Augustinas Markevicius pursued a PhD in chemistry for the last four years, but decided to put his academic pursuits on hold and find an affordable web development program to break into tech. Makers Academy’s newest online bootcamp option, Ronin, offered the best combination of flexibility, price, and quality. Now two months into his course at Ronin, Augustinas tells us about using Google Hangouts and Slack to seamlessly pair program and interact with other Ronin students, his reflections on what he’s learned so far, and what he’s expecting in the second half of the class.
What were you studying before you decided to transition to tech?
I was in university for 9 years; I’m just about to finish a PhD in Chemistry at the University of Manchester and more specifically, I was working on molecular machines.
What are Molecular Machines?
Basically, we’re trying to build the smallest possible robots from molecules. It is very difficult to do and at this point it’s more conceptual research.
In the middle of my PhD, I realized that, while I like science, I’m geared more towards computer science and technology. I was looking for a way into the IT industry, and that’s how I ended up at Maker’s Academy.
Had you taken a computer science class when you were at university?
No. No computer science classes and no proper math classes either.
Why did you decide to do the Makers Academy program online instead of in person?
At the time I was in Manchester (I recently moved to London), and my circumstances prevented me from moving to London. Also, the price is not as prohibitive as the in-person course, and in the end it mostly boiled down to money. If I had more money, I probably would have chosen the in-person course in their London Headquarters.
Did you look at other online code schools? How did you find Ronin?
During Ronin, will you be working on your PhD at all or are you focusing full time on Ronin?
Full time on Ronin! There’s no chance of doing both. We are committed to study between 9am and 6pm every day. Afterwards, in the evening, it’s up to you if you want to keep coding. I think a lot of us voluntarily choose to continue, often until 10 or 11.
What are you working on after-hours?
It differs from day-to-day. The work is mainly project-based, but for example, you may be doing a project during the day and realize that you have some knowledge gaps, and so in the evening you try to fill in those gaps.
What was the Ronin application like for you?
First, there were a few logic questions, just to test our logical reasoning, like simple math games. Then we had to do a few very simple coding tasks, so Jordan (who did the interview) would fire up a Ruby environment and you had to code very simple things, just to show that you have a very basic knowledge of Ruby.
How many students were in this first cohort with you?
There are 8 students in total. I interact with all of them. We pair program, and we change pairs quite often. I work an equal amount of time with every person.
Do you ever interact with the people in the in-person Makers Academy class?
We can. We have chat channels where we can interact with on-site students, but that does not happen that much. We do interact with on-site coaches and staff. We have a dedicated coach for our course, Sam Morgan, and then there are other coaches for the on-site students which we talk to as well .
How did you communicate with Sam?
I think Makers Academy is really successful at creating that feeling of community. It’s easy to create community at an on-site bootcamp because everyone gathers together. But their ability to build a closely-knit community online really surprised me. It’s like I’m feeling pushed and helped by the other people. I feel for other people when they’re struggling and I want to help them, even though I’m still sitting in my bedroom all day.
In terms of interacting with the coach, we have two sessions every day where we review everybody’s progress, and how we’re feeling about the day’s material, and discuss our plans for the next half-day. If people run into really big problems they can always just contact him on Slack and he will either resolve the issue over the chat or jump into the Hangout. It’s all very dynamic and it changes depending on the problems.
For pair programming, we just jump into a Hangout and code, sharing our screens.
Can you tell us about a couple of the projects that you’ve worked on?
So far, we had been making very simple games. We started with Fizz Buzz, then we made a Battleship game, and tic tac toe. The latest project was making a bookmark manager. I think it’s getting more serious now.
Have you found ways that your Chemistry background has helped you be a better programmer?
I think a PhD in general helped; you learn to solve problems and you learn to be on your own. During the PhD, I would have to actually come up with problems first and then work to solve them. There were people around who I could ask questions and ask for help, but I had to drive the whole process. I think that’s a skill that Makers Academy tries to teach you. I see other people improve a lot at this, but it’s hard. So the PhD definitely helps.
Are all of these projects assigned or will you ever create something on your own?
Actually, next week we’re having a review week where I think we will have the opportunity to work on our own ideas or, if we want, to review the materials that we’ve been through. At the end of the whole bootcamp, the last two weeks are exclusively dedicated for unique projects. I don’t know how it’s going to work exactly, but it’s basically two weeks of building new stuff.
How does Makers Academy, and specifically Ronin, make sure that you have access to their network of hiring partners?
I expressed my desire to become a developer before we started. Makers Academy has a hiring week at the end of the course. Because I’m now in London, I will be able to attend it in person, at least to meet the partners and start networking. There’s one person who’s now in Tel Aviv and there’s quite a few people living in different parts of the UK- I’m not sure how they’ll handle that.
Has Makers Academy started doing job prep, interviews or resume building?
The only work that we’ve been doing for now is to build up our GitHub profile, so that serves as an overview of what we’ve achieved. We are often reminded that our GitHub profile is one of the most important things for a successful application. We haven’t started talking about how to apply. There’s so much coding to go through that worrying about these things now doesn’t make sense to me.
How far are you through the curriculum? What have you learned so far?
Is there a lot of emphasis on test-driven development?
Yes. All of the code we write is supposed to be test-driven. I see how knowing Test Driven Development (TDD) is helpful and how it allows you to look at problems from a different perspective, but I’m not necessarily convinced that everything we do should be test-driven. Recently I watched a video from the creator of Rails. He made some convincing arguments about how making your test pass rather than thinking about the application can be a disadvantage in some cases. I don’t see it as “TDD all the way” but I see the benefit of it. I like learning it.
Some dev teams emphasize Test Driven Development more than others, so I’m sure it’s good to know!
Absolutely. That’s another really good thing that I love about Makers Academy. Almost every week they have a speaker come in from different companies and organizations and give a talk. We are able to watch these presentations online as well. We have a live broadcast and we are able to ask questions to those presenters, which is amazing. Seeing how hiring managers think and what their perspective is, is super helpful for the preparation of job applications and interviews. .
Since you moved to London, would you be able to go to those presentations live?
To be honest, I’ve never asked. I don’t want to start going between HQ and my home. We’ve been promised already that we’ll have all of the facilities accessible after we finish, so we’ll be treated exactly the same way as all the other alumni.
Is there anything that we totally missed about your experience so far with Ronin or bootcamps in general?
I think the most important thing is that a bootcamp makes learning fun. They are able to provide a motivating environment, which is a really major thing. I did a lot of online courses before, it’s very easy to get bogged down in all the things that you have to learn and it’s easy to put those online courses on hold. At Ronin, I’ve been super motivated during these two months!