fullstack-academy-student-spotlight-bethany-qiang

Beth Qiang studied science at college and was working in data analytics when she discovered her love for coding. She started teaching herself, then realized coding was a viable career path so she enrolled in Fullstack Academy’s Remote Software Engineering Immersive. Beth is now a month into the program, and really enjoying pair programming with her cohort mates. She explains why she specifically wanted to learn full stack JavaScript, how helpful and dedicated the Fullstack Academy instructors are, plus she gives us a demo of the Fullstack online learning platform to show us how the program is structured.

Q&A

What was your educational or career background before you started at Fullstack Academy?

I graduated from Rice University in Houston, Texas in May 2015. I majored in biochemistry and psychology and my original intention was to become a doctor. Half way through college I realized that wasn’t really what I wanted to do. When I graduated, I started working as a data analytics consultant for a consulting firm. There I started learning R, SQL and SAS, some database related things, and a couple of big data techniques, but most of my job was on the consulting side.

I started loving the coding part of what I was doing more than the other stuff. So I started using free online resources like Coursera, edX, and Codecademy, to learn more coding and to see what I could do with it. I got to the point where I understood a lot of fundamentals, but I didn't know what I could build, how to use it, or how to apply it to the real world. Then I stumbled upon Free Code Camp, an open source community that has a curriculum covering the entire MEAN Stack. As I worked through that, I realized it was a viable career path; that I could get paid to do something I really enjoyed. So I started looking at coding bootcamps.

Once you decided that you wanted to do a bootcamp, how did you decide to do an online bootcamp? Did you look at in person bootcamps at all?

There are quite a few coding bootcamps in Austin. I wanted to stay in Texas so I started looking primarily in Austin. Then I started looking online to see what kind of options were there. I came across Fullstack Academy, in part because of Course Report. I started reading more about the program, and the community they foster. It was inconvenient at the time for me to move to New York, but I saw their new remote option. I applied and ended up loving them.

Why did you choose Fullstack? Did you want to learn specific coding languages?

Yes. Fullstack is one of the few bootcamps that I am aware of that teaches full stack JavaScript and nothing else. Other bootcamps I looked at taught Ruby and really only touched on JavaScript frameworks for some of the frontend. I'd started with JavaScript on Free Code Camp and wanted to be able to continue that, especially because you can just do so much with JavaScript nowadays.

I was also impressed by the breadth and the depth of the Fullstack curriculum. We do CS Saturdays, during which we’ve learned concepts like how compilers work and built a parser, what functional programming is and built a Git clone, and how databases work and built our (super basic) database language. In the main curriculum itself, there’s still a heavy emphasis on not only learning what works, but also how and why. We’ve even built versions of Bootstrap and promise libraries to understand how they work the way they do.  In my research of other bootcamps, I felt like very few would go into that kind of depth and variety of material.

The third reason was I just loved everyone that I came in contact with. I talked to some alums, my interviewer was actually a former student, and everyone was super friendly. In my application interview the first coding challenge was working through a problem in a completely different way that I hadn't seen before.The second problem was applying what I had learned in that first problem. That spoke a lot to Fullstack’s philosophy and teaching style. It just really clicked for me at that moment.

What else did you have to do for the Fullstack Academy interview process?

The first step was a written online application with questions like, "What is your background, why are you a good fit, what have you done on your own.” Then I received an online timed coding challenge that had problems that were similar to code wars or Hackerrank problems. There were five of those, and I was only able to finish four, and just pseudo coded the last one. Fullstack was testing my thinking process and how I solve problems rather than what I knew.

I was selected for an interview with a fellow who was a former student. The first part of it was getting to know each other better. Then we went into a pair programming/coding challenge.  There were two problems. The first one was, “Let me show you how to do this in a really cool way." For the second problem, I applied what I learned to solve it. Then I received notification that I was accepted, and I started in late October 2016.

What is the learning experience and a typical day like at Fullstack online?

Fullstack is divided into three phases. The typical day depends on what phase you're in. We start off with foundations which is four weeks of programming basics, JavaScript basics, object-oriented programming, and prototype inheritance. It's around 30 hours a week, mostly on your own, with assessments in between to keep you on track.

I'm in the junior phase right now, and we are learning everything and anything. It's a mix of lectures, pair programming, working through concepts, and reviewing. Each day we start with an hour or two of lectures. Then do a few hours of pair programming to work through exercises, or on a toy app, to build upon what we just learned. Afterwards we have a review, which is a combination of pre-recorded videos and live coding with the instructors. The senior phase is entirely project-based, so we'll apply everything that we're learning now into building actual full-scale apps.

We also have other things interspersed. We recently had a hackathon within our cohort where we spent an afternoon building things using JavaScript in Minecraft. Fullstack is also pretty famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for something called Hot Seat, where each person is put in a Hot Seat for 10 minutes and everyone else can ask whatever questions about the person that they want. It's a way to get to know each other on a more personal level.

I know Fullstack is running in-person classes as well, are you involved with those or is the online program run quite separately from the in-person ones?

It's pretty separate. For our normal Monday through Friday classes, we have our own instructors. We have fellows who are 100% with us the entire time, so they're not going back and forth. All of our lectures are just for our cohort and are completely delivered by our online instructors. None of those are streamed at all.

For CS Saturdays, we are with the in-person cohorts where they do a live stream of the lecture, and we pair program with other online students, or sometimes we've been able to pair program with someone who is in person in New York. When guest speakers visit the campus, those are also live streamed for us as well.

We also have a Ladies of Fullstack group which is a Slack channel with all of the women at Fullstack. They do ladies lunches every Friday, and the online ladies often video conference into those.

How often do you actually interact with instructors or mentors?

On a daily, or even hourly basis. When we're pair programming, if we get stuck on a concept or have no idea how something works, we can submit help tickets through our learning system, and within a minute or two an instructor will pop up in our online breakout room and help us through whatever we're working on. Our code reviews are all with our instructors. We spend a good amount of our day with our instructors which is really nice.

The instructors are always trying to make themselves available to us. We also have end of the week reflections where they ask for feedback. They really care about making the experience absolutely fantastic for every single student.

Because you are in Austin, I was wondering if the program is delivered in your time zone?

The program is actually delivered in Eastern time since Fullstack Academy is based in New York. Austin is an hour behind so that's not terrible in terms of just timing. It's 10am to 6:30pm Eastern Time, so that’s 9am to 5:30pm for me which is not bad. One girl in my cohort is in California, and so she gets to start at 7:00am every day.

Where are the other people in your cohort from and how diverse is the group? Are there different backgrounds and are there many women?

Most of our cohort is based on the East Coast. There are a couple in Virginia, one in Ohio, and one in New York. A few of us are from outside of the Eastern time zone, including me in Texas, Indiana, Colorado, and California.

Out of the 13 people in our cohort, five of us are women. It's really nice. There are all sorts of backgrounds and life experiences. We have a couple of moms who were developers but took time off to raise kids, and now want to get back into it. We have a few who just graduated from college in May. One of my classmates was in the military for quite a few years. A couple of people had been working as developers previously and wanted to learn more front end or JavaScript. It's a huge range. It's been really cool.

I'm interested in what your study setup is like. Are you working from home and how do you keep focused when you're working in that 9am to 5pm schedule?

I do pretty much all of my work from home. I have a nice giant second monitor that's been very helpful. That's partially why I've never gone to coffee shops or anything.

Staying focused isn't actually that hard, because a lot of times we're pairing with another person and devoting ourselves fully to something, and it's hard to check out of that. Having another person with you and working on something together helps a lot in terms of staying focused and keeping yourself accountable.

We have a dual screen feature on the video software we're using, so you can see everybody's faces in a grid on one screen and then the lecture that's being presented on another. So a lot of us have done that, and you can't really get away with not being there.

It's super cool that you're keeping a blog about your experience! I was wondering if that's something that helps you keep motivated and plugged in through the program?

Sort of, in the sense that it gives me a good chance to review everything that we've done and the challenges I’ve faced. As I'm going through the day I often think, "Oh, I should write about this."

I won't say the blog motivates me to continue doing what I'm doing. I think it's more of a byproduct. It’s a good way to keep myself on track, making sure I'm understanding everything. Because when you're trying to explain something to someone else or even write it down, you really have to understand it in order to do that.

What was your main reason for starting that blog?

Over the years I've dabbled in blogging and I've always been a big writer. When I was younger, I did a lot of creative writing for competitions. As I was researching bootcamps, I read a couple of people's blogs about similar journeys. Seeing what they've done, how they've learned, how they've gotten through challenges, helped me a lot in terms of figuring out what I wanted from a program and what I needed to do in order to succeed. I hope that one day my blog is able to do that for someone else as well.

Would you be able to share your screen with me now and show me the learning platform?

What do you see when you first log in?

When you go to learn.fullstackacademy.com, the first thing you’ll see is all of our workshops. We usually do one workshop per day. For example, we’ve been working on different aspects of a Trip Planner over the past couple of days. Each day is something different.

Another workshop was Wikistack, a Wikipedia clone which was our first full stack app combining the front end, the back end, and SQL on the database side. There is always pre-reading, which we are recommended to do the night before so we know what's going on the next day. Then there is usually an introduction on how to set up, if there's any special tools that we need, or if there are any Git repos that we need. Then it's up to you to figure out exactly how to go about doing it.

So you're following those steps on the left-hand side?

Yes. It's not necessarily always step-by-step. Sometimes there are jumps in between that you have to figure out, but there is usually very helpful information so you can figure it out on your own. They do a very good job of giving you a structure to follow without telling you a ton. It definitely forces you to think, problem solve, and learn on your own.

Once you're done with the section, you can check it off, and there's a status bar to show how far along you are. Every workshop ends with a conclusion where it summarizes what you should’ve learned and it’s a good place to go back to for studying and reviewing. Each workshop ends in a feedback form where you can go over lectures, the workshop, the review, key takeaways, comments and then you rate your pairing experience.

Are these workshops something you work through by yourself or are you working with a partner?

All of these we pair program on. I have never worked by myself on a workshop, which could be good or bad thing, depending on what you're looking for. I actually never paired before joining Fullstack, but I absolutely love it. It's so nice to have another person to bounce around ideas.

How do you know which workshop is the one you're doing that day?

The next week’s workshops are put online each Friday, so over the weekend we can take a look at things. We also have a nice calendar that goes over what that day is going to look like in terms of what workshops and topics we're covering.

How do you interact and communicate with your instructors and the other students?

We mainly communicate through our video classroom software, Zoom, which is fantastic. Zoom has the ability to make breakout rooms, so for pair programming, each pair will be placed into a breakout room and then the instructors can bounce around room to room. Then whenever we're pairing with a partner and get stuck, we'll write a ticket on the learning platform help desk. Within a couple of minutes our fellow or instructor will show up in our chat room to help and talk through things.

Help tickets are usually only available when we're pairing together during the workshops. Our instructors and fellows are always reachable through Slack, and through email. I've posted questions on Slack at 10pm at night and had an instructor respond. They're good about monitoring things and getting back to us.

When you're working through these workshops are you mainly working through GitHub or how does that work?

It depends on the pairing and what your group wants to do. We definitely have a lot of stuff on GitHub. Typically, one person drives the pair programming, so we're working on their laptop and they are screen sharing their text editor so we can see everything that's happening. Then they will push the changes to GitHub and when it’s the other person’s turn we'll pull it down, and switch screen sharing. We also have the ability to take remote control of other people’s laptops or the software.

Is there a career advice module included on the learning platform at some point?

In the junior phase, our focus is solely on learning the technology. But we have taken a couple of career surveys which ask, "What are you looking for? Where do you want to work?" to give the career service team more information so they can prep for senior phase. The senior phase is when we’ll get into mock interviews, and preparing our online presence.

We’ve recently gained access to our primary and very lengthy career advice module that goes over everything: from senior phase projects to giving tech talks (which every Fullstack student is required to do) to mock interviews to preparing our online presence to figuring where and at what companies we want to work to prepping for demo day and hiring day. We’ll be working through all of that in senior phase.

How is Fullstack's learning platform different from using the free online resources you tried out before you decided to do a bootcamp?

One of the notable things about Fullstack's platform is there isn't any kind of editor built in. On Codecademy, Code School, and Code Camp, the editor is built right into the platform. But Fullstack’s approach forces you to set up your ecosystem the way a real developer would, which is nice.

The learning platform is great, and they use the same system for the in-person cohorts – they have the same workshops and the same help tickets. I feel like we're pretty much getting the in-person experience but doing it from our homes. The primary value in Fullstack is the interaction with students, instructors and fellows.

Is there anything else that you'd like to show me on the platform?

The last tab is office hours where we can schedule time to meet with fellows and instructors one-on-one if we need it. I've gone to a fellow before to say hey, "I'm interested in starting this project. How do I start?"  We also have a forum which is mostly used during foundations where people ask things like, "What do you think of this? How do you do this?"

I know that the in-person programs do a demo day and meet with hiring partners and I was wondering what similar thing they do for the online students?

Our cohort will be having its own demo day, where we’ll just be presenting our projects online in our Zoom classroom and it’ll be livestreamed via Youtube, so others, including hiring partners and family and friends and in-person cohorts, can tune in as well. We’re also being given the option to go to either New York or Chicago’s Hiring Days, if we’re interested in working in those locations and want to meet the hiring partners that come to those.

What was your overall goal in attending a bootcamp? What kind of job or result are you hoping to get out of this?

I think I would like to be able to do both sides of development in terms of back end and front end, and be a full stack developer. In terms of location and type of company, I haven't really thought that far ahead yet. Still working on getting through the day-to-day. I've been involved in The Women Who Code community here and things like that so I've met some amazing people over that.

What kind of advice do you have for people who are considering an online bootcamp?

First of all, know what you want out of the program. Especially in the online world, the program options vary from part-time, 10 hours a week, to immersive full-time like Fullstack. For some of them, you have a mentor who you meet with once or twice a week versus having instructors who are devoted to you full-time.

This is not strictly for online bootcamps, but use your instructors and mentors. They are there because they want you to learn and they want to help you grow and develop, so don't be afraid to ask for help. One reason a lot of people go to a bootcamp is so they can interact with and bounce ideas off people who know what they're doing.

Lastly, it’s not always easy, but it's always worth it. There are times when the only thing you want to do is crawl into bed and pretend your computer doesn't exist, but if you stick to it, it can be a fantastic experience.

Find out more and read Fullstack Academy reviews on Course Report. Check out the Fullstack Academy website.

About The Author

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Imogen is a writer and content producer who loves writing about technology and education. Her background is in journalism, writing for newspapers and news websites. She grew up in England, Dubai and New Zealand, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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