Tom left business operations at a custom apparel startup in Rhode Island to learn to code at DevPoint Labs in Salt Lake City. In the startup world, technology can make or break your company. He saw the pain points in having limited tech knowledge, so he decided to gain more technical skills. Read on to learn about his choice to work in a smaller tech hub in the midwest.
What was your pre-DevPoint Labs story?
I graduated from Yale in 2013, where I studied Environmental Engineering and German. I got my first job through Venture for America, which is a two-year fellowship program that places college grads in startup companies across the country, in up-and-coming startup cities. I was placed in Providence, Rhode Island at a company called Teespring. Teespring is a crowd-funding platform for creating and selling custom apparel. I was there for just over 2.5 years, working mostly on the operations side of the business.
Teespring is a tech startup, so while we shipped physical products, we also had a tech platform that made it all possible. For the entire time I was there we never had too many tech resources, and there were often limitations on what we could fit into each sprint. I chose to transition out of the company and started researching coding bootcamps. I finished my role in March 2016, and started the summer session at DevPoint Labs in May.
Did you try to teach yourself to code before you started looking for a bootcamp?
Yes. Being in a startup environment, I wanted to know what it meant to be a developer. I did some Codecademy Ruby on Rails tutorials on my own, and I thought this was something that I could see myself doing more seriously.
When I would try to extrapolate what I'd learned and build my own web apps away from what the Codecademy tutorial had been teaching, I would get stuck on certain things. I could only Google my way to victory so much, and hitting road blocks made me more inclined to put the work on the shelf. Road blocks kept happening, so I thought if I really want to be serious about this, I should enroll in one of these intensive programs where this is my main focus for three months. That's why I went for it.
When you were thinking about bootcamps, did you ever consider going back to college and doing a CS degree?
Not really. I like the structure of a bootcamp because it's maybe one tenth the cost of a traditional degree and probably around one tenth the time comittment, too. If coding ended up not being a great fit for me, I would know at the end of three months; and I wouldn’t have taken out massive student loans. Also, from what I can gather, four-year computer science programs don’t really teach modern web development languages. It's more theory based, where you learn the history of the web and you learn how systems work. Bootcamp programs teach the right languages for builidng web apps.
Did you only look at DevPoint Labs or were there other bootcamps that you researched?
I stumbled upon name brand bootcamp programs like App Academy and Hack Reactor. I was definitely looking into those. Those sounded very attractive, but there were a couple of factors that influenced my decision. The main one is that my short career to date has been through Venture for America, whose mission statement is to redirect the flow of talent away from these major cities that those programs happen to be located in. I realized that maybe the best programs were located in New York and San Francisco but if there was a program that could teach me the same curriculum in a city that wasn't one of those major cities and would be more appealing to me, then I was going to pursue that. I'm glad to have found that in DevPoint Labs.
What other reasons drove you to choose DevPoint Labs? Did programming languages offered or tuition cost play a factor?
Price was definitely factor. One of the reasons I chose this program was because I could pay out of pocket. The coding bootcamps in San Francisco and New York were almost twice the cost.
I think one of the main value proposition of any bootcamp is access to great instructors who can help you through any issues that you have. One of the main issues I had trying to learn on my own was that I didn’t necessarily know the right questions to ask. Having someone who knows this material like back of their hand, sitting next to you while you code is a great asset. I wasn’t too worried about one school having a longer history or a better track record placing students into name brand, headline grabbing companies. I thought if the languages being taught were the same, I could put down some roots in a city that I would like to live in after the program is done. And if it was a city that fits within the Venture from America story, then that choice was the most attractive to me.
Did you have to move to Utah for DevPoint Labs? Did they provide housing assistance?
I did move here. I was living in Rhode Island for the past two and half years, and then I came out here a week before the program started. It's one of the main selling points. In addition to great instructors and great reputation the program makes housing available for the few people in the program that come from out of state. That took a lot of the extra work out of the process. It’s reasonable in terms of cost and just a 15-minute walk from where the lessons are held every day. That was really appealing to me. There are three DevPoint Labs students in our apartment who were not local. Most of the people in the program are local, either they live in right Salt Lake City or they live a drive away.
What was the DevPoint Labs interview and application process like?
It was a written application all online and then a half-hour interview with one of the founders of DevPoint Labs. I traveled to Salt Lake City for a long ski weekend and did my interview in-person. It's my understanding that if you are out of state, they'll have the interview over Skype.
What is your cohort like at DevPoint Labs? How diverse is it in terms of gender, race, and backgrounds?
We are a total of 14; so a relatively small group compared to past cohorts. There's great access to instructors which I think is one of the main selling points. Six of my classmates are women so almost a 50/50 split. There’s about four current college students doing this on their summer break. Some of them are current CS majors so it’s really interesting to have their perspective in class because they know a lot about computer science but we're all learning these languages together. Everyone is mostly in their 20s.
How’s your learning experience at DevPoint Labs? What’s the schedule, teaching style, and space like?
We have two lead Instructors. One teaches Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and then one teaches Tuesday and Thursday. We have about four TAs. We do a lecture in the morning from 9:30am to 12:30pm. There’s a lunch break and then we work on small projects that are meant to cement what we learned in the morning. And when we have that project time, we're often sitting with the TAs to ask questions. If it's a little bit more of a challenging lesson, an instructor will carry over into the afternoon. Otherwise, it's a very simple assignment to try to build something using what we learned that morning. This is usually an individual project.
We are in a building called Church & State, old church building that has been refurbished into a co-working space. In the chapel, there's a large open area with long tables and chairs to work in. Our room is upstairs, off to the side in a classroom. As DevPoint Labs students you have full access to the entire building. There is a little break room with snacks. I've come in here on Saturdays and Sundays to work; it's a great space.
What sort of projects do you work on and do you have a favorite project you've worked on so far?
Are there other companies hiring in your co-working space?
Yes, there are about six companies that maintain a small office here. One former DevPoint Labs student got hired by a company in this building. He comes by every week for a mentor session to lend his time which is really great to see that the alums in the area come back and pay it forward with the current students.
What does DevPoint Labs do to help you prepare for the job hunt?
We have a dedicated member of the DevPoint Labs staff who is in charge of resume critiques. They’ve also set up a panel with a few engineers that work locally. We've been told that towards the end of the course we're going to do mock interviews with the instructors. Job assistance is going to pick up in week 9; we’re currently on week 7. I do know that it's something that they're very serious about, and DevPoint Labs is very much in our corner.
Do you have any ideas of what kind of industry or role you want to work in after you graduate DevPoint Labs?
I am hoping for a junior developer job in the Greater Salt Lake area. I'm pretty much company and product agnostic. I know that people looking to hire junior developers who are great culture fits in terms of the person being a good addition to the organization and being coachable. I'm looking for someone who can invest in me and teach me. I think anyone who really puts their career on hold to do a program like this for three months is serious about learning these new skills and making this their career after graduating. I hope that there are folks out there who can appreciate that and place junior developers like me on their team.
Okay, so it’s been seven weeks- how are you enjoying the DevPoint Labs bootcamp?
I like it a lot. I am very happy that I decided to do this. I would highly recommend such a program to my peers. I think these are very valuable skills to have. It's my belief that software will be the common denominator in every company in the next 10 to 15 years, so these tech skills are only going to help.
What sort of advice do you have for someone who is thinking about doing a bootcamp but isn't quite sure yet?
Look to the secondary markets; Course Report is great resource for doing so. I’ve become good friends with a lot of my peers in Venture for America. Many of them went to college on the East Coast, then got a job at a startup in Detroit or in Cleveland and ended up absolutely loving it. And I think if you're interested in doing a bootcamp, take a look at cities like these because they are often going to be a better value for your dollar in terms of enrolling in a program like this. Oftentimes the job market is going to be healthier than you expected in those markets. These bootcamps are set up here for a reason – there are companies looking to hire their graduates. Definitely, take a look in these types of smaller cities. The first one to check out would absolutely have to be DevPoint Labs.