Erica was a foreign language teacher and helped the school with their data analysis, when she realized she preferred the problem-solving aspect of data analysis more than teaching. She had lots of ideas for iPhone apps so enrolled in NYC-based TurnToTech’s iOS mobile development program. Erica tells us about how much she likes TurnToTech’s self-paced learning style, the similarities between learning foreign languages and programming languages, and her new job at XO Group!
What was your education and career background before you decided to go to TurnToTech?
My background is a bit crazy. I graduated from SUNY New Paltz in 2008, double majoring in Spanish and Italian. I then went to NYU for my masters in education because I originally wanted to be a teacher. While I was getting my masters, I also worked for NYU in the School of Medicine for the Emergency Department as a data analyst. I was there for about four years. Then I got my first job as a teacher after I graduated. I did that for a year, and didn't like it.
While I was teaching, I was also doing data analysis for the school, which was a charter school. Charter schools must present their data to secure funding so it's important to have their data ready and organized. I realized I actually liked doing that more than teaching, so I went back to data analysis. I got to the point where I wanted to do something bigger, and more difficult, and expand into programming. I took a coding course before TurnToTech, then decided to go into mobile.
Did you try to teach yourself code before you decided to do a course like TurnToTech?
Yes. At first, I was interested in front end. I have an art background from college, I minored in art studio so I thought I might like designing web pages and the artistic aspect of that. I did an online course at General Assembly, and really liked it, but I wanted to do more programming, and not just focus on UI. So I talked to my brother, who is a Rubyist, about the best way to learn back end programming. I worked on Coursera, Codecademy, and did a couple of classes in-person at General Assembly. I liked these classes but actually preferred the visual aspect of front-end. I decided to do mobile because it’s the best of both worlds.
What was the General Assembly course you took before you did TurnToTech?
I took a front end development course at General Assembly, which is another awesome school. I decided to do it online because I was pregnant with my son, and traveling back and forth to Manhattan didn't seem realistic. I really liked that course, but it was all HTML5 and CSS and I wanted to learn a bit more.
Did you look at other mobile development bootcamps or just TurnToTech?
Yes I did. Originally, when I was thinking about doing backend, I looked at quite a few. Then when I decided to do mobile, it really came down to only two bootcamps that I could find which had in-person Objective-C and Swift courses. It was TurntoTech and The Flatiron School.
What made you choose TurnToTech over the other ones?
The interview process mostly. When I was speaking to TurnToTech, I the people were very down to earth. I spoke to Teddy, and felt I could be really honest with him about where I started, how I've gotten to the point where I am, and he really liked my energy. I liked talking to him, and I mostly made the decision based on what he was telling me. He talked about the teaching style, and how after the program is complete, you still have a base where you can always come back to for support. It’s a life long learning model.
Why specifically did you want to learn mobile development?
First of all, I love my smartphone. I have over 200 apps on my phone that I use regularly. I often come up with ideas of different things that I can’t find in the App Store that I'd like to make. It made sense to me that mobile development would be a good fit if I had these ideas that I could turn into action. And on top of that, I really liked designing the frontend of what a viewer would see. I think I have a good eye for making the screens appealing and easy to navigate, but I also didn't want to just focus on that. I wanted to also code. That's why this was a good fit.
Which program are you taking at TurnToTech? Android, iOS, or both?
I'm doing iOS, and we’re mainly using Objective-C. We actually start off with C, and then move on to objective-C. I think this is really good because it gives you a foundation for how it works and the basis for the language.
They also offer an optional Swift course. It's 8 weeks long on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Many students have just taught themselves Swift, but I like to put it in my schedule so I have to commit time to it. If you're enrolled here, you can attend that course for free. They're also having a similar Android class for developers in September which I'll take after I finish the iOS program.
Why did you choose to just focus on iOS at this point?
I have an iPhone, so I figured it would be easier since I know what the UX expectations are. I'm familiar with a lot of the views and what they do, and I'll be able to potentially make some really great projects and put them on my phone which is really cool to think about. I do eventually want to learn how to design for Android as well.
Could you talk about how you paid for TurnToTech, whether you used financing or received a scholarship?
Absolutely. Another reason why I chose TurnToTech was it was a bit less expensive than other bootcamps. I think a lot of people think those programs where you defer payment until you get a job, and then pay a percentage, will work for them because they don't have the money upfront. Since we did have some savings, my husband and I ended up paying less than if we were to pay a percentage of my salary at the end.
They offer a $1,000 scholarship for women which helped a lot. I paid half when I enrolled. My husband is still working fulltime, so we saved up the other half and paid it halfway through the course.
You said you really enjoyed the interview process for TurnToTech. What was that like?
The first time you speak with TurnToTech, you come in and talk to Teddy in person – which I liked. A lot of other schools just send you a lot of information. You end up doing all that work and you’re not even sure if it's the right program for you. I liked that TurnToTech wasn't, "Oh, yeah, just read about our site online," it was more like, "Come in. Let's talk about it.”
In the first meeting, Teddy really wanted to meet me, introduce the program, learn about my background, and see if it’s the right fit for me. When I decided I did want to pursue this program, I met with one of the mobile development instructors, who basically gave me a verbal assessment. He asked me how I would do certain things, what I had done so far with coding and then assessed whether I understood the concepts. He tells you if what you know so far is enough to jump right in or if there is some pre-work that you should do.
What’s an example of a typical day for you at TurnToTech?
I come in at 8am and get to work pretty much right away. There's usually a project I'm already working on or if I need the next one, instructors will be sending it to me, and I will program all day until I leave at 5pm. The times that I stop are for lectures. TurnToTech has frequent computer science lectures, and every other Friday they have hackathons and computer science challenges. Those are really helpful. I usually just sit down on my computer, and I code, and I code, and I code until I get stuck. Then someone comes and helps.
It was a little hard to get used to in the beginning. I'm used to sitting in classrooms, having a teacher stand up the front, ask you a couple of questions from the textbook and move on. This is not like that. But now that I am in it, I feel this is the best way to learn how to program. They give you a project, and some resources, you try to figure it out on your own, and when you get stuck, there's always an instructor to help you. The program is at your own pace so whenever you finish one project, you move on to the next. Some take longer and some take a shorter time, depending on your skill set and what you put in. The program takes around four months to complete and I'm almost done.
What sort of projects are you working on? Are they group projects or individual projects?
Most of them are individual because it's a rolling admission, and the program is at your own pace. It would be difficult for them to have multiple people work on the same project because you start at different times. However, the students here are always willing to help one another, so that’s really great. We do pair programming where we ask others to help solve certain issues. Usually when that doesn't get us where we need to be, we get help from an instructor. Then for the hackathons, we work in groups and teams. For the computer science challenges we also work in groups. Then there are some people who finished the curriculum and are working on their own side projects with other students.
Was your background in foreign languages helpful when learning programming languages?
I think it was. When learning a foreign language, you have to have to put yourself out there, make mistakes and not be afraid of criticism. If you have that personality naturally, you learn a foreign language much more quickly. If you don't, you have to start trying to build it up because that's what will get you there. Nobody learned a foreign language by just sitting and being afraid to try it out. I would say that's definitely true of computer languages as well. You have to try to code and test, and test, and test. When it crashes, don't get frustrated.
Another way it's comparable is that I learned Spanish first, then I learned Italian. Because they're both latin-based languages, the structures were similar so I picked Italian up quickly. That's also true with computer languages. Once you know one really well, you can look at code for Python, or for C#, or for Swift and not know exactly what's in the text, but know exactly what it's doing. You could then rewrite it to Objective-C.
What’s the student to instructor ratio at TurnToTech?
There are three or four instructors here usually, and we're about 30 to 40 students on any given day. We use Slack to post when we need help. Instructors come and help you on a first come, first served basis. It usually takes about five minutes to get help. Most people really try to figure out the problem on their own until the point where they feel like they want to throw the computer out the window. That's when you ask for help.
Is TurnToTech a diverse environment in terms of gender, race, and background of the other students?
I think in terms of race and background it is. Gender, there's definitely a large gap there. There are about 40 students here and I’m one of four women. There are also two female employees who work here. But I would say it's pretty diverse in terms of age and race. There are students who are younger, straight out of college or maybe didn't go to college. There are students here who might have taken a break from their education or switched careers. Then there are people who are even older who maybe had a career for years then decided to start over.
What's your favorite project you've worked on at TurnToTech?
I really enjoy the hackathons in particular. Those are all different projects. It’s fun because you find out what you have to do that morning, then they split you into groups of four. You then have to make something in five hours so it gets pretty competitive. We all present on the big screen and then are judged on our product. Those are really fun because it pushes you to be creative on the spot. I've actually won every single one so far.
One of my favorite projects was Book-o-rama. We were put in a group and the theme was books and literature. We used the Google API to get different children's books into our app. We then animated those books so children could click on things for it to move in an interactive reading experience. That was fun. I thought of that app because I have a 17-month-old son, and I have an app on my phone that is similar. I have so many side project ideas, but I'm not really letting myself start on those until I'm done with the course.
How does TurnToTech prepare you for finding a job?
When I first got here they gave me a new template for my resume. They met with me and talked about things to add, and things to alter. Although I’d written a resume before and had a good track record with it; I'd never interviewed for a programmer position. It's very different. TurnToTech also helped rewrite my LinkedIn page, and I met with a friend of Teddy's who encouraged me to start a blog because it can help reach prospective employers. I've been blogging every week for a few months on my blog Always Googliando.
They also have somebody on staff who connects us with recruiters. Staff will make calls to recruiters to assist them in placing you in a role you are interested in. When you're done with the curriculum, the instructors hold mock interviews with you. Since the interview process is going to be different, they love to whiteboard and ask technical questions. TurnToTech staff will also talk with you about your past experience and have you showcase your skills.
So tell me about your new job!
The company is XO Group Inc which owns three magazines - The Knot, The Bump, and The Nest (Jennifer also works there). It's a family-centered product which I'm definitely passionate about, being a family person myself and I'm so excited about the culture of the company. My title is Associate iOS Engineer. They have about 70 engineers, but I'm the first junior iOS Engineer they've hired so I'm excited to join the team and learn from the higher-ups! I'll be pairing every day and growing in leaps and bounds. I start on August 1!
How did you find the job? What was the interview process like?
I actually met some XO engineers at the Gotham Ruby Conference (GORUCO). I was chatting with them and they said they're always looking for passionate iOS developers. They gave me their cards and I sent my cover letter and resume the next day.
I had a 30-minute phone interview with one of the managers at XO, about my background, how I got into mobile, what I've learned, and what my plans are, etc. Then I went to the office for a two-hour technical interview. I met with the same manager who quizzed me on iOS and CS knowledge. Then I met with a product manager who asked me about my experience working on a team and how I deal with conflict in the workplace. Lastly I paired for an hour with one of the senior iOS devs on the team. It was a really fun day. I've never said that about an interview before. Everyone was so upbeat and friendly and it was fun to chat and work with them.
What did you like best about TurnToTech and studying mobile development?
What advice do you have for someone who wants to completely change careers and go to a coding bootcamp?
I would definitely recommend it. It's a sacrifice. The course takes four months and it could take another month or two to find a job. It's a sacrifice my husband makes because we rarely see each other. I have to leave my apartment in Long Island early in the morning to get to Manhattan. Tuesdays and Thursday nights when I have Swift classes, I sleep in Manhattan at my brother’s so I can be at TurnToTech at 8am the next day. I don't get to see my son as often. It's really hard, but just having that conversation and realizing that it's just six months out of your life to drastically change your life. I'm going from a career that I didn't love, to something that I do love -and there's good money in this job. It's a secure choice to make for my family. Talk to people around you that care about you. Know that it's hard, but doable if you let people help you. It's worth the hard work.