Software Engineering: My Whirlwind Journey to Discover a Career I Never Knew I Loved

After college, my parents told me: “Find a job doing what you love.” I was stumped. How in the world is a straight-A bookworm with no work experience supposed to know what they loved to work on? I figured I’d try some things out and discover my dream job along the way. I had no idea how long it would take, or that the software engineering program at Codesmith would be the one to get me there. Who knew it would take me 10 years to discover what I really wanted? And who knew that I found a career where they wouldn't hold the long journey against me? For all those who have been looking for a great career for a long time, or those who've ever been lost and didn't know what they wanted, you’re not alone. And today, I'd like to share my story.

Lindsay

THE SEARCH FOR SOMETHING MISSING

I graduated from Vanderbilt University with a BA as a language major with a dream to work at a company where I could learn a lot, work in a team where I could produce projects that you couldn't even imagine, and improve the world a little bit along the way. Finding jobs wasn’t a problem, but finding the right job was another story.

For my first job, I taught English in China to 4th and 5th graders. I loved helping the kids and implementing data-supported teaching methodologies. But I burned out quickly, and I realized that I wanted different, more complex challenges. I missed creating new things. I wasn’t ready to settle down and teach for the rest of my life. I needed something more.

The next step was LA. I was young and passionate about joining a company where I could work collaboratively on big projects that could really influence people. Why not try a job to help create content for movies and TV? I jumped into LA's entertainment industry as a talent agent assistant. But the atmosphere was the complete opposite of  team-oriented. I was creating the same, simple marketing decks with simple, easy-to-use technology that I was pretty sure my boss should have been able to figure out on her own. It had such little opportunity for growth, challenge, and teamwork that I needed to move on—I needed something more.

My last and final job was working in Human Resources for a wonderful Latino radio and TV media company. The team I worked with was friendly and collaborative—finally! I could learn so much about how a company takes care of employees, and I could even work on challenging, exciting projects, like transitioning the HR team from a manual hiring process to a digital one. I loved training and supporting hiring managers on our latest technology, and I loved planning new features for the digital hiring system. I loved it more than anything else, actually. However, my day to day job required me to spend most of my time organizing and filing. Once I learned company policy, there was not a lot of opportunity to learn new things. That’s not what I wanted to do. As time went by, I realized that I liked my work, but it wasn’t enough. For the third time, I realized I needed something more.

A TURNING POINT: COVID AND DISCOVERING CODESMITH

After 6 years in HR, right before COVID began, I met a new friend. He was a senior frontend engineer who listened to my story and said that everything I was looking for was what he did every day. “No way,” I said, “I’m not good at math. Don’t you need math to be good at programming?” He replied, “Not at all. You just need to love learning and you need to love solving problems. And I think you do.” 

Then COVID hit. The anxiety that swept over the world was palpable. We all became trapped in our work-from-home bubbles, unable to see friends or family. I needed to move. I needed to grow. I needed to do something different.  So I took my friend’s advice and started teaching myself Javascript. 

I started learning with simple online activities from A Smarter Way To Learn Javascript by Mark Myers, and then tried to tackle the coding challenges my engineer friend would share with me. I even tried my hand at the remarkably dense but amazing book Eloquent Javascript by Marijn Haverbeke. I liked Javascript so much I would do a coding challenge or activity nearly every night after work. 

My engineer friend noticed how my interest was growing. Lo and behold, he recommended that I check out a software engineering program that could take me to the next level.

My first introduction to Codesmith began. 

THE CHALLENGING ROAD TO CODESMITH

Immersive lecture screengrab

 

There are many programming bootcamps out there, but a lot of them have really questionable reviews. What drew me to Codesmith first and foremost was the recommendation of my senior engineering friend, who worked for a company with at least four Codesmith grads. He mentioned that they were good team members and had legitimately good coding skills. 

I spoke with three different Codesmith grads who had gotten wonderful jobs with great salaries right after graduation. They were also easy to connect with, and I loved the fact that they all felt like people I could work with and relate to. 

I’ve spoken a lot about how much I love learning — and boy does Codesmith deliver! Codesmith offers free lectures every week. Michael O’Halloran, my future lead instructor in the LA Software Engineering Immersive, taught many of these free courses in addition to teaching current Codesmith classes. His JavaScript the Hard Parts classes were phenomenal. He was both knowledgeable and funny, and he made me laugh so hard I nearly cried. I thought, too, that the classes were incredibly professional, and almost as good as classes at my alma mater, Vanderbilt University — and probably more fun and interactive, to be honest!

I was sold. Between the excellent classes, amazing outcomes, and the kindest, most positive alumni, I was sold.  

I buckled down, joined all the free classes I could, worked four hours a night on coding challenges, and went through a whopping four interviews before I was accepted. It was the most stressful thing I’d done in a long time, but it was the most fulfilling thing I’d done for half a decade. 

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A JUNIOR RESIDENT

Immersive program cohort community

Who would’ve thought that you could attend a completely remote software engineering program  and find yourself wishing you had a little alone-time to yourself?

The average day for the first six weeks of the program (which Codesmith calls the “junior portion”) involves working from 9am–8pm. You have an hour for lunch and dinner, and Tuesdays and Thursdays you have a 2-hour lunch. 

COVID made Codesmith go fully remote, and although I was skeptical about how much I could learn if I weren’t in person, boy, was I wrong! Codesmith set up a really amazing community despite the long distance. During the Immersive, there’s a group dinner every Monday, where residents are allowed to give compliments and shout-outs to their classmates. It’s a really feel-good event. After the shout-outs, we break into small chat groups to hang out while we finish our meals. 

On Thursdays, Codesmith hosts optional after-class games, which let us wind down from a long day of work to enjoy each other’s company.The get-togethers weren’t as fun as you’d get in-person, but the remote work was actually a huge benefit in some aspects. As soon as I had a lunch break, I could immediately walk to my bed and collapse for a power nap — what a plus!

In terms of courses, we were introduced to a new unit every two days. The units let us practice pair programming, where you work with another person to learn the new material. You’d get a new partner each week, so you can practice working with a lot of different people at once. Can you learn everything about a unit in two days? No, but Codesmith plans for that, as most units build off of previous units. 

Even if you don’t understand the whole picture about a concept when it’s introduced for the first time, you can expect to see it again in the next unit. This way, you keep practicing the topics as you go. By the end, you have a lot of chances to work with all the topics you learned throughout the course. And if that didn’t work, you have an assessment every Monday to test that you understood each week’s core concepts. If you don’t have a solid enough baseline, Codesmith ensures you get extra one-on-one help with Codesmith Fellows (the equivalent of college TAs) to catch up on what you don’t know. 

THE END OF THE JUNIOR PORTION

Finally, after all those courses I talked about, the last few weeks of the junior portion were my favorite — projects! After learning a solid amount of core concepts, we got to work on 2–3 day group projects. The projects not only build out your career portfolio, but they also gave you the most important part of learning — as much hands-on practice as possible! 

The final weeks went by incredibly fast, but felt like the most important of the junior portion. All in all, the sheer amount of learning I did in the junior portion boggles my mind, but I loved every bit of it. I couldn’t wait to see what the second half of the program had in store. 

If someone asked me how I felt at the end of the junior portion, I would say this: it was a crazy, informative, mind-boggling, whirlwind of learning, and I honestly wouldn’t have had it any other way.

 

Blog written by Lindsay B, LA Immersive Cohort 45. 

Read about another experience with preparing for the Immersive and tackling the junior portion in this blog post by Chelsea, NY Software Engineering Immersive grad. 

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