Benton Wong’s career path traveled through the biotech industry, law, and business leadership. But he found a true interest in the software development process, and enrolled at Flatiron School’s Online Software Engineering Immersive Course. Now, Benton works at Scribd as one of the first Software Engineers on their Content Engineering Team. Learn how Benton gained relevant tech experience after graduating from Flatiron School, his advice for online bootcampers during the job search, and what made his career change with Flatiron School worth it for him.
What were you doing before enrolling at Flatiron School? What inspired you to get into tech?
I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Bioengineering, and then I worked in the biotechnology industry for a couple years. Working in biotech got me interested in patent law, so I went to law school. After earning my law degree, I spent a year doing intellectual property litigation before I was recruited by a colleague to be a founding member of the new legal marketplace platform, LawPivot, which ultimately merged with the legal technology startup Rocket Lawyer, where I stayed on as their Head of Attorney Services. I liked working closely with the software engineers at both companies, and I grew interested in the product development process. Building something from scratch, solving problems, implementing and testing them, and seeing their results — I loved the whole process! Wanting to be more in the thick of things, I started looking at becoming a software engineer and coding bootcamps.
Why did you choose a coding bootcamp instead of returning to college for a Computer Science degree?
A bootcamp was more accessible and I really liked that the course would start when I was ready within weeks instead of months or years. What really attracted me to Flatiron School was their Tuition-Back Guarantee, which promises that students if they follow their career services program and do not find employment within 6 months of graduation, they receive a full tuition back. Plus, Flatiron School’s online, self-paced course allowed me to work at my own pace and schedule from home. After comparing the cost of a formal education versus a coding bootcamp, the coding bootcamp was clearly a better return on investment. Flatiron School also gave me a merit scholarship which made the choice much easier.
How did you prep for the Flatiron School application?
I did both the Flatiron School Coding Bootcamp Prep Online prior to applying in addition to taking some lessons on CodeAcademy. After I sent in the application, I had an interview with an admissions officer at Flatiron School and was admitted shortly afterwards.
Since you were learning remotely, how did you structure your daily schedule for the online coursework? Did the online teaching style match your learning style?
I'm a self-paced learner, and I like to learn independently, so I was coding everyday, even on the weekend! I spent at least 30-40 hours per week on the program. It was like a full-time job. My day would start at 10 am with readings and coding assignments. At lunch, I would go out for a quick run in my neighborhood. After lunch, I would come back online to code for a few more hours until dinnertime. Then, I coded a little more before bed.
Since you took Flatiron School’s Online Bootcamp, how did you actually learn?
The online courses didn't have a ‘cohort’ as I didn’t start with a group of other students but the school did use Slack that I used for advice from instructors and to connect with other students. Flatiron School also had an online Q&A portal on their website for students to post questions to other students. Technical Coaches were following the questions and responses. If I was stuck and couldn’t resolve it through the Q&A chat, Flatiron would hook me up with a Technical Coach on the spot. They would give me a one-on-one session through Zoom to work through that particular lab or lesson.
After I graduated, I was actually recruited by Flatiron School to be a Technical Coach! Being a Technical Coach was an excellent opportunity to solidify my training and reinforce software engineering concepts. Teaching what I had learned from Flatiron School helped me to significantly grow as a developer, and it also helped me to work on my communication skills. It involved breaking down difficult topics so students could understand.
What kinds of projects did you build at Flatiron School?
How did Flatiron School prepare you for your job search?
About a month before finishing the program, Flatiron School connected me with a Career Coach who helped me through the job hunt and interviewing process. I realized that bootcamp grads like me that come from another industry need to leverage their background; it brings a unique set of skills that goes beyond a Computer Science degree. Flatiron School walked me through every single step, and the coaching continued throughout my job search, even after I finished the curriculum! Because of Flatiron’s job guarantee, I had to complete certain tasks while I was looking for a job – pushing five git commits, writing one technical blog article, and reaching out to at least seven contacts in the industry a week. These requirements provided structure to my job searches. I kept track of it all in a spreadsheet that I shared with my Career Coach, which kept me accountable and gave me focus and direction rather than just shoot out a bunch of job applications.
I also did a fair amount of independent work to prepare myself for the technical interview, which is a skill that I had to learn to get the job. For me, I just kept taking lessons, practiced on coding problems, and learned from previous interviews. While I was on the job hunt, I also trained and got a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon just to give myself another outlet.
What’s your advice to other job seekers who graduated from an online coding bootcamp?
Hang in there! When I wasn't landing the positions I applied for or wasn't passing interviews, I told myself there was a natural bias toward bootcamp grads, but looking back, I just wasn’t ready. With time, patience, and proper preparation, my software engineering interviewing skills improved over time. It can be a very frustrating, anxiety-inducing experience. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs. Just keep moving forward. Learn something new everyday.
Tell us about your job as a Software Engineer! How did you find it?
I am now a Software Engineer at Scribd, which is an online ebook and audiobook subscription service based in San Francisco whose mission is to change the way the world reads. My first role at Scribd was actually not on the engineering team, but on its Content Operations team as the Content Operations Engineer, whose main role was to automate some of its reporting and triage and fix bugs for the team. I worked in that role for nine months before I was transferred to Scribd’s newly created Content Engineering team leveraging the practical operations experience that I gained while I was on the Content Operations team. Scribd really needed an engineering team dedicated to working on the systems that imports and manages publisher content and other data into Scribd, and I became one of the original members of that new team!
What was Scribd’s interview process like?
I had to go through three rounds of interviews. First, I met with the recruiter for a resume screen. Second, I met with the Content Operations Manager and Director of Customer Service & Content Operations. Finally, Scribd invited me to come onsite for a technical interview with one of their more experienced software engineers and its Head of Data Science to demonstrate my Ruby coding and SQL skills.
What projects are you currently working on at Scribd?
As a Software Engineer on the Content Engineering Team, I help build and maintain the content metadata ingestion pipelines that we use to import, process, and manage the content on Scribd which includes ebooks, audiobooks, magazine articles, sheet music, and podcasts. We partner with publishers and third-party data vendors to bring in their information. Then we process and convert it into a format our systems can use, do some automated checking of the quality of the content, and make it available to our subscribers to consume and to our internal teams with the data to make the service even better. The main programming language and framework that I’m using are Ruby on Rails and SQL, along with Scala and Spark for big data processing.
Has your background in law and business proven to be useful in your new career as a Software Engineer?
It has been tremendously helpful. Lawyers by nature know how to write. In my current role and with software engineering in general, documentation goes a long way. If I had to break down what I'm doing on a typical day, 60% of my time is writing code, 20% is doing code reviews, 10% is writing documentation, and another 10% is spent in meetings.
I also bring my business development skills to my software engineering job. There is a stigma about software engineers being introverted; that they may not have good communication skills. My background in business development allows me to communicate both inside and outside of the company. I am not afraid to reach out to people!
Did you take a pay cut from your career in law to become a more junior software engineer? Why was that worth it to you?
My income went down after leaving the legal field. But software engineers still make a pretty good living. It is a noble profession, stable if the company is well managed and has solid fundamentals, and is high in demand. I'm learning a lot and progressing in my career, so over time, I’m not too worried about salary. But more importantly, I don't miss the stress that comes with practicing law. As a software engineer, I don’t feel that same kind of stress. Instead, I get a feeling of satisfaction from creating or fixing something. I also love the opportunity to constantly grow and develop in my career. And I do learn something new every day on the job. For me, that is true job satisfaction.
So is Flatiron School worth it? Would you recommend it to a friend who wants to change careers?
If someone wants to make a switch to software engineering, Flatiron School is a good program. When people ask me if an online bootcamp is worth it, I tell them, “Hey! I got a job out of it...it works!” Coding bootcamps provide students what they need to become software engineers, but keep in mind there is still a lot of work to do even after graduation. That's why after I graduated from Flatiron School, I made an effort to continue learning and to gain more experience as a coder. I had to improve my coding interviewing skills and work on independent coding projects. In addition to being a Technical Coach for Flatiron School, I volunteered as a mentor to teach kids and teenagers at a local coding club. It was a tough journey, but well worth it.
Do you have any advice for others who are considering making a career change by enrolling in a coding bootcamp?
No matter what, people should focus on continuing their education, especially in this day and age. Automation is taking over the world. Jobs are being replaced by robots and computers. If you want to stay relevant, no matter what industry you are in, you have to continue learning. With so many opportunities to learn these days, there is no excuse. Always improve yourself, whether it is a bootcamp, on your own, or by reading books.