My experience with a coding bootcamp

A little over 3 years ago, I was working 12 hour days at an unfulfilling (and low-paying) job, with my first child on the way.

With the encouragement of my wife and friends, I took the suggestion from my brother, and decided to attend a coding boot camp.

A lot of friends who have changed careers, secured jobs, and in a lot of cases, thrived in their new role as a developer, are nervous to talk about their experience. I have felt that way myself at different points in time. It’s almost like, if you talk about it, all the sudden your amazing new job will vanish into thin air because people will find out you went to a BOOTCAMP. Or maybe there is only so much good dev vibes to go around and if you share any of your hard earned secrets, someone else will steal yours.

My all-time favorite writer, Shea Serrano talks about getting in and holding that door open for others. He compares it to sneaking into the movie theatres like we all did in middle school. Why wouldn’t I do everything I can to help others better themselves? Or pull them up the ladder like others did for me? I see a lot of fluffy posts on LinkedIn about transitions into a coding career. But I’m just going to tell you about my experience in the hopes that it will speak to someone who is having a hard time, or questioning themselves, or their decision to take the leap into the unknown. It’s easy for people to sit on the sidelines and judge, but if you’ve taken that leap, I can tell you with 100% certainty, you are on the right path.

“We need those allies who are already in the room who will unlock the door for us.” — @SheaSerrano

When I decided to change careers, I was recruiting drivers for a trucking company with just over 100 trucks. I don’t envy recruiters in general, but recruiters in transportation have an especially difficult job. I was up for my annual review and my wife and I had mentally prepped for the conversation I would have with my boss. I was hoping a minimum of a 5k raise. When I sat down with the president of the company, he told me he could give me a $900 raise. A nine-hundred dollar raise. An extra $75 of pre-tax money per month. My heart sank as I asked what else I could have done or do in the future as he talked in circles until I left his office. My wife was 9 months pregnant at the time and we were both upset with the outcome. Outside of the money, I couldn’t think of something less meaningful than recruiting drivers on a weekly basis that would generally stay at the company for less than a month.

My older brother (@heypmiller) has always been the golden child, and had obviously figured some things out (he was at Stanford at the time getting his JD) he suggested a coding boot camp. So I did what I’m sure many of you did, found the one person I knew who coded and asked them about it. This person happened to be my life-long best friend, Jordan Wanlass. He gave me the reassurance I needed to make the leap. Without his encouragement, I may not have went through with it.

Everything I read said that if you CAN, you should avoid the part-time program and jump in full time. I was VERY nervous to suggest this to my 9-month pregnant wife. So you can imagine my relief when she suggested it to me. My wife is thee hardest working person I have ever met. She is a force of nature. I have no doubt she could lift a car or save a cat from a burning building and emerge unscathed. It is important to me, that every single person reading this knows that she CARRIED our family during the time I was attending the bootcamp and in all honesty, she had been carrying us for a long time before that.

“you gotta always bet on yourself” — @SheaSerrano

We knew it would be difficult for me, but something people don’t talk about is the sacrifices others make for them to succeed. My wife would wake up at 4AM everyday to get to work, work a 10 hour day, drive home, pickup our newborn baby, make dinner and do all motherly duties and put our baby to bed before I got home.

I would wake up at 4 and get our daughter ready to go to a different family member everyday of the week. I would drop her off and go to the front-runner station and stand in the snow waiting for the train so I could get a seat with a table. I would study on the 2 hour train ride, try to absorb all the info in class until 5PM, when I would hop back in the train and study for the 2 hours home. I would get home at 730, inhale some food, and start studying the material for the next day.

I had a lot of doubts throughout that process. It felt like it was all too good too be true and at the end of the bootcamp we would find out it was a scam. I would compare myself to every other person in my class and wonder if I would be able to keep up.

When I was going through my bootcamp, I devoured every piece of information that I could find that might include anyone going through a bootcamp. I scoured LinkedIn for anyone who had successfully found a job after making the leap. My hope is that this will give a glimpse into my experience going through the process, and someone will find a little motivation from my story.

“don’t treat it like a hobby if you want it to be a job” — @SheaSerrano

After all of that, I found a job that doubled my income. It brings a smile to my face every time I think of the moment I received that offer letter. Me and my wife ran around our house, our dogs barking and our baby wondering if we had gone crazy. It was the first thing I had put in a 100% effort and seen it to the end, and it felt amazing.

I immediately felt like I didn’t know what the hell I was doing on day 1 of my first job. But I quickly found that I knew the things to do the job and the other things vary by company and would come with time. I learned a ton and really enjoyed my first job.

When I started interviewing for another position, I was nervous all over again. Did I really know what it took? Or was it a fluke and no one else would want to hire me. When I got a call from Divvy, the recruiter said they put a lot of emphasis on the coding challenge. They wanted you to build a small app. So I took a week off work to work on learning the new technologies needed and building the best app I could. I ended up putting over 60 hours into that coding challenge. If I didn’t get the job, it wouldn’t be because I didn’t put in the effort. I was very excited to hear I was going to the on-site interview. I didn’t know what to expect, and was VERY nervous for the first half of the interview. I finally loosened up and felt like the second half went well. I waited about a week to hear back from Divvy. And in that time, my wife, daughter and I all got super sick. Easily the most sick we have ever been. But when I finally got the offer letter from Divvy, I remember the same rush I had felt the first time.

I can't say if you will ever get over the feeling of imposter syndrome. I can't tell you how long it might take to land a job (especially in the midst of a global pandemic). But there are a few things I can tell you.

It will be worth it. It can be so difficult to even begin to think that you may try to change your career. What will family/friends say? What if it doesn't work? What if you aren't able to learn the material? If you are reading this, and you have already decided to take that leap - you are headed in the right direction.

Set an expectation for yourself to stay ahead at all costs. This is a short period of time in the grand scheme of things. If you can commit to staying ahead, you will never get behind. I know that sounds simple, but a lot of people will let themselves get slightly behind. And that is when they begin to flounder, and eventually drown in information that they don't understand.

Approach everything with a learning mentality. The goal should be comprehension. I have always tried to be the first one in class to get assignments done. And my first day, I was so lucky to have been paired with someone who was the complete opposite. He told me he had no interest in being the first one done, he just wanted to understand the material. And from that day on, I adopted that mindset.

I wrote this thinking about the things that I would have wanted to know and read about while I was going through my bootcamp experience. I would love to help as many people as possible. I'm probably not the most qualified person. But I have been there, and I vividly remember the doubts. If anyone has any suggestions on what else they may want to hear from the experience, I am all ears.

Keep going, and if I can help in anyway, please reach out @T__MILL

Taylor

Software Engineer @ Divvy. Providing a safe place for all my fellow "imposters".

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