In this especially candid episode of CK Spotlight, Kahaan chats with Austin Giberti about his experiences with learning to code and trying to break into tech while supporting a family and facing significant financial challenges.
Austin lays out the path that led up to the present, including his military service, a stint in a four-year computer science degree program, his near-completion of the full stack coding bootcamp at Thinkful, and his endeavors in teaching himself to code. He also goes into detail about the financial challenges that can often accompany pursuing a coding bootcamp program.
While Austin has yet to break into the tech career he wants so badly, he has managed to stay positive and finds motivation and solace in his young family and their future. He provides some sage words to anyone facing hard times when trying to get an education or make a career change, and his optimism in the face of real struggles will certainly be an inspiration to anyone who has come up against similar roadblocks.
So, listen in and read along as Austin Giberti walks Kahaan through his harrowing story, full of ups and downs, but ultimately one of promise and hope for the future.
KAHAAN PATEL (Interviewer): Today we have Austin joining us for our CK spotlight interview. We wanted to start off by taking a brief overview of what the CK spotlight is. CK spotlight is meant to highlight peers in the CK community who face extraordinary circumstances and have persevered in their desire to learn how to code and break into career tech.
Austin is one such member, and we’d like to bring his story to you, and we believe you’ll be able to learn a lot from his story and learn lessons that you can use to break into tech.
Austin, can you describe in your own words what your background is and why you wanted to break into tech and where you’re at so far in your journey?
AUSTIN GIBERTI: I’ve always had an interest in broad spectrum technology. I was big into video games growing up, which brought me into being big into computers. I originally opted out of going into college and joined the Army because I did not know what I wanted to do with my life. I made a four-year commitment, and those four years passed by pretty quickly, and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I originally committed to civil engineering in college as I was exiting the Army, but that fell through because the program was being disbanded from my college due to lack of faculty.
At that point, it kind of struck me to go back into my roots of technology, which is right around the time I found Artur [Meyster, CTO and co-founder of Career Karma] on Instagram. I don’t even know how I stumbled across him, but he basically hit me up, and it was kind of a coincidence that I was starting to go back.
At this point, I had already declared my major for computer science. I was going to go the school route, and I met him. He talked me into going to a coding bootcamp, but at first I was kind of against it because I have my GI Bill from the Army, and I was going to go to school regardless.
But then it struck me that there’s not really a job opportunity as a technician in the software development field–it’s more so you either know it or you don’t. There’s junior, but still as a junior, you’re expected to know the material.
As a husband and father, I wanted to break into tech faster than what it would take with a four-year degree. That’s when I decided to take on the CK community and to attend a bootcamp to accelerate it, and then also have my degree in the background. So, I decided to pause getting my degree and joined the Thinkful full stack flex program
KAHAAN: You’ve mentioned a lot of really interesting things that I wanted to touch on, but first off, thank you so much for your service.
You mentioned debating between the choice of doing either a four-year program or doing the bootcamp route first. And what stood out to me is that you chose the latter because, instead of committing to a four-year program, the bootcamp is a little bit shorter. Can you talk about that process?
AUSTIN: In order to learn the material in a school’s curriculum, you’re obviously going to have to take four years to get that bachelors degree in computer science. A lot of schools will offer internships to allow you to get experience as you go, but in my circumstance, being a father and having to support my family–my wife doesn’t work–I couldn’t rely on going to school without working, nonetheless going to school and doing an internship that doesn’t really pay that well. As we all know, internships aren’t exactly the best source of income to support a family.
When I found out that Thinkful had a full stack flex program, which is a curriculum without any set class times that I have to participate in, and I can move at my own pace. I thought that was an awesome opportunity for me to be able to learn the material that I needed in order to get a job in a six-month time period versus waiting four years and working a dead-end job 12 hours a day.
KAHAAN: I think a lot of us can relate to what you just said. I myself went through a four-year degree and I had a problem work after college and finding meaningful work that paid well. So yeah, I can relate to that. I can understand that.
You also spoke about having to balance going through a coding bootcamp and how to teach yourself code while supporting a family. What was your experience with that? You mentioned that Thinkful has a flex program–did that mean you could go at your own pace, only a few hours a day? Did you have to move to a new city? Did you have to pay tuition upfront? Can you talk about managing Thinkful and some of that?
AUSTIN: A lot of the programs–I’ll speak for Thinkful, in particular–offer a full-time program, which is obviously kind of like a day job because you’re going full-time, and then you’re studying all day long. A lot of bootcamps will offer part-time, and part time is good because you don’t have to make that full commitment each day. The thing that got me with part-time boot camp is that it’s like Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6pm to 9pm, and with the line of work that I was working at the time of me doing this, I didn’t know if I would be available in those days. I didn’t want to make the commitment that I would have to back out of.
That’s when I saw the flex program. Flex is self-paced in the way that you move as fast as you’re going to move. You don’t have any set time to attend class and basically, in this particular time, income sharing wasn’t that big. Also, a lot of bootcamps don’t offer income sharing for their part-time or flex programs. I had to take out a loan through Skills Fund. I got a veteran scholarship and they applied that scholarship to my Skills Fund loan.
The curriculum is self-paced, and I had to pay for six months at a time. You’re basically paying for the graders to grade your work and criticize your work, as well as mentorship. Two times a week, you meet with a mentor. You input the time that you’re available for, and it’s really, really flexible. It’s not like you have a set class time.
KAHAAN: So you can juggle all of that with a full-time job as well?
AUSTIN: Yes. It was very hard.
KAHAAN: Did you have to relocate? How many hours per week was it? Can you also touch on what your background was prior to coming in, terms of how comfortable you were with software engineering, if at all?
AUSTIN: Like I stated earlier, I had already started my CS degree, so I had a little bit of background.
KAHAAN: Was it in Java? Which language?
I was working a job in construction during winter, so my hours were cut back. It made it very easy for me; I wasn’t working very many hours, so I had a lot of time that I could devote to my self-paced program.
Moving forward, I actually got laid off in February. The silver lining to that was I was unemployed, I was currently searching for employment to support my family, but I had time to do my course.
I was continuing to do that, trying to find money here and there to support my family. Times were getting rough. There was a time where I didn’t know if I was going to be able to afford the next bill or not. Luckily for me, it was at the time period where tax returns come in, so I was able to support myself until I found my new job. My new job happened to be in Alabama, which is where my wife’s family is from. My brother-in law helped me out with a job, and so that was uplifting in terms of being able to support my family and get that job.
In the meantime, I had to move down to Alabama and I was living with my mother-in-law in her house while my family was still up in Tennessee finishing off school. My son was in kindergarten. Between moving to Alabama and having to deal with selling a house and also getting a loan to buy a new house, and my new job demanded 60-70 work weeks from me…I was starting to fall further and further behind in my program.
I was motivated, but I would wake up at 4:00 am, get to work at 4:30 am I wouldn’t get home until about 5:00 pm. When I got home, I was having to deal with all these inspections on the houses and just life in general, so I started falling behind. It got to a point to where recently, I ran out of time on that loan. It was kind of disappointing and discomforting, as you can imagine. I think it would be that way for anybody. As much as I wanted to add to that loan to continue the course, I don’t think it’s the right particular time for me to do that.
Now I’m continuing to do my studies on my own without a bootcamp, but I did not get that loan for nothing. I definitely learned a lot from Thinkful and that experience. They set a good foundation for me to continue on my own, but that’s where I stand now.
For the most part, I did have time to do self-paced on my own. I got into a situation where I was selling a house, buying a house, moving five and a half hours away, and I was also working between 60-70 hour work weeks. And that’s on top of managing my family.
Do you have any advice for how to keep your chin up when shit hits the fan?
AUSTIN: Yeah, I would definitely say that you have to keep a positive outlook, and I would say that on anything in life, not just coding. There’s going to be struggles, and I like to call them seasons. You go through seasons. Right now, I’m going through a bad season in our life, but the season’s going to change sooner or later. That’s what motivates me.
When I go home at night and I see my six-year-old and my one-year-old, I want them to have a good life. I don’t want them to have to miss out on time because with a 60-70 hour work week is not enough time to spend on my curriculum, nonetheless enough time for me to spend with my family when I’m off work.
Advice? Find something that motivates you. For me, it’s my family. For somebody else, it could be getting a higher income. It could be anything, but find something that motivates you and stay positive, because things aren’t going to be positive all the time. There’s going to be negatives that come in; it’s not easy learning programming.
These bootcamps help out, and there’s a lot of self-teaching materials out there–YouTube, Udemy, Google, etc. Those three things alone are all you need to start off. You’ve just gotta stay positive and stay motivated. As long as you stay positive and you have that motivation behind you, you can basically accomplish anything
KAHAAN: That’s solid advice. You’ve tried to do things on your own, do you feel like coming from Thinkful versus trying to teach yourself on Udemy was much of a difference? Overall, would you recommend one course of self-learning versus bootcamp over the other?
AUSTIN: That’s a good question and I know that varies depending on the person because I have many friends that all network with each other, and they’re all self-taught. I have the entire CK family with the bootcamp route. I would say that there are definitely perks to going to bootcamp, but it depends on your situation. If I would’ve known the situation I got in, I would’ve been perfectly fine with self-teaching myself. I didn’t know that everything would be fine, and if you’re able to afford a bootcamp and you’re able to go, there are definitely perks that outweigh self-teaching.
Within that bootcamp, you’re going to have industry professionals who are going to be grading your work and giving you advice. I met with a mentor two times a week who are professionals in the field that have a side job to mentor Thinkful students. I had that mentor to lean on.
I had a mentor to lean on my technicals, but also just advice when transitioning into that field of work because they know what’s going on in the industry right now. Having that community behind you at Thinkful and having those professionals grade your work, and it being outlined, made it a lot easier on me. I feel like I’m being successful at self-teaching myself, but that’s only because I went through a majority of the course and I know what to learn now.
KAHAAN: That helped me a lot when I was trying to learn because a lot of coding is really knowing what questions to ask, or even how to debug, or what to Google for and I think that’s a skill I got better at when I had mentors at the coding bootcamp that I went to.
KAHAAN: One of my friends went through the Army as well, he taught himself. He’s working at WalMart right now. I recently closed a job offer with Tesla. I wouldn’t have had that if I didn’t have access to bootcamp.
Austin, you’ve spent a lot of time with us and you’ve answered a lot of my questions.
Do you have any general advice for people looking to break in?
AUSTIN: The foundation that the guys have set with Career Karma. One thing I’ve learned in this past year of learning is that the biggest thing for you to do get into the professional world is to network. They tell you to go to local meetups, and CK is really just an online meetup that you have. It might seem like you’re not really networking with anyone right now, but during the #21DayCKChallenge, there are two people you have to talk to everyday. Think about it: in six months to a year, they’re going to be professionals in the industry, and you know them because you were networking with them through the community.
Also, they’ve done a great job in preparing people for what lies ahead. It’s amazing how much information is given about not only bootcamps, but blog posts on the Career Karma website giving tidbits that aren’t necessarily even pertaining to bootcamps.
The advice I would say is keep networking, keep talking to those people. Don’t look at it as “Oh man, I’ve got to talk to somebody else today.” Look at it as an opportunity to meet someone new that’s doing the same thing that you’re doing, and stay active in the community because that’s ultimately what’s going to help you in the long run.
KAHAAN: That’s solid advice. So much of learning just comes from meeting people. A lot of my TAs and cohorts ended up working at Google, so that was incredibly helpful for me as well. That’s solid feedback.
Austin, I don’t have any more questions for you. Thank you so much for being on CK Spotlight. Any last words you have for us?
AUSTIN: Just stay motivated and keep positive.