Kathy has worked in software testing for 15 years, but realized she needed to update her skills and learn web development, so she enrolled in The Software Guild Online Program, a part-time option ideal for students who aren’t ready to quit their jobs. Kathy shares her tips for learning to code online and why she appreciates the motto, “Once a Guildy, always a Guildy.” Plus, Kathy gives us a live video demonstration of The Software Guild learning platform!
Tell us about your pre-Software Guild story. What were you up to?
I've been testing software for the last 15 years, and as development has changed and become more agile, there's a need for automation. If you want to stay in the testing industry, you need to know how to code. So I started looking at different options. I already have a four-year degree, so I didn't really want to go back to traditional school. I was looking for an online option, and The Software Guild actually worked out really well for me. I work full-time and commit about 20 hours a week to The Software Guild.
Did you try to teach yourself to code first?
I have. I have done proto site training and I actually did another online webinar-based class with exercises. I was able to learn the basics of C# enough that I could use some automation. The drawback to webinars is that you don’t always learn best practices.
The company I work for does .NET stack development and I was looking specifically for something like that.
Did you ever consider doing an in-person coding bootcamp? Did you research other online bootcamps?
There aren’t in-person bootcamps in my city, the St. Cloud Minnesota area. The closest bootcamp would be an hour’s drive, so I would have to take a three-month leave of absence from work. The cost was also way more than I was willing to spend.
Once I started researching online bootcamps, I realized that it can be tough to know if they’re worthwhile and valid. When I found out about The Software Guild, I found that they were associated with Concordia College, which is here in Minneapolis. Concordia actually will give credits to bootcamp students. That showed me that this is obviously a good program, so I started going through the application process. The application process convinced me even more that it was a good program.
What was the application and interview process like for The Software Guild Online?
When I started, I had to do a phone interview. The questions were geared towards figuring out my goals. I also had to take a test to see if I had the analytical abilities to code, and then I had to answer four questions in an essay format. It was pretty intense, but that convinced me that The Software Guild was serious about making sure that students can do the work to get into the program. They're going to make sure that we succeed.
Once I was accepted, we were given a lot of pre-work, which was really helpful. They're going to eventually make the pre-work available to the public and applicants will have to complete all of this pre-work before they can start. They do an interview with people to make sure that they are actually ready to do the program. I can tell that they really want people who can do it. They don't want somebody to sign up, pay the money, and then not be able to actually do the work.
What has the overall learning experience at The Software Guild been like for you? Perhaps you can give me an example of a typical day?
When we started, The Software Guild said that they expected us to put in 20 hours per week. I made the goal to work on The Software Guild 20 hours a week at a minimum. I spend three hours a night during the week and then the rest of the time on the weekends to get the work done. There are reading materials, webinars, and coding exercises to complete.
When I applied, they also sent me pre-work that was pretty intense; sometimes it was even intimidating. What I really like about The Software Guild is that the experience is the same as having real-world development work.
There are times I would throw my arms up and be so frustrated because I couldn't figure something out that I spent two days on. I would go to my day job, where one of our developers would throw his arms up behind me and say the exact same thing: "Oh, I've been working on this for two whole days." It’s really encouraging to see that we’re getting a similar experience. If you don’t like The Software Guild, you’re probably not going to like being a developer.
With your background in testing and QA, do you feel like you have an advantage or already know some of the information?
Sort of. One of the things that I didn't expect is that you have to love living in ambiguity. My friends laughed at me because I don't typically like living in ambiguity. I'm learning to appreciate it because when you're doing development work, things change so much and you're not going to know everything. You have to learn how to find the answers. I'm learning how to develop really good skills that help me to weed through all ambiguity to get to the answers.
How often do you interact with mentors or instructors?
I'm meeting with a teacher's assistant twice a week, for half an hour, but they're also available almost 24/7. We use HipChat, so I sign into HipChat with other students and an instructor or teacher's assistant. If you have questions, or you get stuck on something, you can ask questions in the chat.
Do you have one instructor who teaches you?
When we're on HipChat, we can talk to whoever is available, but for my weekly meetings, I'm meeting with a specific teacher's assistant. That's mostly because his hours were the ones that were best suited to my schedule.
Do you learn from the other students in The Software Guild online cohort?
We do but there are students from Florida, Seattle, etc, so it just depends on when you're online. When I'm online in the evenings, there are maybe three or four other people on. We have classes twice a week and then the teachers and the teachers’ assistants go through the questions that we have to help us understand things.
When do you expect to graduate?
I'm nine weeks through, and I'm expecting to be done in December. It is pretty intense, but it's going well for me so I would like to stay with this level of intensity.
Is The Software Guild’s online program self-paced?
Yes and no. We have three-week units for each topic, and we have a curriculum that we have to get done by the deadline. If we finish that work before that time period, then they have additional work that they'll give us (instead of going on to the next level).
We’re in the first cohort of this online program, so they're in a state of flux. The Software Guild team is always reevaluating and changing their approach. That’s one thing that I like about this program: they pay attention and they want this to be successful for you.
Okay, Kathy! Would you share your screen with us now and show us what The Software Guild Online platform is like?
We use a program called Acatar, so I log in and see my dashboard and it shows you which instructors you can access. When you go into the class, you see navigation on the left-hand side, and within that, each topic that will be covered in the section. For example, right now we're in Section 5: Intermediate C#.
Then there’s a section with our exercises. There we can download exercises and see required readings. And when I'm done, I can mark it as “complete,” which is nice because then I can keep track in the UI.
We do two weekly classroom sessions, and then those classroom sessions are posted on the platform. I like that I have access to past classroom sessions.
The Task List shows all of the lessons and readings, which I can read online or print as a PDF. I'm old school, so I still print. I can also see if I need to take any quizzes. I like this because when I start my section, I know all the work that I need to get done by the due date, can track that by checking off tasks with a green check mark, and make sure I get it done in the time period that they have allowed.
Could you show us one of the videos that you would watch in Lesson 5?
Sure, here’s an example of a video. Some of the videos are interviews, others are like roleplay, and others are designed for us to code along with it.
Could you show us a quiz?
Sure, we have quizzes that ask you questions like, "What's the proper way to create anonymous type in the code?" This keeps track of the scores, and you can review your questions and answers later.
You meet for live training online twice a week- how does that work in Acatar?
We get an email with a link to a live training and an instructor runs the classroom session. We can ask questions either through HipChat or we can ask questions directly in the classroom, and then they record it so that we can see it later. Then they put the recordings here in the Acatar platform.
What does it look like to communicate through HipChat?
All these people in green are online, and you can search through all the history. This school is called The Software Guild and they look at it as an apprenticeship. They say, "Once a Guildy, always a Guildy" so we will have access to this network forever. We can communicate with people and ask questions even once we're done with the class and they'll give us access to even more groups once we're done. I thought that was really nice because when you're doing development, it's always helpful to be able to communicate with people online and know how to ask questions and get good responses.
When you're working on projects or assignments, do you work on them through the Acatar platform?
We're actually using Visual Studio to do our coding work, and then once we have our coding work completed, we're using Git Bash and Bitbucket. Then we use Jira to track issues, and Crucible to submit code reviews.
That process is the same process that you use when you're actually in a development environment. At my current company, we use Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server. It's really nice. They're teaching us the process that we would be experiencing once we get out into the real world.
Do you have a favorite project or assignment that you've worked on at The Software Guild?
I don't know if I would say it's a favorite, but it was challenging! This is another thing, for the first set of assignments they gave us, they had us create the logic for 100 methods. They had written unit tests for each of these methods. We used these to validate our code was working. When they passed, we knew we had succeeded. This was to teach us the basics of C#.
The Software Guild had created a battleship program where they created the business logic behind the UI and had completed unit tests. Then we had to create the UI portion to make the game work. That seems like the real world – you're never going to go into the world and start from scratch. You're going to be using someone else's code. They were teaching us how to learn how existing code works and then how to work with it.
How long did you have to do this project?
We had three weeks to do this project, to get it initially submitted for code review and then another three weeks to have it completely done and considered meeting their expectations. It's a lot to get done in that period of time that they've given us, but it is doable. It's just a lot of work.
What's been your biggest challenge so far at The Software Guild Online?
I think the biggest challenge is getting overwhelmed but not letting the overwhelmed feeling stop you. We were warned that this feeling would be one of our own worst enemies; but that really encouraged me to start coding something at the point when I felt overwhelmed.
The other challenge for me is working full time and doing The Software Guild. I have to be really dedicated to making sure I'm putting in the time that I need to get the work done. I saved all of my PTO for the year so that I could do this. If I need extra time for school, I take time off of work, but one of my biggest challenges is still learning new things and making sure that I'm putting in the same effort at work.
What are your plans after you graduate. Are you hoping to stay with the same company in a different role?
I am hoping that I'll be able to stay with my current company. We do web and software development, so I would love to start more development work and software testing projects. I have talked with my managers and they're pretty excited about it- they think it’s a great idea.
What advice do you have for people who are considering taking an online coding bootcamp like The Software Guild?
I think that the most important thing is to understand what you're committing to and make sure you can commit time to this. The program works better if you spread your learning over a week instead of trying to cram it all into one or two days.
Also, when the school gives you work to do ahead of time, make sure you do it! Pre-work will only help you. And try to make connections with people within your program. My best advice is to be dedicated to getting the work done because being online, you really have to push yourself. I really, really like the program, and it is hard work, but it's worth it.
Imogen is a writer and content producer who loves writing about technology and education. Her background is in journalism, writing for newspapers and news websites. She grew up in England, Dubai and New Zealand, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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