When Jay Ottenstein decided to learn to program, he knew he needed a flexible training schedule that still facilitated his love of learning. So he signed up for Bloc, chose his mentor, and got to work. We chat with Jay about his experience at Bloc, how the online program has managed to create a sense of community, and how he's continued learning after graduation!
What were you doing before you started at Bloc?
Before Bloc I was a regional sales manager for a natural food product company. I had recently left that position and returned to school in pursuit of a linguistics degree. So when I began Bloc I was a student, and still am.
Did you have a technical background before you applied?
I didn’t have any formal technical training when I applied for Bloc. I majored in biology (but never finished) when I was younger and the highest math I’d ever completed was AP calculus in high school. I did, however, complete a handful of codeacademy and treehouse courses before deciding on Bloc, both of which really developed my interest in coding.
Why did you choose Bloc over other online programs? Did you consider an in-person immersive bootcamp or did you know you wanted to learn online?
I first read about Bloc in a SF Chronicle article about 8 months before I enrolled. I ultimately chose Bloc because I was already working and taking classes, so I needed a flexible program that worked around my schedule. That eliminated all the in-person boot camps right off the bat. As far as other online programs (other than the more hobby-level, yet still wonderfully useful sites like codeacademy, treehouse, etc.), I was unaware of any at the time.
Did you get to choose your mentor? Who was your mentor and how personal was the mentor experience?
Yes, I got to choose my mentor, Jarod, a senior software engineer at a popular gaming company. The mentor experience, a cornerstone of the Bloc format, was extremely personal. Jarod and I had multiple regular skype meetings every week where we would go over my progress, the details of my work, and plan what I would work on for our next meeting. He was also always available for any questions as they came up, although he always stressed the importance of learning how to research and solve my own questions—an invaluable skill for any web developer.
Did you interact at all with other students in Bloc during your class?
No, I didn’t interact with any other Bloc students during the program (aside from another student I coincidentally met while taking a Lyft here in San Francisco). After completing Bloc, however, I’ve met and interacted with a bunch of other Bloc alumni. Being an online program, Bloc has really done a great job at creating a sense of community.
Did you ever experience burnout? How did you push through it?
I never experienced burnout, despite the rigorous demands of the program. There were times here and there where I got really stuck, even frustrated, and felt unsure about my ability to complete the program. Thankfully, my mentor was always there to help me understand the areas where I had the most difficulty. He was encouraging and supportive, but also very honest and quick let me know if I needed to spend more time with a particular problem or concept. Programming was, and still is, very new to me. Some of the concepts are very complex, but Bloc breaks the process down into manageable pieces.
Tell us about a project you're proud of that you made during Bloc.
What are you up to today?
I’m still a part-time student (until next fall) and am about to start a new, full-time, remote position as a Ruby developer for an exciting social media startup. While I haven’t started just yet, the job will entail building a complex social media platform from the ground up, along with a few other developers. I was recommended for the position by personal connections I made while at Bloc. I still had to prepare and interview, of course, but it all worked out.
Did you feel like Bloc prepared you to get a job in the real world?
Yes, Bloc undoubtedly prepared me for a job in the real world. As with any program, it ultimately falls on the individual to possess the peripheral requirements for getting a job, but Bloc definitely gives its students the technical skills to begin a career in web development.
Have you continued your education after you graduated?
I’ve continued my education in the form of reading programming blogs, listening to industry podcasts (like Ruby Rogues), Railscasts, working on side projects, and contributing to open source. I’ve heard over and over, and it makes sense, that a good programmer never stops learning. The nature of this industry requires constant development of one’s skills and Bloc, in a sense, taught me how to learn.