Why I Chose to Go to a Coding Bootcamp

Why Bootcamp? Remember when I said that I didn’t even know that web development was a job that people got paid to do and that I sort of stumbled into it? Well this happened in 2018. Last year, by chance, I ran into someone like me who was attending a coding bootcamp! They told me that after the 17 week program they would receive job offers around 65K. I thought that was crazy! This was in Atlanta and that sort of salary for someone who didn’t have a degree sounded preposterous. But I also figured that if there was even a slight chance that doing anything for 17 weeks would put me in a job making that much money, it might be worth looking into. That’s when I began researching coding, bootcamps and online tutorials. I was pretty sure that financially I wouldn’t be able to afford a bootcamp anytime soon, and to be honest, one of the major reasons many people choose not to go into the industry is because of the investment required up front. I absolutely did not have 17K to invest in some bootcamp and hearing that was almost enough to make me walk away. Instead, I kept talking and learned that he was able to attend for free through a nonprofit organization. I immediately applied. I didn’t hear back from the organization, but I kept emailing and calling, determined to talk to someone in regard to my application status. Finally someone got back to me and I was in! When I arrived on orientation day, In order to qualify, I had to be on time, take a reading, writing, algebra basics test. I've never been much good at anything other than basic math, so I was concerned about that one. Fortunately, I barely made the cut. The next thing we had to do was play a game called Lightbot : coding hour by sprite box and make it past a certain level in a certain amount of time. I didn’t know that this game would be something I needed to pass to be accepted through this organization, I had already played it because the bootcamp student I met had recommended it. My guess is that they use this app to sort of help them to determine whether or not you have an aptitude for coding. It’s a free app you can download on your phone right now. I did really well on the game since I’d played it before. Unfortunately I did not make the cut to get funded for bootcamp. The reason having to do with the criteria set by the funders of the organization. It was disappointing but I didn’t let it deter me. I decided that if I couldn’t go to a bootcamp I’d teach myself how to code. I’d watched a ton of youtube videos of people who taught themselves and got jobs, I figured if they could do it I could as well. As I took advantage of the free tutorials online, learning HTML, CSS and JavaScript, I continued to search for bootcamps that might take the GI Bill, since I’m a veteran, this would allow me to attend for free. At the time there wasn’t a single bootcamp in the stat of Georgia that accepted the GI Bill. The majority of bootcamps are for profit and relatively new. Not all of them deliver on their promises of job placement once you graduate. I knew that I needed to be thorough in my research if I was going to invest the time required to attend one. I spent months looking at different bootcamps, talking to students who had attended them, and reading reviews. By the time I chose the bootcamp I went to I had narrowed my choices down to two. Either of the two would require that I relocate out of state to attend. This was not something that I was looking forward to, I knew it would add to the mounting financial hardship to have to maintain two living situations and not just one since my wife would need to stay and continue working in Georgia. But because of what I learned was taking place in the world of tech right now, I knew that it would be worth the risk. Bootcamps It hasn’t been very long that coding bootcamps are a thing. Meaning before recently having a Computer Science degree to get into the industry was standard. But a few years ago, someone did the math and realized that of the million jobs that would need to be filled by 2024, only an estimated 400K of those jobs would be filled by individuals with a CS degree. This meant that the industry needed a whole new approach to not only get people interested in tech but to get bodies in position for the huge wave of change approaching tech. That wave has a lot to do with companies worth gazillion dollars needed to have their technology stack, the platforms that these companies are built on, restructured and revamped. You’ve probably heard that everything is in the cloud (appleCloud, amazonCloud, etc), well it’s true, and for companies who have procrastinated getting onboard, they are scampering to make the obvious adjustments. That’s where bootcamps come in. The snail-pace of a 4-year degree coupled with the need of on the job training to actually learn the technologies not even being taught in schools because technology is constantly changing, unlike curriculums… has led to this radical approach that involves teaching students exactly what they need to know to do the job required right now. It works! It works so well, in fact, that many CS graduates attend bootcamps to get the experience needed to get a job in the industry. Companies are hiring student right out of bootcamp, sometimes before they even graduate! It happened to me, and everyone in my class of 22 students with the exception of 2.


Being a Woman of Color in Tech

My class started with 25 people. I was 1 of 5 women and 1 of 2 African Americans and the median age was around 23 years old. I was the only black woman in my class. I was was 1 of two black women out of 3 classes totaling around 75 students when I started. I pretty much walked in one day one and nobody looked like me. Fortunately I was prepared for this and you should be as well. Whether you are black, brown, queer or a woman… you will be the minority. Fortunately I had a great instructor who I will never forget. On the first day he said he wouldn’t tolerate any “isms” racism, sexism, agism… any of them. At that moment I knew I was going to be alright. That may not hold true for every bootcamp and or job in tech. I’ve heard a lot of different stories from different women, but I cannot stress enough that despite how others see us, what matters most is how we see ourselves. I developed a mantra that I said to myself everyday while attending bootcamp. It reminded me that I belonged there. That everything up to that point in my life resulted in me being there because it’s where I was supposed to be. There’s this thing in tech, called imposter syndrome. Actually it’s not just in tech, but so prevalent in tech that it’s a topic that was covered in my bootcamp. Because of all the knowledge in the industry and the different levels of experience you will absolutely have times where you feel that you don’t belong where you are. This is completely normal. You should never let yourself forget this. It’s a battle you never win, but as long as you keep going you’ll never lose it either and that’s best case scenario. You are representing not just yourself in tech, but all women of color. It’s a responsibility that not all people have to carry but consider the pioneers that came before us. How they presented themselves and the things they represented and said are still with us. So when I go into these predominately white male spaces I have to remember that I am paving the way for someone like you and other women of color who will follow. There is an ideology in the world that exists that says that women of color are not smart. This stereotype is amplified in these settings. It can be frustrating at times but I believe we are not the cause of this problem and therefore us trying to prove that we are smart is not the solution. We simply are smart. Just like I don’t need to prove that I can read or write. I simply can. And shame on them for being surprised when they learn that I can do both better than them. There really doesn’t need to be much emphasis put on this because we go through the world and experience these things on a daily basis. I only bring this up to point out that it is no different in this space. That being said, we are a hot commodity right now because companies are looking to diversify and the talent pool is extremely small. Any woman of color in tech right now who has experience provided via a 4 year degree or bootcamp hardly has to look for a job. Recruiters call me every single day. Not because I am an anomaly, but because I am one in few. One last thing I want to say on this topic, do your research to know what you deserve to get paid. Yes, this industry pays really well, but you do not want to find yourself in a situation where you are getting paid half of what your coworkers are making all because the amount you were offered was much better than any of your previous jobs. I find that people in development talk more openly about what they make because there isn’t a stigma like there is in most jobs of leaving for a higher paying job. It is very common to only be at a software company for 1-3 years before moving on to a better job offer. It sounds crazy but it’s true. Staying in one job too long doesn’t look good. I love this because I get bored easily, and after a year or two at any job I’m ready to move on to something else.


Industry Perks

This is one of my favorite things to talk about. It allows me to look back on all the jobs I’ve had up until the age of 35 and exclaim, “WTF was I doing with my life!!!” Aside from getting paid more money, having great health benefits and being able to switch up jobs without having to worry about how it will look on your resume, there are a few other perks worth mentioning. Keep in mind, not all jobs are the same, good thing you can move on without cause for concern. I’ll share with you some of the perks of my job since it’s what I know for sure. I work Monday through Friday 8am to 5pm. I am not required to work a minute after 5pm. Ever. Breakfast is provided by the company every morning. Some days it’s a continental spread, other days it’s pancakes, eggs and bacon. We have motorized standing desks. A gym is provided with a locker room and showers. Free coffee, tea and hot chocolate all day everyday. Unlimited breaks at your discretion. Nobody is checking up on you or questioning you ever. This has been the hardest for me to get used to. Work is project based so depending on what’s going on your work flow may vary quite a bit. If you need to run an errand, doctor’s appointment or something comes up, you don’t have to worry about another employee filling in for you. This also applies to vacation and sick leave. Unlimited sick days. Dress appropriately but as casual as you like. Shorts, sandals, t-shirts, etc. Game room. Ping pong, foosball, video games, etc. The people you work with love their job and actually want to be there! Drug testing isn’t required and if the project you’re on requires it there are no consequences for failing a drug test. There is no drug policy. All in all, my job is super chill and I can say without hesitating that it is the best job I’ve ever had. I think many people would agree even if half of the things on this list were taken away.


Who Belongs in Tech

Five years ago, had anyone asked me to describe a computer nerd, I would have quickly said “White male in his early twenties, glasses, flip-flops and shorts, furiously typing away on a computer keyboard surrounded by dark-screened monitors, a liter of coke and half empty bags of Cheetos and Doritos. It turns out that I’m not the only one who feels this way and that is a huge problem. In order for us to see ourselves doing something we must first see someone who looks like us doing it. This doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to do things that someone before us hasn’t done, but it’s much more difficult to do or to actualize when we can’t visualize it. If a student can identify with a teacher who teaches science, that student is more likely to pursue science of some kind the following year. Could this phenomenon explain why there are hardly any women and minorities in tech? Now days nearly everyone seems to be able to agree on this. With all the talk of diversity and equal rights many important people have taken notice of the cultural homogeneity of this industry. There is a very long way to go before the world of tech will reflect true diversity. When I became really interested in tech, the very first thing I did was look for youtube videos to watch of people who had taught themselves to code and were in the industry. I quickly noticed that I wasn’t seeing anyone who looked like me. After becoming really specific with my search query, I began to see a very small change in the diversity or what was returned in my search results. This was very disappointing. I vowed then that I would make content available when I broke into the industry, giving people who look like me hope that if I can do it, they can do it too. One of the questions I get asked most often by women curious about getting into tech is “Do I need to be good at math?” I will answer that by saying that I was barely an average math student in high school. I may have taken two or three math classes over the past decade of which I had to take remedial classes in preparation because I didn’t remember anything it was required for me to know. But the real answer to that question is surprisingly this: You don’t need to know much of anything to be a web developer, you just need to know how to find the answers to what you don’t know. In this industry you’ll never stop learning so if learning is something you’re drawn to you will love web development. If you google the answer to random questions that you don’t know, or you google check other peoples “facts” you will love web development. If you find that learning new things cause you to go down a rabbit hole of information until you are satisfied with your level of knowledge on that topic you will love web development. It really is that simple. The capacity to learn is something that we all have. If you are aware of that capacity and you have a desire to pour knowledge into that bottomless pit, you will instantly fall in love with web development.


Starting Out in Development

What are all these different job titles? Web development is the work involved in developing a website for the internet. Web development can range from developing a simple single static page of plain text to complex web apps, and social network services. A more comprehensive list of tasks to which web development commonly refers, may include web engineering, web design, web content development, e-commerce configuration and web server and network security configuration. Software development is the process of conceiving, specifying, designing, programming, documenting, testing, and bug fixing involved in creating and maintaining applications, frameworks, or other software components. Software development is a process of writing and maintaining the source code, but in a broader sense, it includes all that is involved between the conception of the desired software through to the final manifestation of the software, sometimes in a planned and structured process. Therefore, software development may include research, new development, prototyping, modification, reuse, re-engineering, maintenance, or any other activities that result in software products. Software Engineer is a person who applies the principles of software engineering to the design, development, maintenance, testing, and evaluation of computer software. Prior to the mid-1970s, software practitioners generally called themselves computer scientists, computer programmer or software developers, regardless of their actual jobs. Many people prefer to call themselves software developer and programmer, because most widely agree what these terms mean, while the exact meaning of software engineer is still being debated. Computer programmer, sometimes called more recently a coder (especially in more informal contexts), is a person who creates computer software. The term computer programmer can refer to a specialist in one area of computers, or to a generalist who writes code for many kinds of software. A range of occupations that involve programming also often require a range of other, similar skills, for example: (software) developer, web developer, mobile applications developer, embedded firmware developer, software engineer, computer scientist, game programmer,  game developer and software analyst. The use of the term programmer as applied to these positions is sometimes considered an insulting simplification or even derogatory. I am a software developer because my job is to develop different software applications for different clients. I also develop web applications but software development usually involves web development as well. Generally a person just starting out will start out in web development. This makes sense because the front-end of web development is very visual. You get to see the changes you make to the code instantly. Many coders specialize in front-end development, preferring to hone their skills in HTML, CSS and JavaScript to start. Then progressing into the more popular languages like Angular (by Google) or React (by Facebook). The cool thing about learning to code is that the languages build on each other. In the beginning the first thing that 99% of developers learn is HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language). HTML is the standard for displaying any documents on the web. By the way, everything you see on the web is a document. These documents may look different, but it’s all comprised of the same stuff. To put things more in perspective, HTML is the skeleton of any document. You learn it first because everything else is built on top of it. CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is what is considered the skin because it is visually what you see that makes all websites stunning and unique. I love CSS because it’s where your creativity gets to show. Check out csszengarden to instantly see the effects that css has on the web. Every website demonstrated on this site is made of the same HTML. The HTML remains the same, the only thing that has changed is the external CSS file., or the skin layer over the HTML. Look at how drastically different all these website are from each other. The options are endless! JavaScript is a programming language that can be included on web pages to make them more interactive. You can use it to check or modify the contents of forms, change images, make things happen when buttons are clicked, open new windows and write dynamic page content. You can even use it with CSS to make parts of your web pages appear or disappear or move around on the page. HTML, CSS and JavaScript are the languages many coders start out with, in that order because they build on each other and because you can build fully functioning websites and applications using them. Checkout a website that I built using the above mentioned after only eight weeks in bootcamp.

Designed by Dorian Wallace