Tammer Galal had just graduated from college and was about to start medical school, when he changed lanes completely and decided to follow his passion for technology. Now he is studying to become a web developer at Rutgers Coding Bootcamp and absolutely loving it. Tammer tells us about why he chose Rutgers Coding Bootcamp, what he’s learned in his first months, and his plans after graduation.
What were you up to before you started at Rutgers Coding Bootcamp?
Growing up I always loved computers – building and overclocking computers. I went to college at Ohio State University for biology in comparative vertebrate anatomy, a far long shot from coding! I graduated in May 2015 and originally planned to go to medical school. But when I was a senior my father fell ill, which really changed my mind about what I wanted to do. I realized after I did my MCATs that I really didn’t want to go to medical school. That’s when I decided to follow my passion for technology.
So I started reading about coding and the advocacy for more coders in the world. That really influenced me into looking into coding bootcamps. I found Rutgers Coding Bootcamp and when I spoke to Jed Woodarek, the course coordinator, that’s when I thought “this is what I want to do.” I started Rutgers in October 2015. It was a very short transition time for me to decide to graduate, not go to medical school, and to get into coding instead.
Since Rutgers Coding Bootcamp is part-time, are you working while you do the bootcamp or have you quit your job?
I’m focusing all my time on coding – the ABCs (Always Be Coding) mantra they try to teach us. And I’m also guest TAing already for the newer cohorts at Rutgers, so that’s pretty interesting. Classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm and all day on Saturdays.
Did you try to learn on your own before you thought about a bootcamp?
I actually jumped in with zero knowledge of how to code. I knew the terms HTML and CSS, but I didn’t know anything about the actual language itself. I was more into the hardware aspect of things growing up. But now I’ve actually started to learn it, it’s absolutely incredible, really fun.
Did you look at other coding bootcamps or just Rutgers Coding Bootcamp?
I take care of my mom so I wanted to try to stay as local as possible. Rutgers is nearby so it was really the only one I wanted to go to, and the one I wanted to make sure was the one for me. I’m not even sure if I would have gone to a bootcamp if it wasn’t for Rutgers because I can’t travel too much right now.
What made you realize Rutgers was going to be the one for you?
Definitely talking with Jed and speaking with Shamoon Siddiqui, one of the professors. When I spoke with them on the phone they seemed genuinely interested in my abilities and my interest in coding. It just seemed really conducive to a good environment for learning.
How important was it for you to study coding at bootcamp associated with a university rather than at an independent coding bootcamp?
Definitely important. Coming from a Big Ten school like Ohio State, it’s nice to able to be affiliated with another Big Ten school, an institute which is reputable and is an accredited university, I trusted that.
To me, having a full university backing you, and being affiliated with a further education program, is really definitely something that’s important. But I’m sure other independent coding bootcamps are just as reputable.
Did you think about doing a four-year Computer Science degree?
After I got out of school from biology, I thought about it, but I decided I couldn’t do another four-year degree. And when I read about careers in coding, I saw it’s not so much your credentials which are important, as much as what you can code. I wanted to use this bootcamp to really dip my toes into coding and see if it was what I really wanted to do.
Where is the bootcamp held and what’s the classroom like?
We are at the Rutgers Business School building. It’s a really beautiful, high-tech building on the Livingston Campus in New Brunswick. We’re there on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
What are the students in your class like? Are they diverse in terms of gender, race, life and career backgrounds?
It’s definitely diverse in race and age. But there’s only a handful of females in my group. We have teenagers, and then people who are older. People come from NY, Pennsylvania, and I’m from New Jersey. We have all walks of life. A few people have coding backgrounds and many have business degrees. Then there are a lot of kids who are 18 and just going for it. I really commend them for that.
What is the learning experience like at Rutgers Coding Bootcamp?
When we get in we each do a standup about what you’re working on, what you want to work on in the future, and what’s blocking you. Then we’ll talk about the topic for the day and do a code-along. The professor will type out some code, and we’ll do it with him. Then we’ll do an exercise to expand on that, without knowing everything we need to do it. You have to think outside the box and put thought into how to continue what you’ve already learned.
Tuesday and Thursday evenings is our half of the class, there’s another class on Monday and Wednesday evenings too, then on Saturdays we all join up together. It’s the big finish for the week’s lesson plans, where you get the mind blowing part of it. We do coding on Saturday from 10 am until 2 pm, then we have our career portion where we learn about resumes, interviewing techniques, and meet tech recruiters.
Who are the instructors? What are their backgrounds?
Shamoon is one of the instructors, he’s been coding his whole life and he’s an absolute rock star. Then Mike Wanger is our other instructor, he currently works full time doing coding, and he’s very good too. It’s incredible how they make it seem so accessible. When you look at coding from the outside in it seems impossible, then you start doing it and it becomes much more viable and understandable.
How is the learning experience similar or different to studying at college?
When I was at school there was a lot of very specific resources to read along with in a very guided way. I was learning biology so we learned about cells for months at a time. You can read about cells in books and there are a lot of resources about them. But when you’re coding, if you run into an issue, you get stuck on a line, and you don’t even know what it is you need to search for. The resources aren’t as obvious or supportive, so that’s been the struggle outside of the classroom. But in the classroom, it’s perfect with the TAs and the instructors.
What has been the biggest challenge during the bootcamp so far?
I would say the biggest challenge has been the transition from front end to back end. You get so used to building this visible front-end website, and all of a sudden you’re going into this back end Node, MySQL, and you’re not seeing anything come to fruition except a database with 100 different things in it. But now we’ve started tying it all together with Express and Go, it’s really cool seeing it all come together.
What sort of feedback loop do you have when problems arise?
We use 15five, it’s a feedback website with a set of questions each week like, “how did this go, what would you change if you could?” And also Jed, he is amazing when you have a problem. If you think something’s not going the right way and you tell him, he’s instantly on top of it.
What is your favorite project you created?
I made a project with two other students called FaceCheck. We used three APIs for facial recognition and emotional recognition. It is a facial recognition app, where you can click and drag or upload a picture, and it will tell you if you’re smiling, sad, happy or angry. Or If you put in a picture of a celebrity it can tell you who it is.
How did you pay for the coding bootcamp? Did you use a financing partner? Did you get a scholarship?
I actually paid for it myself, my father passed away and left me some money, and it allowed me to take this adventure without worrying about the future and having to pay it back. And I really thank him every day for that.
What was your career goal in attending a bootcamp? What are your plans after you graduate?
My initial thoughts when I started were to see what coding is like and see how things go day to day. I initially didn’t think I was going to do web development. I thought I would take this program, then keep learning more and more code, which I still plan on doing. But now think I want to be a junior developer in a gaming company or in the medical industry. Medicine is something I was so close to being involved in, so it would be nice to stay in that sector, while still working in technology. Communicating between hospitals and patient profiles is something which really needs to be more streamlined.
Are you interviewing for jobs?
I really don’t want to apply for a job now, and then realize in a couple of weeks when we learn Mongo or something that I really wanted to be in the back end, but I’d already got a job in front end. I don’t want to jump the gun yet.
How will Rutgers Coding Bootcamp prepare you for job hunting?
We have a career coach named Allison Cheston. She has helped us build LinkedIn profiles, Stack Overflow profiles, and Twitter profiles to make them professional and approachable. She brings in tech recruiters who tell us what kinds of things to have on our Githubs, and basically how to make ourselves well rounded and professional developers who someone would hire. Starting in March we do a career fair, where we meet companies one on one, meet with recruiters, and get the chance to be in that environment of looking for a job.
What do you like most so far about Rutgers Coding Bootcamp?
I really enjoy the environment, and being involved with a bunch of people who are like minded. It seems everyone is trying to change a field, or push forward farther into this one, and it’s really nice to be with a bunch of individuals who are trying to do the same thing as you.
What advice do you have for people who are considering a bootcamp?
As someone who grew up with a lot of people telling me I couldn’t do a lot of things I wanted to do, I would say: You can’t allow others to define who you are. You are the only person who can define who you are. And you are capable of doing anything you want to do. You can’t let preconceived notions stop you. You just have to give it a shot – the only thing you can do is try.
I know Rutgers Coding Bootcamp isn’t the biggest or the longest running bootcamp, but it’s very solid, the support staff are incredible and it’s really great program to be involved in, I’d definitely recommend people in the area check it out.