Sara Simon was working in communications at a software development firm, but had no technical background when she applied to the Turing School in Denver, Colorado. She is now in her third module at Turing- we talk to Sara about her search for the right bootcamp, the Turing application, and get a peek at a project she developed while in the course.
What were you up to before you started at Turing?
Prior to Turing, I was working in communications at a small software development firm. I did a fair amount of technical writing—putting together manuals and help texts for our clients. I also ran the company's social media pages and took on a few big copywriting projects. As a former art school graduate and English major, nothing beat the fact that I had found a job that paid me to write about interesting things every day.
Little did I know I could find that same satisfaction writing code as well. After nearly a year of working right alongside software developers, they convinced me to take the leap down this path. I feel grateful for their encouragement and support every day.
Did you have a technical background before you applied?
Why did you choose Turing? What factors did you consider?
Oh, I did so much research. I made such a beautiful spreadsheet. Program length had a ton to do with my decision, as did instructor teaching experience, nonprofit status, program curriculum, commitment to diversity, and a salary guarantee. Turing won unquestionably on those factors alone. Still, I did some digging and asked around for more personal responses, and when nearly everyone I spoke with recommended Turing, I was sold.
What was the application like for you?
That was another huge win for Turing! The application was so much fun, and I loved that they required writing samples from all their applicants. The task was to explain a complicated topic in a clear way, so I broke out my inner English major and wrote about the Shakespearean sonnet. My iambic pentameter examples were all about Turing instructors. I remember being really nervous thatJorge’s name might actually be pronounced George, which would have thrown off the whole thing.
My interview was a mix of culture-fit questions and logic problems. I really appreciate that Turing takes a holistic approach to the application process. I certainly wouldn’t have been accepted had it been based on technical skills alone.
How many people are in your cohort?
I’m in the smallest class at Turing. Right now, we’re the Elite Eight. We’re fairly diverse across all boards. I love them all desperately.
Who are your instructors? What is the teaching style like and how does it work with your learning style?
Learning style is a tricky one for me to answer. I’ll be totally honest: Project-based learning is really difficult for me, and I’ve spent a significant chunk of my time at Turing trying to figure out why that is. I’m a book learner. I like systems. I learn best through clear explanations and exceptional examples. Show me something great, tell me why it’s great, then let me recreate it. No programming school I’ve found tailors to this kind of learning, though. Instead, they all boast about project-based learning. They attract people who like to get their hands dirty, who need to figure things out on their own, who find long lectures dry and tedious, who learn best by doing and by making.
Do I wonder whether programming schools are inadvertently discouraging learners like me from entering tech? Yes. Do I think programming schools will improve exponentially once they figure out how to support learners like me? Again, yes, but I’d be remiss to leave it at that.
At Turing, I’ve learned to feel comfortable swimming in this terrifying sea of project-based work. Undeniably, this is a thousand times more important than any lesson on any programming topic. Turing has encouraged me to take risks I wouldn’t otherwise have taken. It has forced me to step out of my comfort zone and to challenge my own doubts. Most importantly, whether I care for the style or not, Turing has prepared me to work right alongside the professionals. If I want to take the dive, I’ve got to learn to swim. Turing excels at this.
How many hours per week do you spend at Turing?
So many more than the average number I spent working on my undergrad honors thesis. Oops.
Do you feel burnout at all or do you ever get off track? How do you overcome this?
Programming is a quick and easy burnout, and seven months is a long time to be burnt out. Every ounce of success I've had is so entirely thanks to Turing’s schedule of six weeks on, one week off. Those intermission weeks are glorious. Future Turing students, do all your life chores during those intermission weeks. I mean, sleep twelve hours a day but also do all of your life chores.
Can you tell us about a project you worked on?
Sure! For my three-week solo project, I built a web application that tracks the geography of a user’s reading history. Basically, users can log in using OAuth for Twitter, list the books they’re reading, associate those books with the cities in which they are reading them, view their reading histories, share this all with their friends, and find libraries in their areas. I also built my own VPS for the project. It’s called Map My Reads and is still very much in an early stage. Be gentle. It’s up live but the production link might change, so find the latest link in the README here.
What are you up to now? Have you started to think about the job search?
I still have my fourth and final six-week module left, but I’ve definitely started the job search process. I have a pretty good idea of what I want to be doing, so I'm trying to get the ball rolling with plenty of conversations. I’m really just focused on finding a good fit team. Turing’s network is fantastic, and they’ve helped me reach out to a number of different companies.
Obviously connections are great, but I’ve also learned to never underestimate the power of a good cold email. I can’t even begin to count how many cool contacts I’ve made just by reaching out and expressing interest. It will always be my biggest piece of advice.