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What I Built: From Musical Theater to Software Engineering at IBM

Like many people around the world, Kyle Jurassic found work drying up during the pandemic. As a musical theater actor in New York City, gigs were not easy to find.

But, it turns out that was just the impetus he needed to make the career change to software engineering with Codesmith. Now, just a couple of years later, he’s working as a Cloud Engineer with the Client Engineering team at IBM – and loves his new career. 

“Without Codesmith, I couldn’t have got the job that I have now,” he says. “I was just looking for a survival job that wasn’t working in the food industry, and my little brother had got into coding. I guess I fell into it through him. He inspired me and here we are!”

Channeling his existing passion for problem solving, Kyle started experimenting with basic algorithms and working through some coding content online – taking his first steps into the software engineering world. 

“I was totally out of work, so that really spurred me on,” he remembers. “I discovered that software engineering is basically construction using words. I love puzzles, Sudoku, Wordle, systematic things like that. In fact, I’m mad I didn’t think of it. I could have built that in a day now!”

Choosing a coding school – and why Codesmith is different

Disappointed by what was being offered by other coding schools, Kyle dug into The Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR) data – a body which reviews and verifies coding schools – and was impressed by Codesmith’s outcomes.

“I went to check out the Codesmith website and I was like ‘wow, they’re giving away so much stuff for free!’” he recalls. “So I did all the CSX JavaScript tutorials, went to loads of workshops on JavaScript for beginners, and really maxed that out for a couple of months.”

Having worked through Codesmith’s free JavaScript resources, Kyle was truly hooked. With his new-found coding knowledge, he applied to the Full-Time Software Engineering Immersive program.

“What I love about Codesmith is the pedagogy and the attitude that they will do everything in their power to make sure that you succeed,” he explains. “They give you so much extra support on the bits you’re struggling on.”

Codesmith’s teaching style really resonated with Kyle, as it focused on truly instilling the knowledge, rather than simply getting residents to pass an exam, or focusing on short-term test results.

“This is how education should be!” he says. “And I hope that the state education system pays attention. I failed so many things on the first try at Codesmith, but you then receive one-on-one tutoring to help you overcome those challenges and really learn the content.”

‘What I built’: creating solutions to common developer problems

Like many Codesmith graduates, Kyle found the immersive challenging and difficult, but also hugely valuable and rewarding. He shared a sentiment that many learners have of feeling like they aren’t absorbing the material – or so he thought. Actually, he was learning tons, just so quickly he didn’t realize.

“If you aren’t struggling, you probably aren’t learning – and Codesmith does a really good job of walking that line,” Kyle explains. “Sometimes I would think I hadn’t learned anything, then my wife would ask me a question about it, and I knew the answer – so I guess stuff was going in after all!”

The Full-Time Immersive program is fast-paced, full-on, and, at times, overwhelming. But this unrelenting tempo allows Codesmith to successfully shape its residents into mid and senior level engineers in just 13 weeks.

By the half-way point in the program, Kyle prepared for the senior portion and 4 projects he’d be tasked with building – putting his newly-acquired software engineering expertise to the test in a short timeframe.

“We built something called vno – a tool to make Vue compatible with Deno,” Kyle says about his team’s Open Source Product. “Deno couldn’t make sense of certain file extensions – so we built a parser that went through any Vue components like this, and created JavaScript files that Deno could then interpret.”

Kyle and his team had never worked with these technologies prior to Codesmith. Following the lectures, though, he had confidence in his ability to pick up new knowledge quickly and completely enough to deploy in a build. The team dove in and, despite running into some roadblocks along the way, ended up developing something special. 

“We ended up making a product that the Deno community got excited about,” says Kyle proudly. “We had external pull requests just days after we’d built it – people were using it and getting value out of it, and suggesting ways to improve it. It was a buzz that I’d never experienced before.”

Talking about the vno project was a key factor for Kyle in securing his job at IBM. Being a difficult product to build – and using technologies that his interviewers themselves weren’t familiar with – it provided Kyle with a unique experience and skill set to focus on in the interview.

“I think my interviewers were very interested to hear about vno,” Kyle explains. “It gave me a subject that I understood which they didn’t, and that felt like a huge selling point in the interview. That gave me a credibility that I previously didn’t have, outside of theater anyway!”

Upskilling in technical and non-technical departments

During his Codesmith journey, through both the lectures and build projects, Kyle picked up invaluable programming experience, learning several different languages and technologies, as well as best practice approaches to crucial responsibilities like technical documentation. 

“I really got into front end development and frameworks – geeking out over Vue, Svelte, and React,” Kyle remembers. “My day-to-day revolves around containerization now, which I didn’t know prior to Codesmith. I also learned how to read and understand docs for technology that I’d never touched, so I’ve developed a passion for good documentation myself.”

Alongside this technical expertise, Kyle also acquired the ‘softer’ skills required to be a successful software engineer. 

“Codesmith is really big on making sure you’re an empathetic engineer,” Kyle explains. “They do that starting with the free workshops they offer online – teaching you how to work well in teams so that everyone enjoys the experience too, and how to make sure you’re not steamrolling your co-workers.”

Working in the Client Engineering team at IBM, Kyle channels this ‘empathetic engineer’ mentality – trying to understand and unlock the biggest pain points for his clients. He holds collaborative ideas workshops and builds bespoke products to tackle these problems, working with multiple stakeholders throughout the process.

“That mindset is really valuable in a work setting, but also in a design setting,” Kyle says. “In my job, I’m designing a product for a customer, so I need to make sure we are approaching it from that point of view – thinking how people interact with it and if that’s a good experience.”

Codesmith career support and securing a dream role at IBM

These skills served Kyle well in the job search, helping him land a job as a Cloud Engineer at IBM shortly after graduating from Codesmith.

“Without Codesmith, I wouldn’t have been able to get the job that I have now,” Kyle says. “The fellows’ support was totally invaluable – I wouldn’t have succeeded without them. So much so, I stayed to do the fellowship, to give back in a similar way to how they helped me.”

Aside from now possessing the technical and non-technical expertise needed for higher-level developer jobs, Kyle also learned how to find them, apply for roles effectively, and negotiate salaries.

“The job search advice at Codesmith is better than I got for my degree – I had no idea how to look for a job as an actor after graduating,” Kyle says. “Codesmith really helped optimize all of that for me. You get offered weekly check-ins, they tell you how to write compelling cover letters and applications that get looked at. And, you keep all that information for life – I was able to revisit the video my fellow had recorded for me on salary negotiations the other day.”

Friends for life, as well as opportunities of a lifetime

The Codesmith experience is as much about technical education as it is about the supportive community residents build and experience along the way. Kyle made friends for life at Codesmith, staying in touch with his cohort to this day, and reaching out to them if he needs support, advice, or just a good chat.

“I like to make sure everyone is doing well, and I want to know what they’re building,” Kyle says.

The variety of people that Kyle met, from all backgrounds, continues to strike him as a special part of the Codesmith experience – challenging widely-held misconceptions and stereotypes about software engineers and the kind of people who go into coding.

“It was really exciting for me when I first started the immersive,” Kyle says. “One guy was a former Broadway actor and one was a professional flutist – my people! Some of my cohort helped me move, even in the pouring rain. They stood around to help me with boxes!” 

“That just shows the caliber of people that I met there,” he says.

Level up your coding skills and join the Codesmith community through our free JavaScript learning resources, including our public workshops, CSX learning platform, and CSX Slack channel.

We look forward to welcoming you to the Codesmith community!