A Digital Marketing Consultant at Google, Randy was ready to ramp up his technical knowledge, so he began searching for an intensive but part-time programming bootcamp in New York City. His research led him to Fullstack Academy and the Flex Immersive, which would allow him to learn around his work and travel schedule. Now heading into the last weeks at Fullstack, we talk to Randy about his expectations of a bootcamp, managing his time around a busy work and class schedule, and building tight-knit relationships with his fellow students.
What did you study when you were an undergraduate? Did you take any computer science classes?
I studied a lot of different things but my degree is in East Asian studies from Yale. I’d taken some computer science courses as part of my engineering curriculum.
How long have you been with Google?
I’ve been with Google for about two years now as a digital marketing consultant.
Do you need technical skills at your job at Google now?
Sure. I think what’s great about my current role is that I get a lot of exposure to different industries, to different types of people, and I’m able to solve business problems with technology. Challenges arise daily that require technical skills- tag implementation, helping clients with scripts or APIs that need to integrate with their systems, data analytics, and things of that nature.
What were your go-to resources to learn a technical skill before enrolling at Fullstack?
Working in tech and at a tech company, there are a lot of internal resources to tap into. With so much on the internet these days, you can do a lot of self-study or enrichment on your own.
Had you ever done a self-guided, online course like Codecademy or Treehouse?
I used them very casually, time permitting. But I was looking for a little bit more structure, in-person mentorship and guidance. Those things can be challenging to reproduce with Skype or over Hangouts.
Did you have a specific goal in mind when you started looking at Fullstack?
My goals were more open-ended, I think, than some of my peers who knew that they wanted to shift into a full-time developer role. I wanted to ramp up my technical knowledge in case I was interested in pursuing something closer to Product further down the line. It also seemed like an opportunity to learn more practical skills I could use for work.
Since I already have a job in tech, doing the bootcamp was more to supplement skill gaps or areas that I’d missed out on.
How did you hear about Fullstack?
I was just looking around online and saw they got amazing reviews on Quora and other forums.
Did you look at other bootcamps in addition to Fullstack? What factors were you considering?
What was the Fullstack application process like for you?
The application process was a series of coding challenges to test basic proficiency in any language.
So the Fullstack coding challenge wasn’t language specific?
We pair-programmed during the interview, and I think what they’re really testing for is how you’re working your way through a problem, and less about syntax or industry specific knowledge. A lot of the studying, particularly in the Flex program, is going to be on your own time. So you have to be extra-motivated if you want to make the most of the experience.
Sure, the part-time program can require even more motivation than the full-time, right? It’s longer and a bit more self-driven?
Sure, and I think it was certainly challenging at some points. I’m very lucky that I have an incredibly supportive management team at work - they’ve allowed me to be flexible with my travel schedule. It’s not easy to master the topics that we cover when you’re in three different cities a week!
Was there a “culture-fit” part of the interview?
Yeah, definitely. I think Nimit and David (the founders of Fullstack) are two of the most passionate and caring instructors you could ask for. I think they do a great job of building a team that’s close-knit and community oriented. They’re very supportive of one another, and they’ve built a cohort of creative, ambitious, young, intelligent people who want to make interesting things and create cool products.
Did you ever try to pitch Google to pay for the bootcamp and was it successful?
They were supportive. Google has a very generous subsidy program. There’s partial reimbursement for continued studies.
Was everybody in your cohort on a similar technical level when they started?
I do think we come from a relatively diverse set of backgrounds, both geographically as well as career-wise. My classmates have done everything from healthcare to finance to fashion.
We all had different technical abilities, but I think David and Nimit did a pretty good job structuring the Foundations curriculum so that students have a shared set of vocabulary and skills to build upon.
Tell us about that Foundations curriculum!
There’s pre-work to complete before the course and an introductory module during the first couple weeks of the program. It gets everyone on the same page. I actually think the diverse backgrounds in our class have allowed people to approach problems from different perspectives. During the project phase, for example, I discovered that my classmates had all of these cool skill sets I didn’t have and that’s been really useful, actually.
Is the cohort diverse in terms gender, age, race?
I think there’s definitely a diversity of age. One thing to mention is that our Flex class is quite intimate, 11 people, so I don’t know if that’s a great sample size.
Are David and Nimit both the instructors for this class or are there other instructors?
There is a team of other instructors who assist and they’re great. Some Fullstack instructors are previous students, some are external hires from the industry. They’re very knowledgeable.
Because you’re doing the part-time Flex Immersive, how much of the curriculum is self-directed? How is it structured?
There’s a combination of lecture material with workshop material and additional resources provided to those who want to do work on the non-class days. During the “Senior” phase, people are generally passionate and motivated enough to put in time to their projects outside of class.
How have you balanced working full-time, especially with a job that requires a lot of travel?
It requires a lot of planning and organization – which was admittedly not my strength, but I’ve made some strides. I have to communicate with my clients early on when I’ll be in certain cities. Obviously, I have to keep my managers in the loop, as well as my classmates and instructors.
I would recommend it to any student with a full-time commitment, because the quality of instruction and the caliber of people that you’ll meet is unparallelled. It’s a commitment not to be taken lightly. Six months means many Saturdays to sacrifice! But it’s definitely been worth it :).
Have there been times when you had to miss a class? How did you make it up?
Yeah, there have been instances because of work-related commitments that I’ve had to miss. Again, that’s where being organized is really important. Fullstack does video-record the lectures and the workshop content so you can review if needed.They’ve also been pretty flexible about students who needed to join remotely then during the project phase. Hopping on Skype or Hangouts has been pretty easy.
Have you found Fullstack Flex to be a demanding few months?
The program is rigorous, but I think it definitely gives students and alumni the activation energy or escape velocity to continue their own projects after the course. I'm confident that students who complete the curriculum will also have the knowledge and skills to get involved in other open source projects or take on a full-time developer role should they choose that path.
Have you been able to incorporate what you’ve learned at Fullstack into your job at Google?
Definitely. I would say that understanding how technologies come together under the hood has been instrumental for solving certain types of problems pertaining to attribution and analytics. I think there’s a lot of questions in digital right now that speak to a lot of really challenging technical problems. Being able to communicate those ideas from a business side with a technical background has helped clients to find better solutions to their business challenges.
I think that Fullstack teaches you a lot of the practical skills that you would need to know on the job and there’s no better way to learn than to actually do something or build it from scratch.
This is the first cohort for the part-time Flex Immersive- what has the feedback loop been like? Have you been able to give open criticism and how do David and Nimit take that?
I think David and Nimit have been extremely receptive to the needs of the students. They’ve had us for dinner to talk about ways we could improve and discuss what was going well and what needed improvement. You definitely feel like they’re listening to you and that they care.
Has anyone dropped out of the class since you started?
We did have one student switch into the Fullstack full-time cohort. We had another student who got an offer at Facebook recently so he’ll be finishing the curriculum early. Other than that, we’ve been a really tight-knit class. It’s a good group and definitely a good way to plug into the tech community if you’re new to New York.
Is there anything else that you want to mention about your experience or bootcamps in general?
Oh- all the alumni have been incredibly cool! They come back to the classroom and talk about projects occasionally. Alumni have all been very receptive to hearing from prospective students, to speaking about their experiences as students, to helping out. When I was first wanting to learn about the program, I reached out to an alumnus or two just to get a sense of what the culture was like and all the feedback was great, which was obviously a large consideration in deciding to take the leap. If you’re considering the program but on the fence, I’d say go for it. You won’t regret it.