After working in advertising for five years, Ali Lynch decided to begin researching bootcamps to learn mobile development. She was impressed with the emphasis on Swift at TurnToTech, and is currently a student in her 7th week of TurnToTech's course. We talk to Ali about how she chose the right bootcamp for her, how TurnToTech differs from other bootcamps, and how she has pushed through challenges in the course.
What were you doing before you started at TurnToTech?
I majored in Entrepreneurship and Marketing at Syracuse University, and upon graduating I got a job in advertising. I worked with this first firm for about a year, but it was a small, traditional agency, and I wanted more digital experience so I ended up going to work at Digitas. I liked the fast paced world of online advertising, and felt at home working as a brand strategist for American Express OPEN Small Business. It was my job to come up with creative strategies on how best to market to small business owners. I particularly enjoyed the part of my job where I got to interview business owners. It was their passion and excitement that motivated me to go out on my own.
After five incredible years learning the ins and outs of small businesses, I felt like the time was right to make a move. I had heard that Apple came out with a new programming language, which I knew was something that doesn’t happen very often, and I wanted to capitalize on that opportunity. So I started looking for bootcamps that taught Swift, and TurnToTech was the only one that I could find that really focused on Swift.
Now that I’m in the program, I realize that choosing based on who teaches Swift maybe wasn’t the best criteria for selecting a bootcamp, but so far I’ve been really happy with the decision I made.
Did you find yourself doing anything technical in your last role?
I’ve always had an interest in technology, and an affinity for computers from an early age. As part of my last role, I took the initiative to develop online social listening tools to collect intel on what was being said about particular brands. This was all done using HTML widgets, which I had to learn how to use from scratch.
That sort of gave me a bug- out of all the things I was working on that was what really excited me; that was what I was staying up until 4am working on. As I thought about my next move, I had an instinct I should pursue something in technology, but wasn’t sure what. Ultimately, I felt like I needed a creative outlet for all the ideas I had.
After thinking more and more about how to utilize my experience and express my interests, I felt like developing apps was the best option.
Did you do Codecademy or another online program before you applied?
I did Codecademy just to see what it was like, just a few of their exercises. Then I probably did like 5 hours worth of research online reading what people said about the different bootcamps. I actually looked at Course Report! It did a really good job of identifying the top programs in New York and highlighting the potential pros and cons of each.
I narrowed it down to TurnToTech, Flatiron School, and General Assembly. But I had this idea that since I was going to be developing apps, I wanted a school that only taught that, and didn’t have a lot of other additional educational programs. I really wanted a focused program and a school that specifically specialized in developing apps.
Did you end up applying to any of those other boot camps or did you just go to TurnToTech?
I went to an info session at TurnToTech. They had a meet-up about Swift, and I went just to see the space and meet the instructors. I was kind of overwhelmed when I got there because I had no idea what they were talking about. A few days later, I came back and met with them for a half hour to discuss the curriculum and to see if I could enroll, even though I had no programming experience. They said it was ok, and gave me prep work designed to introduce me to programming, which I ended up doing at the school with someone there to answer questions and advise me.
That’s really cool!
Yea, I came in with zero programming knowledge. I took computer science in high school but I remembered nothing. I look back on what I know now since I started, and I can’t believe how much I’ve learned.
You said earlier that just looking for a school that teaches Swift or a specific language is not necessarily the best criteria for choosing a school. Can you explain that?
Basically, in order to understand and learn Swift, you have to start at the beginning. So regardless of what language you’re going to be working in, you’ll need to start with C and then move on to Objective C. What I should have been doing was looking for a school that was based on my desired learning style rather than picking based on what language they were specializing in.
How long did the application/interview process take from start to finish till you were accepted and knew that you were going to Turn to Tech?
I gave them a call, got a few questions answered, and was told to fill out their online application. The next day I got an email asking my availability to come in for an informational session to discuss the program in further detail. After talking with them, It didn’t take much longer to get accepted and pick out a start date.
Can you talk about the teaching style at Turn to Tech and if it matches with your learning style?
Oren, the main teacher told me during the informational session that they’re not going to teach you to program the easy way, and I definitely agree. This has been one of the most challenging things I’ve done but I really appreciate the way they’ve taught us. Particularly, how they teach you to be self-sufficient. Learning how to use the debugger, and search online for answers are particularly useful skills, because after I graduate, I’m going to be developing apps on my own and I’m not going to be able to just raise my hand when I need help. It may be more challenging than the other bootcamps but I think in the long term, it’s worth it because you have those foundational skills.
Do you have a traditional lecture during the day?
One of the reasons I picked the program was because there weren’t traditional lectures. This was something I preferred because I came in having no programming experience, so I didn’t want to have to zip through things and not fully understand them in order to keep up with everyone else.
For me, it was really great that I was able to take my time at the beginning. Now I feel like I’m caught up to speed, and that worked really well for me. On the flip side, I could see someone coming in with programming experience and not wanting to be slowed down by someone like me. In my opinion it works out for people on both ends of the spectrum.
Who are the instructors that are working with you and how many people do you have access to if you need help?
Aditya and Oren are the main instructors. They also encourage us to ask students that have been in the program longer for help...I think there are probably around 20 people in the program.
Of those 20 people, do you find diversity in age, race, gender in your class, even though you all aren’t in a traditional cohort?
I was actually surprised. I was expecting everyone to be very young and tech savvy and that hasn’t necessarily been the case. There are definitely students of all ages, both male and female, some are just starting out professionally, and others are looking for a career change. I’d say it’s definitely welcoming to all demographics.
How far are you through the course?
It’s a 12-week program and I’m going into my 7th week.
Do you feel like you’ve experienced burnout since you’ve been there?
Yes, definitely. But only temporarily.
How did you push through that?
There were some days I was working straight through from 10am to 10 at night, without a break. I just wanted to learn it, so I didn’t want to get up from my seat, I didn’t want to break for lunch. What I started realizing is that I needed to get up and at least take a walk around the block. Otherwise, it’s easy to get so laser-focused on the work that you forget what you’re actually trying to solve.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this has been the most challenging thing I’ve done. To be honest, I thought I was signing up to run a 5K and it turns out I’m running an ultra-marathon. But I love it. It’s a rewarding experience and I feel like I love to learn and I’ve been learning so much, which is what I really appreciate. I’m working towards something that I’ve been thinking about for a while but wasn’t actually sure how to execute on it. I feel like I’m really learning an extremely valuable skill set that will set me up for success for the rest of my life.
Have you been working on projects with teams throughout TurnToTech or do you work on individual projects?
I was actually given the option, since I’m not looking for a traditional job developing apps for a company. If I wanted to, I could work on a group project. That’s how the course is structured, where you have education for the first portion, which is done individually, followed by an internship. For the second part, you work as a group to build an app that is eventually launched in the app store. Just to go through that process is really exciting and valuabl
Do you want to tell us about your project?
The one that I’m excited about is an open house organizer. Through the app, you’ll be able to find open houses in the area based on your criteria, and then organize how you’re going to see them based on the most optimal route. When I was apartment hunting, I was looking at 20 apartments a weekend that were only shown for two hours a day, and I would have to take the time to map it out because I wanted to see all of them and there was such a small window for each. This app, like all of the rest I plan to develop, hone in on a specific problem, and solve a real world need. I think my best ideas solve problems people didn’t even know they had.
Do you feel like most of the people at TurnToTech are doing something entrepreneurial and building their own product or have you noticed that there’s a job assistance or job placement program if you need it?
The focus is on getting people jobs; that’s their ultimate goal. There are different job fairs that they set up in the space; people go on interviews on a regular basis.
But for everyone who’s graduated, the process has been really quick. I’ve seen them graduate, and go on maybe a couple of interviews and before they get offered jobs. I’m definitely seeing that there’s huge demand for programmers. It also seems like companies are really happy to take TurnToTech graduates because they come with the skills that they’re looking for.
But I think that everyone has a side project, regardless of whether they’re looking for a job or not. I think pretty much everyone has a little bit of an entrepreneurial side.
Are you thinking you’ll stay in New York after you graduate?
I’ve been in New York over 7 years and definitely feel like I’m at the heart of everything that’s happening. I love that there are so many tech meetups and startup conferences, and I’m constantly meeting new people with similar interests. So I definitely planning on staying here.
Want to learn more about TurnToTech? Check out their school page on Course Report or their website here!
Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!
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