Musician, electrical engineer, and now software developer Chris Cenatiempo has landed his dream job in Hawaii after graduating from Turing School in Denver, CO. He became interested in coding as an integrity engineer working alongside developers. When he tried it himself, he quickly became hooked and realized he wanted to be coding full time. He enrolled in Turing’s Full Stack Development program and says it was “the coolest experience” of his life. Chris tells us about why he chose Turing, his favorite projects, and how he landed that job in Hawaii (+ photos).
What is your pre-bootcamp story? What is your educational background and last career path?
Before Turing I went to Wichita State University for electrical engineering and mathematics, and before that I was performing and teaching music. After college I got a job as an integrity engineer at a pipeline company. I kind of knew going into it that it wasn’t for me, but I worked there for a couple of years while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Then my friend, who was a lead developer at the time for Quick Left, told me about Turing and suggested I apply. I applied and luckily got in.
Did you have any experience or prior knowledge of coding?
I’d had an interest in coding because of my engineering background. There is some programming involved in engineering – writing little scripts to run basic algorithms or using matlab and C++. While I was an integrity engineer, I worked with a developer to build an in-house application for us to import and analyze data from pipelines in the field. I worked with him to put together user stories, and ended up doing front end testing of the app for him.
Did you try to learn on your own before you thought about a coding bootcamp? Could you have continued to learn on your own?
I did learn on my own, mainly with Codecademy. I would try to do the problems without looking at the answers, then realize hours had hours had gone by and I was still enjoying it. So I knew that this career would be interesting.
However, it is tough to figure out programming by yourself because there are so many paths you can go down. It’s almost impossible to figure out how to organize your own curriculum, and there’s no guide or book to tell you how things should be done so I figured a coding bootcamp would be a better way to start.
Did you look at other coding bootcamps or just Turing?
My friend mentioned Galvanize as well as Turing, so I applied to both. But I was always more interested in Turing – I had heard a lot of good things about founder Jeff Casimir and the program itself. I’d heard students were better prepared compared to other bootcamps, and I knew Jeff had also started gSchool.
How important was the longer length of Turing’s program?
It was pretty important because I feel like with anything shorter than 7 months, you’re really not going to get enough out of it. During those seven months, we learned both back end and front end languages, and at my job right now I’m working in a mix of both. I’m not just stuck to Rails even though I’m technically a Rails developer.
Did you think about doing a four-year computer science degree?
Kind of; I’m still actually planning on going back to college, but I’m more interested in mathematics for college than programming. I feel like programming is something I can learn from the community more than anything. I didn’t want to go back to college for coding because I felt like four years was too long to wait to get into this business.
How did you pay for Turing? Did you use a financing partner? Did you get a scholarship?
I used financing. Turing had some options to finance through a lending partner (there were two of them at the time). I used Climb Credit.
What was your cohort like? Was it diverse in terms of gender, race, life and career backgrounds?
There were about 27 people at the beginning, and I graduated with about 15. We had four or five women, so it was mostly guys. My class wasn’t very diverse, but classes coming in afterwards were more diverse. The backgrounds were all over the board. We had one guy who was a high school teacher who also did physics in college. There was another guy who lived in the same apartment building as me, who did environmental engineering. And some people had previous programming experience – one guy who worked for GoDaddy. We had a woman who was a psychologist, then we had people who just didn’t even have a professional background, who were just coming in and trying to learn. There was a bit of an age range – the youngest student was 20, and the oldest was mid-40s. The average age though was mid-20s, early 30s.
What was the learning experience like at Turing?
What was the pace like over the seven months?
For the most part it was busy all the time – it depended on which module we were on. Sometimes we had projects that were two weeks long so we would work through the weekends. In the last module, we took weekends off because we were job hunting as well, so they wanted to give us enough time to do that too.
What was it like being in such an intensive program for seven months? How did you avoid burnout?
Taking long breaks between coding was important. I don’t really have any strategies or methods for not burning out; I just kept going. Their main suggestion was getting sleep which I didn’t always do. I guess I avoided getting burned out by making friends at the school and hanging out, doing something other than coding.
What was your favorite project that you created?
Another favorite was a project for a company outside of Turing. It was my personal project which I worked on with a partner. We built an API interface with Angular for a company to help their users analyze data information. We were the first cohort to work with outside companies for our projects. Turing set it up so about eight people from our cohort could work with this company. It was definitely a great learning experience.
What are you up to after Turing?
I’m a Rails developer here in Kailua, Hawaii for a company called RealGeeks. We build real estate apps for agents which allows them to build their own website. The part I work on is a backend for agents to analyze data so they get leads on who might be interested in buying or selling a home. We take the data and display contact information so the agents can contact these people and show them around properties. Then we add other API data like Zillow, which they can integrate with their website to see who is looking at what.
Are you using the stack/programming language you learned at Turing or a new one?
How did you find the job?
I found it through a friend at Turing who was a cohort ahead of me. She was offered the job herself and didn’t want to take it, so I told her I was interested and she hooked me up. I applied and did the interview process and got the job. It was the first job I applied to – I got lucky on my first hit. I didn’t have to do a bunch of interviews and applications.
What was the interview/application process like at RealGeek?
The application process consisted of three interviews. I was applying to jobs while I was going to school right before Christmas break. The first interview was a culture fit see how I would fit in with the company, then they gave me a coding challenge with certain tasks and I had to build a mini Rails application. In the second interview, I pair-programmed with my supervisor on some other features for the Rails app. The third interview was with the CTO. Then they offered me the job and I started in February 2016.
What’s it like working as a web developer in Hawaii? How is it different from living in Denver?
It’s pretty awesome. I cannot complain. There’s not a huge tech scene out here, although I did meet a developer the other day at Starbucks! I’m living in a house right on the beach, three miles from work, so I just bike into work every day. In the weekends I’m doing a lot of hiking and swimming, and I joined a competitive paddling club. I like how I can just walk out my door and there’s a hike right there, whereas in Denver I’d have to drive 30 minutes to get to a hike. I’ve got a couple hiking buddies, and I think we’re also going to do some ocean kayaking to some islands in front of my place about a mile out.
What’s your schedule like?
It’s pretty standard 9 am to 5 pm. They’re pretty lax about when you come in – I usually come in between 8 am and 9 am. It’s a pretty typical dev environment and there are four of us on my team. We’re called the Lead Manager team which is basically the Rails team.
Did you feel like Turing prepared you well for your first job as a developer?
Yeah I think so. There is still a lot to learn obviously, but I don’t feel completely overwhelmed. I was getting around in the code base yesterday and building some stuff, and I felt comfortable, but there is definitely a lot I don’t understand.
What’s been the biggest challenge at your new job?
Just trying to understand the code base because it’s so huge. I’m used to building small little applications from the ground up, but this is having to learn other people’s code and figuring out what’s going on. But Turing definitely helped with some of the tools they gave us, like Pry. Pry allows you to pause the code and see what your outputs are in the middle of the code. I’ve done a lot of pairing, and a lot of setup for this application. I’ve experienced all sorts of different things within our framework.
How are you feeling about reaching your goals of becoming a software developer?
It was the best thing I’ve ever done. And my goal was also to move somewhere new. I’d always wanted to live near a nice ocean. I wasn’t really planning on Hawaii but I got pretty lucky.
What advice do you have for people making a career change after bootcamp?
I’d say do it, but pick the right coding bootcamp for you. I know there are a lot out there, there are even some popping up now in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas. I got lucky because I had people who knew which places to go and what to apply to. My advice is to really make connections while you’re at a coding bootcamp because it’s hard to go solo. The best thing you can do is talk to people, find out what job opportunities are out there, and learn at the same time. Connections are one of the most important parts of getting your first developer job.
Anything else to add about your experience at Turing?
It was a great experience and I’m definitely glad I did it. It was the coolest experience of my life. I’m still in touch with people from my cohort. I have a couple of friends who are going to come out here to visit in September. It went by too fast though, and there are days where I wish I could go back to school, talk to people, and write some code.