After a career in IT, Casey Garland realized his love for building and joined Hack Reactor's Remote class while living in Pittsburgh. We talk to Casey about the logistics of the remote course, the differences between Thinkful and Hack Reactor, and his advice to future Hack Reactor Remote applicants.
Tell me what you were doing before you started Hack Reactor.
I got a bachelors and masters degree from WGU which were both remote, online learning as well. My degree is in Information technology and my masters is in Information Security. I’ve been working in technology for about 10 years on the IT side of things, and then I managed a software development team and found out how much I liked building. Eventually, I decided to quit my job and I joined Hack Reactor.
Did you do Codecademy or other online programs to introduce yourself to programming before applying?
I’d been exposed to programming over the years but I really started this year, I started doing Codecademy but it wasn’t enough so I actually did Thinkful’s front-end developer program and that jump-started me.
So between your undergrad and Thinkful, you were confident in online remote learning beforehand?
Yeah, definitely. I was looking at Hack Reactor before they announced their remote program. I have a wife and a small baby in Pittsburgh; I couldn’t just go to San Francisco for three months on top of not working and paying tuition. The reviews and everything were so overwhelmingly positive I didn’t think it was possible for it not to work.
What was the application process like for you?
They’ve got a pre-interview technical challenge that we did but my understanding is that they don’t do that anymore. Then I had a technical interview with one of the Hackers in Residence and I found out about a week later that I was accepted.
Who were your instructors during the class?
Shawn Drost, who is one of the cofounders, was our main point of contact. Our lectures were primarily done via video. We would have a video of the onsite lectures and then we would follow up with Sean or somebody else afterwards if we had any questions.
Did you ever have live lectures or were they all recorded?
Well, we only had one live lecture. We had one live lecture where somebody actually that taught that lecture did it in person for us live. In the technical part we only had one. Once we had gotten to the hiring phase in the last couple of weeks, we had more live lectures.
Can you tell us how the recorded lectures work logistically?
They use Vimeo. The first half of the program was really scheduled out in advance and it was very clear what you were supposed to be doing in a given time. We experimented with different ways of asking questions during the video and things like that. I think what ended up working best was just freeform. We have a group chat that’s always active and people just pop in and ask questions.
Did you have lecture in the morning and then work on projects in the afternoon?
Yes- everything’s split into two-day sprints so you have a lecture then you go explore the problem then you have another lecture. Then you have the rest of that day and the beginning of the next day to work on the project for that lecture.
What was the second 6 weeks like?
The first 6 weeks are really hands-on technical learning. The second 6 weeks are project based; so the majority of it you’re just working on different projects.
Were you working on those as a team or individually?
As small teams.
So you were interacting with the other students in the remote program.
Yeah, it’s really interactive. You interact with the other remote students a ton.
Were there any hiccups with timing or issues like that?
Yeah, there were some. They weren’t as big of a deal as you would think. One of the guys was actually from Nigeria and he had all kinds of connection issues. I’m on the East Coast so I worked from 12pm-12am every day, which is kind of weird. You get used to it. That didn’t end up being as big of a deal as I thought it would be.
Were you all pair programming or doing Google Hangouts?
All the above. The first half was all pair programming and you were on Google Hangout at the same time. I probably got in a hangout with my group 4 or 5 times a day.
Do you feel like Hack Reactor adapted the program to what people needed, since this was the first cohort?
Yeah, definitely, within certain bounds that they’d established. I think they take that approach with the onsite as well. They really take an iterative approach to what they’re doing.
A few times we gave them specific feedback about something and the next week we were doing it a different way.
What were the differences between your experience with Thinkful and your experience with Hack Reactor remote?
They’re not even the same thing; they’re so different. For me, Thinkful was a way to see if I actually like writing code, if I could be any good at it. It’s relatively low cost and there’s no risk whereas Hack Reactor is so expensive and such a commitment that there’s a huge risk. And Hack Reactor was 12 hours a day. I probably did 12 hours a week for Thinkful. That being said, I would still highly recommend Thinkful.
Can you tell us about a project that you worked on during those 6 weeks that you were particularly proud of?
I have one big one and one small one I’ll tell you about. The big one was a group project that we did and we built a platform for a small businesses to mobile-enable their employees. So instead of filling out forms on paper in the field or filling out a spreadsheet, they go to backend out of Node and Mango and the Mobile Apps from Ionic and Angular that allows them to fill out forms on their mobile devices.
The other one was just a little side thing that I did to help me put together the best fancy football lineup. And I actually won a contest that had 14,000 entries in it this past weekend.
How has Hack Reactor layered in job placement?
I wouldn’t call it job placement. I think they do a really good job with the resume building and with preparing you for the interviews and preparing you mentally for the best approach at getting a job. I think they do an awesome, fantastic job on that.
We were the first remote program; they were trying to figure out how they can best actually help get in contact with the people. They have such a great presence in San Francisco and I think almost half of our class went to San Francisco to try and find a job there but five of us are still trying to find jobs back home or remotely. The contacts they have outside of San Francisco are not as plentiful, but they are working on that.
Did you meet with potential employers throughout the program? Were you given access to that network?
Not throughout the program. It’s pretty concentrated in the last week. We will have met with 5 employers by the end of the week.
Have you done interviews?
Yes, and I already have two offers. I didn’t apply to these jobs but I did update my resume on LinkedIn and Career Builder and I had several people call me last week and I set up interviews for this week and I got two offers out of it.
Are either of those jobs remote or are they in Pittsburgh?
They’re both in person, in Pittsburgh. I’m definitely open to something remote. I’m kind of freelancing now, too. I don’t know that I really care that much whether it’s remote or in person. I just want to like the people I work with and like what I’m working on.
Is there anything else you want to add about Hack Reactor that we didn’t touch on?
Overall, I’m super satisfied. I definitely would make the same decision again. I would recommend if the person was able to, go in person. I think you’d probably get a better experience in person, just judging from all the reviews I saw from the in person people.
After going through it, do you think that there’s a type of person who wouldn't do well or wouldn’t excel?
I feel like we had a lot of different personalities. We only had 10 people but still there were different personalities. You just have to be willing to do the work; especially the first 6 weeks. It’s so hands-on. The second half you have to be a bit more self-motivated. But if they can get into the program they will probably do just fine.