Shehzad Popat graduated from TurnToTech in fall 2015, and is now a mobile iOS developer at Transfast. He has lived in Japan, and worked as a chef in New York, before he realized he wanted to become a tech innovator. Shehzad tells us about his learning experience, job search, and why he chose to attend TurnToTech.
What were you up to before you started at TurnToTech?
I studied international studies, anthropology and biology at the University of California Irvine. After I graduated I did a lot of travelling and lived in Japan for a while. I ended up in New York three years ago and was doing odd things until I became the head performance chef at Robotaya New York, a restaurant in the East Village. After that, I decided move on to something that was more mentally stimulating.
What made you change careers into tech from that background?
I was interested in what’s out there and what's going on in the world right now, which I realized is different than the anthropology and international studies I knew about. There has been a lot of growth and development. The keyword in the past three to four years has been “innovation” and it gave me this idea to jump over and see if I was able to do it. TurnToTech especially was very realistic and taught me how to do it on my own.
Before you applied to a boot camp, did you do online courses like Codecademy or self-guided online classes?
Yes. Before you jump in, you want to check to make sure you can actually do it. I did some Codecademy stuff and it was straightforward, so I figured I would jump in. It seemed like something I could do for eight hours a day.
How did you find out about TurnToTech?
I used Course Report, actually. I applied to a couple of places and had conversations with them, but I wanted to focus on iOS and mobile and it seemed like TurnToTech was the spot to do it. It was very welcoming and open to different learning styles.
They teach more than just development, the first thing you learn is how to learn which is so helpful. It means a lot of the graduates are able to branch off and study different languages and different types of coding afterwards.
They have a 12-week course that includes an internship at the end which you work at. It took me just about that amount of time if not a week longer because I had to take a week off.
Is TurnToTech mostly focused on iOS or do they teach Android also?
When I first applied, it was both mobile platforms. Most of the students are learning iOS. I think it started completely as an iOS boot camp and then they started adding Java for Android.
Why did you want to learn how to code for iOS?
I wanted to use what I had in my hand, and I had an iPhone, so I felt like that was the smartest thing to do. Maybe in retrospect it would be different but iOS is definitely a great starting point and it was the right choice at the time.
Did you like the self-guided nature of TurnToTech?
Yeah, that's the best way for a lot of students because there's unlimited collaboration with other students. The focus is on everyone learning. The way it works here is that when you have issues, you can either ask a teacher, or the rolling admissions system means the person next to you is a few weeks ahead and can also help you out. You're working with everyone around you and you're developing your network with other mobile developers. It’s that style, which I think is really unique to TurnToTech. You’re working as though you already have a job while you’re learning, so there’s no difference when you make the transition.
Tell me what the application process was like for you.
We had two interviews, a culture interview and a tech interview.
The culture interview is to see if you have the dedication to put in the time, and if you actually want to learn. Anyone can learn tech things, it’s just whether you’re open to learning and open to learning differently.
When you start learning tech coming from a non-technical background, it’s like learning a new language and you want to give up because everybody speaks the same language but you don’t. So it’s like going overseas and learning a new language – you’re just out of place for a while. They want to make sure you can handle that.
As for the technical interview, one of the instructors sits you down and asks you different coding questions just to see where your skills are. If you’re at a base level, they’ll start you from a pre-course. If not then you can jump to the normal 12 weeks. I did the pre-course which is four weeks, plus the 12. I think I did 18 weeks in total including a couple of breaks.
Did you feel like you were learning with other students at the same time or was it very individual learning?
Usually, a few students join at the same time and you sort of even out because you want to work together. You guys are working on the same things so you can help each other out. It’s not individual whatsoever – you’re learning as a group, you’re talking and discussing ideas.
How often were lectures, if any?
The way it works is if you want to go over a concept you just ask one of the instructors and they’ll just throw a lecture together. It’s a little different now since I left. I believe what they do is each student makes a presentation about a third party framework or a new concept that they think everyone should be familiar with.
Can you take us through the technologies that you learned in the iOS track?
I started with some Java and then we jumped into C to understand the basic fundamentals of all languages. After that, we learned Objective C, then we moved on to iOS. Now at my job I work purely in Swift.
How many hours per week were you spending on TurnToTech?
At first, I took it slow because I had another job – I was still a chef at that restaurant. I would only do about five hours a day for the first couple of weeks then I quit my job. After that I ended up doing 70 to 80 hours a week.
The way it works is you can think about a problem and deal with the problem and figure it out but your brain needs a break from it when you’re hitting something really hard. You won’t get the answer until 12 in the morning or something like that. So if you can spend more time doing it, those answers start to come quicker and you move forward through your learning.
What was the feedback loop like? Were you able to give feedback to the instructors?
What’s great about the instructors is they’re always speaking to alumni and students about what is going on in the job market. There’s a small but really tight alumni network because everybody who graduated from here really enjoyed their experience. As a student, you see previous students regularly coming in and talking to the instructors. If you have an issue you can talk to them and they’ll give you a clear, concise reason as to why something is happening. And if they don’t have an answer they’ll find one to fit the needs of whatever student.
They’re aware that every student learns differently and they know that to learn in an environment like this, there needs to be no ego on either side.
Tell us about your new job.
I’m working on Wall Street for a company called Transfast. It’s a service for transferring money from country to country and person to person based on different locations. For example, a lot of Canadian and U.S. citizens are sending money back and forth to family members.
I am working on the mobile app. I’m taking care of the new 3.0 version. I’m solely responsible for that as of now. It’s a small team – there are two Android guys and two iOS guys.
What have the first couple of months been like transitioning into this new career?
It’s different so far because the only other iOS dev has been overseas. My situation is a little bit strange because there’s no other person to bounce ideas off. But the great thing about TurnToTech is I can go back and talk to my teachers if I’m having any problems at work.
What do you do when you run into something that you don’t know how to do?
It’s a lot of googling. But based on the prep I got at TurnToTech, I’m able to figure out almost anything I need for the job. It just takes me a bit longer because of my lack of experience. I don’t feel limited in any way. If there’s a senior guy speaking on any subject, I don’t feel I’m outside the loop, or have difficulty understanding it.
How did you get the job? Was it through TurnToTech?
TurnToTech does a job fair where they have mobile companies coming in. It is really good and I think a lot of the students get interviews from there. I got a few offers after I graduated, two on my own and two through a recruiter. After I got those offers, I just chose the one that fit me best, location-wise, and what I wanted to do.
What is your advice to other bootcampers who are faced with multiple job offers? What made you go with the job that you have?
It’s just about where you want to be. Do you see yourself as needing to learn more being in a larger dev group where you can work on a lot of different projects and just make it second nature? Or do you want to work on something a little more personal where you have more control? I think it’s just based on what you want afterwards.
Do you think that TurnToTech was worth the money? Could you have learned everything you learned at TurnToTech on your own given the time?
Anything’s possible, but not probable. I’m glad I found TurnToTech because it’s the only way I would’ve done it.