Bootcamps & Breakups

Taking in Beautiful Bull City

“So, What do you do?”

The question provokes a certain existential anxiety for a waiter dating a med student.

Don’t get it twisted. I’m an 11-year veteran of the service industry and proud of it. It was a “real job”. I’m indebted to the wonderful people I worked alongside whom have mentored and befriended me. I learned that everyone’s tastes are different, how to play well with others, how to shoot the shit and how to shoot it straight, how to gauge the scope of a situation, how to efficiently manage my time under pressure, and understand the true value of cohesive teamwork; The list goes on. It was an honor to embrace the grind.

My problem: it was a stepping stone to the next thing, not a means to an end. I wanted a different path. We had to break up.

Working New Year’s Eve with my Nana’s family, 2015, just before I hit the basement.

I had no clue what that next thing was.

However, I met several people who had dedicated 3 months of their life to coding in a basement a few miles down the road in Durham, NC. They came from different walks— hospitality, graffiti artists, underwear models, musicians, single parents, grandparents, etc. If they enjoyed their experience and loved their spot in the tech industry… could I?

“Get a degree. Just. Get. Something.”

I’ve always felt the pressure to pursue higher education… even if it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue. That “sage” advice led me to take on 90+ credit hours worth of classes between 2009 and 2015, accumulate some serious debts, while hating most of it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew what I wanted.

I wanted a degree of autonomy. I wanted options. I wanted to work hard, but I wanted to believe in the work. I wanted skills more than accreditation. I wanted the creative possibilities to be endless, but I wanted a focus. I wanted to help others. I wanted to continue my education. The Iron Yard provided those opportunities.

Now what is this “Iron Yard” you speak of?

Its an Agile education model focused on immersive software development. After my 3 months, I was a relevant, hirable dev. My path was Front-End Development: HTML, CSS, SASS, JavaScript and Angular.JS. (We touched on more than this but that’s the crux.)

It’s not you, it’s…

for (me=0; me<course.length; me++) {

After nearly 2 years together, a girl broke my heart.

Most who’ve experienced a break-up find an outlet, good or bad. They travel, get tattoos, have one-night stands, drink too much, cut their hair, exercise, get a pet, take up blues dancing; anything to get outside of that shitty, dark, box and find some meaning again. Was I genuinely ready for a career shift and stoked about learning Front-End Software Development, or was I running away from that shitty box? A little column A, a little column B.

So I did what any sane, extremely depressed basket case in a dark place would do four and a half weeks fresh out of a devastating break-up and decided to isolate myself in a basement removed from most of my social support, family, or friends and absorb a language I had no clue about. And you know what… damn. That was one of the best decisions of my life.

Was this a good decision? Next time, ask your stylist for a Pipkin.

Glass case of emotion

Week 1 to week 12, we didn’t waste any time. Day one it was clear to me: No bluffs. This is The Iron Yard. This will be extremely challenging. You will have to apply yourself 110%. You will learn a shit ton.

I spent 5 days a week on campus from 9am to 9pm+ (at the 2-month mark more like 6 nights). I cooked meals on campus. I exercised on campus. I showered on campus. I played guitar on campus. I did yoga on campus. I sunbathed on the lawn a couple feet above campus. I drank too much coffee. I drank all the beers. I drank way too much water to supplement the previous two. I talked to myself constantly. I avoided social media… then freaked out and binged. I wire-framed a-lot (every now and then about how to win her back, haha). I laughed my ass off. I coded my ass off. I had a good cry from time to time. I made invaluable friendships. When I did sleep, the little I got, my dreams were code dreams. I learned so much.

Love Me Tinder, Bumble Me True

The last two weeks you work on a final project with a group of classmates. You each have the opportunity to pitch a final project idea. Five pitches are selected. I presented and… it was personal.

You can watch a practice pitch here.

Post break-up friends are hilarious. Half of them recommend time for self reflection and healing. The other recommend copious amounts of booze whilst swiping right down the dating app rabbit hole until you get carpal tunnel. I wasn't quite ready for the second option. BUT — I did want to meet others. A good ole break up is difficult navigate: minding boundaries, friend circles, and mutual zones. I avoided my climbing gym for the better part of a year to avoid those awkward run-ins.

Who can I climb with now? Like, right now. How could I find someone I’ve never met to go on a hike with me in a couple hours? Why couldn’t there be an instantaneous, activity driven, potential-friendship application for those looking to socialize without… you know.

The wheels spun. I presented. My classmates voted. And SUGAR! Mine was one of the few chosen! I was about to have an anxiety attack.

Meet someone new. Do something new. When and where you choose.

My team was composed of 3 developers: two Angular.JS front-end and 1 Ruby on Rails back-end. Slack, Trello, Stand-ups, wire-framing, sprints, necessary features vs. stretch goals, “Should we attempt Facebook O-auth?”, “What happened? It worked last night!”, and “Dude, did you pull before you merged?”. It was an invaluable shit show — but a completed one at that.


If you’re interested in an un-altered version, it’s a mobile first web application (only responsive on mobile devices or inspected mobile view in chrome) deployed on firebase @

SUGAR… Users can log in, do things, edit things, and log out.

“Sooooooo, you got a job right?”


I needed a break from everything. I didn’t know it until my first interview. For the past 3 months I had blocked out everything except the program. After it was finished the whole world that I had ignored hit me all at once. I was overwhelmed and scatter brained. I took up bartending at my previous job nightly and freelanced during the day for the better part of a year. This was good for me. I knew I had gained a lot from the course. If you satisfy customers in a freelance environment while enjoying it (great gig or not), then you should probably pursue the field further.

Perfect timing

A year after graduation Dana Calder, The Iron Yard Durham’s Campus Director, offered me an interview for a position as an Associate Instructor in the very basement that molded me. It was apparent that this position wasn’t necessarily about the money but mostly about furthering your skills as a developer while educating others. After a bit of consideration on both ends — I got the position!

I started as an AI July 10th, 2017. My first couple of days were more supportive than instructive as the current cohort was well on their way through the program and were already on frameworks I had little experience in again, #dev-life. Though I was an Angular dev taking React questions, I did help a student solve a JSON issue in the first hour. “Did you dash dash save?”. I’d been there before.

Monday, the 17th, our newest cohort (21 students) began front-end fundamentals. By Friday, the 21st, they had a strong walk through Git, GitHub, HTML, CSS, parent/child relationships, mobile-first design and Flexbox. Holy shit! They had no idea. They are developers. I’ve never felt so good about my efforts in a profession.

More on breakups

That same Friday, July 21st, The Iron Yard announced it would cease operations for all 15 campuses on November 3rd, 2017. Damn.

Most of the reactions received were heart felt. Many students remarked on the growth and opportunities that their education had fostered and how their lives had changed for the better as a result. Most staff spoke to the inspiration and drive that their students inspired and to their love for one of the greatest teams they’ve had.

I almost lost my voice each day of my first week on the job. I often stay as late as my students. They are as stressed and as stoked as I was. Teaching and assisting others through their journey as developers is priceless. I can attest that teaching is the best way to learn. Though each one of us has come from different paths, I constantly remind them of their growth and that I once was a part of the grind they currently occupy. I love my job. It’s a privilege to see the last cohort through as an associate instructor and no matter the language, gender, race, age, experience — My TIY Durham staff, students, classmates, and alumni are family.

The Durham campus has been a hub for grass roots tech, facilitated meet-ups, boosted the local economy, supported Bull City’s rich culture, and so much more. Ive taught free classes to students ranging elementary school through folks in their 60’s. Several projects / efforts are devoted to civil duties and diversity in the industry. Im sad, but glass half-full to say the least. This program has changed my life and countless others’.

I began this journey kicked to the curb

Then hospitality and I chose to part ways — but on much better terms. We still get together every now and then.

The Iron Yard and I needed a break after 3 months. We got back together year later… only to learn we have to separate for reasons out of our control. Nothing but love.

Life and love are worth learning from.

Unfortunately, break-ups are a part of the experience.

Thank you, TIY, for the kickstart. Don’t worry, I’ll move on.


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