for a few different products. An understanding of software is necessary in order to further develop and prototype these ideas.
Once you decided you wanted that career change, did you try online learning or Codecademy to get acquainted with coding?
I did a limited amount of practice on Codeacademy, but I knew this was the direction I wanted to go. I started looking at different computer science programs and thought about going back to school for my masters in computer science.
My husband was on a tour of Galvanize in downtown Denver and was told about gSchool, and encouraged me to look into it. The more I researched, the more I realized that a shorter program was the right path for me. So I looked into gSchool and my research led me to Turing.
Why did you choose Turing? What factors did you consider when you were looking at bootcamps?
I read a lot about Dev bootcamp and some of the shorter schools and immediately realized that those programs were not long enough for me. In order to work at a professional level, I knew it was going to take me longer than three months to develop and really master the necessary skills.
I went to a community night at Turing and I met Jeff, who was really cool. I really liked Turing’s emphasis on community, education and really teaching programming; the environment seemed like it was a good fit for me.
I think Jeff was what convinced me to apply. Not only does he have a great reputation within the industry, he’s very down to earth and really approachable. I thought, “these are the kind of people that I want to be around.” His desire to diversify the software industry was really cool as well.
What was the application process like for you?
The application itself was very intense; I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t even work that hard to get into undergrad!
What was so hard about it?
Coming in, I had no knowledge of writing for the web. The first part of the application is to provide a piece written in markdown format. Learning what “markdown” format was and then creating a writing sample was challenging.
The next section required you to create a video of yourself answering a few questions and then post it to YouTube. This was in addition to solving logic problems and completing an interview.
I expected to finish the application in a day, however it took me closer to two weeks to finish and feel confident about what I was submitting.
Did you do pre-work at Turing?
It was not required, but highly recommended. We did a Pragmatic Studio course which honestly was pretty awesome and prepared you well for the first module. While I did not complete the course, I think it would be much harder to get through the first module without doing at least a portion of it.
How many people are in your cohort now?
Do you find it to be a diverse cohort in terms of age and gender and race?
In webinars and interviews, Jeff seems really committed to diversifying technology and programming in general. Do you feel supported as a woman at Turing?
The atmosphere feels very inclusive to me. I was in HVAC manufacturing which is somewhat of a slow-moving industry. Most of the people I was working with before were older, white men: very little diversity, very few women.
Moving to Turing where there are 7 women in our class and people of various ethnicities and cultures feels very diverse. There is still a good majority of white males but I think in terms of the culture and being mindful of diversity and trying to be inclusive, it’s really great.
Did you feel like everyone was on the same technical level when you started?
Coming in, the technical skills in our cohort were all over the map. There are people in our class who have several degrees in computer science; then there were people who were previously teachers or who did something totally unrelated.
The curriculum is very good, so even if you didn’t have any experience before, it’s definitely possible to learn. I think the people with more experience did learn a little faster.
Tell us about the curriculum and how it’s broken into “modules?”
Each module is 6 weeks long and there are four modules.
The first module was pure Ruby. It was all about learning to program and how to think logically. The next module is Sinatra, so we’ll start to build web apps using Sinatra and then by the third module, we get into Rails.
Who is teaching the courses?
It varies. We have different instructors for every lesson. Jeff has only taught a few of our classes.
What do you think about that, having different instructors for different lessons?
I like it. I have my favorite instructors but Turing organizes it this way because they recognize that everyone has different learning styles. I think they try to rotate instructors in order to make sure that people have the opportunity to learn in the style they are best at.
How many hours a week are you spending on Turing?
Probably 55 to 60 hours a week. I got married earlier this year, so I try to make sure that I have a very good work-life balance. I will take one day per weekend off, and I make sure I have a few hours most evenings to spend with my husband.
In the first module did you ever feel burnout?
I think because I was really intentional about keeping work-life boundaries, I didn’t get burned out. In addition, Turing gives us a week off between each module and I think if we didn’t have this, over the long run I would get burned out. With a week off, I already feel refreshed and ready to go for the second module.
Is the curriculum project-based?
Most of what we do is project based. During the first module, we did three different projects. The first one was an individual project and the second two we had partners.
Are those assigned projects or do you make your own?
I don’t think you make your own projects until you get to the very last module. Right now, these are all assigned projects.
Can you tell us about one of those projects?
The last project we finished was called Sales Engine. Basically, you’re building out Active Record functionality from the ground up in Ruby.
For this project I had two other people working with me, which is great because you learn how to pair.
It’s really challenging having to coordinate using Github, making sure you commit your work regularly and resolve any conflicts in the code. I think building Active Record from scratch has been great- it’s a really cool feeling to grasp what you’re doing and what’s actually going on behind the scenes. I think all the projects are incremental projects that lead you to being able to understand and utilize all the tools that you need to be a good web developer.
Do you feel Turing puts an emphasis on job prep and job placement? Or is that something you haven’t touched on yet?
I think they really do. We haven’t directly talked about it yet, I believe that comes in future modules. Everyday, a half an hour before classes start, we solve warm-up problems. And a lot of those questions are problems that you would encounter during a technical interview, or things to get you thinking and preparing for job interviews.
Additionally, every Friday, Jeff brings in a guest speaker. Being able to hear other people’s stories of how they got started and the cool things that are happening within the industry is really great.
They also have lightning talks, where you have to give a 5-minute technical talk to your fellow students. It’s hard, especially for people who would rather be programming than talking, but developing those skills and being able to speak, especially about a technical topic, all goes into professional development.
Is there anything you want to add about Turing and your experience?
I can’t say enough about Turing. I think it’s really great and I would recommend it to everyone who’s interested. It’s a really cool place and I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to attend.