Young, motivated, and fresh out of high school, Tommy Gaessler knew that he wanted to learn more than high school coding classes offered. So he took it upon himself to opt out of the 4-year university degree and instead learn new exciting technology through an intensive bootcamp at Galvanize. Learn why Tommy decided to take the road less traveled after high school, and see how his current tech education is giving him the tools needed to work as a developer in a startup and run his own company!
What were you up to before Galvanize?
Before Galvanize, I just graduated from high school, Regis Jesuit in Denver. I actually took all the coding classes my high school offered (mostly in Java), but I wanted to learn more. I really wasn't being challenged in high school, so I took some night-time workshops at Galvanize.
I would finish my high school classes during the day, and then come to Galvanize and learn more about coding and web development. I really developed my passion at those Galvanize workshops. From there, I already knew I wanted to go into the longer six-month program.
Tell me about your decision-making process of choosing between college versus going to Galvanize. Why not just take a traditional route and get a computer science degree?
I did some research, and I learned that in a computer science degree, you don't really start coding until you’re two years into the program. Colleges are old school. They teach a lot of theory and older languages such as C++ and I wanted to learn the newest, hottest technologies. I knew Galvanize offered that.
Also, Galvanize is a six-month program, and college takes four years. Let’s compare two students who start at the same time: one goes to Galvanize and another student gets a computer science degree. The student at Galvanize graduates in six months, knowing all the hottest, latest, and greatest technologies, and has 3½ years of work experience before the college student even graduates. The Galvanize student is basically a senior developer by the time the other student graduates college.
Were your parents supportive of your decision or did you have to convince them that Galvanize was a legitimate option?
I had to convince my mom, because she really values a college education. She still wants me to take some classes and go to college, which isn't out of the picture but for now, I just want to learn how to code. My dad, on the other hand, co-founded Cloud Elements, a fast-growing, VC-funded API integration platform. They started at the first Galvanize coworking space. I actually fell in love with Galvanize’s entire culture, the building, and the people before I started taking the workshops, through my dad.
My dad told me about the Galvanize immersive bootcamp. He told me about this different path to learn how to code, and I was totally for it. I didn’t see myself going to college for four years because I was already bored in high school and I was ready to get my life started– Galvanize was perfect for me.
Have you been able to work with your dad at his company?
I actually interned with them a few years ago, and they do hire a decent amount of Galvanize grads and grads from other coding schools. Cloud Elements is very involved in supporting Galvanize as they recognize it’s importance in producing future coders.
One question we get all the time is how to pay for a coding bootcamp- any tips?
Galvanize’s scholarships are really for people underrepresented in tech, and for veterans. Galvanize has a great GI Bill program. We have three veterans in our class now that served overseas or in the Navy, in the Army, and the Marines even, which is really cool. But I personally didn't get a scholarship coming to the program.
There are a lot of lenders that offer loans specifically for a coding school like Galvanize, which is great for people who can't afford to pay the full tuition. Galvanize really puts you in a place to be able to pay off that loan, whereas if you go to college, you might be paying that loan for half of your life.
Tell me about the application process for Galvanize.
After the challenge, you get a phone call for an interview to see if you're a good fit, and it’s also a chance for them to answer any questions you have. After that, you do a pair programming interview over Skype. You're paired with one of the developers here at Galvanize, and you go through coding challenges.
Was everyone at Galvanize supportive of you starting a bootcamp fresh out of high school?
The Galvanize team was totally supportive, but obviously high schoolers are young. Right off the bat they found out how driven I was, how mature I was, and they understood that I would be a great fit for the program.
Do you have any interview or coding challenge tips for readers who are thinking about applying to Galvanize?
Tell us about the diversity of your student cohort in terms of gender, race, life and career backgrounds.
My cohort was originally 28 people. You figure out pretty quickly if you're going to make it or not, and three people ended up dropping out within the first week or two. We have three women which is relatively few, but the other class at the Platte campus has about 10 women. One of the women in our cohort is from Japan. We also have three veterans in the program.
Are you the youngest in your cohort?
I'm technically the second youngest. It’s cool that there’s another high schooler in my cohort. Everyone else came to Galvanize after being unhappily employed or being unable to get a job out of college. So most students are in their late 20's to mid 30's.
Have you had any particular challenges being on the younger side of the age spectrum?
Yeah, it's definitely harder to relate to the people who are older, have more more experience, and have gone to college. But everyone is super nice and we're all in this as a team. Once you start a programming job in the real world, you continue working with a team, developing, and pair programming. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses- for example, I may be better at front end development, when my team member is better with back end development. There's a lot of teamwork to it and it's great. You don't feel awkward at all because we’re all taking on a challenge– a new path in life– to learn how to code and get a new career.
Does the teaching style at Galvanize match your learning style as opposed to how you were learning in high school?
In high school you learn a subject, you take notes, you take a quiz, and then you take a test. After the test you never touch the material again. At Galvanize, you're learning, and you're coding with the instructor, and then you're building upon it.
In quarter one, you learn how to make a website, and then you use that to learn how to make an API and a server. You connect all that together to then have a full stack web application. On top of that, you then learn more languages and frameworks. It's different from a high school or a standard traditional path because you're building upon everything you learn and there's no grades. It's all self-motivation. If you're going to come into Galvanize and not put in any work, they're not necessarily going to kick you out. They're going to be unhappy, but they're not going to fail you. It will be on you because you didn’t do the work to learn the skills to get a job.
People who are coming to this program are driven, self-motivated, and they want to learn something new. They want to be able to get hired, and change the world with their skills. A lot of people work really hard, and they learn as much as they can so they can benefit themselves.
In the mornings, class starts at 9am. Usually, I get there a little earlier to work on some projects. At 9am is when we have standup, where we get in a circle, and we talk about what we need help with, anything interesting, and then any events or meetups that are going on in the week. We are encouraged to network. You can be the best programmer, but if you don't have any connections, you'll still have a hard time finding a job.
We then have a morning warm-up exercise. After the morning warm-up around 9:30am we get into the lesson. Then we have lunch, and we do another lesson. That lesson can either be a lecture, learning a new technology, or just coding along with an instructor. You're coding all day which is great. Since you're always building, you learn so much.
When you face challenges at Galvanize, is there a clear and open feedback loop when problems arise?
Galvanize has a system where instructors meet with you daily, one-on-one, to look over your code, which is awesome. They can see where you're struggling with the work you submit, and then you can always go up to them with questions. Since there are four teachers, the student:teacher ratio is really good. There's always a teacher available to answer questions. Galvanize really has some of the smartest teachers in the world.
We have four instructors; one of which is a resident. From every cohort, Galvanize hires one Student to help teach the next cohort. Plus, we have a lot of mentors and counselors– even a happiness counselor! We also have a Career Services team to help us find jobs and help us with our resumes.
At Galvanize, we're in a building where there are hundreds of companies coworking together, so you can walk up to anyone with help or questions. That’s a big opportunity, and it’s what differentiates Galvanize from other coding bootcamps. It's really an awesome community for learning.
Do you have a favorite project that you’ve built at Galvanize?
In quarter three at Galvanize, you're encouraged to learn a new language, because regardless of where you're going to work, the technology is going to change. I learned Swift (Apple's programming language) and made an iPhone app called Trip Charge that finds the closest charging stations for electric cars either near you or along a route. Say you're driving from Colorado to California; the app finds all the charging stations on your way. I worked with Austin Mahan, the other high schooler in the cohort on this project. He learned Go (Google's programming language) and we combined forces.
Our quarter 2 group project was great for learning how to divide up work and be productive as a team. We built a WordPress for developers, called SiteKite. If a developer has all of their projects on GitHub, and wants to quickly host those on a personal website, then they can use our app to pull in all their projects so employers can see them. It also integrates SendGrid to connect the developer with interested employers with a message. We used Node.js, Express, CSS and HTML and Postgres.
You can check out more of my work at Tommygaessler.com.
What do you recommend specifically to other high school grads who are wondering about their job prospects after a coding bootcamp?
What differentiates a high school grad is that you don’t have a college degree or work experience. However, after Galvanize, you’ll be more technically advanced than someone who's 10 years older than you. Because you’re young, you learn fast and you don't have any bad practices in development. Most companies see a kid who is tackling something new and someone who is adventurous and they love it. They see your energy, your drive and passion and they love it because that's what startups are. Even larger companies also want to hire fast-learning, energetic, driven people, to help their company grow.
Some people actually get hired even before they graduate. One student in our class is 22, and he didn’t go to college. He did half of Galvanize, and he got hired by Allstate in Chicago with a starting salary of $80K, and a signing bonus of $5K.
At Galvanize, we’re prepared by the Career Services team. We go over resumes, how to write cover letters, negotiate salary, and network. There's no lack of jobs around the Denver community. Career services helps us put a list together of companies we will apply to, and they help us track all of it. We have meetings twice a week to go over how the job search is going and they're there every step of the way. Galvanize has a great network of companies and people. We basically have our own LinkedIn for Galvanize, which it's a way for companies to hire great talent.
Did you have a career goal when you started at Galvanize? Are you looking for jobs right now and if so, what types?
I want to be an entrepreneur and start my own company (I love Shark Tank). Before Galvanize, I knew that I loved technology, so my main goal was to learn how to code in order to build. I also wanted to learn more about business, so hopefully I'll join a startup or a smaller company in Denver, where I can wear a lot of hats and learn a lot about code and business. I want to grow with my coding abilities, and also grow in my knowledge of business to start my own company.
I have interviewed a few times in the tech industry. I like cloud startups, software/tech startups. Technology is my passion. We actually practice interviewing at Galvanize because mostly when you're interviewing for a tech job, you're going to do some whiteboarding and some technical interviews, so we practice for that. We actually write code on a whiteboard, it is way different than having a text editor there with you.
I want to stay in Denver, I'm a native. I love to ski Vail, and I love tech startups that are growing fast. My dream job would be to be a dev evangelist. You get to code, travel and build your brand. You get to go to conferences, speak, and showcase the company's technology that you work for. Being a developer would also be a fun job, but I’d also like to have more of a customer side facing role.
What advice do you have for any other recent high school students or 18-year-olds who are considering a coding bootcamp, but may not necessarily have the professional experience like applicants?