Realizing that traditional university courses wouldn't do the trick, Michael Kohen taught himself to make iOS apps through books. But learning on his own had it's limits, so he decided to apply to Code Fellows for more structured learning and feedback. Read our Q&A with Michael to find out why Code Fellows appealed to him, the projects he worked on during class, and how he landed a job as a Software Engineer at Getty Images!


Tell us about your experience with coding and programming before you started at Code Fellows.

I didn’t really have any experience; I didn’t have any college education or any computer science degrees or anything like that. I basically started out on my own; I was interested in iOS specifically, around 2008-2009. My curiosity took over so I just started reading books and was basically self-taught. I released a couple of apps in the App Store and then I heard about Code Fellows and decided to apply.


Did you use any online resources like Codecademy or any of those?

Mostly books. When I decided to learn Objective-C, my first thought was to go check out community colleges or universities, to see if they offered any programs that would cover Objective-C. I visited Highland Community College, which is relatively popular in Seattle, and I talked to a computer science teacher. When I mentioned Objective-C to him, he didn’t even really know what that was, so I knew I would have to learn on my own. Objective-C is a relatively established language; it’s been around for a while but what made it super popular is actually developing for iOS and for iPhones. So when I was trying to learn it from the beginning, a college wouldn’t offer a course. That’s why books were my primary source of learning.


Were you employed before you went to Code Fellows?

No, I wasn’t. I’m self-employed and I’ve been self-employed for a while. I have a job now at Getty Images but I also have a small gig on the side. Because of that, it wasn’t as hard as for somebody who decides to quit their job to learn.


So you largely taught yourself before you went to Code Fellows. What made you actually want to get a formal education in iOS?

When you attempt to learn on your own, you don’t really know how good you are because you aren’t working on a team. You aren’t exposed to what it means to be an employee working for a company. You’re working in this isolation; you usually build your projects on your own; you don’t collaborate with anybody.

I realized that first of all, I need to be exposed to more iOS developers; second, I need to learn how to work in a team environment; that was a big thing. Before I went to Code Fellows, I wouldn’t use Github at all. If I had a need for version control, I would just make snapshots of my projects, which is an option in Xcode. When I got to Code Fellows, the first thing the teachers, John and Brad, taught us was how to set up your Github account.

There is just a lot of stuff that you’re not exposed to when you learn on your own.


Did you only apply to Code Fellows or did you apply to any other boot camps?

Just Code Fellows.


Why only Code Fellows?

A couple of reasons. I tried to take a course at the University of Washington a couple of years ago when they started to offer this iOS and Mac development course. It was a one-year program and you would get a certificate. I spent 3 months there then I quit because the teaching was very traditional. You would be given a problem to solve and they would want everyone to solve it one way. I didn’t really like that because for every problem, there are hundreds of solutions, and one solution might not be better than the other one. I didn’t really like that constraint of doing things a certain way.

So when I was interviewing for Code Fellows I asked them about their teaching style and they said, “Here, as long as you solve it right and it works, that’s great.” Immediately, I was interested because I just didn’t like that idea of being boxed into a particular way of learning.

Also, I really liked the length: 2 months. To be honest with you anybody can do anything for 2 months.


What was the application like? Did you answer coding questions or technical problems during the application and the interview?

I spoke with a couple of friends from my class and my interview was different from everybody else’s. That was because I already had a couple of apps in the App Store so I didn’t have a coding challenge. A couple of students had a coding challenge, and they did an application first then they would review the application and ask you to record a one-minute video about yourself. Then they would ask you to come over for an in-person interview. That was the extent of my interview. I went in and I met Will, the CEO at the time. We talked about a couple of technical topics. I showed him a couple of the projects I had done and basically, they just told me that I was accepted.


So the application process for you wasn’t long; they pretty much told you during your interview that you’re accepted.

Yeah, they told me the same day, I believe. They sent me an email and told me that I was accepted.


Who were your instructors?

We had two; John and Brad and they are the instructors for this current class, too.


What was the course like for you?

It’s relatively fast-paced. They covered important topics. On the first day we got the chance to write apps that would utilize UI table view, like populating table view with data and all that.

I would say it was intense and we would write projects every day. The homework was relatively complex, too, and you had to do the homework.


What was a project you worked on that you’re really proud of?

On the 4th week everyone worked on a personal project. During the personal project I built an app that is currently in iTunes. It’s called in.notes. It’s a very simple note-taking app but the reason I was really proud of it was because when iOS 7 came out, they changed the design so we went from a design that was realistic to more of a flat design and we were concentrating more on the content, like making the navigation look real.

I implemented a whole bunch of this stuff like user interaction, implemented a dynamic type which was a very important one; basically, when the user goes to settings and changes the font size, my app would honor that so that the text they enter, the notes they saved, it would reflect that. It was a relatively simple, but fairly thought-out app.


I know that the Code Fellows class is 8 weeks as opposed to some of the longer ones, but did you ever feel burnout while you were doing it?

No. Honestly, I enjoyed it a lot. I absolutely loved it. I was here early every day and I would leave late because I just enjoy these kinds of things. Also as I said, it’s two months; it actually feels about right.


How did Code Fellows approach job placement? Were you doing mock interviews and resume building and things that were helping you prepare to actually get a job once you graduated?

Yes, totally. They helped us with resumes a lot. They were giving feedback on what is important and what is irrelevant. It was great. We did a couple of mock interviews together, a couple of algorithm interviews.

The teachers would help out with what they think are the most common questions that are being asked on interviews, so we would go over those kinds of things—data structures and all that.

I really enjoyed my class and if I had the choice to do it over again, I would.


Did Code Fellows do a demo day or hiring day or anything like that?

Not officially but we had a couple of people that previously hired from the school. For example, Jeremiah Johnson; he is a software architect at Nordstrom. He was here for a couple of hours and his lecture was super awesome.


What are you up to now?

I’m a software engineer at Getty. I work on the iOS apps. I can’t really talk about it a lot because it’s under NDA, but I’m a full-time employee at Getty Images.


Do you feel like you have a lot of ownership over the projects you do?

I think so; I feel that way. My boss is extremely awesome; his name is {Raphael Miller} and he is probably one of the best people I’ve gotten to work for. He asks questions, he’s very understanding and on top of that he’s very tech savvy, too. He develops as well, so sometimes he will pitch in and do some coding together. I had a couple of times where I got a chance to actually pair up with him and code and work on the project together.


That’s really exciting to hear. How did you find that job?

Getty kind of reached out—I just got an email from a friend of mine that said they were looking and he told them I might be interested in a full-time position and they just started contacting me. That started this whole process where I ended up interviewing and being hired.


Do you feel like you learned everything you need to know at Code Fellows to do your job today or are there some things that could’ve been included that you didn’t get to at Code Fellows?

I’m pretty sure that I’m still learning. I don’t think that I was at the place where I felt I knew everything, basically. But Code Fellows did a pretty good job covering what’s important so that was great.

I also think that previous experience of actually building something from scratch and having it on iTunes helped a lot, because it’s one thing to just have a theory and it’s another thing to actually go through the whole process of building something from scratch and seeing it on iTunes.

I think that everything together, my previous experience then Code Fellows and then the connections that I’ve made here, it all worked out pretty well.


Want to learn more about Code Fellows? Check out their School Page on Course Report or their website here!

About The Author

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Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!

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