After a rocky start-up experience spotlighted her need to gain technical programming skills, Sonam Dhingra enrolled in Chicago-based Mobile Makers Academy’s eight-week iOS bootcamp. The New York native, who completed her Mobile Makers experience in July 2013 and is now an iOS developer for a Brooklyn-based digital agency, reflects on her time at Mobile Makers, including the challenges she faced, the people she met, and the valuable knowledge she acquired.
What were you doing before you started at Mobile Makers Academy?
I studied finance and operations management at Boston University, where I also did some freelance video editing on the side. After college, I got into software consulting, but I left that company after two years to establish my own mobile-based startup. The problem I had there was that I didn’t know as much as I needed to about the technical side. There were gaps in my knowledge and skills that I simply had to fill.
Did you have a technical background before you applied to Mobile Makers?
I had some technical skills, but I was pretty much a complete beginner. To say I even had an elementary familiarity with code would be stretching it. But I was attracted to technology and I like computer science; I just never thought I could do it.
Why did you choose Mobile Makers Academy?
At the time I was looking for a program [in late 2012/early 2013], there just weren’t many iOS bootcamps around. Mobile Makers Academy was actually one of the longest running ones, even though it was only about a year old at the time. I messaged people on LinkedIn who were some of the first Mobile Makers graduates and they all had positive experiences to share.
What was your cohort like?
It was definitely a very diverse group, which is part of what made it such a rewarding and rich experience. I actually remember walking into the room on the first day and I was surprised in such a positive way at the diversity. I was 24 years old at the time, but others were in their late 20s and early 30s. I was fascinated to learn where everybody came from and the different backgrounds each had – one had a legal background, another owned a coffee shop. It was huge for me to see that I wasn’t the only one jumping into the deep end. There were others doing it alongside me, and while there were some who had more programming experience, we all helped each other learn together and that was such a rewarding part of my experience at Mobile Makers.
Who were your instructors and how did they enhance your experience at Mobile Makers?
My instructors were Don Bora and Keith Alperin, both of whom were not just iOS developers, but experienced software engineers. Though they both had their own teaching styles, they were both able to teach and describe a topic in a way we could all understand. Both of them had a natural ability to take a topic and abstract it out with real-world examples and demonstrations. They also challenged us with group exercises, allowing us to explore and guiding us to solutions by asking the right questions.
Did you ever experience burnout during your eight-week Mobile Makers bootcamp? How did you push through it?
I felt over my head many times. In fact, even before I started the program, I felt I was getting in too deep, but that’s also what kept the experience so interesting and made it so rewarding. I made it through because of the teachers and the community at Mobile Makers. I wasn’t the only one in over my head and my classmates and I bonded over that shared experience, which is what really kept me going. Even some of the experienced programmers in our cohort acknowledged their struggles, which gave me the hope that I’d find a way to get through it.
Was there a specific moment during your time at Mobile Makers in which you were particularly challenged? How did you overcome that adversity?
For our capstone project, we had to create an app that we would submit to the App Store. My team of three created beMonstrous, which is a gamified to-do list for kids. Building the app was a challenge in a number ways, including the animation and the gamification it required. Truthfully, we were overly ambitious and tackled way more than we should have. That said, we got it to work, though not without some sleepless nights. When we eventually completed the app, it was a proud moment because all three of us were able to collaborate and come up with features and solutions for an interesting app.
Was there a specific project you created at Mobile Makers that you’re particularly proud of?
As exciting as the completion of beMonstrous was, especially given the complexity of that project, one of the best moments I had during my Mobile Makers experience actually happened very early. We had to create a timer app. It was completely basic, essentially a stopwatch, but I remember I was able to add sound to it. When you started the timer, you got a short pep talk; then, there was a horn when you stopped the timer. It was about 3:00 a.m. when I finally solved that problem and it felt amazing, modest as that achievement might have seemed to others. It made me realize that with a little perseverance, I could figure things out. I wasn’t going to understand everything at once, but I would eventually find a way.
What are you doing today?
I work as a junior iOS developer for Fuzz Productions, an agency in Brooklyn that builds mobile apps and websites. It’s a super creative space and a very open company with no hierarchy, which I love. When you have an idea, you’re given the power to pursue it and that’s a liberating experience. It's a wonderful job where each day is a little different and I’m putting my skills to good use.
Did you feel that Mobile Makers prepared you to get a job in the real world?
Definitely. I have a job as a developer, which is not something I would’ve ever been able to achieve without the skills I gained at Mobile Makers. I look back on the experience and, in particular, the difficulties, and see that the challenges I faced were a necessary part of the program. The challenges, though, are also what made it fun and where I was able to learn the most. Mobile Makers prepared me to work with a team, taught me how to communicate with people on a new product, and gave me the technical skills I needed to move into the professional environment.