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Student Spotlight: Madison Kerndt of Turing School

By Imogen Crispe
Last Updated December 5, 2016


Madison was working in marketing for a startup, and after a lot of interactions with the tech team, she realized that she wanted to learn more about coding. She asked her Denver network about different coding schools, and everyone seemed to recommend Turing School. Madison is now six  months into Turing School's seven-month Front End Engineering program, and is passionate about what she is learning. Madison tells us all about why she chose the Front End program, the “posses” where she learns about entrepreneurship alongside Back End students, and the app she is building to translate physical movements into sound.


What’s your pre-Turing story? What’s your education or career background before this?

I've taken a bit of an interesting path as far as curating my own education. I went to school in London for international business with a focus in marketing. I grew up in Colorado, and came back to Colorado for an internship at TRELORA while they were going through Techstars. At the end of my internship, TRELORA offered me a job I couldn’t pass up. I started working in their marketing department and then, as in most startups, took on a lot of different roles. I was working in marketing, operations, then slowly transitioned towards helping the tech team, and working closely with the CEO and CTO.

At that time, I was managing our website. I think what triggered me to join Turing was the frustrations I ran into with being limited by the tools I had at my disposal. I kept thinking, "I want to add this feature, but I don’t know how?" I ended up looking into a couple of code schools, and ended up at a school that I really trust.

You said that you were managing the TRELORA website. Did you try to teach yourself coding and learn on your own at first?

Yeah. What's hard to understand when you're outside of the development community is that a lot of the terms don't make sense. I joined the tech team for stand up every single day, and would hear a variety of terms, and had trouble differentiating what was what. I'd hear “bootstrap”, and had no idea what it was.

I did try and teach myself a bit. I was looking at tutorials about jQuery and basic JavaScript, but nothing too in-depth. I would ask the developers to walk me through what they were doing while they were writing code. I understood a lot of the logic behind what they were doing, but I didn't understand how to implement it. I would sit next to them and be annoying, asking, "What is this line doing? What are you doing in your console?" I asked a lot of questions. I learned a little bit along the way, but not enough to level up as quickly as I wanted to.

So did you feel like you needed something more structured to help you learn in a condensed way?

I wanted to immerse myself without judgment as much as possible, because those first steps are difficult. It’s hard to wrap your head around the concepts at first, because you have no prior knowledge to equate the new concepts to, but once you get there, you have a toolset and a base logic to be able to associate different topics with your base understanding. Initially, I needed to throw myself in 100%.

Did you decide that you wanted to actually switch careers, and is that why you decided to do a bootcamp?

My career is focused on entrepreneurship in the tech industry. At this point, I am gaining the  skills to be able to transition into another segment of the startup world, but I wouldn’t say it is  necessarily a full career change. I think it's making that career path even stronger and advancing my understanding of what a startup looks like, including the development aspect of it.

Did you look at other code schools? What was it that made you choose Turing?

I asked for guidance from prominent figures and mentors in the Denver community. I asked the program manager of Techstars, I asked other CTOs, I asked developers, so that I could get a better  understanding what the community view was about Turing.

Turing has such a positive impact on the community and has trained such successful developers that everyone I spoke with had a positive opinion of Turing. Jeff Casimir the founder, and Steve Kinney, my instructor, were given rave reviews by people in the community. That was a large determining factor for me attending Turing School in Denver.

Another aspect that brought me to Turing was the fact that Turing is a nonprofit. That was really important to me. I had left a traditional education, and I really wanted to find a school that was rooted in truth. Being a nonprofit definitely assured me of that.

I'm interested in the fact that you chose to do the Front End Engineering program rather than the back end Turing program. What were your reasons for that?

There are a couple of reasons. One is, I'm a visual learner, and I tend to have an inclination  towards design. I felt it would be a smoother transition into coding because of that. There's also a big focus on the consumer and users. Through the front end program you get the opportunity to refine your skills of designing for UI and UX, and think about how your users are going to interact with your product. The last consideration was, coming from a background in marketing, I wanted to strengthen the skills I had previously worked on. 

Were there specific technologies or programming languages that you were interested in learning?

To be 100% honest, I didn't know what I was getting into. I had an idea of the end product I wanted to build, but I didn't know how to get there. So I focused on choosing the school wisely, while knowing what I wanted at the end. I didn't know exactly which  technologies to use or what steps to take to get there. This program has provided me with the tangible steps to understand different frameworks along with coding fundamentals. It has been extremely effective for me.

Was the seven-month length of Turing a factor in your decision making?

Yes. The reason for that is there is so much that is involved in coding, so you need enough time to learn and practice the concepts .

A computer science degree is four years, and most bootcamps, are 10 to 12 weeks. There's a large gap there, and Turing bridges that gap. Turing pushes you hard for seven months. They teach you concepts beginning at Vanilla JavaScript, then bring in jQuery, and build on those fundamentals up to ES6 and popular front end frameworks. The instructors bring in code challenges and support you in exploring  other topics and technologies.

They push you and are still able to explain the why things work in the ways that they do, which is really important to me. It's not helpful just to know how to implement a specific thing for one specific use case. I need to know why I'm using it, how it is affecting the program, and then implement it. I think a program that spans for a longer amount of time  allows you to have more of the context to make you a better developer in the long run.

Did you ever at all consider going back to college and studying computer science?

Yeah, and I am still considering going back to school or continuing my degree while I'm working to learn more about computer science theory. Turing has sparked a new passion for me. A byproduct of learning to code is gaining a thought system for how to break down problems and the logic behind that process.

What is it that you like so much about coding?

I like that you get to create your own environment and define your own rules within that environment. In a lot of ways, it mirrors concepts of physics– the way that particles move, the way that they're manipulated by their environment, the amount of force that's applied to a single particle, and other concepts like that. As side projects, I've been getting into creative coding and creating art pieces with code.

What was the Turing application and interview process like?

I asked a million questions. I called one of the Turing instructors three or four times and asked him every question I could think of. It was a big jump away from a career I had been building and from a company that I loved. I wanted to make sure this was worthwhile and that I understood what I was jumping into. He answered all my questions and invited me to Try Turing Weekend. I attended a panel discussion with three current students and one graduate. That graduate was the determining factor for me. She explained what she got out of Turing, and I could see a lot of my own characteristics in her. At that point, I said, "I can do this."

I had the interview that day. My interviewer asked me questions, about my background, why I was interested, what I hoped to learn, and whether I was interested in the front end or back end program. At the end, they gave me a problem to solve, for which I had to explain why I took the steps that I did. They were interested in understanding how I was thinking, not just the solution. That was a good indicator of how they were going to teach me. After the interview, they told me I had been accepted. I started two weeks later.

I'm interested in your cohort at Turing. How many people are there and is your class diverse in terms of gender, race, age, life and career backgrounds?

There are 15 of us, and all have different professional backgrounds. We have at least 20% female, and all different ages. I think I'm the youngest out of everyone by at least five years. As far as backgrounds, we have athletes, people who were in IT prior to Turing, world travelers, and intriguing people who can apply their valuable life experiences to this context.

I've been really lucky to be able to learn from so many people with different life experiences. Turing brought together people from different contexts into a very even playing field, where we can not only pull from our past experiences, but also learn from one another.

What's the actual learning experience like at Turing School? Can you give me an example of a typical day?

It varies at the beginning of the module versus the end of the module. At the beginning of the module, it's instruction-heavy, where you have a couple of lectures a day. Towards the end of the module, there is more time to work on your projects .

On a typical day, there is always some sort of project, but we also get some solid instruction. Classes start at 9am. You have either one long class or two shorter instructional sessions on any subject matter. Right now we are learning about using Redux in a React application. We have an hour for lunch and during that time, a lot of us will meet in Posses, which are extracurricular groups, where you can deep dive into a subject matter you're interested in and gain a lot of new knowledge. It's awesome.

Then in the afternoon we work on our projects. There are always instructors available, and we can ask them any questions. We also work on our own to struggle through problems, which is a learning experience on its own.

Are the posses for both the Front End and the Back End students? What sort of things have you learned in the posses?

The posses are for both programs. That's why it's such a cool opportunity because people from the front end can figure out how to call an API that the students from the back-end programs created.

I am a leader of the Besos posse – our group is  named after the prominent tech leader Jeff Bezos. We focus on entrepreneurship, and cover project management tools, user testing, and effective communication techniques. We talk to prominent  entrepreneurs and learn from their experiences as well.

It’s exciting having students from both programs in the entrepreneurship posse because you can start to see what a business would look like - how key players would start to interact with each other to build a company structure. That's been really cool to be a part of .

How many instructors or mentors do you have for your cohort?

In the Front End program we have two awesome lead instructors per module.

What's your favorite project that you've worked on at Turing so far?

I would have to say there are two. One of the partner projects I liked the most was a chat application, where we interacted with Firebase. For me, understanding the basics of how data structures worked and being able to interact with such a powerful service made me realize that I could actually build a usable application. I got to showcase this application to Rise of The Rest and Steve Case when they came to visit Turing.

The personal project I'm working on now is what I’m most excited about. I've been very interested in creative coding, so I wanted to find a way to create a visceral experience. I’m building an app called Avant Garde Synesthesia which lets you manipulate sound through movement. It takes input from your webcam and tracks the color pink on your screen, and based on that it creates different sounds.

How does working on a partner project compare with working on a personal project?

The chat app was a partner project and we focused heavily on staying on task management. There's a process that Turing lays out for you, and we followed it very strictly. When we first started our project, they gave us a tool called DTR (define the relationship) which allows you to understand your partner’s schedule, what they want to work on, what they feel like their strengths are, and it helps push each other. Then we built our board. That organized approach allowed us to have clean code and minimized stress because we knew exactly where we were in our timeline.

That is the opposite of the personal solo project that we are doing now. There are positives and negatives to both. When you learn on your own, you learn concepts a lot more in-depth. You can take extra time to read an article, and really understand a whole topic, which I like. At the same time, you don't always have somebody to bounce ideas off of, which I think is really important in development. Another pro of working on your own is you can go with your own ideas. Getting the experience of both has been helpful.

I'm interested in how your previous experience and education has been helpful or had an impact on your learning process at Turing.

My experience working in a startup environment is not like anything else. It's high intensity, and I learned a wide range of skills very quickly. That's been very easily translated to a program like this, where you have to learn on your toes, struggle through problems, and figure out the best way through, with the resources that you have available. So a lot of those entrepreneurial problem-solving techniques have really benefited me.

The other thing is project management. At my old company, we used of lean practices and a Kanban board. I've been able to employ those practices, especially with and Trello, to be able to effectively plan out projects.

What has been the biggest challenge while you've been at Turing?

In the first module I struggled because I didn't know how things worked. I had a hard time understanding that some things were going to come later. I had a tendency to say, "I want to understand this right now," and, "I can't let this go until I figure it out." But when you practice enough, and talk to enough people, you start to build your own mental models around each subject that allow you to more closely relate to the topics you're learning.

Another piece to that is taking in what you're learning, and letting yourself process it. I respond well to auditory input so I'll listen to a lot of audiobooks or podcasts or conference talks around topics that we're learning about in class. That's been beneficial to overcome some of that stress from not being able to learn concepts right away.

What's your goal when you graduate? Are you going to start applying for jobs and what jobs do you think you're going to get? Or will you start your own business?

After Turing, I hope to become a Techstars associate – a front end development role – where I will get the opportunity to work closely with entrepreneurs.

After that, I hope to get more experience on a development team. Being able to pair, being able to learn from their expertise, and how to apply a lot of the skills that I've gotten here. And then long term, I want to start my own company, but I want to make sure that I'm as prepared as possible to do so.

What sort of guidance does Turing give about the job search?

They're giving us a lot. We work very closely with two career coaches who work with us on our LinkedIn profiles, our resumes, cold outreach, and giving us job searching strategies. I've met with them a couple of times already to talk about my goals and to look at different industries I'm interested in. They not only help us with tangible deliverables, they also provide connections through guest speakers and contacts as well.

What advice do you have for people considering doing a bootcamp?

First, when you're considering doing a bootcamp, I think it's an amazing skill to have to be able to build something and create something from nothing in a whole new context. Alongside that, there is magic when you realize that coding is not only math, it's logic, and engineering all put together. You're thinking about how to best solve a problem in the most efficient way possible. It's not only about learning the syntax, it's about thinking, "Okay. How am I going to engineer this problem or solve it in the best way?"

Secondly, whoever is reading this, you can do it. It's not something unattainable. That was one of my initial worries – that I was not naturally inclined to code, and didn't fit the bill. Being a woman, being so young, and not having any experience, I felt I didn't fit into the stereotype of what it took to be a coder. But that's just not true. There are a lot of different facets and different viewpoints needed to be able to solve a problem in a holistic way. I think it's important to say, “you don't have to fit exactly what the stereotype is to be successful”.

The last piece of advice– once you are in the program, just be patient with yourself and allow yourself to grasp topics at your own pace. Try and connect them to some of the real world experiences that you've had, and let it wash over you. It doesn't need to be an intense struggle to learn as fast as possible. You will learn it however you need to.

Find out more and read Turing School reviews on Course Report. Check out the Turing website.

About The Author

Imogen crispe headshot

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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