Career Investment: Using My Employee Benefits to Learn to Code

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Position: Vice President of Engineering at Trackr, a 1200+ person software development company in Texas

Thinkful Coursework: Front-End Web Development, Ruby on Rails, iOS Development

Application of Thinkful Skills: Build Ruby on Rails side project, Understand iOS and manage expansion of his company’s iOS app

Prior Coding Experience: Decade of experience as PHP Developer

Why did your boss sponsor you to join Thinkful?

My company sees it as ongoing education. We have a sizeable budget for training. Training is a way for me to expand my skill set and broaden what I’m capable of doing for my company.

Why was our program a good fit you as a Vice President of Engineering?

The problem with most online learning is that it’s all based in a vacuum. You build what they’re teaching you to build on video. When you run into a problem, you’re alone to figure it out. Thinkful was very intriguing to me because it set out to solve that.

Describe a time where learning a skill yourself outweighed outsourcing the project to a contractor or consultant.

We have one insanely complex iPhone application: it’s a real time tracking system that gives a real time data feed to a JSON feed that reads it from the iPhone for workers that work out in the oil field. We brought in someone great to check for best practices and monitor the first stage of the project. Now we need a significant update because the project has grown. At this point, I need to learn iOS and take over the project completely so we can add new features. I’m taking the beta iOS course so I can begin that process.

How does your company evaluate the cost-benefit of investing in different training options?

Obviously we give deep thought to the ROI of any educational program. My boss doesn’t blink twice when the price of something has a direct correlation with what we’re trying to do. If $1,500 of investment in training helps us build an app that makes us $1MM, it’s definitely worth it.

You’ve used many different online learning programs. How are all the programs different?

I have so many resources when it comes to training. The mentor program is what differentiates it for me. Whether it’s a person or a team, the mentor helps bring a different perspective. When you’re working in a team, you can all get into the same bug and be looking at it and someone else brings a fresh pair of eyes and it’s fixed.

Any instance where that happened to you?

Yes, definitely! I had an issue with the latest unit in Ruby but I couldn’t find the problem. I had a = where I wasn’t supposed to after a % sign. John, my mentor, saw it within a few minutes and it was fixed. Instead of wasting a huge amount of time, he was able to get me right past it and move on.

What other programs are you and your team using to build your skills?

We’re looking to build an enterprise application in the Zend framework. We work with many Fortune500 companies and this is widely accepted by those companies. They have a training program that we’re going to use. It talks about the specific high level things we need for this particular project.

What advice would you give to someone deciding whether learning to code is right for their careers or their companies?

Talk to other employees at your company about what skills are needed to become more efficient and more agile in developing products. It’s likely if you’re at a tech company, there will be some inherent value in knowing how to code as background. But also, it’ll also have tangible, practical applications.

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