Derek Ahn is a local boy from Hawaii who grew up skating and surfing. While he wasn't tech illiterate, he was always intimidated and fascinated by the idea of programming. After meeting Jason Sewell, cofounder of Dev League, at a meet-up, Derek decided to take the plunge. He tells us about his mentors at DevLeague, his learning style, and his final project at Dev League.
What were you up to before deciding to go to Dev League?
Prior to DevLeague I was on track to attending law school, however I had a change of heart at the last second, and instead decided to just get another job and start working again. The majority of my work experience involved heavy machinery such as: fork lifts, ban-saws, meat-grinders, pallet jacks, and print presses of the like, where I worked as a butcher's apprentice (all throughout college), warehouse laborer, and press operator at a sticker company (for a very brief while).
Did you apply to other bootcamps? Why did you ultimately choose DevLeague?
When I finally decided I wanted to become a developer, DevLeague was at the top of my list. I had randomly attended one of their first meet-up events in October and really believed both Russel and Jason were sincerely motivated in creating a better future for Hawaii through education. With a vision like that and ambitious goals accompanied with it, to me is incredibly powerful. I had read a lot of hype about some boot camps in San Francisco, however home is where the heart is, and Russel and Jason's intentions is something I wanted to be apart of. I also believe in being akamai'i (supporting local business).
Which instructors/mentors were especially helpful to you?
With absolutely no coding experience everyone to me was a mentor, but it was awesome I learned so much from everyone. However, Jon (lead instructor) is an absolute brain and was so charismatic and sharing with his knowledge, and wisdom. Jon is the type of instructor who believes in sharing his wealth of knowledge, which is incredibly rare in this day and age. All too often do I meet teachers, instructors, and bosses who hold back in sharing their knowledge in fear of being no longer needed (job security). Jon openly shares his experiences and very cool tricks of the trade, such as an awesome technique/recipe for deployment.
Can you talk about a time when you got stuck in the class and how you pushed through?
Every damn day! Every single morning I felt overwhelmed by the amount of things I needed to know as a pre-requisite before I could do or learn anything. It often felt like I needed to know everything before you could learn anything. I was reared and conditioned by traditional schooling where a student could excel through regurgitation. I excelled as a student in High School and college because I was always able to recall what "things, and concepts" were for tests, without knowing the how, why, or when to apply what I've learned. I concur whole heartedly with a random tweet I read, that went something like this: "It says something about a society, when the driving factor is of institutions expecting good grades more than the students desire to learn". A bit of a tangent there, but I only mention it to emphasize my point of the only thing that got me through... was the desire to learn and WANT to be there. DevLeague was the hardest and most challenging experience I've ever done in my life, but also the most rewarding. I live to code and build!
Did you feel like the teaching methods worked with your learning style?
Honestly no, like I mentioned earlier I was conditioned to being spoon fed and then regurgitating it on tests (except the LSAT). Here at DevLeague you're required to think like a pragmatic programmer and problem solve every step of the way, from 0 to a 100. Being a conditioned mouse, I'm used to structured learning programs where the maze and problems are created and presented to you, and one just runs the maze and solve the problems given and created for you. However, at this boot camp you create your own maze, problems, and assertions. We're taught how to build from the ground up with the latest technologies and tools.
Tell us about your final project- what technologies did you use, how long did it take, what does it do?
My last project at DevLeague was a group project with the whole class where we built an App for the Civic-Accelerator competition. It's an app where we took multiple data sets on local legislators and their campaign contributions and cross-referenced the many data streams to that we transformed into meaningful visual data with D3.js, Angular.js, Express.js, Mongoose.js, Node.js, and MongoDB that presented users not only digestible, but hopefully useful information. We asserted that their was a correlation between industry type of contributions and the bills that local legislators supported. We were really seeking to answer the question of whether money can buy local political influence? So with our app you'll see campaign contribution trends over time, and the industry type divvied into a pie graph against the committees and bills they support.