My Moment of Desperation

It’s been no secret that I’ve been struggling trying to find work.  Recently things started getting bad.  Personal issues, health issues, financial issues, pest issues (don’t ask), just issues.  I wasn’t ready to give up, but I was ready to do what I had to and put coding on the side.  I needed benefits, I needed money, I needed to start being able to support my family again.

So I stopped looking at developer jobs and started looking at where I could start working right away and get benefits.  I thought about going back to a collision shop, but that job would require 60 hours a week.  I thought about ways to possibly get back to Detroit, so that I could go work in a factory again, where I could just go in, do my 8 hours and get out.  Dallas is just too white collar and doesn’t even come close with manufacturing, but it does have an Amazon distribution center.  Turns out that Amazon offers benefits on DAY ONE.

I was about to apply to work at Amazon, not as a developer, but a warehouse worker making $12.00 an hour.  I’d at least have somewhat of an in at Amazon to move into development and most importantly, my family would have benefits, because right now, we’re one of the millions of un-insured Americans.

My plan was to just keep coding whenever I had time and continue working on my projects and side jobs.  Figuring that eventually I would flesh out my projects so much that there was no doubt whatsoever about what I could do.

I needed to try at least one last thing before I took that route though.  I’ve been on LinkedIn for some time slowly making connections.  I’ve heard of the power of LinkedIn and figured if there was ever a time to try, this was it.  So I wrote my final plea (see above image).

It wasn’t easy writing that, and I used every last character of the 1300 that LinkedIn allows on its posts.  I debated, hesitated, and almost didn’t hit that “POST” button, but I did.  Even though I figured it would only get a few dozen views at best, I had nothing to lose.  And there it was, out there for the world to see now, and I felt horrible.  I sat back in my chair, and broke down.  I tried to change my stars and fell flat on my face.  I failed myself, my family, and all those who’ve supported me.  Seeing it in print and announcing it to the world made it all real, and final.

But it wasn’t final, and the post got a little bit more than just a few dozen views.  It was gaining traction.  People from all over the country, complete strangers, were coming out to help me.  I tried to keep up and reply to everyone, but the response was overwhelming, and humbling.

People were sharing my post, asking for my resume, sharing my resume, commenting, liking, messaging me, calling me.  People on LinkedIn were calling out the city of Dallas to get me hired!

One person wrote a personal email to me.  A long, well thought out, and extremely helpful email.  An email that probably took at least an hour to write.  Written by someone I’ve never met, someone who’s successful and whose time is more valuable than I could ever dream of making in an hour.

Another person called me and spoke to me for at least a half an hour.  Spoke to me about ways he could help me, things I could do to get ahead.  This wasn’t a recruiter trying to place me, there was absolutely nothing in it for him at all, yet he offered to help me in several ways.  He even followed up with me several times and ended up getting me a couple leads through his connections.

A developer at a company I applied for contacted me, and later that evening spoke with me for almost an hour about different ways I could possibly work my way in to that company.  Again, a complete stranger, not a recruiter, not even a manager, just a developer on a team in a city 300 miles away from me.

I could keep going on and on.  Like one person commented, ‘People are overall pretty “good” and eager to help’.  Not just complete strangers, but strangers who I’m sure have different views, beliefs, etc., but none of that mattered.  I won’t get all political or anything here, but just when you think people no longer care about anyone but themselves, when everyone is so divided, they come out and surprise you.

And so the week went on.  I was getting phone interviews, screenings, taking assessments, coding challenges, meeting people, going to interviews, and was looking to have a very busy week this week.

But there was one person who contacted me and spoke with me on the phone late last week.  A person whose company was looking for developers.  A person who looked beyond degrees, beyond experience, and looked at what type of person someone is and what they’re capable of.

On Sunday, August 27th, I received an official offer from that person.  An offer for a position that just felt like it was meant to be, and on Monday, August 28th, I officially started working.

I’m not sure how he found my post.  I don’t think he was even within my 3rd degree of connections.  Someone shared or liked my post, that someone’s connection saw it, did the same, their connection saw it, maybe commented, another of their connections saw it, possibly shared it, and on and on for who knows how many connections, until it ended up on an electronic screen in front of a man in Florida who just changed my life.

I need to also talk about all the military veterans out there.  For a long time I didn’t consider myself a veteran.  I didn’t retire from the military, I’m not a protected veteran, I didn’t see combat, I didn’t even leave American soil, but I did serve honorably.  That was enough for those I consider the true veterans, as they came out in droves to look out for me.  2 of the stories above were veterans.  And the company I now work for is also a Veteran Owned Business.

So how much traction did that post get?  I took a snapshot of the numbers right after I received my offer.  After 5 days it got 45,660 views (and just passed 60,000 as I write this), which to me is basically viral.  61 people reshared the post.  I went from only 79 views of my LinkedIn profile in the past 90 days to 1,337 with a 9600% increase from the week before.  My connections grew from around 380 to finally surpassing the 500 mark.

To put that in perspective, this blog that you’re reading right now has only been viewed 6,142 times, ever! In just 5 days that one post got 39,518 more views than my entire blog has received since it went live exactly 19 MONTHS ago!

An interesting view into who was looking at my post

Finally I just want to express my deep gratitude to everyone on LinkedIn.  My life just took a drastic turn for the better because of ALL of you.  To everyone that took time out of your day to help me, everyone that set me up with interviews, everyone that looked at my resume, everyone that messaged me, everyone that shared, liked, or commented on my post. THANK YOU!!!!!  I hope to never have to seek help like this again.  And will do whatever I can to repay all the kindness shown to me and hope that maybe I can be the one offering my help to someone next time.

Am I Bitter About My Coding Bootcamp Experience?

And more specifically, Coding Dojo?

A reader messaged me last night stating how it seems my time at Coding Dojo wasn’t too ideal since I have yet to land a permanent, full-time DEV job.  And that I don’t seem bitter about it or expressed any regrets.  His main question … Why not?

That question hit me in a weird way, and made me stop and do some introspection.  It wasn’t something I could answer in a quick reply to an email, it deserved a deeper explanation, and I have a feeling others might possibly be wondering the same thing, so here I am.

The timing of it couldn’t be more perfect, since today is my birthday.  And on this day I turn the big 4-0.  Should I be bitter?  Maybe. Probably? Let’s take a quick snapshot.  Behind this computer screen, in front of my covered up camera, sits a 40 year old unemployed father and husband.  Let me tell you, writing that last bit out and seeing it hurts, and not just for myself, but for those who depend on me, and that’s what cuts deepest.  Even so, I’m not bitter towards Coding Dojo.  Besides, things could always be worse. #notDead!

But why not? That’s the real question.  Let’s talk about Coding Dojo first.  Yes, they advertise things like 94% job placement rate and $76k+ starting salary, but what do those numbers even mean? Where do they come from?  I never for one second put any stock in those numbers.  Just like I don’t believe all those weight loss pills that show a person going from Chris Farley to The Rock in 12 weeks. I mean $76k AVERAGE! I realize most of their locations are on the west coast where cost of living is insane, so that probably is a legit number in the land where you can make a 6 figure salary, and still barely be able to afford a small apartment with 5 roommates.  But Dallas? Not a chance, not even close.  Majority entry level positions I see around this area start around $55-60k.  Not to say $76k isn’t possible, I know at least 2 people who graduated Coding Dojo and started out right at that number here in Dallas (one of whom I actually helped teach!).

I never cared about those numbers.  Don’t forget, I’m 40! I’ve had a lot of experience with programs touting all sorts of numbers, I mean hey, who hasn’t at least tried one … or two … of those too good to be true get rich quick schemes or some magic pill!

What I did care about was what Coding Dojo offered, not the numbers, but the actual product they sell…education.  Because one of the reasons I got into this field is because you can make it based on what you can do.  I didn’t expect Coding Dojo to make the projects for me that would land me that dream job, but I did expect Coding Dojo to help teach me the skills I need to build those projects myself.  And in this regard they met or exceeded all expectations.

They really do have, in my humble opinion, one of the best curriculums for new coders out there.  So I can definitively answer one part of the original question right now.  I positively, absolutely, have ZERO regrets about going to Coding Dojo.  There’s no way I could have learned what I did in the amount of time I did had I not gone. I truly believe I’m at least 1 years worth of experience further along right now than I would have been without that education.

Now, do I have things I could be bitter about? Absolutely.  I mean the career services were pretty much nonexistent when I graduated over a year ago.  Although technically, I did actually fall into their job placement rate, since 2 and a half months after graduating I was hired on at Coding Dojo as an Apprentice Bootcamp Leader (ABL).  And yes, that was a full-time with benefits position, although it fell FAR short of that $76k!

If there were any bitterness, this would be it.  I thought I was doing great, I was supposed to move up the chain and become a full instructor, and I was getting awesome feedback from the students.  But then Seattle happened, and the people at the top made a bunch of cuts, letting me finish out what was originally a 6 month deal anyway in March.  Although I didn’t go down quietly!  Thanks to my last cohort who all fought for me and even sent personal messages to the CEO/Founder trying to convince him to keep me on.

I haven’t admitted this before, but yeah, I do feel slightly burnt by that one.  But not bitter.

So why not?  Let’s finally answer that one.  Because this is MY life.  I make my own decisions and I’m where I am today because of the choices I’ve made.  I can’t control everything that happens to me, but I can control what I do, and how I respond to those things.  I could make all sorts of excuses, or blame others, but in the end, I’m responsible for myself.  My successes are my own, as well as my failures.  Coding Dojo never promised me anything, nor did they ever say it was going to be easy.

Even in regards to when I was let go as an ABL.  Yes, the students fought for me, yes I was getting great feedback, yes I was told there was a place for me to move up.  But in the end, I was essentially laid off because I failed myself.  I didn’t make myself invaluable enough to keep me off the chopping blocks.

It’s something I’ve always done in every other job I’ve worked.   I never worried about layoffs, because I excelled at what I did to the point that letting me go would never be an option.  It’s why every place I’ve worked, they’ve fought for me not to leave.  It’s why some still contact me about going back.  And unfortunately, I didn’t do enough to get to that point with Coding Dojo, and that’s on me.

That wasn’t technically a dev job though, but still, it gave me way more experience than I had when I graduated.  It’s been 5 months since then.  Still no full-time job.  Still not bitter.  I don’t have the right to be bitter, I didn’t exactly pave an easy road for myself.

When I decided to get into coding, and more specifically, attend Coding Dojo, I knew I had a tough road ahead.  I’m older, I don’t have a college degree, I have responsibilities, I had no experience, and I knew there was a stigma about coding bootcamps.

We can have the whole college degree debate all day long, but the fact is, it’s my fault I don’t have one.  And it’s definitely hurt me.  Its been coming up more often and whether its right or not, has instantly taken me out of the running on several positions.  You see, I did actually attend Central Michigan University, and I was lucky.  I had a father that worked hard his entire life and made sure I would be taken care of, and that I never had to worry about how to cover tuition.  But I was stupid.  I took my situation for granted and did more partying than studying.

I tried to fix it, but my GPA was so low after the first semester that even though I finally started to apply myself the second, it wasn’t enough to bring up my GPA high enough to avoid academic suspension. My fault. I did however take things more seriously, after which I made it onto the Dean’s List at my local community college, reapplied to CMU and was accepted back in …. and then didn’t go back.  Instead I ended up joining the Air Force.

That was probably one of the best things I ever did, but even while there I made one very crucial stupid mistake, I opted out of the GI Bill.  Why? Because I was young and dumb and thought I was going to take over the world.  I had all sorts of ideas for what I was going to do after the military and they all ended up with me making so much money I wouldn’t need to go back to school.

I handicapped myself.  Added another obstacle for myself to face, as if I didn’t have enough already.  During my search this year, I’ve blanked out during a tech interview, blew a coding challenge, got overconfident, but most importantly, I haven’t put in as much time as I need to.  Job searching is a full-time job in itself.  Add in that I also need to keep studying, keep fresh, work on projects, build my portfolio up, and it’s more like having 2 full-time jobs.

That’s all much easier to do when you’re single, and I’m not.  I still won’t use that as an excuse though.  I’ve known too many people with less time than me make it happen.  Looking back I can see all sorts of ways I wasted time, and I’m not talking about time I spent with my family, because what’s the point of all of this if you can’t spend time with those who matter most.

To sum it all up, No, I’m not bitter nor do I have any regrets.  I’m the one responsible for being an unemployed 40 year old, not Coding Dojo.  I’m the reason I don’t have a degree, not Coding Dojo.  And one other thing I haven’t mentioned, I LOVE CODING!  I didn’t get into this because of some  salary number touted by a coding bootcamp, I didn’t expect this to be a get-rich quick scheme.  I started playing around in code when I was looking for what to do with my life at the age of 38 and fell in love with it. So if there’s any regret at all, it’s that I didn’t start coding back in the 90’s.

 

Hold on, back it up …. I lied, I am bitter about something. I’m bitter about The Last F-in Ninja!  This #$%@! game and the Tandy SL1000 are what made me shun computers for well over a decade!  One day I’ll find these on eBay and get my revenge….

last ninja game
Go ahead, stand there all smug with your crappy little sword…I’ll find you one day and will pwn you!

The Career Fair

career fairWhen you’re a newer developer, you need to take whatever avenue is available in order to break into the industry.  Go to meetups, create a LinkedIn profile, sign up to Dice, Indeed, Glassdoor, etc., get an online presence (i.e. portfolio with projects, github), search companies online, talk to recruiters, submit applications, stay in contact with friends and former class/cohort-mates, and the list goes on and on.

It’s a loooooong hard road full of ups and downs, obstacles, flat tires, break-downs and a lot of work.  And I do mean a LOT of work!  There’s no miracle pill here.  Hell, if there was a pill, it would sound like one of those prescription commercials….

Are you sick of your job? Want to do something you’ll love? Need to make more money? Well then ask your doctor about the new Webdevexis**! Just take one a day and you can see results as soon as 12 weeks.  Just ask Dave.  “Hi, I’m Dave, after being on webdevexis for 3 months I had a stack of offers on the table and tripled my old salary! Now I’m living the life I’ve always imagined!”*. Not sure if Webdevexis is for you?†  Ask your doctor for a free sample.

* Results not typical and average time for effectiveness is approximately 6 months but may take longer depending on the individual. Results not guaranteed.
** Possible side effects may include drowsiness, staring into the abyss, insomnia, nervousness, weight loss, hallucinations (some patients have reported seeing the Matrix), nausea, blurred vision, ulcers, hair loss, high blood pressure, changes in behavior, irritability, schizophrenia, depression, and possibly a nervous breakdown.
† Webdevexis isn’t for everyone. Always consult your family and friends prior to taking Webdevexis.

Back to that list though.  If you were paying attention then you know I left one thing off – career fairs.

Last week I went to my first ever career fair.  Yup, I’m just about to turn 40 and have never been to one.  Of course I never needed to go to one, I’ve never had problems finding work before, no matter the economic climate. So through Dice, I learned of the Technology, Security Clearance & Cyber Security Career Fair that was going on August 2nd in Plano, Texas.  On the list of companies attending were Lockheed Martin, Raytheon – IIS, L3 Mission Integration, Southwest Airlines, GM Financial, and Options Clearing Corporation (OCC).

I couldn’t pass this one up.  It was focused on technology, which was nice since I know a lot of career fairs tend to have a very wide variety of what they’re looking for.  Plus these were companies I would want to work for, especially Lockheed Martin since when I was in the Air Force, I worked on the F-117 – a Lockheed Martin Skunkworks project.  Unfortunately the security clearance I had has LONG since expired, but I know I’m still ‘clearable’.

I knew going in I would be a huge underdog.  I feel that companies like these are out recruiting at the best universities looking for the best of the best, and here I am without a degree, although I did attend one of the top universities in the country for a short time.  Well, top meaning it was often ranked as one of the top party schools!  That probably didn’t help much in trying to get a degree.  Instead of finishing up though I decided to go into the military, which would be my one big positive going into this career fair.

I’m not really sure what I expected going in.  Thinking career fairs are mostly for college students though I thought I was going to be one of the older people there amongst a sea of young 20 year olds.  Boy was I wrong.  The crowd of people spanned all ages, and fairly evenly too.

Even though I didn’t know what to expect, it wasn’t anything at all like what I expected.  I know, that doesn’t make much sense, but of all the scenarios I imagined, what I walked into wasn’t like any of them.

The fair started at 11:00 am and I got there at 11:30.  The crowd of people was insane, with lines of people stretching from wall to wall.  I walked into a large rectangular room and it was completely filled up with people.  You couldn’t even tell which lines were for what.  You had to ask the people standing in line which company they THOUGHT they were in line for.  I emphasize ‘thought’ because there actually were people who had no idea what they were in line for.  Some people planned on seeing all the companies anyway so they just got into whichever line they walked up to.

drawing
My rendition of the setup and lines – somewhat to scale!

I went through quite a range of emotions during this time.  You couldn’t help but feeling like cattle, and I was just one person out of hundreds, thousands?, trying to stand out and get the attention of the recruiters to land a job.  To be honest, the entire thing felt dehumanizing.

How do you stand out? Here I was, fresh haircut, nice new business casual clothes, and I pretty much looked like everyone else there.  I am 6’2 though so I did at least stand taller than most! I know you normally shouldn’t be looking for work dressed all grungy, but in this crowd I think that might actually be a positive thing.  Thinking back those are the people I remember most.  If I was a recruiter and they had the skills to back them up, I would have a hard time forgetting about them, and personally, I don’t think someone should be ruled out of a job just because of how they dress anyway.

Speaking of the recruiters, I have no idea how they can do what they do.  In the span of 4 hours they had to talk to hundreds if not thousands of people and relive the ‘elevator pitch’ over and over and over again.  Me? I spoke to 6 (not including the few people I spoke to whom I was next to in line).  That’s a tough thought to get out of your head.  How am I going to make a big enough impression in a matter of a couple minutes that this recruiter will somehow remember me out of everyone they’ve spoken to?

Let’s do a breakdown of how it went.  The first company I went to was Lockheed Martin.  The person I spoke to was super nice and friendly.  Unfortunately both her and the other Lockheed recruiter were in the aeronautics division and didn’t have anything to do with software developers.  She made some notes on my resume though and said she would pass it on the the development team and would email me. That was about 3 minutes.

Next I went to L3, which for some reason had the shortest lines.  This was a complete failure.  There were 3 recruiters there and none of them dealt with developers either.  The recruiter I spoke to pretty much brushed me off and told me that they get a lot of hires from online applications so I should go online and find a suitable role and apply.  That was maybe 1 minute.

At this point I had been there for probably an hour and was considering calling it a day.  Hope was fading fast and the lines were still crazy.  I had nothing to lose though and you never know what might happen unless you try, so I stayed.

I decided to hit up Raytheon next, as that’s another company I’m familiar with and would love to work at.  They had the LONGEST line though.  So long that it spanned all the way across the room AND BACK! (see drawing above)  To pass the time there was a lot of eavesdropping and people watching.  When I was close to the recruiter tables I would try and listen to other people’s pitches.  I paid attention to how long a person might be talking to a recruiter.  I tried to play a guessing game at how well people did.  Most of these companies had some small giveaways – pens, cups, stress balls, etc., but no where near enough to give to everyone.  So I looked for who had a water bottle, a cup, thinking they did well.  And I did notice that when someone was talking to a recruiter for longer than usual, they almost always were given something, so I took that as a sign.

After what seemed like 2 hours I finally spoke to the Raytheon recruiter.  I had a rough start, but it actually went pretty good.  She was asking me questions and seemed interested.  The degree issue came up but I think I overcame that, plus she admitted that the military experience helps out a lot with that.  She didn’t have any roles locally for my skill set but there was a need for Python developers in Colorado.  She told me to follow up with her the following week and she would pass along my resume to that team.  And before I left….she pointed over to the table and told me to take anything I wanted.  So I grabbed a pen and said I would love to have a football rocket stress ball thing for my daughter.  It was a much needed small victory!

Raytheon Rocket

Next up was GM Financial.  For those who know me, you may be asking why?  I’m a die-hard Mopar guy.  I only drive Dodges and I live by the motto “Mopar or No Car”.  Growing up, GM and Ford were my sworn enemies, but hey, work is work and my family doesn’t give a crap about my car allegiances.  So I thought I would try and be funny, say something to stand out, even though I knew what I was thinking was stupid, and I shouldn’t have said it, but I did anyway.  “Hi, I’m Chris and I’m imported from Detroit”.  Yeah, I said it, and owned up to it right away.  For those who don’t know, “Imported from Detroit” was Chrysler’s tagline.  I got the weirdest look from her.  She took my resume though and said to look online for appropriate roles since yet again, neither recruiter handled developer positions.

After that debacle came Southwest Airlines.   This went better, but they were a Java shop.  She said they just opened up a position for a front-end UI  person and asked if the HTML, CSS and JavaScript on my resume was related to that.  Then told me the recruiter handling that position wasn’t there that day and I should go online and apply for it.

Finally was OCC.  It was basically a repeat of the others.  They’re expanding to a new location in the Dallas area and are going to be needing a bunch of tech people working with data and cloud computing.  But I would need to go online, find suitable roles and apply.  Although he did say to reference his name and email in the applications.

So that was it.  I walked out at 2:30, which meant it took me 3 full hours just to speak to 6 people for a total time of about 12 minutes.  With most of them telling me to just apply online.

This was my first, and in all likelihood, my last career fair.  I can’t see myself going to one of those again.  I still have to follow up with Raytheon, and I’m not forgetting about Lockheed Martin either.  In the meantime my job search continues…..

Some final tips for anyone planning on going to a career fair:

  • Make sure you have a tight resume.  The recruiters look at stacks of these and peruse through it really quick in front of you so you’ll want to make sure the high points stand out. And bring enough copies too.
  • Practice your elevator pitch!  This one can’t be stressed enough.  Be ready to talk.  The recruiters rarely started the conversation and if you didn’t have your pitch ready there would be some awkward silence as they wait for you to speak.  With all the people they’re seeing you have to sell them on you, not the other way around, so don’t expect them to guide you through the conversation.
  • Wear comfortable shoes!
  • If you’re near the recruiter tables, pay attention and listen in to what’s being said.  You could get some valuable intel that could help you with your own pitch.  This also includes paying attention to the recruiters body language and anything else that might clue you in to what impresses them, what doesn’t, and what they’re looking for.
  • Go ahead and talk to other people around you.  So what if they might be your competition, you never know who you might be talking to, or even who else is around listening.  You could gain a connection or at worst, pass the time if you’re in a long line.  By the way, I’ll admit I’m not very good at this part.
  • Stay positive!  This is tough if things aren’t going well and you’re just standing around for long periods of time, but when you walk up to that recruiter the last thing you want to do is come across as depressing or boring.

 

Day 64 – Steadily moving along through Ruby on Rails

The title pretty much sums everything up so see you on Monday!

 

 

Ah, ok fine, I’ll add a little more than that, but not much, it wasn’t that eventful of a day really.  I came in a bit late and completely missed the algorithm this morning, but for a good reason.  My daughter’s daycare was having a “Donuts with Dad” event this morning for father’s day so I took her in this morning to do that.  It was really nice to actually see her during the week for once.  Plus they had gifts for the dads so I walked out with a brand new grilling spatula!

When I got in to the Dojo everyone was going over a quiz handout with some basic questions dealing with Ruby.  I was pretty proud of myself, I walked in not knowing what was going on and instantly saw an error with the answer to the first question that was written on the board, without even knowing what the question was! Go me! Haha.

After that there was no lecture for today, we were told to just work on the platform and that’s what we all did.  For me I just kept chuggin along through the controllers section.  I’m still lagging behind but I’m getting there.  Next on the plate once I get through controllers is getting deeper into TDD (Test Driven Development).

In other exciting news I went to Chick-Fil-A for lunch today and got a free  sandwich!  So maybe that’s not that exciting, but hey, anytime I can walk away from a lunch with the receipt showing $0.00 is exciting to me!

There’s some news on the job front too.  First in some not so good news, the ‘dream job’ I’ve talked about has taken down the Web Developer position from the career section of their site.  There’s still a bunch of other positions open but that was the one I would be most qualified for.  Hopefully it’ll pop back up but even if it doesn’t I still have a plan to show them they would be nuts to not want me on their team.

In other job related news, I received my first contact from a recruiter today!  It came by email and he had apparently found this blog!  I recently started updating my linkedIn profile too so we’ll see if that starts garnering more attention.  I still have a lot of work to do on that but I’ve at least added some skills now that I have them.

And that’s all for today.  I don’t have another Coding Ninja profile ready yet but I’ve got a couple people already lined up so hopefully there’ll be at least 1 each day next week.  Instead I can continue our virtual tour of the Dallas Dojo and today we have the kitchen!  I know, it’s a doozy huh, I’ll just let you soak that in until my next post.

Coding Dojo Kitchen