Mimi Le didn’t have a technical background, but if we’ve learned anything from her journey (she moved from LA to Colorado to Phoenix for this career change), it’s that she commits to her goals. Mimi takes us through her bootcamp research process and tells us why she chose the Turing School of Software & Design in Denver (hint: it had a lot to do with their Try Coding weekend). Plus, Mimi is now a Software Developer at Tuft & Needle and she shares how networking and mentorship at Turing School got her into the job!
How did your path lead you to a coding bootcamp? Did you have experience in tech before Turing?
I studied sociology at UCLA and was hired as a project coordinator at a tech startup called Fuhu in El Segundo, California. That was my first exposure to working with hardware and software indirectly on a fast and growing team. Part of my job was to communicate with various interdepartmental teams, software engineers included, and make sure that work was being streamlined so we could meet our project milestones and deadlines.
I really enjoyed watching what the engineers did and was blown away by their work. But because I came from a nontechnical background, I never saw it as a possible career for myself.
After that, I worked as a project manager at a large trade publishing company. One of our authors was taking her book on a national tour but didn’t have a website to promote it. She asked for a recommendation from us, and because I had some very minor HTML experience growing up (like customizing my blog), I volunteered!
How did you teach yourself to build that website?
I then started my research on Reddit, Quora, and sites like Course Report. I thought, "If I quit my job and get into a coding bootcamp, what school would it be?” I knew I didn’t want to choose a 12-week program that would push me out into the world with no job, resources or support.
So the length of the coding bootcamp was important to you when you were researching?
Yes. Twelve weeks was too short for me. I value education and I value the time spent in learning, so my objective was to get into the longest bootcamp I could find. At that time, I was living in Los Angeles, but was highly considering Galvanize or Turing School in Denver, Colorado. I read really passionate reviews from alumni that went to Turing School on Reddit, and immediately checked out their website to learn more. It was there that I found out about their Try Coding weekend workshop. I had never been to Colorado and knew no one living in Denver, but I bought a plane ticket right after I reserved my seat and was there on a Saturday morning for the two-day workshop.
Did you consider doing a computer science degree?
The thought of going back to college and learning programming the traditional way did cross my mind, but I knew that it wasn’t my only option to become a programmer. In determining whether I wanted to go back to school or attend an accelerated program, I began to ask myself the following questions: What was I looking for in a program? What were my short and long-term goals? How would either options help me achieve these goals? Once I answered these questions, my mind was made up as to what to do next.
How did you decide on Turing? What stood out during that Try Coding weekend workshop?
Coming from a four-year institution with a large campus and grand buildings, I had this vision of Turing being a little bit more traditional. But the campus is a basement with no windows! I still chose to attend Turing, and that says a lot.
My first impression of Turing was that the instructors are so passionate about teaching and helping others learn. For example, throughout the Try Coding workshop, they answered every student’s questions, and that’s not easy. At these workshops, people are coming from all types of backgrounds. Some have technical experience and others have never touched a computer before. It takes a certain type of person to help everyone, and my instructors were incredible – they taught with patience, passion, and kindness.
I have so many great things to say about the instructors and support team at Turing. I truly believe that the reason why I am successful now in my new career as a software developer is because they gave me everything they could offer. When they say they are 100% focused on student success, they mean it.
What was the Turing application process like for you?
Because I went to the Try Coding event, my application was fast-tracked. Within a few days of applying, Turing scheduled a Google Hangouts interview with me. The interview was composed of two parts: the logic assessment and a cultural interview. I don't think that having prior coding experience was necessary to succeed in their interview process.
I spent two weeks prepping for the logic assessment. If you're serious about Turing, and you’ve never taken the LSAT before or are unfamiliar with logic problems, then I highly recommend taking the free practice exams online a few times to gain familiarity.
Tell us about your cohort! Who were you learning with?
When I started Turing, my cohort was made up of around 25 students and four of them were women. That number initially surprised me because I was so used to being in classrooms where women made up half the class. As I progressed through Turing’s seven-month program, however, the presence of women on campus grew noticeably.
I’ve since spoken to other female engineers and have come to realize just how much of an effort Turing is making to get more women in their classrooms. I have often heard other alumnae say they are the only one or one of two engineers on their teams.
Aside from gender, my cohort was very diverse in terms of age and background. The age range was 18 to 55, and when we introduced ourselves, no one repeated the same job occupation. Everyone came in with their own skill set, and we were able to take advantage of those strengths throughout the program.
What technologies did you learn at Turing?
At the end of Turing, you get the opportunity to do your own personal project and they encourage you to build that with new technology that you’ve never used before. I chose to build my app in React Native. A few wrote their projects in Python, Go, and Elixir. The Turing instructors have years of programming experience under their belt, so I received a lot of support, tips, and advice as I was learning this new framework.
Tell us more about your final project!
Although I built the project by myself, we had the option to pair up (especially with a student from the front-end program!). I learned so much from this final project. Since we’re challenged to write our application using either an unfamiliar language, framework, or database (I chose all three), it really put not only our coding skills but everything we learned at Turing to the test.
How did that Turing project help prepare you for your job as a developer today?
Pairing and working as a team at Turing are experiences that I'm grateful for because, in the real world, you’re working with teams of varying sizes. I learned how to understand that frustration does happen, and how to react and to navigate it professionally.
At Turing, every project evaluation was done as it would happen in the workplace. They were very honest and would give us feedback on how to communicate with our managers and team leads. That was great practice.
Was it tough to get hired after you graduated from Turing?
As a junior developer, yes. The experience is similar to getting hired right out of college. You have no relevant work experience, so how do you prove yourself on paper to eventually receive that screening call that will determine whether or not you’ll get that on-site interview? The process can be daunting and in my honest opinion, harder than learning how to code!
Fortunately, I was invited to 10 on-site interviews and received three offers within two months of graduating from Turing. Turing played a big role in me landing these three offers.
First, they make professional development an integral component of the curriculum. Through PD courses, I learned how to answer both cultural and technical questions that companies may (and did!) ask. Secondly, Turing required students to create an online portfolio that would be posted on their alumni page starting in Module 3. A handful of companies found me this way (and one even led to an offer). Lastly, many companies were invited on campus to meet job-ready students. I was introduced to several hiring managers thanks to Courtney Haynes, Turing’s Director of Partnerships and Development.
Going through the hiring process is tough, which is why I’m so grateful for all the support Turing gives to their students.
What were you looking for in your first job – why did you turn those other jobs down?
I’ve worked for startups before, and I knew I wanted to work for a company that had over 150 employees. I've worked for smaller companies and while it’s nice to rotate through a lot of hats if you’re a one-person team, the disadvantage is that you're limited in who you can learn from. I wanted the opportunity to learn from various people so a medium-to-large size company was one of the primary reasons why I turned the other offers down.
How did you get connected to your current employer, Tuft & Needle?
I got my job at Tuft & Needle through a combination of luck and effort. Turing lets students create community groups and I joined the Turing Association of Asian American Programmers (TAAAP). Through this group, I was lucky to be mentored by a Turing alum, Tan, who currently works at Tuft & Needle.
One thing I have to say about Turing is that when you become a student here, you really do become connected to the larger developer community -- whether it is in Denver, Chicago, New York or Los Angeles. It’s quite remarkable.
Tell us about the interview process at Tuft & Needle – were they excited that you went to Turing or were they concerned that you had been to a coding bootcamp and didn’t have a CS degree?
I was really fortunate – my manager Dave knows Jeff Casimir (the head of Turing), so he was already familiar with Turing. Furthermore, when I was going through the interview process, Tuft & Needle had already hired two Turing alumni. With these two alumni kicking butt at the company, I’m sure that made T&N excited to hire another Turing graduate.
The interview process included three stages: a phone screening with the hiring manager and HR, a take home assessment, and an on-site interview where I got to meet various leads and pair with two developers. They flew me out to Phoenix for two days and it was a really fun experience.
Do you have advice for other bootcampers who are going through the job search?
Make connections and network. This advice may sound trite but it’s the most effective!
You should meet people with the intent of truly getting to know them, which can turn into a mentorship and then into them advocating for you. In my case, my mentor Tan exercised his connections – he put me in touch with everyone that he knew. I honestly did not apply to a single job. Most of my interviews came through Tan and through the people he knew.
Tell us what you do at Tuft & Needle!
I am currently a Full Stack Developer at Tuft & Needle, an e-commerce website that’s revolutionizing the mattress industry. I love working here because everyone is amazing. Besides our mattress, we’re also known for our award-winning company culture.
You’ve moved from LA to Colorado for Turing, and now to Phoenix for your new job – has it been worth it?
It’s definitely been worth it!
I’ve spent the majority of my life in Southern California. Before Turing, it never crossed my mind to move away from my family and friends. If it wasn’t for all the compelling reasons I heard, read, and realized on my own by going to the Try Coding workshop, I would have never left my small town bubble. Moving 1000 miles away from home was one of the best decisions I made. I was able to experience a new city, make new friends, and live my lifestyle to the fullest (snowboarding, rock climbing, and hiking). I’m really thankful for the opportunity.
And you really committed to your new career by moving to Phoenix!
What can I say! I was very impressed with Tuft & Needle during my interview process and fell in love with both the people and culture even more during my training week. Although I was hired with the option to work remote, I ultimately decided to move to Phoenix for these reasons.
Is this software development job what you expected? Are you happy with your career change?
I’ve realized that at my first job, although I understood at a very low level what developers did, I didn't truly understand their jobs. Being a software developer is much more than I expected. I am extremely happy with the career change. And I don’t think I could have made that change without Turing.
What’s been the biggest hurdle in your journey to becoming a developer?
The biggest hurdle has been overcoming imposter syndrome. I struggled with it the most in my final weeks at Turing when I was job hunting. In one of my interviews, when asked to design a poker game, the interviewer quizzed me on what was the fastest algorithm to sort through a deck of cards. I struggled to find an answer and felt my confidence plummet. I couldn’t help but think ‘Am I good enough to be a programmer?’
I’ve since gotten better at managing these thoughts. Yes, I started to code at the age of 25 and not 13. Yes, I didn’t graduate with a Computer Science degree.
But I am a programmer nonetheless.
I have built several personal projects using different languages, frameworks, and databases. I am participating in code reviews and deploying code at my current company. When I find myself in doubt, I remind myself of my achievements thus far and look forward to how much further I can go.
Thinking back over the past year, do you think you could have made this career change without Turing?
I might have been able to make this career change without Turing. I could have committed to self-teaching, an online course, or another program like Turing. Whatever choice I could’ve made, I don’t think I would’ve ended here -- where I am now. As you read through this interview, you’ll come to understand that Turing is a unique school and attending was the best decision I could have made in my entire life. Through Turing, I gained a specific set of skills, a community of friends and mentors, and most importantly, my dream career!