From Teacher to Developer
Chris, a former high school history teacher, discovered his passion for software development while teaching students online. Convinced he could create a better user interface than the technology his school was using, he decided to study computer science at his alma mater. While he enjoyed this experience, he soon realized that he wanted a program that focused on skills development rather than theory. Thinkful’s Full Stack Flex Program checked all of his boxes. We recently chatted with Chris about how he succeeded in the program (while keeping his full-time job) and how he secured a Software Engineering role at The PGA of America in South Florida.
What was your life like before Thinkful?
After graduating high school, I always had the notion that I would be a teacher. And that's exactly what I did. I received a bachelor's and master's degree in history. I decided to join the workforce and I taught at the high school level, also having a few positions teaching at the college level. I worked with a lot of students in distance curricula, like online programs. That experience is part of what started my interest in software development. From a pragmatic perspective, I would always think to myself, "I wonder how this UI could be better or more efficient."
I love to teach just as much as I love to learn, so I started taking computer science classes at the same college I graduated from. I soon realized that it was a very theoretical course. It was not modern or well adapted to the common technologies that are in demand.
Why did you choose to attend Thinkful?
I took a few different online courses before I started hearing about coding bootcamps. Many were in-person schools lasting about three months – which was not a possibility for me. Thinkful was the perfect fit because it was online and allowed me to keep my job while I was enrolled in the program. And what really made me choose Thinkful was the in demand technologies taught.
I started the Full Stack Flex program in October of 2017 and I finished in the beginning of May 2017. Including my breaks from the course, I graduated in about 8 months while living in West Palm Beach/South Florida. Towards the end of the program when I started applying to jobs, I moved down to Boca Raton which is further south.
Describe your learning experience at Thinkful. Was it what you expected?
Thinkful's curriculum is very modern and updated. If there's anything new out in the industry, it stays current with what's going on, which is fantastic. Having mentors who are developers in the field makes a huge difference because they see the ongoing tech trends. To compare that experience to a computer science program, it's quite different because the professors usually have Phds, and they may not have done a lot of coding in the industry. At a traditional university, you learn more generic concepts, which are valuable in the field, but you learn at a slower pace. We took two or three classes a week in college. At Thinkful, you're working every day.
You can constantly evolve as a developer because Thinkful's curriculum is so tailored towards what's happening in the industry. Whereas a college curriculum is standardized and by the book – I literally learned from a book when taking computer science courses in college. The Thinkful course was a great way to learn because it really reinforced the concepts. You also feel like you're receiving on the job training because it's similar to a real work environment.
Describe your mentor relationship. How did they help you succeed throughout the course?
I had a fantastic mentor, hands down. My mentor Sebastian was integral to me learning all of that information! I typically tend to try to figure out problems myself before reaching out for help. But the way the program is structured, meeting with my mentor two times a week is so advantageous. I presented my thoughts and questions, and my mentor struck a great balance between explaining concepts versus allowing me the independence to work out problems on my own. His consideration for different learning styles is something I picked up on because I'm a teacher myself. There’s so much value in realizing not everyone learns exactly the same way.
My mentor took notice of which concepts really resonated with me, and what things I could use further detailed help and encouragement. I valued his input and it was definitely a positive experience.
How did you manage your time while working full-time during the Full Stack Flex program?
There's quite a balance that needs to be struck for time management. I personally found it easiest to come straight home from work and complete my mentor session. I would get things done earlier in the evening and then try to get a good night's sleep. I woke up early every day and had several hours of studying and coding throughout the week and weekend.
A good tip – have consistency. If you find a schedule that works for you, be consistent with it. Overall, I found the experience really enjoyable.
How did you land your first job after Thinkful?
When I first started the job search, it was a little worrisome but once September hit, I started getting loads of people reaching out to me on Linkedin – I had plenty of opportunities for interviews.
I had been doing most of my networking with the Meetup group Palm Beach Tech and I had participated in one of their hackathons while enrolled at Thinkful. The company that hired me, The PGA, ended up sending me an email asking if I was interested in taking on a software engineering role. Their interview process was arduous. They essentially wanted someone with full stack skills, especially tailored towards React. I completed two code challenges, one was a pair programming challenge with a current developer at the company, and a few group interviews. I didn't want to get my hopes up, but at the end of the interview process, I got walked over to the human resources team to get my new hire paperwork started.
Tell us about your first job after Thinkful.
I work at The PGA (The Professional Golfers’ Association) of America. I'm a Software Engineer working on what they call the core technologies team. We focus on some of the web applications and different projects for championships and memberships. I was honestly surprised by a lot of the latest and greatest technologies we're using – React, GraphQL, Apollo.
How are you liking your new Software Engineering role?
I’m honestly loving it so far! I'm sure we all go through imposter syndrome because it can be a little nerve wracking coming from a completely unrelated field. You join this field and wonder "Am I going to have what it takes?"
I really appreciated the interview process because they wanted someone who would really fit in. And the most important aspect I was looking for in a company was the people I'd be working with. (Even though I like to work with certain technologies, some aspects of my work life are more appealing.) I'm working with great people with close ties to the local tech community in South Florida. It's a great collaborative environment and I'm really enjoying it.
Have you been able to experience the tech scene in South Florida? Which Meetups do you attend?
The community that I'm involved with in South Florida is called Palm Beach Tech and they cover all of Palm Beach County, which includes Boca Raton. I've been to meetups with Boca JS and Palm Beach JS, so I'm familiar with a lot of the people in the community. It's really cool that this seems to be a pretty tight knit tech community.
Do you have any advice for prospective Thinkful students?
It's never too early to start building out your social media presence, like getting a Linkedin profile. I was someone who thought I didn't have anything to share and that I should wait until the end of the course. Being on Linkedin was more helpful than I expected!
Also, get involved with the tech community. You would honestly be surprised that professionals in tech love newcomers to the field. In my local community, colleagues have been very encouraging. I've even presented at one of the meetups, so it's never too early to get out there and start networking.
Learn more about Thinkul’s Miami community here.