My 1st Year Post Coding Bootcamp

It’s now been an entire year since I graduated from Coding Dojo, which means it’s time for the year in review!  If you’ve followed along, or are just finding my blog now, and you’re someone wondering about what really happens after going to a coding bootcamp, then this post is for you!

Not only do you get my story, but also one of my cohort-mates.  Hopefully you’re already following her, and if not, you should be.  For those who kept up, you should already be familiar with Tiffany.  She was in my cohort and one of the co-founders of First Hack Dallas.  Besides her blog, she also creates some awesome YouTube videos and actually beat me to the punch in getting a year-in-review post up.  Go check it out here.

To say it’s been a rough year is an understatement.  The web development business can be bipolar as hell.  It’s not like anything I’ve ever experienced before in my life.  The highs and lows, ups and down are intense.  One minute you feel invincible like the whole world is in your hands, and the next you question every decision you’ve made in life to get to this point.  So let’s take it month by month.

July 2016 – Graduating on the 1st day of the month, I was pumped up and thought I’d be able to find work by August.  I took a mini-vacation over a long weekend since I was away from my family for so much during the bootcamp.  Otherwise the month was spent working on my resume, portfolio, continuing projects, etc.

August 2016 – Having not found work yet, it was a bit of a struggle without the hardcore structure of the bootcamp.  Plus with a family and a toddler at home it wasn’t always easy finding time to do everything I needed to do.  This was the month I put everything into trying to get into Gearbox Software while working out of Nerdvana Coffee in Frisco.  That never panned out and while I’d still love to work there, I’m over my borderline obsession.

September 2016 – 2 months with no work had me worrying.  I knew there was an open door for me at Coding Dojo so I applied for the Apprentice Bootcamp Leader position.  The pay wasn’t that great to start (well below the industry average), but it was full-time with benefits.  Not to mention the fact that it would allow me to continue my education and gain additional skills as well as experience.  So on September 16, I started working.

October 2016 – This is the month I learned Python.  I was assigned to assist with the Python cohort and literally had to learn it at the same time as helping to teach it.  I even took the belt exam with all the same restrictions as a student and earned my 4th black belt.  It was this situation that really showed me the benefit of having learned 3 stacks during the bootcamp.  Picking up a 4th after all that was a breeze!

November 2016 – My first hackathon!  Not as a participant, but as a co-founder and co-organizer!  After 2 months of planning and hard work, our hackathon was a huge success.  So much so that we still want to do it again.

December 2016 – My longest break from coding happened during this time.  One of the best perks of working at Coding Dojo was having 2 weeks off at the end of the year, and I hit the road and went back home to Detroit for the first time in years.

January 2017 – New year and things were looking good.  My first raise at Coding Dojo kicked in and they were ready to start making me the lead instructor of a cohort, although that didn’t get to happen this month.

February 2017 – I’m cruising along and everything was set in motion for me to get promoted to full-on instructor at Coding Dojo.  I even take on a cohort of my own and lead instruction for the web fundamentals portion of the bootcamp which teaches HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, API’s and AJAX.

March 2017 – The hammer drops.  Things at Coding Dojo as a company got shaky, the founder steps back in as CEO and starts making cuts to turn it around.  Being low-man on the totem pole I knew I was in trouble, and it didn’t take long to confirm my fears.  Exactly 6 months after I started, and since the Apprentice Bootcamp Leader position is a 6 month deal anyway, I had to part ways with Coding Dojo.  But at least I got to go out with a bang thanks to Grim Repo!

April 2017 – Things could have been bad.  Everyone at the Dallas Coding Dojo has been great and doing everything they could to help me find work.  What happened in March was out of their control and they supported me in whatever ways they could.  The career advisor was connecting me with everyone she knew and the captain of the Dallas ship has always made himself available for me.  Nothing was coming to fruition though.  Had it not been for the support of some family members, I would have been homeless, literally.  I had to sell my house and with 2 weeks before closing I had no idea where I was going to be living.

May 2017 – I would have thought finding work would have been easier this time around compared to the previous summer.  But my added experience actually teaching at Coding Dojo didn’t translate into anything in the eyes of the recruiters and hiring managers out there.  They viewed me no different than they did when I had just graduated.  Luckily though, since I left in March, I was able to make some extra money privately tutoring current Coding Dojo students.  So even though I may not of had full-time work, I was officially a freelancer.

June 2017 – Still actively looking for full-time work, I finally get an opportunity to prove myself….and fail.  I’ve been applying, interviewing, going to meetups, etc., but nothing was coming out of it.  This is where the ups and downs get intense.  One interview I had (it might of been in May actually) went so great that it lasted 2 and a half hours and they were starting to sell me on why I should work there, then crickets.  No callbacks, no emails, no replies to my follow-up, nothing, talk about going through a roller coaster.  But then at the very end of June I finally got a break….

So here I am, 4 days past my 1 year anniversary of graduating from Coding Dojo, and I have a promising freelance gig at a local startup.  It was a little over a week ago I was contacted by the CEO on LinkedIn, met late last week, and was brought on to update, maintain, and  work on their site.  So that is what I’m working on right now, well actually I’m writing this blog post right now but you know what I mean.  I’m excited about this and will be doing everything I can to absolutely rock this position.  It’s still early in it so I won’t be giving any details now, but rest assured I’ll keep you all up to date as I continue on through it.

So that’s my year in review.  In case you’re wondering what happened with everyone else from my cohort, well you should already know about Tiffany.  Then there’s our mysterious guest writer who wrote a couple posts on this blog last year.  He had a developer job straight out of the bootcamp but I don’t know what’s been going on since his last post.  One person became an Apprentice Bootcamp Leader at Coding Dojo like me, except he started right after graduating instead of waiting like I did.  He’s now a permanent instructor at the Dojo, and a great one too!  Another blogger from my cohort was nodefs.  I’m not exactly sure what he’s been up to but I know he’s continued his studies and I believe has learned C#/.NET and iOS/Swift since then.  Then there’s my DART buddy who has taken on a role as a Rails developer several months ago.  3 others I honestly have no idea what happened.  One went back to Seattle, one I haven’t seen since a meetup last fall, and the last one has decided to ignore all contact from any of us.

Like I said, it’s been one crazy year.  I wish it could have been nothing but positivity and sunshine and rainbows, but that’s not real life.  Just about anything worth something though is going to have a rough start.  What matters is not letting that rough start stop you from going after what you want.  That’s the stuff that makes you who you are and if you can get through it……well, you get the drift, I’m not trying to be Tony Robbins or Zig Ziglar here.

On that note though I leave you with a video that was shared by one of my Coding Dojo instructors and former boss that is worth the time to watch…

 

Here I thought coding bootcamp was hard

While it was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, it was still so much simpler than what I’m doing now, which is trying to find employment.

In the bootcamp, there was really only one objective…learn.  Learn LAMP, learn MEAN, learn Ruby on Rails, learn algorithms, learn googling, learn Ping Pong, learn to learn.  The structure was simple, wake up, go to the gym, go to the Dojo, spend all day coding until the late evening, go home and repeat.  No outside life, no other obligations, and everyone around me knew where my focus had to be.

That’s all gone now.  Everyday is different, different objectives, different projects, different things to learn, different places, different responsibilities.  Ok, so the responsibilities aren’t really different, just back to the way it was before Coding Dojo.

I still need 12-14 hours a day to work on everything, but I have a family.  A daughter I barely saw for 14 weeks and a wife who was basically a single mother for that entire time.  I don’t have that time anymore and have to make up for it in other ways.  That means not going all the way to the Dojo for residency and saving the gas, the parking, and most importantly, the time.  The Dojo being new in Dallas the staffing isn’t there yet to make residency anything more than just being a place to setup and work on your own.  Meaning it wouldn’t be any more beneficial to go in anyway.

Here’s the other thing, the pressure is really on now, and from all angles.  Most of all there’s the financial pressure.  I managed to get that taken care of so that I didn’t have to worry about it while at the bootcamp, but now that well is all dried up.  I’m in a drought right and I need to find water to get it filling back up fast, especially since my family depends on it.

Trying to find employment is hard enough, trying to just be ready to find employment isn’t exactly easy either, especially in this industry.  First there’s the resume, which is now more important to get right than it ever has been in my entire life.  Then there’s getting my LinkedIn profile together.  You want to be a programmer?  Well guess what, you need a portfolio too.  But the portfolio needs projects…deployed projects.  Let’s not forget about networking, which means going to meetups.  Then throughout all of that you still need to keep learning and getting better in your coding skills.

All of that is what I’ve been doing this past couple weeks.  At least as best I can.  I’ve been jumping between tasks trying to put everything together to maximize my chances of gaining employment.  All the while fighting one aspect of myself, I’m a detail-oriented perfectionist.  Sounds like something that would be good on a resume.  Here’s the problem though, developing projects, creating profiles, writing a resume will never come out perfect.  There’s always going to be room for improvement.  Not to mention that some projects are MASSIVE undertakings that will take a LOT more than a couple weeks just to get all the features fully functioning, let alone perfect, which is again, impossible.

Fighting the feeling that what I have isn’t going to be good enough is hard.  Especially without having much experience in the same industry I’m trying to break into.  Especially since these things are the only avenue I have to try and impress potential employers, and more importantly, that one single company that I want to work for more than any other.

I’m finally on the next phase though as of today.  I got my resume together, got a couple projects deployed, setup my portfolio, cleaned up my LinkedIn and officially submitted my application to the company I want to work with.  In case you’re wondering what company that is, I’ll be revealing that within the next week in a very special blog post.

I can’t stop there though, as much as I want to work at that one place, I realize the odds are against me.  I need to get my resume out to other places and apply wherever there are openings.  I don’t have the luxury to be picky and wait too long.

Yup, coding bootcamp doesn’t seem all that hard anymore.

 

P.S.  You can check out my live portfolio here with links to projects and profiles.  It may not be perfect, but it’s a start and I’ll be improving on it whenever I can.  There’s also a copy of my resume on my LinkedIn.

Why Coding Dojo?

Making the decision to attend a coding bootcamp wasn’t easy.  First of all they’re not cheap, usually ranging between 10-20 thousand.  Second, they require a lot of time and dedication, which makes it even harder if you need some sort of income to live off of in the meantime.  Lastly, there is no guarantee of getting hired on somewhere afterward.  If you’re still young and single, this isn’t as much of an issue, but if you’re older and have a family to support, these can be some major obstacles.

Making the decision to attend Coding Dojo on the other hand was much easier…at least for me.  Location is probably the biggest factor for me and they just happen to be opening a new campus here in the Dallas area.  Dallas may not be the first city to come to mind when you think of tech, but it’s building a name up for itself.  I’ve even seen the term “Silicon Prairie” thrown around a couple times.  Dallas is home to companies such as Texas Instruments, Intuit, and NetApp just to name a few, and Mark Cuban seems to be bringing more and more attention here as well, but there just aren’t many bootcamps here yet.  Obviously if you’re in Silicon Valley or Seattle, there are going to be a lot more options making for a tougher decision.  The main choices here that I found are DevMountain, Tech Talent South, Guild of Software Architects, EpicU, and BigD Code.

DevMountain offers a pretty good curriculum which includes HTML, CSS, Javascript, Git, jQuery, AngularJS, Node.JS, React, and Databases (MongoDB, Firebase).  It’s a 13 week bootcamp with a tuition cost of $10,500.  The biggest perk they offer though is free housing which is included in the full-time tuition.  Tech Talent South teaches Ruby on Rails, HTML, CSS, Javascript, jQuery, Git, Databases, APIs and Bootstrap but doesn’t seem to be as immersive.  It’s an 8 week course that meets 4 days a week for 4.5 hours but only has a tuition cost of $6750.  Guild of Software Architects is another new one and offers a 12 week course in either iOS or Android app development with tuition only costing $6000.  EpicU has the best cost…FREE..but is a year long course that I don’t think really belongs in the category of coding bootcamps.  They mainly just teach C#, Javascript and HTML and seem to be geared more towards younger just out of school types.  I couldn’t find much info on Big D Code and it doesn’t even look like they have any classes going on right now.  Whatever area you’re in, if you’re interested in looking up some coding bootcamps, I’d suggest starting at Course Report.  They probably have the most complete list of bootcamps along with reviews.  Plus you can sort by location.

Since location was such a big factor, you might be asking why not an online course?  There are definitely a LOT of these out there and most of the bootcamps do also offer online versions.  First, it’s just SOOOO DIFFICULT to try and do this at home.  There are just so many distractions and you have to be insanely disciplined to make it work.  Add a family into the mix that includes a 1 year old baby and you pretty much need to lock yourself away in a panic room to try and get anything done.  I have lots of respect for anyone that can make that work.  If I were to try it I would have to go to a library or somewhere secluded, turn off my phone and camp out all day.  The other reason is that there’s something about being around a classroom full of other people going through the same thing that helps motivate you and keep you focused.  That’s something you can’t duplicate online.  Plus, from what I’ve learned, you’re working in teams in the real world anyway, so going to a physical bootcamp only helps you prepare that much more for it.

Back to Coding Dojo now.  It’s a 14 week course with the first 2 of it being online at home learning some fundamentals in HTML, CSS and Javascript.  Yeah, that part will be interesting considering what I just said about doing an online course.  Then you go into 3 stacks starting with LAMP, then MEAN and finishing up with Ruby on Rails.  Currently those are the only options in Dallas, they also offer Python and iOS at their other locations.  The tuition is normally $13,495, but in another argument for fate, they have a special lower rate just for their inaugural Dallas class of $9450.  But wait, there’s more!  Register early and they give you a $1200 credit (which I did)!  Oh, but we’re not done yet, they offer some scholarships including one for Military Retraining up to $1500, which I obviously applied for, and won!  All of these costs/credits/scholarships are shown on their website as well if you want to take a look at what other scholarships they offer.  Many of their reviews were great as well, the most common theme I found with the negative ones are that it doesn’t focus enough on any one stack because they’re teaching 3 of them and as soon as you’re starting to figure out one you’re already moving onto the next.  From what I’ve seen Coding Dojo is the only bootcamp that does teach 3 full stacks in one single bootcamp.  For me though, this only helped me with my decision.  I want to have as many job options available to me as possible when I come out of the bootcamp.  Plus, since I really don’t have any experience, this will give me a better opportunity to find what I might be better at or enjoy more.  No better way to find out than to actually do different ones.  Additionally, they offer a residency program after the bootcamp to help you better your skills and work towards landing a good job.  They also seem to offer a lot of support for their alumni.  Which only makes sense, since the more students they help get hired on somewhere benefits them as well by adding to their bragging rights for prospective students.  There is a lot of competition out there for them.

So let’s take a look at the list: location – check, tuition cost – check, curriculum – check, timing (dates of the course) – check, alumni support – check – job assistance – check.  Of course things can change over time, not to mention the fact that this is a new location for them and I’m basing everything on reviews, blogs, etc.  Hopefully everything lives up to my expectations and if you follow my blog you’ll find out along the way.  In my next post I’ll get into some of the challenges I’m expecting as well as the admissions process a little bit more.

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Why Coding?

We’ve got a little catching up to do here first.  The decision process to go to a coding bootcamp began only a couple months ago, but there’s a lot of stuff that leads up to that point.  2015 was not a very good year for me.  Sales in my business were down and with a baby at home there was a bit of a struggle.  That’s actually putting it lightly but there’s no need for me to go into too great of detail on that.  All I know is that I needed to do something to better provide for my family.  I didn’t want to just go back to living paycheck to paycheck either, I wanted something better.  Unfortunately, there just aren’t many great options when you don’t have a college degree.

Now we get to a sore subject for me…the college degree.  I did have a chance to get one when I was younger and even attended Central Michigan University for a year.  I was young though, made some mistakes and never finished.  I have to say though that I have absolutely zero regrets about it anymore, because everything I’ve done has led me up to this point in my life where I have an amazing family!  Problem is, to move up in most companies or get that high salary job, they want you to have a degree.  Oftentimes, it doesn’t even matter what your degree is in, just so long as you have one, even if it is for underwater basket-weaving.  It’s a shame when 2 people are up for a promotion, and the better skilled person gets passed over simply because of a piece of paper.  We’ve all come across this at some point, where we’re dealing with a manager/supervisor who doesn’t seem to have a clue about what they’re doing, and you know there are better people for the job but they can’t get it because they don’t have a degree for whatever reason.  Now if we’re talking about a surgeon, I think I’d be ok with them needing to get a degree..or two!  Don’t get me wrong though, I’m all for a college education and think everyone should get one, but that’s not always going to happen, especially with how high tuition costs have gotten.  I just believe that if you have the skills, the know-how, and can prove that you have the ability to take on a job successfully, it shouldn’t matter if you have a degree in some completely unrelated and random subject.

This is where coding comes in.  I was online searching for something other than the typical sales/service jobs that had great opportunity without requiring a degree.  I’ve always had an interest in programming so I started googling away.  I forgot what I typed in exactly, but a link came up about the Top 5 Myths About Becoming a Developer.  What caught my eye was Myth #3 “I need a college degree…”.  I started digging deeper and what I was finding over and over again online is that if you can demonstrate you have the skills, then you can get that high-paying job, even without a degree.  Finding that completely changed everything for me.

That article just happened to be a blog post on the Coding Dojo Website.  That’s where I first learned about coding bootcamps.  If there was ever proof of fate actually existing, this might be it.  As I was learning about various bootcamps, I really liked what I was seeing with Coding Dojo.  I live in the Dallas area though in Texas and assumed these bootcamps were mostly in Silicon Valley, Seattle, etc.  In my current situation, there was no way I could make it work if I had to leave home, but I decided to click on their locations anyway.  To my surprise, Coding Dojo was opening up a new location right here in the Dallas area with the first class starting in March!  The timing couldn’t be more perfect!  So I had the typical family discussions, we talked about the hardships doing this would cause, but in the end we agreed that this is what’s best for the future of our family.

Here’s some other great reasons for choosing coding.  It’s basically everywhere.  You’re not just confined to one industry like insurance, banking, retail, etc.  They all have a need whether it’s making an e-commerce site, creating a useful app, or writing code to allow machines to talk to each other like they talk about in that GE commercial with the guy who can’t pick up the sledgehammer.  This means there are more opportunities available than with just about any other type of skill that you can have.  Not only that, but if you’re not into working for someone else, you can always freelance, start your own business or even try and create the next Facebook or Twitter!  There are just so many different options here to be had.

Hello World!

Welcome to my blog!  The title may seem a bit cliché, especially since it’s the generic first post title in WordPress, but it is my very first post, and I am a noob so I’m just going to stick with it.  This blog is about me, Chris Ulanowicz, and my journey from complete novice to hopefully successful career in the coding world.

I’m not really a writer, so bear with me as I do my best at this whole blog thing.  It’s obviously starting out pretty plain as I’m just using the default WordPress theme with mostly default settings, but I promise it’ll start to take shape into something much better in the coming months and years.  This just goes to show how much of a novice I am at all of this right now.

Let’s start with a little more info about me.  I’m starting this whole thing a little later in life than normal.  As I write this I’m 38 years old with a family.  I don’t have any computer science background and I don’t even have a college degree.  My work history starts with a newspaper route as a kid, pet store worker as a teen, factory worker, lumber sales, car sales, Kirby vacuum sales, insurance claims adjuster, body shop estimator, to currently being self-employed reselling items on eBay, Amazon and Craigslist.  There is one thing I didn’t mention on that list, and it’s the one thing out of all of them that I’m actually proud of.  I was an aircraft maintainer in the United States Air Force.

Looking at that inspiring resume, what I’m trying to accomplish seems near impossible.  I doubt knowing how to list an item to sell on eBay is going to help me land a developer job.  That’s part of why I’m starting this blog, not only for myself, but to hopefully inspire someone else who might be interested in coding but may not have the background for it.  I’ve found other blogs and stories, but they never quite fit me.  Besides the fact that they were usually much younger, in just about every case they had a college degree.  The degree may not have been in computer science, but to many employers, they just care that you have one.  That’s another subject though that I’ll hit upon later..

So how do I make this impossibility happen?  I don’t have the luxury of time to try and go back to college and start on that path.  The answer to that, hopefully, is a coding bootcamp.  I have therefore enrolled at Coding Dojo and will officially begin the course on March 21, 2016 at their brand new Dallas, Texas location.  I will be updating this blog all throughout the bootcamp, the time preparing for it, and the time afterwards.  I don’t plan on stopping there though!  I want to keep this blog going beyond that.  So join me if you will and follow along as I embark on this coding odyssey!