Pre-Bootcamp and Preparation
Hi, I’m Katie! I am a music teacher turned software engineer. I currently work full time as a fullstack software engineer, a job I landed just two weeks after graduating the coding bootcamp called Rithm School.
Unbeknownst to me, everything I’ve done in my personal and professional life has prepared me to be an engineer. As a musician, I gravitate towards patterns and discipline when learning a new skill. As I teacher, I was accustomed to writing out a plan, communicating my lesson objectives, leading a group of people, and, above all, knowing how to ask good questions. A few years ago I joined several orchestras to nourish my passion for music outside my day job as a music teacher. Everyone I met in these groups was a software engineer, which planted the idea in my head to consider whether software engineering was a viable career move for me.
It was through this study group that I first heard of Rithm School. I was telling one of my study buddies that I had my heart set on Hack Reactor, and they said, “hold up, have you heard ofr Rithm School?” They had just attended one of Rithm School’s free evening classes and suggested I do the same because they had excellent teachers. I am so happy I had that conversation with her, as it led me down the right path.
Enrolling in Rithm School was the best choice for helping me meet my learning goals. I was enrolled in Rithm school from November 2018 to March 2019, and I landed my fullstack software engineering job two weeks after graduating. I chose Rithm School out of all the bootcamps out there due to its small cohort size, organized curriculum, and the opportunity to work on a real life company’s code base.
Small cohort size was a huge part of my choosing Rithm school. I had toured Hack Reactor (since acquired by Galvanize) and was immediately put off by the 80+ students per lecture. With such a large class sizes, it was difficult for most students to get answers to their questions. I am not a shy person, but I know the way I learn new material best is to ask lots of good questions.
My cohort at Rithm School had twelve students, including myself. I felt comfortable raising my hand to ask clarifying questions. My instructors Matt and Micheal never shot me down and always took the time to answer. My quality of learning would have suffered if I hadn’t had the intimate learning environment Rithm provides. I knew from a teaching standpoint what a huge impact individualized instruction has on learning, and I wanted to give myself the biggest advantage possible.
I also took note of their organized curriculum. We learned a lot over the course of the sixteen weeks, but it was so well-organized and thought out that there wasn’t a moment wasted. As a former teacher, I appreciated the organization and thought they put into their curriculum. I had access to a Google Doc that detailed hour by hour what material and exercises we would be completing in the coming weeks, as well as the lecture notes the night before, so I could read it then, take notes on it in the morning, hear it in lecture, and practice it in the lab. This focused structure and organization allowed me to thrive and learn quickly.
Company projects were perhaps the biggest deciding factor in choosing Rithm school. I knew that, coming from a nontraditional background, I was going to need something tangible to add to my resume. I know other bootcamps have you build things for a portfolio, but that pales in comparison to Rithm’s offering to be able to work on a real-life company code base. For three weeks I was able to work with six of my classmates to contribute in a meaningful way to a company codebase. The experience of having morning standup (checking in with the team), learning a Git workflow, writing tests, and adjusting to a large codebase were all factors that gave me a huge leg up in the job hunt. Rithm School from beginning to end gave me the skills I needed to survive and thrive as a software engineer.
Be the Recruiter You Want to See in the World
It was important for me to frame bootcamp not as a guarantee of a job but as acquiring marketable skills to add to my already existing skill set. Just as a college degree does not guarantee a job in a given field, a job is not the participation trophy for surviving a bootcamp.
With that in mind, I began preparing for my job hunt two months prior to graduation. Starting in January 2019, I started to reach out to Rithm alumni, bootcamp alumni, and software engineers for informational interviews. I felt it was important to learn how to explain my technical experience over the phone, practice describing my bootcamp and company project skills, and most importantly, ask for advice. I was astounded at the generosity of the community. I had a great conversation with a front end engineer, and I later circled back and asked him to critique my personal website, not expecting anything. I was thrilled to see an email from them a few days later that was a lengthy and detailed list of constructive criticism for me to learn from.
I made sure to complete my portfolio, resume, and personal website three weeks before the end of bootcamp. I arrived early every day to bootcamp to get these items completed. I figured that there was going to be no momentum at the beginning of my job applications, and I wanted to get that out of the way early while I was still in school. Between February 16th and February 28th, I sent out 114 cold applications; all 114 were either rejected or ignored. I once read in an article that sending an email along with a cold application would be helpful, but a boring email sent with ten of my next cold applications yielded the same results. I changed up my tactic, stopped applying altogether, and just sent emails to engineers and managers on a team. I sent 41 of these emails, and although 32 were rejected or ignored, 9 lead to interviews for jobs I didn’t even apply for. This eventually led to a job offer, which I accepted and began work in April. My proactive job strategy allowed me to transition from a career in teaching to a software engineering role in less than a year.
I am always happy to speak to others from non-traditional backgrounds who are looking to break into software engineering. It is a scary leap to make, but please know that there is someone on the other side reaching back to let you in.