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erik-richter-dev-codecamp-student-spotlight

Erik had a degree in Aviation and an MBA when he decided to change careers. He had enough experince with traditional education to know he didn’t want another 4-year degree, so Erik researched coding bootcamps in Milwaukee, and enrolled at DevCodeCamp. We chat with Erik about the “sub-level program” during DevCodeCamp’s application process, the AngularJS project (called ThisIsPrettyNeat, which is actually pretty neat) he created, and going on interviews for his first job as a developer.

What you were doing before you started at Dev Code Camp?

I have a Bachelor of Science in Aviation. Before joining DevCodeCamp, I was a corporate pilot for a small company based out of Naperville, Illinois.

What motivated you change careers?

After spending seven years in the aviation field, this past January I decided to make a career change into software development and computer programming. The development field has always interested me and I found myself exploring it further. I loved what I saw! I made the change to foster this love, and, also, to "future-proof" my life. Software development is the future and I want to be right with it!

When and why did you start doing research about coding bootcamps?

I started my education research this past January.

Since I already have a college degree, I did not want to go back to a 4-year school for Computer Science because I knew I would need to retake the same general education requirements I had during my undergrad. With cost-of-education being an issue, I decided the traditional route was not a viable option as I would have to pay for education I already had.

I read an article on LifeHacker.com about three different education paths I could take to get into the development field: through a traditional 4-year educational program, through self-study, and through a bootcamp. After exploring all three options, I decided that a coding bootcamp sounded like the best fit for me; especially since I already had a Bachelors and Masters degree.

With a traditional 3-credit college course, a student spends, roughly, three hours in that class each week. By those same standards, in one day at DevCodeCamp, we cover about three weeks of that course’s material. After 12 weeks, I completed 4 years of Computer Science courses.  This intense immersion is what I was looking for.

Were you in Illinois when you started researching boot camps?

I found out about DevCodeCamp when I moved back to Wisconsin. Prior to that, I was researching coding bootcamps in the Chicago-area. One focused on iOS and app development and the other was a front-end development boot camp. But, since I had already moved to Wisconsin, when I found out I could attend a bootcamp close to home at DevCodeCamp, I felt it was a good opportunity.

What was your technical experience like? Did you ever take a computer science class in your undergrad?

Coming in to devCodeCamp, I had very limited technical experience. I took a Computer Science class in high school, but it only taught me how computers physically work.

After college, I took some courses on Codecademy, which were very informative, but I found some material to be slightly outdated. Plus, when I had questions about the topics, I did not have someone to ask.

Do you have specific career goals when you graduate or are you keeping your options open?

With regards to a career, I just want to develop...and know I will be happy anywhere I can do that! As for my interests, I’m personally drawn to the front-end. I love design and making products look great. I’m also very interested in mobile app development. That being said, I’ve challenged myself, a lot, to work on the back-end because I understand being a full-stack developer is crucial to getting a good job. It is also crucial to allowing myself to develop as a developer and becoming the best I can be.

DevCodeCamp teaches web development, right? Or are you learning iOS as well?

This course predominantly focuses on back-end development...especially C#.Net. That is what employers are looking for in the Milwaukee area, which is why devCodeCamp chose it as a focal point rather than Java or C++ or another language.

In addition to C#, we also focused on Python for 2 ½ weeks and JavaScript for 3. HTML and CSS were briefly touched on, but a majority of what I know about them came from my own personal study.

As for other languages, our instructors encouraged us to dive into any we were interested in. After learning core development concepts, I found picking up new languages in this immersive environment became much easier.

Tell us about the application process at DevCodeCamp. Did you do a technical interview or was it a culture interview?

There were a number of steps in the application process. After expressing interest in the school, the first step was getting my application in. From here, I had an in-person interview with the head instructors, and they asked about my background, why I wanted to take the course, and where I wanted to go with it.

The next step places applicants in a Sub-Level program. The sub-levels are designed to ensure that any student accepted at devCodeCamp is mentally capable of completing the course. It checks for basic math knowledge, reading comprehension, and the ability to find patterns in cognitive puzzles...a lot of which is logically relevant in development. The Sub-Level program also brings applicants to the same knowledge level...we learned about basic computer terminology, such as debugging and compiling, and some other useful knowledge so on Day One, instructors had a base-line to teach from.

After completing the Sub-Levels, I had my final interview. In it I was tested on comprehension of my Sub-Level knowledge, which I passed, and was given further information about the content of the course and what was expected of me as a student. By the end of the meeting I was formally accepted into the program.

Did you ever do a technical coding challenge?

There was no technical coding challenge required to be accepted into devCodeCamp. Most of the students in my cohort had not written a line of code before their first day. We just possessed a desire to learn.

How many people are in your cohort?

Five.

This is a small class, but is it diverse?

To be honest, we are all white men between the ages of 21-40. It’s not particularly diverse, but I know there are a number of scholarships out there for women who want to get into development. I know that devCodeCamp is trying to stress that.

Who are the DevCodeCamp instructors?

Dave is the head of instruction. He’s the one we go to with a majority of our problems, questions, and concerns. That being said, there are many instructors here who specialize in certain languages, teaching their respective knowledges to us. But outside of lecture, every instructor is available to help.

What does a typical day look like? Do you have lectures or is the curriculum project-driven?

Our days vary depending on what we are working on.

At the start of learning each language, there were a lot of lectures because we had to absorb a lot of knowledge. Those lectures were then paired with labs that reinforced the concepts we had just learned.

After core-concepts had been absorbed, we were given both individual and group projects to complete using the language we were learning. These projects allowed us to apply our knowledge in a real-world application interest.

But despite the lack of a “standard day,” we are coding every single day, continually building upon that which we already know. In an immersion setting, learning comes very quickly.

Do you like learning .NET and C#? Are you satisfied with that curriculum?

I do! It may not be my favorite language out of the three that we’ve learned, but it has allowed me to focus on very important components of development; namely object-oriented programming, which is huge in software development.

I am very satisfied with the curriculum at devCodeCamp! By the time I am finished here, I will have focused on Python and JavaScript for 2 ½ - 3, each, and C# for about 6-7 weeks. I found as I started learning more languages, each new language I learned became exponentially easier because I already had the core concepts of development down. As a student, that is very comforting to experience because I know I am developing as a developer. Another big component of this course I enjoyed was career placement development. This included dedicated help with resume building and interview tutoring. As someone who has not had much of that and is switching careers, I feel, it was one of the most helpful and informative parts of this course.

How many hours would you say you’re spending on DevCodeCamp?

10 to 12 hours a day. We get here at about 8 in the morning and many of us stay until 7 or 8 at night. Over the 12 weeks of this course, I will have spent 600+ hours in an immersive coding learning environment.

Have you felt burnout at all working 12 hours a day for 12 weeks?

I’d call it “temporary burnout.” For example, yesterday I was very frustrated because I was in a deadlock trying to figure out a problem I had. I kept looking at the same code over and over again but could not come to a resolution. When this happens, though, I find taking a 10 minute break and approaching a problem with a fresh outlook usually helps. As a developer, I understand that this frustration will happen. I think it’s important to figure out how to personally overcome it.

You’re not quite finished with the course yet, but have you had a chance to reflect on your experience? Has there been a good feedback loop?

At the end of each language, we were given an evaluation sheet to fill out and an opportunity to talk about the things we liked/didn’t like, along with any suggestions for future courses. No matter the type, these are always taken with enthusiasm by our instructors.

I think the instructors are definitely passionate about teaching. I always feel like I can approach them whenever I need to ask a question. One of our instructors, I know, can read uncertainty on my face when I don’t understand something...and he’ll explain things to me over and over again until I do. I think that persistence is very important, especially when we’re learning something that we’re not familiar with, and I appreciate it.

Can you tell us about a project that you worked on while at DevCodeCamp?

Yes! When we were learning JavaScript, I developed the web-app www.ThisIsPrettyNeat.com. It is a subscription-based service that aggregates daily inspirational and positive news stories using Pocket's API, JavaScript, PHP, and HTML/CSS. One of the requirements for that project was using minimum 4 JavaScript libraries.

Which libraries did you use?

jQuery was the main one. In addition, I used an API integration with Pocket’s JavaScript/Python API, Smooth-Scroll.js, which automatically scrolls a page rather than chopping it from one page view to the other, and multiple hover libraries that allowed attractive mouse-over animations with the page links.

It looks great. Did you work on it alone or as a class?

Thank you! That was an individual project.

So did you do a JavaScript project, a Python project and a C#/.Net project?

Yes. We did a Python group and individual project, a JavaScript individual project, and we are, right now, in the middle of a C# group project. In addition, before the course ends, we will probably have an individual C# project as well.

Tell us about approach to job prep.

There has been a lot of emphasis on job prep in our course. One day each week we meet with a career development counselor; a dedicated instructor who is familiar with the components of how to get a job in the tech field. He comes in and talks with us for about 2 ½ hours on all topics relating to career placement. Through this, we’ve developed our resume, social media presence, and are currently learning how to interview.

For many of us, this path is a career change. The idea of a technical interview is very nerve-wrecking if you don’t know what to expect before going in. That’s what they are helping us with here.

I’ve done a number of interviews so far and, aside from general butterflies, have not felt unprepared or like I did not belong in them. I think the course has done a good job preparing me.

How many interviews have you gone on?

I am hoping to have a job by the time we graduate! That would be my ideal situation. I’ve been on 5 phone interviews and two technical interviews so far.

Were those interviews set up by Dev Code Camp?

Two of them were set up through devCodeCamp. The other three were through me.

For the ones that were set up yourself, can you give us any secrets? How did you get those interviews?

I went online and searched “development jobs in Milwaukee.” There are SO many websites dedicated to this particular search! With them, I looked for jobs I was qualified for or that interested me and applied.

I have really enjoyed the interview process! I find it is kind of like dating...you go out with someone and then wait, eagerly, for that first text or phone call after saying they had a fun time...that’s the same feeling I get after receiving an email from a company I applied to saying, “We’ve seen your application and we’d like to talk to set up an interview.”

Do you have an idea of the type of company that you want to work for?

Right now I’m looking for a developer position and I do not care where that is! I just want to develop!

Where is the DevCodeCamp classroom?

It is on the top floor of a building just outside of Milwaukee, WI.

As for the setup, they spared no expense here! They did it right! There are smart boards, top of the line computers, and anything we need for learning. There is even free Starbucks coffee, on demand, every single day! That is such a luxury for me!

To learn more about DevCodeCamp, check out their School Page on Course Report or the DevCodeCamp website

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