Happy New Year! In this final episode of Season 22, Saron speaks with Mark Thompson, Senior Developer Relations Engineer at Google. Mark loves to teach and code. He is an award-winning university instructor and engineer with a passion for creating meaningful learning experiences. Listen as they discuss Mark's interest in code, coding bootcamps and how to manage your career.
[00:00:05] SY: Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron, and today we’re talking about coding bootcamps and coding journeys with Mark Thompson, Senior Developer Relations Engineer at Google.
[00:00:21] MT: They have a budget, they want to get a deal, but you are not there to be their deal. They come back with an offer and I still reject it, and I asked them to come back with a better number. The reason I’m so confident about the offer and the salary stuff is because I know people are making this type of money. And I’m not a person who’s like, “Oh, everybody got to make six figures on your first job.” That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m just saying that people are out here getting paid, so why shouldn’t you get paid?
[00:00:45] SY: Mark talks about his tech journey, his thoughts on coding bootcamps, and how those thoughts have changed over time after this.
[00:01:00] SY: Thank you so much for being here.
[00:01:01] MT: Thank you for having me. I am super pumped up to be here and like genuinely I am a little star-struck to meet you. So let’s go.
[00:01:08] SY: Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say. So let’s dig into where it all started for you. What first got you interested in code?
[00:01:16] MT: So when I was a kid, I loved, loved video games, and I mean like a little kid, right? So in the early days of Nintendo and Sega in the ’80s. And so when I got into the ’90s, I learned what computers were. I was thinking like, “Wow, I would love to make my own video game.” So that is what really sparked my idea to code because I wanted my computer at the time to like ask me questions and let me choose which game to play, but like through automated system like you might see in the movies. And that pursuit is what got me started.
[00:01:43] SY: Very cool. So you were in high school. I remember you had a programming course with a teacher that wouldn’t give up on you. Tell me about that teacher. Tell me about that programming course.
[00:01:54] MT: Oh, listen, this is so amazing. So first off, shout out to Janice Ginzler, if you are still teaching or if you’re retired. You’re probably retired by now. That was a long time ago when I was in high school. But let me tell you the story.
[00:02:04] SY: Yes.
[00:02:04] MT: So when I got to high school, I didn’t start off as strong as I probably should have of maybe getting influenced by like friends and like my older brothers and cousins. And so I wasn’t taking school as seriously as I should have, even though I wanted to code. But for some reason, I just was like, “Yeah, I’m not going to give my best effort. And this teacher just saw in me that I could do better than I was doing. And she’s like, “The way you’re going right now, you’re not going to pass my class or you can come after school and do these extra credit assignments.” And so I did, because I couldn’t go home with like an F or a D. So I said, “Okay, I’m just going to go after school.” And then I would go every single day. And she had this QBasic programming book that had extra exercises. And I went so much, Saron. I went so much that by the end I had done all of the exercises and my grade was over a hundred percent because I had gotten so much extra credit.
[00:03:00] SY: Oh my goodness!
[00:03:01] MT: And she was right to bet on me to like say, “Yeah, Mark, you can do better.” And I did.
[00:03:05] SY: Wow! So tell me how you felt about coding at that point. Did you fall in love with it right away? Was it a slow burn? What was that like for you?
[00:03:16] MT: Oh, I was locked in right in that time. As soon as I figured out how to start doing the things that I wanted to do, I was locked in and it became something that I would do for fun and it just became a big part of my life.
[00:03:26] SY: So you fell in love with it. You went to not just undergrad, but also graduate school for computer science. Why did you choose that route, particularly the graduate school? I think most people kind of stop at undergrad and get a job and then work their way up, but you did the grad school thing. Why did you do that?
[00:03:40] MT: Okay. So you got to know when I went to grad school, and that gives a lot of context. So I started graduate school in 2003. So almost 20 years ago. So there were lots and lots of stories about the market and the .COM crash had already happened. So the job market for engineers, it was kind of shaky at the time. And people were telling us like, “You might not get a job.” And I was like, “Well, one way to protect myself is to go to grad school because at least I’ll have something to do for a few more years. And then at least when I come out of grad school, I’ll have more skills and maybe more job prospects.” So for me, it was more calculated like, “Okay, let me just make sure that I’m the most attractive employee that I could be.”-[00:04:21] SY: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Your career trajectory is very, very fascinating. You’ve done a lot of stuff. You’ve worked your way up at various companies, from implementation specialists to programmer, software engineer, senior software engineer, lead engineer, director of instructional quality, and then your current role as senior developer relations engineer at Google. So we won’t go through each step of the way, but what has been the biggest thing that you’ve learned throughout your career trajectory?
[00:04:47] MT: The biggest thing that I’ve learned throughout my career trajectory is to manage my own career and not wait for people to do it for me.
[00:04:55] SY: I love that. Can you tell me a moment where that really happened for you?
[00:04:59] MT: Absolutely. So one thing about me, I love to talk, I love to communicate. And so I had a job as a program kind of support engineer, even though it was called Programmer Level 1 or 2. But what they had me do was write software patches for these mobile… they weren’t mobile applications in terms of phones, they were mobile as in people took their laptops from home to home collecting interviews. Right? So they were out in the field. So the software ran on the laptop and sometimes the app would crash while they’re trying to collect the data from a respondent. Now here’s the problem with that. If someone’s trying to get data from you, you usually are like, “No, I don’t want to do the interview. No, thank you.” And then if you finally get in, it’s like really high stakes that I got to collect as much data as I can during that time. So what would happen is sometimes we get phone calls like, “Hey, the application’s crashing.” I’m at this respondent’s home. It took me three months to get them to agree to this interview. What can we do? So I would get the logs and then I would write software to patch up whatever that thing was. Now the problem was I was really good at calming down the tech workers who were out in the field, the interviewers, because I just get on the phone and say, “Okay, tell me what’s happening. Okay, I get it. I understand exactly what’s happening to you. I’m so sorry this is happening. If you do this, then I can do this and we can get you what you need. I’m on your side.” And I do all that stuff genuinely because I knew it was important for them. And so they loved me to do that. And what happened was I got pigeonholed in that slot of being the support engineer and I couldn’t get out of that role. So every time a promotion would come up, they say, “But you’re too valuable on the phone.”-[00:06:32] SY: Oh! Interesting. What an annoying thing to be good at.
[00:06:36] MT: Right. Right. So I couldn’t get bigger projects and I couldn’t really like move up and I spent maybe three and a half years in that role.
[00:06:43] SY: Wow!
[00:06:45] MT: And there was a side effect that I had not anticipated because I wasn’t writing full-blown software. My skills atrophied a little bit and I hadn’t kept up with the times, I guess, is the best way to say it. And so when I tried to interview to get out of that job, it was very hard because people were asking me lots of engineering questions as somebody with my level of experience should know, but I didn’t know it.
[00:07:07] SY: But I feel like those empathetic skills, those communication skills, they must have come really in handy for your current role. Right? Developer relations, engineer, that must be a big part of what you do now.
[00:07:17] MT: It has served me incredibly throughout my career having that skillset. And that’s where it goes back to being able to manage your career and know how to make the moves that you need to make given what you’re really great at and the things that you want to be great at and the things that you’re not that strong yet, right? So taking all that in consideration, but being a developer relations engineer, like there’s nothing but empathy because I have to think about… so I work on a product called Angular, it’s a front-end framework, similar to the other front-end frameworks and that this is a way that you can build web apps. So there’s React, there’s Angular, Vue, Svelte. So there’s a whole like host of these things. So I work on Angular. And when I hear feedback from users, for example, I got to have a lot of empathy, if they tell me that something is hard to use and I can’t be like, “What? You just don’t know what you’re doing. Blah, blah, blah!” Right? And I have to be like, “Okay, this is hard for you and it shouldn’t be hard for you.” Or, “Here’s how we can help.” And then taking that feedback back to the engineering teams. Again, I can’t tell them what you made is bad. People don’t like it.
[00:08:14] SY: Yeah.
[00:08:15] MT: I have to think about like, “Yeah, you spent a lot of time working on this. How can I work with you to help meet the needs of the users and still preserve the value of all the great things you’ve done so far?”-[00:08:27] SY: Yep. Love that. So while also working full-time, you picked up a side job working as a bootcamp instructor at Northwestern and Harvard Extension School. How did those side jobs come about? How did that happen?
[00:08:39] MT: Yeah. So this is an interesting story. So we were trying to have a kid and then we needed some extra money for some medical bills that came along with that. So I was working full-time as a lead engineer, but I just had a lot of medical bills come up. And so I just started applying places. And as I was applying places, a bootcamp org reached out and was like, “Hey, would you be open to interviewing for these bootcamps as an instructor?” And at first I was skeptical because I was like, “I don’t think that that’s how this works,” like they usually don’t reach out to you to do something. So I actually almost missed the opportunity because I thought it was a scam.
[00:09:14] SY: Right. If I got that email, I’d be like, “Nah, I don’t think this is real.”
[00:09:17] MT: Right. Right. So I was like, “Mm.” But then I’m so glad that I replied and then replying, I ended up finding out that one thing I loved more than coding was teaching.
[00:09:28] SY: Oh, beautiful. What was it like going from the practitioner during the day to the teacher on the side? How did that compliment what you were doing?
[00:09:37] MT: It actually taught me more than anything, so I learned a lot my very first cohort of teaching at Northwestern, because one of the things that happened is that like… So back in this time, this is around 2016 when I had my first cohort, bootcamps were still pretty new. And then there’s a lot of animosity, which still exists in the industry unfairly or unjustly, but it exists. There’s this animosity between the people who did the traditional path like myself and then bootcamp graduates. Right? So I thought to myself like, “Oh, yeah, I’m going to go in here and I’m going to teach them how to really do it because I’m a real engineer, blah, blah, blah.” Like, “I’m the big dog. You’re going to learned about this code today.” That’s the energy I was thinking I was going to bring. And then I met all of these brilliant people who just hadn’t learned that code was an option. And then I just like stopped thinking that I was the genius in the room and started thinking like, “Okay, how can I serve these people? And how can I help them get where they’re going?” Because I had one student who had been a math teacher and she was so sharp in the program. She was so good that she got hired at Airbnb before we even finished the program.
[00:10:41] SY: Wow! Oh my goodness!
[00:10:43] MT: And I met lots of students like that, lots of people. I had one student who was a paralegal. She was another one that was just like so good and was like a fish to water when it came to being an engineer. So why shouldn’t they get the opportunity to switch careers and use this new format to help kick start their career? So then I became a complete advocate for bootcamps. And I had to argue with all my engineering buddies who all went the traditional route like I had, and let them know like, “Hey, you know, a bootcamp is a viable route for lots of people. It’s not for everybody, but it’s a viable route for lots and lots of people.”-[00:11:23] SY: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:11:40] SY: So you mentioned kind of this animosity between the traditional computer science students versus the more recent surgeon bootcamp grads. What was your opinion of bootcamps in general before becoming an instructor?
[00:11:53] MT: There’s no way they can know enough. And it was really born out of the same energy of people who are upset about student loan forgiveness. Like, I had to do this hard thing.
[00:12:01] SY: Yeah. Yep.
[00:12:02] MT: So therefore, you have to do this hard thing, too. So I feel like that’s more insecurity on my side, that somebody could have a faster way to get to where I was, felt bad. And I’m like, “There’s no way they could know enough.” But then once you get involved in these programs, you really understand that it’s not about whether they know enough compared to you or compared to like a university is are they capable of solving problems and producing the code that solves those problems?
[00:12:29] SY: And what is your take on bootcamps now?
[00:12:32] MT: Oh, I love them. I think that if you can go to a bootcamp, so I said something earlier that I want to make sure that I clarify for the listeners out there, I said it’s not for everybody and that’s not me saying that you shouldn’t go to a bootcamp. But that’s me acknowledging that I had students who needed more time.
[00:12:47] SY: Yeah.
[00:12:47] MT: They were not the ones who could go through a 24-week bootcamp and then be job ready.
[00:12:52] SY: It really is a fire hose. I mean, it’s just a constant stream of just information that sometimes you need a break. You need to step away and just kind of digest and gulp. It’s intense. It’s very intense.
[00:13:05] MT: Right. So you may be a person who needs a university program that it may serve you better, or maybe you go to bootcamp, I had students who went to bootcamp and still went back to university and did the traditional route.
[00:13:17] SY: Interesting. What was the thinking behind that?
[00:13:19] MT: They just want to learn more and they want to dive deeper because that is one area of a bootcamp that there’s no skating around. You don’t have four years of different classes and this breadth of knowledge. You’re trained to be a practitioner, to be like very practical skills, right? Like you trained on that so that you can leave here and go do some work.
[00:13:37] SY: Yeah. As someone who was a bootcamp grad myself, I feel like I learned so much outside of literally learning how to code. There were so many other skills that I picked up from bootcamp, and I’m wondering, as an instructor, what did you want other people to take away from your course outside of literally coding?
[00:13:55] MT: Oh, I wanted them to know how empowered they were to manage their careers. That’s the big thing for me is just like managing your career because I felt like I suffered from that. So that was a part of my teaching was, “Here’s how to manage your career. Here’s how to deal with an interview.” There was another thing that I talked a lot about was, “Here’s all the power that you have in the interview process, even though it’s almost designed to make you feel like you’re powerless.” But I would just give them the point of view of like, “Think about this. You know why we are hiring because we need help. And if we don’t get the help that we need, that means people who are working here are overworked. And there are business objectives that are not getting met. So we’re not doing you a favor by hiring you. We’re actually hoping that you agree to come in and that you can actually help us reach the goals that we’re trying to reach.” So if you have that mindset going into the interview, that you are the prize, right? Like you bring the value, you are the thing that they need, it changes the way that you interview. And I want students to have that and to know that they belonged in the market, in the industry. There was so much space. If you look at myself, for example, and you look at the fact, “Well, oh, he has a master’s degree and he’s had all this experience, there’s no way I can compete against him in the market.” You don’t have to because you know how many jobs I can realistically have? One.
[00:15:11] SY: True. You can’t have all the jobs, Mark. I’m sorry. You got to share.
[00:15:15] MT: Right. I can’t have all the jobs. Saron cannot have all the jobs. So if I have a job, that means there are thousands of other jobs available. So there’s so much space for you here in this industry and you’re needed. So that’s the only thing that I love to tell them about was how much needed they were just because they came from different backgrounds.
[00:15:33] SY: Tell me more about that. Because I feel like for so many people I talk to, they don’t like their backgrounds. Right? They’re trying to run away from it. They’re trying to hide it. They’re trying to bury it and they don’t want to acknowledge it and they definitely don’t see it as a strength. They definitely see it as a weakness. How do you see these different backgrounds that people have come from?
[00:15:50] MT: Oh, I think it’s fantastic that you come from a diverse background because it gives you the perspective that a lot of people will not have. For example, one of my good friends is Natalie Davis, and in her past she worked in retail, right? Then when she worked in a job that she wrote software for a company that was in the retail space, she had insight that none of the other engineers had. Because none of them had been on the floor working with customers. None of them knew the pain points of what it takes to like ring up a customer at the register at the point of sale. Right? So point of sale software, how that stuff works? Nobody had that insight because none of them had ever done it. So when you come to the industry with your experience from your previous career, that is a badge of honor because then you get to tell a really interesting story about how you solve problems based on a varied experience versus just like narrow focus that maybe you went straight through engineering school, you never had a job, you won’t know all the same things. And I think it’s a strength of yours to have a different background and you can say, “Oh, well, you know, when I worked in this space, here’s what I noticed from actual consumers because we write software for consumers, for customers.” So there’s just a lot of value there.
[00:16:58] SY: Absolutely. And that’s one thing that I encourage people when they’re looking to get that first tech job is to go to an industry that is within the industry they already know because they have industry experience, they have customer facing experience, they have that business knowledge that the other developers applying won’t have. Right? If you come from the world of law, you were a paralegal and you get a job at a law related maybe it’s a compliance business, maybe it’s a B2B business, you know what I mean? Like if you kind of stay within that field, you are not only a coder, you’re a coder who understands the world of law in a way that I bet the other candidates have just no idea.
[00:17:39] MT: Spot on. Like there’s a target, you just hit it. That’s exactly right.
[00:17:43] SY: So we talked about how bootcamp isn’t necessarily for everyone and some people just need a little bit more time, a little bit more space to just kind of breathe and take a breath. Who do you feel bootcamp is a good fit for? Who would you recommend? I don’t know if it’s a type of personality, a type of goal, but how would you decide if a bootcamp is a good fit for you?
[00:18:04] MT: Oh, that’s such a good question. And if I say something that makes you feel like I’m like excluding you, audience, don’t take it that way. I promise. I’m just going to say what I think and it doesn’t mean that it’s not for you if you don’t fit into this category. But I’ll just say. I think it’s really effective for people who, one, have time, like if you just don’t have the time, what’s going to happen is because of the pace of the bootcamp, you just won’t be able to keep up. I had lots of students drop, not because they weren’t capable, because they didn’t have the time. You just need that time to dedicate. You need to be able to have like 20 hours a week outside of your actual class time, and not everybody has that. I think you need to be motivated as well, because the grind to get a job post bootcamp is significant.
[00:18:46] SY: That is so serious.
[00:18:46] MT: Sometimes you can get in. Right? You can get in immediately. I had some students who were very fortunate and then I have some students who are just like just getting a job like two years after.
[00:18:55] SY: Wow! And what determines how quickly someone gets a job in your experience, the people who got it right away versus the people who just didn’t happen until a year or two years down the line? Did you see a driving differentiator between those two groups of people?
[00:19:11] MT: I think the quality of their interview had a lot to do with it. What I’m saying is that interviewing is hard, first off. So sometimes I saw candidates who were qualified and based off just seeing their work, I’m like, “No, you can work. You’re ready.” But they didn’t believe in themselves enough. And so when they went to interview, they just came off as too junior or too green to be able to like be successful versus going in, like I said, with that attitude of like, “I know I have value and I can support this organization to reach their goals.” And like having that mindset, the students that had that mindset, I found that they got interviews more quickly, but the ones who felt like the company was doing them a favor by interviewing them, I feel like they didn’t have as much success.
[00:19:55] SY: I feel like that’s something I say all the time to people when I’m doing just general mentoring and helping folks get jobs is, I don’t mean this in a mean way, Mark. If it feels like I’m coming off mean, let me know. Okay? I’m not trying to be mean.
[00:20:08] MT: Okay.
[00:20:09] SY: But the companies are not trying to do favors. Like that’s not the goal, right? Like when a company’s hiring you, they’re not looking at a candidate and going, “I want to do someone a favor today.” They’re going, “I need to fill this job. I need to find someone who can hopefully hit the ground running, who can get up to speed quickly, who can deliver value.” And I feel like there are so many people who enter the job search from the perspective of looking for a chance. Right? Take the chance on me. I feel like it’s a phrase I hear quite a bit. And that’s just not the right mindset because no one wants to take chances. Right? No one is out here waking up thinking, “I want to take a chance today.” You know? They’re going, “I want to find an amazing developer today.” And so presenting yourself as a risk is not the right mindset. Presenting yourself as an asset is the way you should go.
[00:20:59] MT: Ooh! Presenting yourself… Look, that is a straight up bar. Presenting yourself as a risk. Oh my God! I love that! Okay. So that’s super real.
[00:21:07] SY: You can take that. That’s for you. You can run with that.
[00:21:11] MT: Okay. You know what? You may hear a conference talk where I say something like that, but I will attribute it back to you because that’s really fantastic. When I left that company that I worked and I was on the phones a lot, I probably did 25 to 30 interviews to get my next job. And I learned from every interview, which is why now I actually love interviewing. I don’t get anxiety about interviewing because I already know that if I’m going to come to your team, I’m bringing it value. You want me. Right? And I’m going to tell you why. And boom, boom, boom. Here’s all the things that I’ve done. Here’s what I’m going to bring. And I’ve even asked people questions in the interview. Okay. So for all the listeners right here, I’m going to drop some bombs for you that you can use tomorrow in your next interview. When they ask you if you have any question, don’t say that, “Oh, you answered everything.” They have not answered everything. Right? So here’s what I want you to ask them. One, ask them how long they’ve been there, the person interviewing you. Ask them why they haven’t left. You’ve been here five years. Why haven’t you left? You can go anywhere. Why do you choose to be here? And here’s a variation on that that I’ll ask. If I were to ask 10 of your employees why they love working here, what do you think they’ll tell me?
[00:22:15] SY: Ooh, I like that.
[00:22:18] MT: If I asked 10 people who left, why would they tell me they left?
[00:22:21] SY: Ooh, that’s a really telling one. And it gives the person an opportunity to snitch on their company without snitching. You know what I mean? Because they can say all the flaws without attributing it to them because they’re still there. Right? They’re not the ones complaining. So I feel like that’s a slick way of getting to some of the issues that you might run into if you got hired there. That’s a good one. Ooh, I’m going to take that one.
[00:22:44] MT: And then who’s in control at this point? Me. I’m in control of the conversation. Right? Because now I’m evaluating them. They’re not evaluating me anymore. I’m not sitting here trying to like prove my value. Now you’re trying to prove the reason why I should spend... Listen, our life is so brief. and so precious. Why should I spend more time with you than I will with my family? You need to convince me that this is the right place for me to be. It’s just so much of your life. Your job is so… it’s not your life, but it is so much of your life.
[00:23:12] SY: I feel exactly the same way. I feel like we could talk about work-life balance all we want, but at the end of the day, your work has a huge impact on the rest of your life. If you are unhappy at work, if you work at a toxic environment, if you are underpaid, if you are undervalued, that will affect your whole life, that will affect the rest of your life. And I really want people to find jobs that pay well, where they feel happy, they feel fulfilled, because it really does impact your mental health, your physical health. It impacts so many other parts of your life. I really believe that.
[00:23:42] MT: One more trick about the pay. When you’re interviewing, your temptation is going to be to accept whatever they offer you because you want a job so bad. Let me explain something to you. They want to get a deal. They have a budget. They want to get a deal, but you are not there to be their deal. Here’s what I want you to do. When they ask you what you are looking for to make, this is what I do personally, so adjust it to your own language. I’ll say, “I’m not even worried about that because you wouldn’t be talking to me if you couldn’t afford me. So let’s get to know each other first and find out if we’re both a good fit for each other. I want to know if you’re a good fit for me and if I’m a good fit for you.” And if that’s true, you’re going to make a fair offer. That’s how I talk about every single negotiation. So I’ll put that fair offer at the end to let them know, “Don’t play with me.” Don’t even play. You’re going to make a fair offer. And if they say, “Well, I need a number.” And then I’ll say, “Well, listen, I’m not comfortable giving a number, but thank you for your time. You know what? I wish you the best. I hope that you find a good candidate.” And I’m willing to walk away from the interview process. And then they usually will fold. Saron, I have only had one company be like, “Okay, well, we won’t talk anymore.” Right? But everybody else usually folds.
[00:24:46] SY: Really?
[00:24:47] MT: And they’ll like, “Okay, no problem, no problem. We’ll talk. We can get back to that.” And then once I inevitably do well on the interview, because I’m going in with that, “I am the value,” they come back with an offer and I still reject it. And I asked them to come back with a better number.
[00:25:00] SY: Do you feel like that works for people who are not at your level? Right? Because you have the undergrad, you’ve got the masters, you work at Google, you have all these things that frankly a lot of our listeners are working up to, right? They don’t have those accolades yet or maybe don’t plan on getting them. So if you are starting out, if you are an absolute beginner, early career dev, starting on your first job and frankly, you don’t feel all that powerful, you don’t feel like you have a lot of leverage. It’s been really interesting to me how many people I’ve talked to just in recent weeks and asked, “How much do you want to make on the job?” And almost every single person I’ve talked to has said, “I don’t care. I’ll take anything.” And I understand and I appreciate that position because it’s really hard to value yourself when you’re so new and you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing. So in that situation where you don’t feel powerful and don’t have a lot of leverage, how would you approach it in that context?
[00:25:55] MT: That’s an excellent point. So because I feel like everybody has leverage, I want to be like you still do it, but if you don’t feel comfortable, because if you can’t do this with confidence, it will not work.
[00:26:04] SY: It doesn’t work. Yep. Yep.
[00:26:05] MT: Right. So here’s what you do instead. Before you even get into the role, if you going to apply, ask the hiring person, recruiter, what is the salary range for this position. You ask them upfront. You don’t tell them the number first because if you say it first, you kind of lost your negotiation power. If you say 85,000, but you really wanted 100,000, you’ve already said 85. So when they offer you 85…-[00:26:28] SY: You got to take it.
[00:26:30] MT: You got to take it. That’s what you said.
[00:26:31] SY: Yeah.
[00:26:32] MT: So let’s say you give me that number and it is 85, but I want 95,000, well, here’s what I would do. I would ask for 92,000. Like I would still ask for more. And if they can’t do it, here’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to either say, “No, we can’t. Here’s the best that we can do.” Or they’re going to say, “No, you’re not a good fit.” Right? Because we can’t afford you. Either way, you’re going to be happier in the long run because if you’re underpaid, you’re going to be unhappy.
[00:26:56] SY: It’s really hard to do a job and keep a job and do it well when you are not happy in that job. When you feel undervalued, it is very, very hard. Because you’re going to be mad every single day and you’re going to look at Tim sitting next to you making more than you and you’re going to be pissed.
[00:27:11] MT: And that’s part of it, Saron, is that the reason I’m so confident about the offer and the salary stuff is because I know people are making this type of money. And I’m not a person who’s like, “Oh, everybody got to make six figures on your first job. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m just saying that people are out here getting paid, so why shouldn’t you get paid?
[00:27:29] SY: Yeah, a hundred percent. I completely agree. Coming up next, Mark talks about how to figure out if bootcamp was a good fit for you and finding that job post bootcamp.
[00:28:01] SY: So what are some things that you’ve seen your bootcamp students do either during the bootcamp or shortly after that have helped them line up a job after they graduated bootcamp? You mentioned the interview is a place where a lot of people kind of, you know, that that lack of confidence kind of hurts them. What are some things that they’ve done to help them to maybe get over that hump and be a really good candidate?
[00:28:24] MT: Sure. Not waiting until the end of the bootcamp to start looking for jobs. I’ve seen students who started maybe four weeks before and that just gave them some momentum in the job search because you said it yourself. There’s so much you learn on the job. The people who didn’t feel like they had to know everything before they applied, those people were very successful. I had a lot of people who felt like I don’t know enough to apply, and I’m just like, I get it, but I didn’t learn the mass amount of knowledge that I have or whatever or the bulk of the knowledge that I have. I didn’t learn that from graduate school. I learned all that from being on the job. So you got to start working to get better. You actually got to get out there and get better. And I think people who did that, I think people who networked and who found people who were willing to submit their resume as a referral. Right? So whether that’d be on Twitter, whether that’d be going to meetup virtually and now we’re kind of getting back to in person, going to conferences, conferences are expensive so I will say stick to meetups in case you don’t have the $2,000 to send yourself to a conference. Right? But going to meetups, I think that helps. I think one thing that was also helpful to me early on when I was kind of coming up in the ranks was the things that I was doing outside of work, like giving Meetup talks, because then I could have an asset that I could include in my email or my cover letter. So when I went to American Express, one of the things that pushed me over the edge in terms of being the qualified candidate is that they watched some meetup talks that I did. And that was a big level up for me. I was already I think an SE III at the company before that, but to get to like lead developer. They saw that and they were able to display my understanding and mastery of the content.
[00:30:03] SY: So tell me about your opinion of what I’ve heard people call “The Bootcamp Smell” that the students smell, this idea that when you are applying as a bootcamp grad, as a recent grad, you know how there’s like code smells, there’s kind of like this student smell where you’ve only really done student projects, you’re not quite a real developer yet, you’re still kind of learning, you’re still kind of a beginner, and this kind of hesitancy that a lot of hiring managers, recruiters have to hire bootcamp grads because they, similar to the assumption you had before, becoming a bootcamp teacher, the assumption they had that they just don’t know enough. They’re not ready. They’re not job ready. They haven’t been tested yet. They haven’t gotten their first job yet. How do you feel about that smell and how do you kind of get rid of that and really position yourself as “a real developer”?
[00:30:59] MT: Oh, excellent. So that’s a hard thing for the bootcamp grads. One, I think is unfair because I feel like an undergrad will have the same feeling. And here’s the hard part. An undergrad will have less projects than you do as the bootcamp grad. An undergrad will probably come out with nothing to show and you have actual deployed projects. You have actual database and like get support, things that you’ve already learned in the college grad, which just has the name of the university as their badge of honor. So the thing that I think you could do though is position yourself as someone that they do not have to teach how to work. So that’s one thing you’re going to have as a bootcamp grad who especially if you’re a career changer versus a person who is coming out of undergrad or even grad school, most likely. I don’t have to teach you how to work. You know how to clock in. You know how to get there and do work and be focused. So leverage all of that. You know that attitude of like, “Yeah, I’ve already worked in an office before and that makes me ready. So you don’t have to spend any time grooming me to be ready for that. I am ready to dive in now. Sure, there are things that I may be missing, but who isn’t missing stuff?” So you can even call out that type of stuff like, “Yeah, sure, I’m missing some knowledge, but who isn’t? Everybody’s missing something. So why are the things that I’m missing that much big of a deal? And why do you trust that the others can learn it and I can’t? Of course, I can learn it. Look what I just done.” See, this is a story I like to tell people. Like, “Look what I just did. I just went through 15 weeks of intense study because I want this life and I want this career. How many people do you know even keep up with two weeks for their New Year’s resolutions? They can’t even do two weeks. I just did 15 weeks. I did 16 weeks. So that shows you that I am ready for this.” And so if you can position yourself that way, I think you could shake off that smell. Another thing is, this is controversial. I got roasted on Twitter before, but I don’t think that I was wrong.
[00:32:51] SY: What did you say?
[00:32:52] MT: Somebody got really hurt though when I said this, and I think I just said it the wrong way. I think the type of projects that you make also can lead to that bootcamp smell. So if you got like a recipe app on your portfolio, get rid of that thing. Get rid of your recipe apps, your news apps. Let me tell you why I say get rid of those.
[00:33:07] SY: Okay.
[00:33:08] MT: Because out of your cohort, if there were 60 of you, then as a hiring manager, I just saw 60 of the same thing.
[00:33:13] SY: Yes. Yes.
[00:33:14] MT: So that’s why I say don’t do that, even though it’s your tendency to kind of do that. What I would rather you do is if you have a real problem that you think you can solve, especially from your industry, build that as your project and make that your capstone project and really focus on making sure it’s complete. Don’t let me go on your website and then you have a login page and then you’re like, “Okay, I can type in anything and then it goes through.” Right? Like the completeness of your projects I think that will help you. Also, when you’re telling people about the things that you’ve done, here’s the things I don’t want you to talk about. Nobody cares about your auth anymore because it’s so available now. Fifteen years ago, authentication was really hard, but now you got Firebase, AWS, Auth0. Everybody provides, this is like two lines of code now, do authentication. Don’t spend your time talking about that. Now spend your time talking about the things that you learned while you were solving this problem in that domain. Right? So that’s how you shake off that like bootcamp smell because everybody else, they’re going to walk in and say, “Hey, I have API requests and then I used Fetch, and then I also did a database call and I used Express.” Everybody did that. Right? And then you sound like a bootcamper, which I’m not saying is a bad thing, but if you want to shake off that perception, talk about the problem that you tried to solve. Like perfect example, I had this one student, brilliant idea, but he didn’t finish it. He was like, “I noticed that when I worked at the airport, people were running late to their flights because they were stopping to get food. Why can’t you have food at the gate waiting for you?” And I was like, “Brilliant! That’s what I want you to build.” Build that and then I want you to tell the story of, “Here is the problem.” Okay, now you’re showing me that you’re thinking about like consumer problems. Perfect. Here is the product solution and here’s the areas that I think were the challenge. Here’s where I made a decision knowing though that there’s probably scale that I have to do here. Okay, now you’re showing me you’re thinking about the bigger picture. I can hire that person. Right? Because they’re showing me right now that they’re ready to work, even though they have the same skills as the other 59 people that came through the same program.
[00:35:14] SY: Okay. So I want to dig into this a little bit because I think that this project building space has the potential to be a huge win for people, but also a huge time suck and distraction because I’ve seen people get so stuck on coming up with the perfect, most unique, most precious idea that they never start or they think of an idea that frankly is just way too big. I had one idea that involved an entire community of people in order to work. And it was a brilliant idea if you can get her off the ground, but it wouldn’t work without having like a hundred people on the platform. And so now she’s in this weird situation where first she has to go find a hundred people before she could even write a line of code. Otherwise, there’s no code to write. You know? And so I found that sometimes the idea is they’re on two ends of the spectrum. They’re either too simple and too much like everyone else’s idea. I mean, they’re literally everyone else’s idea so that there’s no differentiation. But on the other hand, I’ve seen ideas that are just way too big and requires so many different features and complexities to even finish a first version and then they’re never done and then they’re never ready and they’re never able to put that on your resume or on your portfolio. And so the advice I’ve been giving to people, and I’m curious to hear your opinion on it, is to use an existing app that you’re familiar with as a starting point and to use your life experiences, your professional experiences as a way to augment that idea. So maybe you start with the to-do app. Fairly simple, right? List the to-dos, you mark them as complete, et cetera. What does a to-do app look like for a paralegal? Is there something unique about being a paralegal? Is there something unique about your day, the way you tackle your tasks, the way you work with your partners? Is there something different that makes a to-do app for paralegals a unique type of product that allows you to leverage the way you know to-do apps generally work, so it’s not an out-there idea, right? You don’t have to invent everything from scratch, but it’s augmented and different enough that you can claim it as your own project and it feels very authentic to you.
[00:37:24] MT: I love that. That’s exactly right. How can you take something that exists and make it unique for your industry? I also tell people, “Who can you serve?” Like think about a community that you can serve. And if you could find that, that usually leads to some really smart ideas. And here’s another thing that I learned from another bootcamp instructor that I had not considered before. They were like, “Make a clone. Make a legit clone because you’ll learn more about how to build stuff.” If you just like, “Yeah, I want to make a Twitter clone,” but then scope it down to say, “All you’ll be able to do is post tweets and maybe send a DM.” Maybe, if that. But if it’s pixel perfect, that’s impressive.
[00:38:01] SY: Yes. And that means that you don’t have to worry about design decisions. You don’t have to worry about wire frames. You don’t have to worry about all the other non-coding distractions, frankly, that get in the way of you just building. And this is advice that works for bootcamp grads, for non-bootcamp grads, self-taught, anybody who’s working on building out their coding skills I think can really take advantage of that advice.
[00:38:21] MT: Yeah. So I think between what we just said in this last segment, that’s like a really great foundation that people can just pull from, whichever version of that works for you, but now you have these ideas that you can just pull from. Because the projects I’m telling you, whenever I saw projects and I would really try to push my students away from, like I said, the news app, the recipe app, unless it was something interesting, I had one student with the recipe app. I was like, “Okay, you are really set on doing this and I get it. I don’t want to stress you out. Don’t let me stress you out. Right? Okay. That’s fine. What else can we do to make it at least interesting?” I was like, “What about the ingredients just come from Instacart? So now you have an API connection you can make, and then you can say I want to do this recipe. Select the ingredients that you don’t have and then connect to the Instacart API and get those things added to the cart. If you do that, I think that’s interesting. Right? And then that takes that recipe app, elevates it enough that when you describe the problem, because what’s going to happen is people, when they say, “Tell me something interesting you’ve worked on,” they want to know about the problem that you faced, because that’s all engineering is, problem solving. So what was the problem that you faced that made you do this? And then what were the problems when you were implementing, what did you learn? And now you could tell a more interesting story.
[00:39:34] SY: So I’m curious, as someone who has an undergrad in CS, a graduate degree in CS, and who has taught bootcamp, what is your take on the future of coding education? What do you think we’re going to see in the next couple of years from now in the world of coding education? What’s it going to look like?
[00:39:54] MT: I think people earlier in their careers will start with bootcamps.
[00:39:57] SY: Really? You think so?
[00:39:58] MT: Yeah.
[00:39:59] SY: So bootcamps are the future. Is that your take?
[00:40:01] MT: That is my take because that’s what I would do right now.
[00:40:03] SY: Really?
[00:40:04] MT: Like if I was 19 and just finished high school, knowing that I want to get a job in computer science, like to write code, I would take a bootcamp first. I’ll pay $10,000, take a bootcamp instead of 150,000 to go to a university.
[00:40:17] SY: Interesting. I find that so interesting because I feel like bootcamp, so when I did my bootcamp, it was about nine years ago, eight, nine years ago, and it was the hot new thing Everyone was really betting big on bootcamps, that bootcamp was still around. GA hadn’t been acquired yet. It felt like bootcamp was coming. But I feel like since then, there’s been a lot of consolidation. A lot of them have shut down. ISA started and kind of have a pretty bad reputation at this point. It feels like the industry’s kind of on shaky footing. So in the context of that, what makes you feel that it’s still going to be the future?
[00:40:50] MT: Because I think that the value proposition is still compelling. Because think about this. Alright, what about a tradesperson who goes into, let’s say, woodworking and they love woodworking? They just go to trade school.
[00:41:04] SY: Yeah.
[00:41:04] MT: And I feel like a bootcamp is kind of like the trade school version of this where you can go, you learn this particular skill and then you go and do work in that skill. And I think that it will change the way we see coding and engineering at some point where right now what’s seen as like this lifelong career that you start in and then once you get in there you stay, maybe you’ll see more switchers because they start earlier. They do a lot of the work, but I think that bootcamps will have to evolve. And I’ll tell you why I say that. What’s happening with AI and ChatGPT and all of these like tools that are able to produce code and thoughts and artifacts with such high fidelity, they will remove the like lower level jobs because people will just be able to say, “Hey, ChatGPT, create an app that does blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And it will create it, right? The basic app, but then you’ll need that like next level to get past that. Right? And so I think that bootcamps will have to evolve to meet the needs of the high level engineers. So maybe the programs lengthened a little bit and they become just more like focused over time. But I think that still, if you don’t care about the humanities, like and all that kind of stuff and floundering a foreign language and all the other things that you do get from going to a four-year institution, you may just want to like kind of nail in on the code. I mean, why is that wrong?
[00:42:25] SY: Yeah. Yeah. That’s fair. Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Mark, are you ready to fill in the blanks?
[00:42:39] MT: I am ready to fill in the blanks.
[00:42:42] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:42:45] MT: If you can afford the monthly payments, buy it.
[00:42:47] SY: Oh, that’s really, really bad advice. Okay. You want to speak more in that?
[00:42:54] MT: Yeah. I know everyone has their own financial system and things that they want to do. I’m not telling you how to manage your money, but I’m telling you that this is bad advice.
[00:43:01] SY: Yes, that is. Yeah.
[00:43:02] MT: So I’ve bought cars that I could before because I could pay the monthly payment. I mean, did lots of things that I was like, “Yep. Yep. Should have done this.”
[00:43:11] SY: Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:43:14] MT: Take control of your career, manage your manager, and keep track of your accomplishments.
[00:43:18] SY: Ooh, tell me about the manager-manager part. What does that mean?
[00:43:22] MT: So your manager is responsible for making sure stuff gets done, but they are not necessarily responsible for your career advancement. And if you’re waiting for your manager to remember all the great things that you’ve done and to nominate you for promotion, that’s how you end up disappointing. So keep track of your accomplishments. When you do something great, just keep it running. I don’t care if it’s a Word Doc, Google Doc. Keep a list of all the great things that you’re doing and then be able to tell your manager about them at the end of the quarter, at the end of the year, et cetera. You have to do that. That way when it’s time to advocate for you, your manager has all the information that they need. If you’re waiting on them to decide what’s next for you, you’re just going to be disappointed because if they may not remember, they may not acknowledge it. They may have…-[00:44:02] SY: May not notice.
[00:44:03] MT: You might be one of 50 reports. Right? Like managers are just there to manage. They’re not there for growth. They’re not called mentors, right? They’re your manager. Not the same thing.
[00:44:13] SY: That’s true. Good point. Number three, my first coding project was about?
[00:44:17] MT: A slot machine game in QBasic. It had really horrible animations, but I was so proud of it because I was a teenager and I figured it out myself.
[00:44:26] SY: Nice. Very cool. Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?
[00:44:32] MT: You can go at your own pace and don’t compare yourself to other people. I spent so much time looking at the people who were just better than me. Like objectively, there are people who are better than you at code. And I would look at those people and feel like, “Ah, if they’re in the job market or if they’re going after this, there’s no way I can make it.” Bump that don’t spend any time thinking like that because like I had mentioned before, that person can only hold one job and there are thousands of jobs. So don’t worry about it. You be your best. Go at the pace that you need to go at to be successful.
[00:45:01] SY: Absolutely. Love that. Well, thank you so much, Mark, for joining us.
[00:45:04] MT: Thank you for having me. This was a blast. I love this.
[00:45:06] SY: This was a lot of fun. Thank you. You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.
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