Melissa Phillips was a graphic designer, a teacher, and most recently a stay-at-home mom before deciding to go to Guild of Software Architects mobile development bootcamp. Melissa tried to teach herself to code while at home with her young daughter, but wanted a faster way to jumpstart her career to re-enter the workforce. She moved from Killeen to Frisco, Texas and enrolled at Guild of Software Architects’ 12-week iOS bootcamp. Melissa explains why she wanted to study near Dallas rather than Austin, why mobile development is a good alternative to web development, and how she juggled her responsibilities while studying full time.
Tell me about your background before you decided to do a bootcamp. What was your education and career background before Guild SA?
I started out in graphic design. I then did some early education for a while, and then I had my own business for a little bit as a stay-at-home mom.
I have a bachelor's degree in art. I thought I wanted to be an art teacher, but then I realized that wasn’t for me. I got into web development, and I was teaching myself through Free Code Camp. But I got to a point where I felt like I just really wanted to jumpstart a career rather than just dabble.
What was it about tech, web development, or coding that made you want to get into that field rather than your previous art background?
I really enjoyed working with children, but I got to the point where I wanted something different. In that field, it can be hard to advance. It can take a long time to advance. So I just started looking at different careers. I actually talked to somebody that was a web developer and designer, and she told me how it just changed her life– she now has more work than she can handle.
I started looking into web development and realized how in demand it was. I was able to pick up the concepts pretty quickly, and I could do it. So I was like, "Yeah, I'm going to do this."
You were mentioning that you did teach yourself for a little while. Why did you feel you needed something more than that?
I think I could've taught myself, it would’ve just taken a lot longer. Obviously when you're teaching yourself, you can find help, but it can be hard to find. Sometimes on the Free Code Camp forum there are lots of people there, and other times it's a ghost town and you just never really know. The more advanced you get the harder it is to find help. When you have really simple questions, people can easily give you answers, but the more you progress, the fewer the people there who can help you.
So that's part of the reason– the other reason is when I was teaching myself, I was a stay-at-home mom, and it was hard to find time. I would work on it when my daughter was napping or at night or early in the morning. Now I can work all day long because it's an accelerated program and it's 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday.
Did you research other Frisco or Dallas coding bootcamps? What made you choose Guild of Software Architects?
I was living near Austin when I first started looking at bootcamps. I met with one of the directors of an Austin bootcamp, and she asked me, "What are you looking for?" and I said, "I want to get a job after this." She told me it takes six months to find a job in Austin– that's what their graduates were seeing because so many developers are moving there. I thought, "I don't have six months to go job hunting." She told me, "If you're open to it, in Dallas it usually takes three months or less to find a job."
So I started looking at Dallas web development bootcamps, and I came across Guild of Software Architects. They are not a web development bootcamp, they're a mobile development bootcamp. I wasn't even considering mobile development at that time, but because I saw them, I looked it up.
Part of the reason I chose to go to Guild of Software Architects was because they offer a very generous scholarship for veterans and their spouses. I'm a spouse of a veteran. That was very appealing because I didn't have a lot of money. Because I'm in the first cohort, they had introductory pricing, which now I think they've raised it, but that combined with the scholarship, you just couldn’t really beat it. I didn't want to take out a huge loan to go to a bootcamp, as I'm already paying for my daughter to go to daycare while I'm doing this without an income. So the financial aid was amazing.
Once you saw that Guild SA was teaching mobile development, what made you think "This actually could be good for my future career."?
Similarly to web development, mobile is a field that has really taken off, and in some cases it's even more in demand than web development. Part of the reason for that is there are less mobile developers to compete with than there are web developers.
Once you get over the hurdle of looking at code and not being like, "Oh, it's scary," then it's pretty much up to you what you want to do. Once you learn to code, the language that you code in is just really what your preference is or what the local economy is calling for. You can pick up any language you want once you realize you can do it.
Are you learning Android or iOS?
I'm in the iOS development course learning Swift. The way Guild SA does it is they offer an iOS cohort and then an Android cohort. They don't do it simultaneously yet.
Did you specifically want to learn iOS development over Android development?
I've had both iOS and Android phones. I actually like both of them, and I'd actually be open to learning Android in the future. I would have probably done either. I think it was just timing more than anything.
Did you ever consider going back to college to do a computer science degree?
I actually did look into that. The reason I didn't go back is because they require a lot of calculus to get a computer science degree. I took math in college, but it wasn't that high of a level of math, and I wasn't really ready to take that on. And I think a lot of the coursework that a computer science degree requires isn't really necessary to get a job.
What was the Guild of Software Architects application and interview process like?
It was pretty easy. First you just fill out a little questionnaire about yourself, your experience, and your goals. Then I came in for an interview on campus with the lead instructor (and founder) Kevin Harris and the director at NTEC, which is the building that the school is in. I wanted to see the campus and see the area, and meet with Kevin, and ask any questions I had. Then I was accepted and I paid the deposit.
How many people are in your cohort and how diverse it is in terms of gender, and race, and backgrounds?
Actually, they have a scholarship for women too. So it's very diverse. I think we have seven people, including me, so it's very small. There are a lot of moms, a lot of different ages, different races, and veterans. One of my classmates came from HR, one came from the healthcare industry, and one came just straight from college. Another classmate has a background in biomedical engineering, and she's like me. She took time off to be a stay at home mom and now is trying to reenter the workforce. So there are lots of different backgrounds.
What’s the learning experience like at the bootcamp? Maybe you can give me an example of a typical day.
Right now we're towards the end of the program, so it's a lot more independent work. The schedule of the majority of the program has been a lecture in the morning on a topic, maybe it's implementing a feature, and then it's going off on your own to use that in your own project, or to create a sample where you implement the feature. If you have any questions, you can ask for help and get it done. That's usually how it goes.
Do you do pair programming and group work?
Mostly just pair programming with the instructor. Occasionally, some of us are more advanced than others on certain things. If we think somebody knows the answer we'll ask, and we can help each other out a little bit, but typically we don’t pair program with other students. I have a design background, so I've designed a logo and app icon for one of my classmates.
We're all working on a group app together, but we all have our own apps that are the primary apps right now. So there's a little bit of group work, but it’s really up to you to collaborate with others.
What sort of hours have you found that you and your cohort mates are doing? Do you find people who tend to stay later than the core hours?
Yes. The building that we're in is open until 9pm or 10pm. The hours are something like 6am to 9pm and I think it's open on weekends too. So lots of people come in and stay late, or like me, come in early. You can pretty much choose your own hours. There's no clocking in or clocking out as lots of people work outside of class. It's just you're here because you want to be here and you show up to get the information and the help.
Did you just have the one instructor or do you have teacher assistants?
No, just the one lead instructor right now because this is the first cohort and there are only seven of us. Kevin is looking to hire other teachers.
How are you finding the teaching style compared to the sort of teaching style you had when you were at college?
It's actually pretty similar to college. There's a lot more time now toward the end to work on your own. But at the beginning when we were learning programming fundamentals and stuff, it was very similar to a college class. We had a lot of lectures, a lot of advanced topics, theoretic topics. Now, toward the end, we're just pretty much doing more application work. Now it's more like a job or an internship.
What's your favorite project that you've worked on so far?
I have a lot of fun doing the DishRate app (see my portfolio). This is actually something that anyone can do if they're interested. Apple has tutorials about apps you can do, and they have one that's a meal tracker app. As a class we all did that app together and then we just added more and more functionality to it because it's a very basic app. Now mine is a whole different animal. I had a lot of fun adding features to it and adding my own designs to it.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge for you while studying at Guild SA?
Any challenge you have, you can get the help that you need here, but I think in the job market it's still hard. A lot of the employers in Dallas don't really understand what a bootcamp is, or a lot of jobs want you to have experience right after you attend the bootcamp. So that's a big challenge.
Because I have a gap on my resume from being a stay at home mom, people ask me about that, and you don't want to make excuses for yourself. It's a challenge of just breaking back in– but from what I hear, once you break in, you're set. Getting that first job is really hard, especially with a new bootcamp that people don't know about yet.
How have you found balancing motherhood and any other responsibilities that you’ve had to do while you've been doing the bootcamp?
Actually, we moved into an apartment that's right next to campus so it's so easy for me to get to school. Luckily my husband works so I don't have to juggle that. I know one of my classmates has a job that he does outside of class. I don't know how he does it. My daughter goes to daycare and they're really good with her and she enjoys it so that's not a problem. It can be challenging with a child to work on projects outside of class, but what I always tell other moms or dads is, early in the morning or late at night, that's your golden hour.
What is your overall goal, job-wise, after going to this bootcamp? What kind of jobs are you going to start looking once you graduate?
I'd like to find an iOS development internship or junior level iOS app developer job, but I'll also look at UX/UI jobs too because I have the skill set to do that. From what I hear, it's easier to get a development job just because there's a lot of competition in the design aspect, but I'm just going to apply for a bunch of things. Mostly, I just want to work in mobile if I can because I prefer mobile– I really have fallen in love with it.
Is Kevin helping students with the job search?
There's actually going to be a demo day where recruiters are going to come and look at our apps, so we can show them what we’ve built and worked on. And I think that's the main event for connecting us to jobs. That's going to be toward the end of the bootcamp.
Have you started applying for a job or internship yet? How much longer do you have left at Guild SA?
I think I have three or four weeks left. But yeah, I have started applying for jobs. I don't really even have my portfolio in order so I really shouldn't be, but I’m applying here and there, just casually.
What sort of advice do you have for other people in a similar situation as you, who are wanting to either change jobs or reenter the workforce, and thinking about a coding or mobile development bootcamp?
I would say, prepare as much as possible. Most people like me don't come from a software engineering background, so all this stuff is new. I think in order to get your brain to work in that way you just have to really immerse yourself in it and just embrace the challenges. Listen to podcasts, read books, check out books from the library, read blogs, and take courses.
There are lots of free courses online, like Codecademy. There are also free introduction to computer science courses you can take online. Just do as much as you can to immerse yourself in it and practice as much as you can. Really make sure you're dedicated to it before you do something like a bootcamp because once you go in, there's no turning back.
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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