This is the first part of a series about my job search after graduating from a web development bootcamp. I’m sharing my experiences in the hope that they might be helpful to others making the change into a career in tech.
A Bit About Me
This series will be informed by my previous experiences as a professional, my motivations for pursuing software engineering as a career, and how I approached looking for my first dev job. All of these things are personal. I realize that any given reader of this post may have a vastly different experience in the job search than I did, and I hope the following context can help shed light on which parts of the search were unique to me.
I was an educator whose career was stagnating.
I graduated college with a BA in English and immediately went into education — teaching full-time while pursuing my Masters. After nearly 9 years in the field as a classroom teacher and curriculum designer, I realized that my career was stagnating: I had no opportunities for professional growth beyond managing bigger and more complex teams . . . or pursuing a PhD. I didn’t want to do either of those things.
Instead, I wanted to find a career that satisfied my need to create things, solve complex problems, and learn continuously. I wanted a job that would allow me to advance my career by building and applying my knowledge and skills, but that didn’t require a 5-year PhD program to achieve. A wise friend told me about design thinking your life, so I tried to take that approach to figuring out what I wanted to do next.
I previously wrote a blog post describing my long journey — which really began for me in high school! — to enrolling in a bootcamp in the first place. You can read it here.
A Bit About My Bootcamp
My bootcamp taught me algorithmic problem-solving and data structures, Ruby on Rails, Bootstrap, integrating with 3rd-party APIs, some vanilla JS, and a bit of jQuery. More importantly, it taught me to embrace the logical side of my brain and apply it to complex problems, and it forced me to learn how to resolve inevitable bugs on my own. I came into the program with some knowledge (enough HTML and CSS to build a static website from scratch), and my experience at the Firehose Project (particularly the guidance of my mentor) helped me take my skills to the next level.
I also participated in a remote team agile project, in which I was part of a 3-person team that built (most of) a two-player chess application. It was during this project that I started to get comfortable with Git and Github. This capstone experience and the 1:1 mentorship were two of the main reasons I chose this particular online bootcamp.
The program did not offer any career services beyond an intensive curriculum designed to help its graduates prime their resumes and expectations for the job hunt post-graduation, among other things.
Job Search, Stage 1: Post-Graduation Skill-Building
Quick detour: post-bootcamp burnout is real
I’m not ashamed to admit that I was completely burned out after graduating my bootcamp in September. I badly needed a break from spending all my evenings and weekends hunched over my laptop, so I took a break from coding for about a week to feel more human again.
Fixing bugs for experience
After applying to several roles with no results, I got an interview with an edtech startup that was intrigued by my background as both a programmer and a teacher. (Leveraging my unique background proved to be a really great strategy when applying to a few other companies — more on that in another post). They hired me part-time in an equity-only position to support their platform development and essentially be the junior engineer on the tiny startup team.
I knew that I wanted to be paid for my work eventually, but a part-time role to gain experience seemed like a great way to get started in the field: I’d learn new things, contribute to a cool product, and keep my day job. This was my first time working with a large-scale and complex Rails application; I learned a number of new tools and extended my knowledge of Ruby and Rails in the process of navigating the app’s structure to find and fix bugs.
Eventually, I became burned out again — working at this job 15 hours per week on top of my full-time job was a lot for me, and I simply wasn’t sleeping enough, eating well, or getting enough exercise. I came to the difficult conclusion that I had to step away from that work to focus on those things and really take care of myself for the first time in months.
I realized that I wanted to keep learning, but I couldn’t continue to sustain the pace of my full-time non-tech job with the amount of learning I wanted to do. The solution to this problem turned out to be an offer for a full-time, remote teaching assistant position at my bootcamp. I got to use both my teaching and programming skills to help students resolve bugs and better understand their code. In between grading students’ work and answering their questions, I continued to develop my own skills by diving into #100DaysOfCode, FreeCodeCamp, The Odin Project, and more.
The four months after my bootcamp were a major investment in my skillset. This required making some correspondingly large tradeoffs. The TA role allowed me to pursue learning opportunities I would not have had the time or energy for while working my previous full-time job. Working as a TA also helped me reinforce my knowledge of Ruby and Rails fundamentals. However, taking the role meant taking a pay cut. I also knew I wanted my work to be more challenging and complex than debugging the same errors in the same apps over and over. That’s why I continued applying to jobs while in a pretty good spot professionally.
Here a few general takeaways from the first stage of my post-bootcamp job hunt:
- Taking care of yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, etc. while pursuing a new career is not only okay — it’s necessary. Period.
- How you continue your own personal growth while meeting your basic needs (an income, health insurance, sleep, etc.) may vary, but the point is to find a way to keep learning.
- If you are, like me, starting a new career in tech with significant professional experience in another field, expect to make some tradeoffs early on. Decide what is an acceptable tradeoff for you and what isn’t (for example: can you afford to take a pay cut? Are you okay taking an internship/apprenticeship? Can you afford to accept a contract role without benefits?), and let those things guide how you manage the above two points.
In a little over a week, I’ll be starting my first full-time job as an associate engineer! I’ll continue to share how I got to this place in future installments of this series.