Originally from Ghana, Richard worked in finance before he moved to the U.S. and got a job at a telecommunications company. When he discovered his passion for coding, he decided to enroll in Rutgers Coding Bootcamp in New Jersey. Now he is juggling working full time, while completing the part-time Web Development Program at Rutgers. Richard tells us about why choosing Rutgers Coding Bootcamp was the most important decision he made in 2015, the challenges (and rewards!) of working full time while learning to code, and his plans after graduation in April 2016.
What is your pre-bootcamp story? What is your educational background? Your last career path?
I grew up in Ghana, where I went to college and got my bachelor's degree in banking and finance. Right after college I worked in the finance industry for a short time, then I immigrated here to the U.S. I had ambitions to go back to school and pursue a higher degree in finance, but then life happened. I got married, I’m raising a family, so I had to put my education on hold.
I currently work at a telecommunications company where I do tech support and troubleshoot network issues – 3G, 4G, and things like that. I realized I was spending all my spare time teaching myself to code. I was always trying to learn new programming languages, just because I love it. So one day it dawned on me- “why not just follow my passion?” So I went online, Googled coding bootcamps, and found Rutgers Coding Bootcamp.
What made you attend a coding bootcamp rather than continue learning on your own?
I’m naturally very curious and I love to learn, especially in this field. I have this insatiable desire to know how things work behind the scenes. But with coding I realized I could only do so much by myself, and it would be more efficient to enroll in a coding bootcamp. I contacted a few private coding bootcamps, but none really convinced me. Some seemed to be in it for the money or some other reason and I didn’t feel like they had the students’ interests at heart. Eventually, I spoke to Rutgers Coding Bootcamp, and realized that’s where I should be.
What did you like about Rutgers Coding Bootcamp that made you choose them?
From the moment I spoke with them on the phone, up to now, I’ve seen a genuine desire among the Rutgers staff to see the students succeed. We actually have a Director of Student Success – a designated person whose sole job is to help people succeed. On the first day in class, you could tell from their energy level that the Rutgers team wants us to succeed as much (if not more) than we do. It’s been an amazing experience. Coding bootcamps can be challenging, so it helps to know that the people behind you – staff, instructors – really believe in you.
Was it important for you to attend a part-time bootcamp? How do you find it balancing your studies with a full-time job?
My full-time job is quite demanding, so finding a part time coding bootcamp was a big deal. I wish I was doing it full time, but I don’t have that option – I have to work, I have a ton of responsibility. Balancing the two is pretty challenging. If you want to learn to code, you really need to be coding most of the time, so it takes quite a bit of sacrifice if you have to combine it with work. My class is Monday and Wednesday evenings, and Saturday mornings.
Rutgers Coding Bootcamp is offered through the Division of Continuing Studies. How important was it for you to study coding at a bootcamp associated with a university?
If you have a university behind a program like this, it’s a no brainer. Rutgers University has a ton of resources which we get access to. We can use their libraries and their fancy classrooms. It’s also great for meeting other students and I find it encouraging to see other students studying around me. It’s been a really important component of the program for me.
Did you think about doing a four-year computer science degree?
Prior to considering a bootcamp I was considering enrolling in a master's program or a computer science degree. I wasn’t sure if it was the right move or not, so doing a bootcamp was a way to test the waters to see if this career is what I really want. I haven’t ruled out a computer science degree, but I first wanted to do something with a fast learning approach which would quickly prepare me for a job as a developer. Eventually, once I know more about the industry, I will make a decision about whether I need a master's or CS degree.
What was the application and interview process like? How long did it take?
It was pretty seamless. I put in my application, then I had to do aptitude tests to assess my skill level. I passed those, then I had an interview with an instructor over the phone. He asked me what I thought was the best approach to learning to code, and I said for you to get good at anything you have to practice it over and over again. Then he asked a typical coding interview question about how many windows there are in NYC. I didn’t see that one coming but I just asked him to clarify, then answered. And apparently it was good enough. He was trying to figure out my background, what I was capable of, my thought processes, and whether I was able to handle the program. I started in October 2015.
What are the other students in your class like? Was your class diverse in terms of gender, race, life and career backgrounds?
There are two classes running at the same time, each is about 25 to 30 people, from all different career backgrounds. It is somewhat diverse, but more male than female – my class only has less than 20% women. In terms of race, there is every group you can imagine.
How did you pay for Rutgers Coding Bootcamp? Did you use a financing partner?
Initially I was going to pay out of pocket, but then I realized I could take an educational loan, so that’s what I did. One good thing about enrolling in a bootcamp connected with a university was that I could use the financial institutions it was affiliated with to get a private educational loan.
Can you tell me what the learning experience is like at Rutgers Coding Bootcamp? How did it differ from studying at college?
It’s a very different experience. When I was going to college in Ghana, I didn’t work, I was at school full time and my parents paid for everything. So this is the first time I’m working and schooling at the same time. It’s a 24-week program, and I knew going in that it would be quite intensive because it is a bootcamp. But as fast paced as it is, we also have a ton of academic support outside of class hours. If I need help with a particular subject outside of class, I can post in our Slack channel, and someone will jump online and help me straight away. That’s a particularly good thing about this bootcamp – I’m supported not only by instructors, but there are also a ton of TAs there to help you too. There is more than enough help, which has been very helpful in a fast paced program like this.
Who are the instructors and TAs, and what sort of backgrounds do they have?
They are all programmers and developers, and some of them are coding bootcamp graduates. It really helps to know that this person, as recently as a year ago, was in a bootcamp just as I am, and now he or she is a TA. It’s helpful to work with people who know exactly how you feel.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
My personal challenge has been making enough time to practice and to study, I have the desire, I have the passion, but I have to work. But it’s not been bad, I’ve been trying to tell myself not to give up and it seems to be working. I’ve learned a ton of things. If I think about where I was when I started and where I am right now, I’m truly amazed and I’m very, very happy.
What is your favorite project that you worked on at Rutgers?
We worked on a front end project where we developed a web app where users book flights or hotels. That process was really exciting. We work in teams a lot in this program – it’s all about networking and teamwork. In addition to learning technical skills, we learned how to work well with another developer. We also learned how to work remotely using Git, the version control system. I had never heard of Git before I started at Rutgers, and I would not have known about Git if I had just YouTubed and studied on my own. That process of collaborating with my classmate and developing a web app was particularly fulfilling and impressive.
How is Rutgers Coding Bootcamp already preparing you for job hunting?
Right from the start, every Saturday after normal coding training, we’ve had real employers come in to give us a pitch, talk to us about the industry, and give us mock interviews. We also had a networking event where companies talked about the industry and what they expect of us as developers. Rutgers has connected us with hiring partners from big and small companies.
We are also developing a coding career plan. We have a career coach, who is taking us through a branding exercise, showing us how to put ourselves out there, helping with Github, StackOverflow, and LinkedIn profiles, which is huge. Doing a career switch like this, you don’t know what to expect, so it’s great to be prepared.
What are your plans after you graduate? What field do you want to work in?
I would love to get a job as a developer for the next few years. I want to code, I want to build software to help people. Before I went into the IT industry, I ate and breathed finance. I loved finance and I see this as an opportunity to combine my passions and previous experience with development. Ideally I’d like to work in the finance industry or the technology industry.
What advice do you have for people considering a coding bootcamp?
Coding is very challenging. I know people get into it for various reasons; some for the right reasons, some not. Just make sure you want it and then go all in. It can be challenging if you don’t have the right mix of passion, desire, and commitment. It’s easy to give up.
My other advice is to make the time for coding. You need time to practice. Some people say that coding isn’t for everyone, but I believe whatever you do, if you practice enough you will become good at it.
Is there anything else you want to add about your experience at Rutgers Coding Bootcamp?
I can’t stress enough that this was the single most important decision I took in 2015. At times it was challenging, but I never regretted it. And it’s a full package of learning. From day one, they give you all the tools you need to succeed. You’re not only learning how to code, you’re learning how to think like a developer, and how to approach problems. I couldn’t be more appreciative or thankful for the team at Rutgers Coding Bootcamp.