Griffin Hammer’s quest to become a web developer has taken him from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Atlanta, Georgia, and now Palo Alto, California. After working in computer engineering on the hardware side, Griffin realized he actually preferred software and coding. He started out teaching himself, but wanted to learn with others so decided to enroll in DigitalCrafts’ 16-week web development bootcamp in Atlanta. A week before he graduated he was offered a job as a developer at network visualization software company Live Action in Palo Alto, California.
What were you up to before you started DigitalCrafts?
Before DigitalCrafts I had been working in the semiconductor industry in Greensboro, North Carolina. I studied computer engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute outside of Albany in New York and then worked mostly in hardware. I didn’t enjoy that side of the career, so I decided to go to DigitalCrafts to gain more applicable skills for a coding career.
When and why did you decide to switch careers, quit your job and do a coding bootcamp?
I finally made the switch because some of the work I was doing towards the end of my job, which probably wasn’t going to last, was more coding-heavy work. I really enjoyed that and wanted to continue doing that more in my career. So that’s why I made the decision to transition fully.
Did you try to learn on your own before you thought about a bootcamp or did you just dive into the camp?
I initially started doing some online courses. But I came to a point where I thought I needed more of a classroom atmosphere and felt it would be nice to have a group of people to work together and learn together with. I mainly used Codecademy and One Month.
Did you look at other bootcamps or just DigitalCrafts?
I was looking at a couple different places, mainly DigitalCrafts and General Assembly in Atlanta. I was looking for stuff relatively nearby to where I was. DigitalCrafts attracted me to it because of the length of their course and the fact they covered two full stacks.
What factors were important to you when choosing a bootcamp — price? location? language taught, instructors?
Atlanta was probably the nearest biggest tech hub with good coding bootcamps for me. I liked the languages DigitalCrafts was offering. I wanted to learn Node, because from what I had read online it seemed Node was a very good, upcoming technology. I also liked that they were going to be doing Lamp stack too, and create opportunities to go into some larger corporations that have an older code base. But the main thing for me was the course was a bit longer than most of the other courses I had seen, and would give me enough time to develop all my skills.
Did you do the iOS app development elective? How was that structured?
Note: DigitalCrafts’ iOS Elective is now $1,000 for immersive students, and $3,000 for part-time students.
DigitalCrafts only accepts 15 students per cohort. How did you find the application, interview process and coding challenge?
I thought it was really good. I don’t know if it was more rigorous than any other bootcamps. They tried to verify everyone could get through the course, but it wasn’t so strenuous on that, as much as, “we’ll see how well you think you’re going to fit inside our teaching structure.” I found the coding challenge relatively easy because I had some experience doing coding work through school, and through my previous job. It was actually nice because as they went through the interview process, I got to know the people running the course, and the teaching style that was going to be used.
Was your class diverse in terms of gender, race, life and career backgrounds?
It was all guys. That’s something the team has been trying to work on. It was relatively diverse in terms of race and career backgrounds. There were some people just out of school, a couple of people who had been working for a couple of years, and some people who had worked in an industry for 10-plus years, and were now trying to get into web development. There were 10 people total in the cohort. It was a really good atmosphere for the class. Everyone got to know each other really well. We knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses so we always knew who to go to if you had a problem with something.
Note: DigitalCrafts offers a $2,000 Women’s scholarship for up to 3 women in any given cohort.
What is the learning experience like at DigitalCrafts?
We arrive at 9 am. From 9 am until 12 pm our instructor would go over the new concepts we were going to learn that day. Then we’d have lunch and come back and delve into some project – either expanding on something we had done earlier, or starting something new using the concepts we had learned in the morning. And so that afternoon time was sort of free flow, and everyone’s sort of working with each other to solidify those concepts.
Who are the instructors? What are their backgrounds?
Our instructor was a developer for around 11 years before he became a teacher. Our cohort was the first class he taught, and I thought he did a really good job of conveying the knowledge he had gained through his experience as a web developer. We had a separate instructor for the iOS course. He was working in the industry and would come and teach the class in the evenings. He brought a different view – more technical and computer science oriented. He focused on things like object oriented design, in contrast to the more utilitarian stuff we were learning in the web development side.
A popular question we get is – how did you pay for it? Did you use a financing partner? Did you get a scholarship?
I had money saved up that I ended up using. DigitalCrafts has scholarships for ex-military and women – people who they want to help with that transition into coding. They also have a financing partner they are working with as an option for students.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
One of the most difficult things was seeing how far I could push my projects to differentiate myself from the other students. Because of the model of a coding bootcamp, you’re doing a lot of the same types of projects, and you may be applying for the same jobs as your peers. So you have to do as much as you can to differentiate yourself while still completing the course work.
The other big challenge was mastering some of the design aspects. I’d had experience coding before, but I didn’t have much design experience. I could see if something looked good or bad but I didn't know how to improve it. That was a learning curve for me.
What sort of feedback loop is there when problems arise?
They had a couple of different methods. The first method was a Google survey form where you could jot down your thoughts. Also, every four weeks over the course of the bootcamp they had a sit down with us where the director of student services, would say “this is how we think you’re doing, this is what we think you could be doing better.” Then he’d ask, “do you have anything for us, how do you think we’re doing?” I thought that was really helpful.
What is your favorite project you created? Did you get to use your own ideas?
There were a couple of things I really liked. The one I took the furthest was one of the first projects we did in Node. It was a voting app where users could vote on whether a picture was cool or not. I used an API for a video game and brought in a bunch of images of characters, then allowed users to vote on the characters. A lot of people just hard coded their database, but I went to the effort of pulling from an API, and scheduled it to run regular updates. That was an interesting challenge for me – seeing what I could do to take that project as far as possible.
Congrats on finding a job! Can you tell me about your job?
The job is with Live Action in Palo Alto, California, a network visualization software company. They work with Cisco routers to create tools to help less technical people visualize where traffic is getting bottlenecked. Then they can manage the network more efficiently, without having to run through the command line. When I start in March 2016 I’ll be working on the web interface for that product. They already have a normal application, and now they’re building a web interface. Initially I’ll be working in a lot of Angular.js and Express to deal with serving up their API. After that I can take it as far as I want, and maybe do some work on the backend in Java. I don’t have experience in Java yet, but they seem open to helping me expand my skill set.
What are you doing to keep your skills fresh?
I’m doing a bit of coding right now, working on projects I thought were fun and interesting. So that’s helping me keep up my Angular and Express skills. And as it gets closer to the job I’ll do some basic exercises in Java.
How did you find this job? What was the interview process like?
Around 12 weeks into the program, I signed up for Indeed Prime and Hired. I guess Live Action saw my profile on Indeed Prime and thought I would be a good fit. First I had an interview with someone from HR, to get a feel for my history. Then I had a Codility code test that was 130 minutes long, with three separate coding problems. After that I had a 30- to 40-minute phone call with the VP of Engineering, to see if my career goals aligned with what the company was doing. That was not too technical, and pretty relaxed. The final thing was an interview with four engineers on the team – including front end and back end engineers, some new to the company, and some had been there since its origins. They went through coding questions, stuff about my portfolio, and asked if I had experience with certain computer science concepts.
I think I tend to interview relatively well because I’m good at verbalizing my thought process through those kinds of problems. It wasn’t easy but it wasn’t difficult. And then everything I didn’t understand they thought they’d be able to teach me and fill in those gaps on the job. I got the offer in the 15th week of the program – one week before graduation.
How did the bootcamp prepare you for finding a job?
There were several different ways they helped us. People from other companies came in to tell us about their interviewing processes. Someone from StackOverflow came in to do mock interviews with us, and went through our resumes. He told us what was good, what wasn’t, and told us whether or not he would have pulled that resume. He did a full mock interview and a technical interview with us, then gave us feedback. They did a really good job.
What did you like most about DigitalCrafts?
The biggest thing was the environment. It was really open and friendly, everyone got along well, and we could work well with each other, teach each other, and give each other different perspectives. Sometimes you sort of needed someone other than the instructor to teach you. It can be helpful to learn through teaching if you can express things in a different way.
What advice do you have for people considering a bootcamp?
I guess the main advice I would give anyone who is trying to do a bootcamp is do as much work as you can on your own before the bootcamp starts so you can hit the ground running and do their best to internalize everything you are learning.