John Holman was a Project Manager with a limited career path and a second child on the way when he decided to make a career change with LearningFuze. One year after graduating from the Full-Immersion Web Development Bootcamp, John sits down with us to talk about his career change and walk us through his final project. John and his group created a functional app called “Fund That Film” in PHP – see how it helped him land a Software Engineering job at Griddy.
What were you up to before LearningFuze?
I wanted to make a career change in order to better my life. I ended up meeting a series of people who had all gone to bootcamps and said that they now have their dream jobs. I wanted to be able to say that! I noticed that the engineers were the most valued by companies and I wanted to be able to build the things that I wanted to build.
About two years ago, I moved back to California after one job ended and got a different job that wasn't that satisfying. And another major factor was that my wife and I were expecting our second child. All of that culminated into knowing that I needed to be able to provide more for my family and increase my job satisfaction. My overall happiness level and sense of purpose – that's what spurred the change.
When you decided to look for a bootcamp, was your goal to change your career?
The overall goal was to change my career. Project Managers didn't make as much in the industry that I was in. Engineers have the potential to make more money, grow, and have more responsibility in the same arena. There isn't much growth potential in project management besides that final jump into a COO position.
Did you research any other coding bootcamps? Why did you choose LearningFuze?
I was looking at quite a few different bootcamps. I did a ton of in-depth research. A friend who had gone to LearningFuze told me about it.
Three big things stood out to me about LearningFuze: the alumni, their job placement rate, and the support. I went to an information session on their campus and had a conversation with students, alumni, and instructors. One of the things that attracted me to LearningFuze was the fact that they admitted that they had a 94% placement rate – not a 100% placement rate. That made their program seem more human to me. The biggest thing I liked about LearningFuze was that the alumni I talked to were still continuing to get support from LearningFuze even though they had already been working for 6-8 months in their careers. Having the ability to come back and get the support I might need was a huge selling point for me.
Once you started class at LearningFuze, what was a typical day like?
The typical day began with some solo time to work on various assignments and projects. There were lectures 4-5 times a week and assessments that would solidify the knowledge that you picked up after the lectures.
We continually looked at code to find bugs as we were learning the basics. In Week 6, assessments are replaced with hackathon projects and in weeks 9-12 we worked on our final project. It really did work for my learning style. We truly dove right in.
How did you prepare for LearningFuze? Did you take a prep course?
What were your instructors like at LearningFuze?
How did the final project work at LearningFuze?
We had a couple of pitch sessions where we would pitch ideas that we had to the rest of the class and then it was narrowed down. A few projects were picked and then teams were built around the projects that were picked. We got to pick between Node.js and PHP how we wanted to do our back end but the front end was to be done in React.
There were four groups that had about four or five students in them and then there were two people who did solo projects, that was an option too. Solo projects really dug into the full stack.
What was your final project?
Part of the reason I went to LearningFuze was that I had this idea for a film funding tool and I didn't know how to build it myself. As a producer, you can input your information and see how profitable your idea is. Or as a financier could see how three separate projects stack up. We decided to call it Fund That Film (FTF).
What problem does this product solve?
In my past career, I worked with a producer for a while creating these Excel spreadsheets to predict box office potential. I used to do all of these functions in Excel and that was terrible. I wanted a way to automate the process and be able to return the various outputs that we needed in a more formal way. Plus an Excel sheet can only be so beautiful.
Can you walk us through the features of the project?
First, the user fills out their Project Information including:
A Short Advertising Line
The next screen asks the user to input information for FTF to compare the user's film to in order to predict the film’s value. This includes:
Anticipated Film Rating
Stage of Production
This Meets That (two films that FTF could compare the user's project to)
Similar to when you're buying a house in a certain area, FTF looks at other films that have been released in the past to project what could happen and how they could perform at the box office while considering their budgets as well.
When the user actually types the movies into the two fields we were able to use the TMDB API to start grabbing films. We decided to do this autofill feature here so that the user could select a particular film from the autofill suggestions.
Which technologies did you use to build Fund That Film?
My group was the only group that chose to use PHP for our back end. Myself and one other developer ended up being the back end developers. The other two people in our group worked on the front end in React.
Did you find it difficult to learn a new programming language?
We essentially had to learn PHP in two days. One of the instructors has been writing PHP for a while so we were able to go to him with questions that we had. Every day we learned something new from creating sessions for a particular person logged in to the server on day 10 to that whole other realm of segmenting and security.
Which APIs did you connect to for this project?
We found a few APIs that would be able to give us a lot of the information that we needed. We used one called The Movie Database (not IMDB but TMDB). IMDB doesn't actually have an API! We had to either web scrape, which we didn't want to do, or call out an API from TMDB. TMDB was able to provide the box office information, background images, movie posters, marketing materials, etc. We also tried to use the Wikipedia API to grab some information about production companies that the other API did not have.
Could you tell us about a roadblock or a challenge that you ran into when you were building this project?
One of the big roadblocks was time. We had such a limited amount of time to build it and to make it function. Four people with their varying schedules can make it hard to line up outside of lectures and class to work on our project and get it to a point where we were super happy with it.
When we ran into roadblocks it was tempting to spend "just five more minutes" or "just ten more minutes" on the problem. We had to stop ourselves and admit that we don't know all of the answers. It was important to get over ourselves to be able to go ask for the help we needed. The help is there the entire time. You just have to tap into it.
We also decided to save the hardest thing – the Login Page – for last. I think everyone's first instinct is to create the login page first but that is super difficult. We went through and built out all of the other features first instead and then came back around and built the log in portion so that we could have a mostly complete project within the proper time frame, not just a login page.
Do you have any advice for future bootcampers working on group projects?
Bootcamp group projects are going to give you that real-world experience. You're going to be working with other people who have various personalities. Bringing everything back to our goals and breaking them down into milestones was key to staying on track. And also making sure we bring up any issues we're having with the technology so that we can get help and fix the issue as quickly as possible.
How do you think your background in Project Management helps you in Software Engineering?
My project management background helped me set up and get everyone on board for the final project. I don't want it to be a dictatorship but everyone needs to be on board so that we can walk through how we're actually going to execute our project. We found that a lot of the other groups were struggling just to get their projects off the ground whereas we set time limits and check-in points to be able to hone that process.
Bring your background with you to bootcamp! We had people from all different backgrounds. All of that knowledge that you've gleaned isn't useless! Don't throw it away. That's the stuff that you can seriously use to push projects forward or innovate. For me, that was project management.
Were you able to add this project to your portfolio?
Yes! It's in my portfolio. Getting a few projects in my portfolio helped me find where I wanted to go with my career. I initially looked at jobs at entertainment companies – this project was one that clearly showcased that interest. From there I widened my net. I targeted companies in specific regions and jobs on job boards. One reason we chose PHP for our project was that there are a lot of jobs in the area that use PHP. I might not have a whole lot of experience but I am able to show companies something that I built using the technologies in the job description.
What are you up to today? Tell us about your job at Griddy!
Griddy is a wholesale electricity provider, cutting out the middlemen, fees, and markups and allow people to access wholesale priced electricity.
I am part of the growth pod and my pod looks at the Griddy enrollment flow. We tweak it and modify it so that the people who enter the top of the funnel will actually sign up as members.
What kind of technologies are you using at Griddy?
I work in React day in and day out. We also use Redux and Redux-saga – those are things that I had no idea about before that I am now trying to learn more about and understand. I actually wrote an experimental framework so that we could have people come in, get plugged into a controller, and then we're able to send them down various paths to get information about usage and conversion rates so that we can keep pushing for higher engagement and a higher retention rate in our users.
How did you actually land this job?
I started looking for a job while we were doing our final projects, knowing that it takes a while to find a job. On LinkedIn, Griddy was using a feature called EasyApply. I had worked with all of the extra technologies that they were using and specifically looking for – Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics, Hotjar, etc. I could easily come in as a Marketing Engineer and require much less time in that ramp-up phase when I got hired. Bringing all of that knowledge with me is what ended up landing me the job. This goes back to not throwing your experience away! It took about four weeks from the initial application and interviews to the offer.
How did Learning Fuze's Career Coach help with your career change?
I would send him my resumé and LinkedIn profile. I think he saw 15 drafts of my resumé. I would tweak my cover letters a bit for each application and he looked at those as well. We did whiteboarding and mock-up interviews too. It's all of those things combined that gets you the job.
You need to know more than how to code. No one's going to want to work with you if they don't get along with you. No one is going to hire you for a position if you don't have the skills they need. I was constantly talking with the Career Coach to figure out how to sell my story and find guidance. He was a recruiter and he knew what they were looking for. Leveraging how he understood things was extremely helpful. I even sent him my job offer and read it over! We, as students, are seen as whole people who are looking for jobs. The LearningFuze team sent out job postings to all of the alumni as well. Continually being engaged and having that dialogue with LearningFuze helped me get this job and will probably help me get my next one in the future too.
How have you grown as a developer over the last year?
I’ve noticed that there are a plethora of opinions from different developers out there. As you gain experience you learn to see all of the ways of doing things and then you learn the best way.
I learned that you can choose how much functionality you want React to have. You can use the backend to do a lot of work. We can build a button that's just a button or build it dynamically and use it over again. I fully admit I was building one specific thing for each page going through my final project.
Now, being in a development role with other people who have opinions and more experience than I do has opened my eyes. I can create a better experience for the user and for the developers who are working with me by creating standards and sticking to them. We're constantly checking each other's code and approving it before it gets sent out for release. I've started to understand other people’s thought processes through that. I’ve become a part of one big group that's building a product as opposed to an individual person who has an idea and expertise and building something by myself.
Are you satisfied with your career change?
Yeah! There's a lot that I don't know now and I'm already being paid more than a Project Manager. I can see the growth and see the path in front of me. It motivates me and allows me to continue to work and go through the daily commute to and from the office to make it happen.
Do you have any advice for someone who is looking to make a career change like this?
Go to the campus and get a feel for the place and also talk to alumni, students, and instructors if you can. That’s the best way to see what you’re getting into. The other big thing for me was bringing my previous experience with me. My project management skills were a huge help along the way and your background probably will be too!
Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!
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