In this episode, we talk about what your bootcamp isn’t teaching you with Caitlyn Greffly, software engineer at The Motley Fool, and author of The Bootcamper’s Companion. Caitlyn talks about not seeing herself as someone who would fit into the tech industry, falling in love with data and analytics, and then transitioning careers and eventually writing The Bootcamper’s Companion to cover some important tech topics that aren’t typically taught at coding bootcamps.
[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 what your bootcamp isn’t teaching you with Caitlyn Greffly, Software Engineer at The Motley Fool and author of the Bootcamper’s Companion.
[00:00:21] CG: I felt very overwhelmed by kind of the implicit knowledge of the industry and the jargon that would come up. And I just felt like, even though I was learning so much, I still had these huge gaps.
[00:00:35] SY: Caitlyn talks about not seeing herself as someone who would fit into the tech industry, falling in love with data analytics, and then transitioning careers and eventually writing the Bootcamper’s Companion to cover some important tech topics that are typically taught at coding bootcamps after this.
[00:01:05] SY: Thank you so much for being here.
[00:01:06] CG: Thanks for having me.
[00:01:08] SY: So much like a lot of our audience, you are also a career transitioner. You’re a few years into your developer journey now. Can you talk about your career journey and what led you to making that transition?
[00:01:21] CG: I started by getting my degree in psychology.
[00:01:23] SY: Me too!
[00:01:25] CG: Oh, nice! And then I spent seven years in the beer industry and I basically got kind of burnt out.
[00:01:32] SY: Wait, what does it mean to be in the beer industry?
[00:01:36] CG: For the majority of people, you’re selling beer. There’s a couple people out there that are actually making it, but most of us are just selling it. And I worked for a brewery specifically. And so I was in charge of what that beer did in the region I live in, which I’m in Portland, Oregon. So around here.
[00:01:54] SY: Got you. Okay, cool.
[00:01:55] CG: I was doing that, but I was traveling a lot and also I don’t like sales. I don’t think I have the personality for it. It was really stressful. It felt like there was a fire to put out every day, every hour. So I decided around age 30 that I wanted to do something else, but I didn’t want to do the time commitment of going back to getting a second degree or getting a master’s or the financial commitment for that matter. And so I started just kind of looking into what other options there were, and I really just stumbled upon coding and I played around A little bit. I want to say I like from the time that I was like, “Okay, I need to do something else,” to the time I signed up for a bootcamp and gave them all my money was about two weeks. So it was a very fast decision. And I’m, yeah, surprised that nobody stopped me or told me to like, “Think about it for a second.” But I’m glad they didn’t because it worked out. And so then I did six months in a bootcamp. I worked full time for the first half of that, and then quit my job once I felt committed to the career transition and worked part-time just to make ends meet really. And then I was hired to my first developer job right before finishing my bootcamp actually. So I got lucky.
[00:03:19] SY: What made that decision so easy for you? Because for many people I’ve talked to, and even myself included, doing that bootcamp was definitely a decision. You know? I really thought about it. I was like, “Is there any other way? Are there other options?” I kind of deliberated and definitely took a little bit of time to kind of get to that conclusion.
[00:03:40] CG: Smart.
[00:03:42] SY: Well, I mean, it worked out for both of us. Right? But what made it such an easy decision for you?
[00:03:46] CG: I don’t know that it was an easy decision. I would say that I’m an impatient person.
[00:03:51] SY: Okay. Fair.
[00:03:51] CG: And when I realized that I am super unhappy in a situation, the way that I was, like I had for probably like a year known that the beer industry wasn’t my end all and that I would need to figure something out, but I had kind of a moment where I just broke and I was like, “It needs to be now.” And I did a lot in those two weeks, I will say. I did a ton of research, probably didn’t sleep a lot, made a lot of Excel spreadsheets in one of those people and like compared and contrasted all that. And it felt sort of natural because of, I guess, the ways I consider that my brain works. Like, I feel very analytical. I grew up being good at math. I love making things aesthetically pleasing. And so I felt like there were some clues there that it might be something I would like. And luckily, I also had just about exactly the amount of money in my savings account as what it cost to do a coding bootcamp. So I felt like I could just pay for it outright and not go into debt. And I think that probably had a big impact on me being able to just dive in as well.
[00:05:06] SY: What was it about analytics that you liked? What got you excited about it?
[00:05:12] CG: Yeah. So the only part of my sales job that I liked was data analytics.
[00:05:18] SY: Okay.
[00:05:18] CG: So that’s kind of how I knew. And I loved taking what looked like a bunch of garbage to most people and making it into something that was like aesthetically pleasing, and also like help them make a decision. I don’t think I was good at sales because I wasn’t great at lying to people or pushing people into things…
[00:05:42] SY: Interesting.
[00:05:42] CG: Which, in my experience, was something that I would’ve needed to be better at, but I loved taking data and finding a way to tell a story that was a convincing argument for what my company wanted. I got really lost in data, I found, and I actually tried to do a data analysis bootcamp first. I applied for one and I got rejected because I didn’t know how to code. And that was also kind of how I went down that path.
[00:06:13] SY: Oh, interesting. And did you have any experience or exposure to coding prior to this transition that you made?
[00:06:23] CG: None.
[00:06:24] SY: None. Wow! All right!
[00:06:25] CG: Like literally none. I knew one person. I had a friend whose girlfriend had done a coding bootcamp. And that was the sole person that I knew in tech and seemed to work out well for her. So I thought, “Let’s give it a go.” But I didn’t see myself in tech really. I always had this image in my head of it just being a bunch of nerdy dudes in a basement, pulling their computers apart in their spare time and playing video games.
[00:06:55] SY: Yeah.
[00:06:56] CG: I couldn’t understand how I would fit into that world. And so it really never occurred to me.
[00:07:03] SY: So what changed then? Because eventually you did learn to code and now you’re in tech now. So what helped change your mind on that?
[00:07:11] CG: I think just the availability of coding bootcamps. I think that it’s really cool that there is a way to teach the basic skills that you need to make a career in like six months. And it made me feel like it was more accessible to anybody. Like I didn’t have to go back and get a computer science degree. It just feels like it opens the door to a lot of people who don’t have access to that computer science degree or who like me, when I was in high school, deciding on a major for college and my teachers noticed I was analytical and good at math, nobody suggested it to me. I was told that I could be like a math teacher or an accountant. And I think that gender played a role in that. So I think bootcamps bring a lot of diversity and I think they spoke to me too. I don’t know if it was like something in their marketing. I know that I got a discount at my coding bootcamp for being a gender minority. So I think there was something about when I looked into it that I realized like there are extroverts who do this or women or anything. It just felt easier to see myself in it.
[00:08:25] SY: So you went to bootcamp, got out, became a software engineer, and you recently wrote a book called the Bootcamper’s Companion. Tell me about why you decided to write this book.
[00:08:37] CG: I had an overall positive experience going through my bootcamp. I think that bootcamps can only teach so much. I mean, you’re already learning so much in such a short amount of time. And I think probably rightfully so they focus on the technical aspects. So as I was going through my bootcamp and I started to go to in-person meetups and chat with people in tech, and then when I got my first job, I felt very overwhelmed by kind of the implicit knowledge of the industry and the jargon that would come up. And I just felt like even though I was learning so much, I still had these huge gaps. And so I did some talks on what that transition is like from a coding bootcamp to a dev job. And then I just made myself available to talk to other folks that were aspiring to get in the industry. And I found myself answering the same kinds of questions over and over. And after I would talk to someone, I’d be like, “I’ll send you an email with all my thoughts and everything I know.” And those emails just got longer and longer. And I thought, “You know what? I should really compile this to everything I wish I would’ve known other than the technical stuff.” Like, “What’s a scrum master and what does the day in the life of a developer actually look like?” And like, “How do you actually get that first job? And what is my portfolio missing?” Like all that stuff that I just wanted to know and wasn’t explicitly said anywhere.
[00:10:12] SY: Tell me a little bit more about what your bootcamp program consisted of, how much it cost, those kinds of logistical things. How did it work? What could one expect going through that experience?
[00:10:26] CG: So I went to think full. And this was about three years ago. I know it’s a little different now. But those six months, it cost me $9,000.
[00:10:36] SY: Virtually online, in-person? What was the format of that?
[00:10:38] CG: It was totally virtual and it was totally flexible, too, which was a big reason why I chose it because I was still working full time and I worked odd hours and days and stuff. So I needed something that was totally on my own time. And I spent like 20 to 25 hours a week in the first three months, I think, doing it. And that was while I was working full time. And then after I quit my job in the second half of the program, when I was also starting to apply for jobs and network a lot heavier, I think I probably spent 40 hours a week on things at least. And there were no videos, which was interesting. I don’t know if it’s the same now, but it was all just like reading. I would read and then I would see examples and then I would do a project and then I would meet with my mentor twice a week for 45 minutes. And they would help me on anything I was stuck with or give me code reviews or tips. That style of learning really worked for me. I liked reading. I liked going at my own pace and then I liked learning by doing.
[00:11:43] SY: What kinds of tools were you learning in the bootcamp? And then I’m curious, what tools you ended up needing to pick up and understand once you actually entered the workforce?
[00:13:21] SY: Tell me about how you felt just emotionally deciding to get into this big time commitment. Were you excited, overwhelmed? What was your kind of emotional state like when you made this decision?
[00:13:35] CG: My God, probably all of it. I feel like, “Is it impossible to feel all the emotions at once?”
[00:13:40] SY: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
[00:13:40] CG: I think I was… I think I was really excited at first. I feel like the first week in bootcamp is like such a high because that’s when you do Hello World, you see something that you’ve made print on the web for the first time and you’re learning kind of like the basics. And it was so exciting and thrilling. And I feel like maybe that was also a sign for me that I was going in the right direction based on how thrilled I was, like the smallest things .
[00:14:16] SY: Oh, yeah, for sure.
[00:14:18] CG: But I think after that it set in a little, just the stress of it all. I felt so defeated so many times just on a daily basis. It felt like I wouldn’t be able to move past something or it was too hard. Also, my bootcamp, there wasn’t cohorts because it was move at your own pace. You were on your own. There were other people in the program, but it’s not like I had anyone to lean on necessarily or be like, “Is this super hard for you also or is it just me?” And so there were definitely moments of thinking like, “I’m not going to get this. My brain doesn’t work this way. This is just too hard.” I was traveling for work a lot and driving and I definitely remember just crying in parking lots.
[00:15:10] SY: Yeah.
[00:15:11] CG: I had my mentor and he was trying to explain to me what was probably now it seems like something simple. And I was just like, “I’m never going to understand this.” You can tell me a hundred times I’m never going to understand it. But then you’d figure it out after saying that, of course. I figured it out or I understood eventually. And then I felt like I was floating on a cloud and it was the best day of my life. So I think especially the early stages of coding journey for me, it was like the range of emotions on a regular basis.
[00:15:47] SY: That’s what I find so interesting about coding because I feel like when people who aren’t in tech and are not coders think about technology, it feels like this very cold emotionless, logical, you know what I mean, kind of thing.
[00:16:02] CG: Yeah.
[00:16:03] SY: But when you’re the one actually building the software, it is very emotional.
[00:16:07] CG: Yeah.
[00:16:08] SY: It is incredible how you can go from feeling like the biggest idiot one second, even for people with years of experience. You feel like the biggest idiot one moment, and then you feel like a queen moments later.
[00:16:20] CG: Yeah.
[00:16:21] SY: The emotional ups and downs are very intense, which I don’t think people would assume for something like technology.
[00:16:27] CG: For sure. This happened to me recently, too. I think it was like two weeks ago. I had a week and I talked to my boss at the end of the week. And he was like, “How are you feeling?” I was like, “I’ll be honest with you. I feel like a useless idiot.” And then the next week, he was like, “How are you feeling?” And I was like, “I will tell you, I’m a genius and you’re lucky to have me.” He was like, “Great! It’s all about balance.”
[00:17:11] SY: One thing about your book that is interesting and that is appreciated is that it’s really focused on your individual experience. It’s not meant to be super prescriptive. You’re not trying to tell people the way that it should be or the way it is for everyone. It’s really specific to you. Tell me a little bit more about what that bootcamp experience was like for you. And I’m assuming over the years, you’ve probably talked to other bootcamp grads and connected with other bootcamp people. How does it compare to maybe what you’ve heard or what other people have gone through?
[00:17:45] CG: Like you said, I did write the book for me three years ago and I also drew off of the same questions I had that other people had. And I think a lot of it is about building confidence. And knowing that just because it’s really hard doesn’t mean you’re not doing awesome and you’re not learning a ton. We were talking about the highs and lows of coding. When I was experiencing that at first, the lows felt like me crying in a parking lot and the highs felt like me running and dancing around the house. Now I still think I have all those highs and lows. It’s just I don’t cry in a parking lot. I get really frustrated and go for a walk. I mean, sometimes I might dance around the house when I figure something out. The highs and lows are a little more subdued, but they’re still there. It’s just I’ve gained the confidence to know I’ll navigate through that. And I think that’s really what I was aiming to do with the book is help give folks confidence, help them not feel overwhelmed by terms or by the process of everything and just know that you can get through it and just feel good about yourself for everything you’re accomplishing. It is such a big thing to change careers and it’s so hard. We were saying a lot of people will think about it and just like not to do it because it is this big leap of faith. So if you’re on that journey, you need to be proud of yourself and recognize how far you’ve come already. Look back to that first day of writing Hello World and know that you’ve learned so much. And I think taking that into technical interviews when you’re trying to get your first job and it can be so easy to feel imposter syndrome in those situations or feel you’re not enough or you don’t know enough. And I feel like I just want to spread love and rainbows and happiness, but I just want everyone to know that they’re doing great.
[00:19:57] SY: And that is actually a chapter title of yours. It’s really harder, you’re doing great which is definitely something that I had to tell myself a lot in those early… and now, but especially in those early days. It’s like, “It’s really hard. It’s fine. You’re doing good. You just keep going. It’s fine.”
[00:20:15] CG: Yes.
[00:20:16] SY: What were some of the most challenging parts for you? What was it that made it so hard? And I’m wondering, is there anything that either the bootcamp could have done or you could have done or just could have happened during that time that maybe would’ve made things a little bit easier?
[00:20:31] CG: I don’t know that there’s anything anyone could have done. I think I wrote about this early on that I felt like it was being dropped into a foreign country where you don’t know the language. There’s only so fast you can possibly learn. It’s just going to be hard. If you were dropped into a foreign country, not knowing the language, you’re going to struggle. You’re going to have a few weeks, a few months where you’re like, “I still have no idea what you’re talking about. I need Google Translate right now.” So I think it was just hard because it’s a lot. You’re just learning a lot and you’re forging new pathways in your brain. And I think at that point, it’s just great to have a community around you of people that want to be helpful for me. That was kind of the bootcamp, but I also found that on Twitter. One thing I wrote in the book is I really like to take advantage of how much people like to tell you what they know on the internet. And so I did and still do just tweet stuff. I remember I really struggled learning React, which now I love. But at the time, I could not get it. And I tweeted that. I just said like, “I’m struggling. Does anyone have any tips or resources?” And I got so many replies of people just sharing what worked for them or resources they liked. And I think the developer community in general is very helpful like that. We’re all learning together all the time. And people really do like to share what they know.
[00:22:09] SY: What were the highlights of your bootcamp experience? What did you like? What did you enjoy about it?
[00:22:16] CG: I think one thing that surprised me that I enjoyed was the creativity with it. I think that I am not an artistic person. I cannot paint or draw or anything like that, but I found kind of like a hidden skill or interest within me to kind of make great UX and UI and just have a very pleasing user interface and being able to play around with that and create something that I felt was beautiful. I did not think there would be like an artsy part of coding. And if I had thought that, I probably would’ve thought I’d be horrible at it, but it’s turned out to be the one thing that I’m very drawn to and really enjoy doing a lot. And so that was one thing that with every project I made, I found myself digging more into that, into making things beautiful and intuitive. And I think that plays into my psychology degree also. I had someone draw that connection for me recently is that UX is a lot of psychology. It’s understanding how people think and what they want in an experience. And I didn’t know that would be part of it. I think I pictured coding and I thought it was going to be all analytical.
[00:23:37] SY: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:23:38] CG: It’s partially that, but it’s creative and I communicate with people so often, like I’m talking to teammates, working through problems together, understanding problems that are coming up. There’s a variety of things. But other parts of my bootcamp I liked, I think it was just like seeing the end product. Each time I finished a project, it felt so rewarding. I felt like I was just creating something and I was working so hard. And I feel with each project, I felt more proud of it, more proud of my Harry Potter quiz than I did of getting my undergraduate degree. I don’t know. I felt so attached and it felt so personal. And I guess keep chasing that feeling.
[00:24:27] SY: So I want to get into some of the major things that bootcamps are not teaching us. And one of the things that you mentioned in the book is what it means to be a software developer or a software engineer, kind of what a day in the life looks like once you actually get to that job. So tell me a little bit about what your expectations were when you kind of entered a bootcamp and had this idea of working as a software engineer at the end of it and then what it actually turned out to be like.
[00:24:58] CG: In bootcamps, in my bootcamp, especially because I was working independently, I was just coding. That felt like all I did and I thought like, “Is this job, am I going to spend a hundred percent of my time writing code, especially from scratch?” Used to start with a totally new blank project and you create something pretty quickly and then you get feedback, you make the code better, and you’re done. I didn’t imagine that that’s what work would be like, but that’s all I had to go off of. I knew that I was probably missing some pieces, but I didn’t know what. And actually one of the ways that I figured out what a day in the life looked like was, again, shout out Twitter, I tweeted that I wanted to put my education into context by shadowing people. This was pre-COVID. And so I got responses. I ended up shadowing six different people at six different jobs and companies where I got to see part of their day, what they actually did. And that helped me a lot to understand kind of what else there was. And so that’s like, yeah, part of what I write about is like the different meetings you might have if you’re doing agile development with two week sprints, two week periods where you chunk your work and then you pick up a certain ticket piece of work and the different teammate picks up something else and you can work together separately and kind of all of the above. And then also there’s just way more reading code and navigating a code base at least in all the jobs I’ve had because I haven’t worked for any super new companies. So there’s code that’s sometimes 10 years old and trying to understand that. And also I think when you’re learning, it’s hard because I think we learn by reading code and we as developers do a lot of copy and paste. And so if you see an example of something in the code that does what you think you need to do and you kind of copy that for your project that you’re working on, then sometimes I would end up getting feedback. Like, “This is not the way we want to do it.” And I would be like, “But it’s in the code. What are you talking about you don’t want to do it? You’re already doing it that way.” And they’re like, “Oh, that code was written five years ago. We don’t want to do it that way anymore.” So it was interesting to learn how to, yeah, navigate learning from the code base and then taking what the code is doing and understanding when you need to improve upon that or when you need to find a different solution. I think that’s something I’m still working through is knowing when to follow a pattern and knowing when to create a new pattern. And everything takes more time, I think, that I’ve noticed. It was so fast, in bootcamp, when I was working on my own. There’s just a process to everything. You have teammates review and then you go back and then you have a meeting to talk about the upcoming work. You have maybe a meeting to talk about how work has gone recently and what you could do better and there’s helping others, that takes time, and then others help you and all works out. But the process moves slower than it did in bootcamp where you could just get a full project from scratch up and running in three days.
[00:28:34] SY: I think one of the big things that we just don’t get taught in bootcamps in general is that legacy code bid. The idea that when you are entering the job force, chances are you’re probably not working on a new app. You’re probably not working at a new code base. You’re probably dealing with something that’s at least a couple years old. If you’re working at the big companies, many years old. And so figuring out how to deal with that legacy code, how to navigate it, how to wrap your mind around it is in and of itself its own skill. So tell me about how you did that when you got to that first job and you’re looking at that first, big old code base. How did you learn to deal with it and how did you learn to manage it and what tips might you have for people who were encountering that for the first time?
[00:29:22] CG: I think it’s like a combination for me. I think first, when I start somewhere new, I like to have someone give me the broad strokes, an overview of everything, like where everything generally lives, like if there’s multiple repositories, kind of like what each of those do or if I’m on a team that focuses in a certain area where that work lives. So I have a larger general idea. And then I usually like to grab a very small, very easy piece of work to be done, like, I don’t know, aligning text differently, just something that’s like so simple in theory, because I feel like that’s when I am allowed to get into it and really see like, “Okay, this is the interactions.” I start to understand the hierarchy of the folder structure. And I like to have just an actual piece of work that’s guiding that. So for me, that feels doable because a small piece of work that I know that once I like find where this code lives I’ll be able to make the fix. I have confidence in that. It becomes more a ticket about figuring out how to navigate and understanding the process at that company, how they create PRs or what their standards are for Linting in terms of spacing correctly or adding semicolons or not. I think there’s a lot of that stuff that you have to figure out at first. And so focusing on something small and letting it guide you, for me, has been very helpful. And then I try and purposefully in the first few months do work in different areas so that I can continue to see where things fit. And then I think I still need to get better at this. I should continue to take a step back and look at that 50,000-foot view more often so that I remember how all the pieces are fitting together because it can be so easy to get stuck in the weeds of just what you’re working on. But having that overall what’s the goal and what’s going on in mind I think helps me make better decisions about what it is that I’m specifically working on.
[00:31:59] SY: Coming up next, Caitlyn talks about some more topics the Bootcamper’s Companion covers such as tech jargon and explanation of different job titles and tips for landing a job after coming out of bootcamp after this.
[00:32:25] SY: Another big point is jargon, just entering the workforce and hearing all these acronyms and all these different words just kind of being thrown at you. And you’re like, “I just learned what React was. What are all these other things?” And trying to kind of keep up with a lingo. What is the best way of dealing with that? Have you kind of found a way to get comfortable in this new world of just different terminology and almost a different language, literally a different language?
[00:32:54] CG: Yeah. It literally is.
[00:32:56] SY: Yeah. How did you deal with that?
[00:32:59] CG: I wrote a lot of stuff down, especially at first. Because my first job, I was working at a company that made corporate legal e-discovery software, which if you don’t know what that means, neither did I. There was all the new jargon of tech and then I had legal jargon to learn on top of that. If someone said a word I didn’t know, I didn’t know which it was. I didn’t know if it was a tech word I didn’t know or a legal word I didn’t know. So I think it’s always great to ask questions, but I think for me, at least, especially in the beginning, it feels like a limit to how much you can stop a meeting to ask what a word means.
[00:33:38] SY: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:33:38] CG: It’s like when someone’s like every third word that is said, you don’t understand, it’s like, “Okay. This meeting needs to go on.” So I just try to kind of jot down words and then I would either check with someone on my team afterwards or bring it to my manager in our one-on-one or I would just Google it and try and understand. And even then, I think for a while it felt like I was only understanding maybe 20% of what was said and I just felt like I had to be okay with that to a certain extent for a while just because you’re drinking from the fire hose. I feel like that’s such a common expression here when you’re in your first developer job. You cannot drink everything that comes out of a fire hose. You just need to appreciate what you’re getting and the rest of it can just fly behind you or whatever and you can be like, “Okay, I’ll figure that out later.” My brain can only absorb so much at once. There’s no use of me learning 300 vocabulary words in one day because I’m not going to remember any of them tomorrow. So I just need to focus on these five.
[00:34:48] SY: You have another chapter in your book called “Job Titles Explained”, which I think is really, really important. It can feel more career development-y versus education. So there’s kind of an interesting line there, but I think this is one of those things where you walk out of a bootcamp or maybe you’re just browsing the job board of your favorite tech companies and you realize, “There are a lot of job titles.” There’s so many things that can get really specific. It can also be super, super vague and very broad. And then there’s in the IC track and the management track, and there are so many subfields within software engineering. And I can definitely see it getting a little overwhelming. So how did you kind of navigate that world? How did you wrap your mind around these different job titles? And what were some of the ones that you saw that maybe caught your eye and got you excited?
[00:35:46] CG: I think, honestly, that was something that I did not figure out for a while. When I was first applying for jobs, I mean, my personal opinion is there’s no difference between the title of web developer, software engineer, programmer in the US, at least. I know in other countries there’s different kinds of rules around that. But most job postings are for software engineer versus web developer or programmer. And so that was something that I don’t think I knew and I think was confusing. I also didn’t know if front-end had a dash or was two words or was one word or whatever. I don’t even think there’s a consensus on that now. So it made it really hard to score the job boards and look for what I felt would match up with me. So I think I ended up setting a lot of different alerts, which I would still probably recommend to do. You’ll cast a wide net for, yeah, software engineer, web developer, front-end, spelled all three different ways, and just know that those titles don’t mean as much as I think. I put a lot of weight on the titles before I got my first job. I thought engineer sounded so fancy and it sounded like a person with a degree. And my first job, I was given the title of associate software engineer. So I thought, “Well, I am one.” Like they call me, I am one.
[00:37:13] SY: That’s right. That’s right.
[00:37:15] CG: So it can feel intimidating, but I think there’s not a ton of difference in the actual job you’ll be doing based on which one of those you’re called. I mean, there’s a difference, obviously, between being a back-end engineer and a front-end engineer. So if you have an idea on that, you focus one way or the other. And then all the other job titles, I don’t think I figured it out for a while. I think I just pretended. I knew what our project manager did and I did not. I sort of knew what he did in the context of us, but I didn’t understand how he was different than our project manager or scrum master or anything. And I think that was why I wrote this chapter. Even as I was writing this chapter, I was like, “Oh, that’s another nuance of difference that I didn’t even know before.” Because there’s just so many job titles that you could encounter just on your team at work and then you get outside your team and it balloons from there. It’s cool to know because there are so many different pathways you could take in tech. You can choose to go down a bunch of different paths. And that was another reason I wanted to write about it so people know like, “Oh, developer advocate.” That was a job that when I heard about that, I was like, “Oh, that’s so cool. I didn’t know that was a thing.” And there’s a lot of variety and I feel like it gives you a lot of places to take your career.
[00:38:32] SY: Another thing you talk about in the book is tips for landing a job after you get out of your bootcamp, things like making your portfolio, making it stand out, building a community, targeting your job hunt, what to expect during the interview process. Can you talk about some of the key parts of this chapter, some of the more important things that people should know that maybe they didn’t think about or might catch them most surprised?
[00:38:59] CG: So I think one of the things in the targeted job hunt chapter that I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on is where I kind of walk through sleuthing on LinkedIn because this was something that came supernaturally to me. Coming from sales, I was always on LinkedIn trying to track down sales or people or just find people in random places. And so I kind of had these tools that I ended up using when I was looking for a job that I was like, “I don’t think a lot of people often use LinkedIn this way. I think they search for a name, find the person, they’re good to go or search for a company, look around, whatever.” And so I found a way to, if you’re looking at a company, I think in most cases and in my case, especially like I wanted to be hired at a company that had taken on a bootcamper before.
[00:39:56] SY: Oh, interesting.
[00:39:58] CG: I was a little nervous to be the Guinea pig of what to expect. And so I just thought, “If I look for a company that has taken on bootcampers, not only will I know that I’m not going to be the Guinea pig, but I know that they’re open to accepting bootcampers. They’re open to that form of education.”
[00:40:15] SY: Makes sense.
[00:40:15] CG: Because I don’t want to waste my time applying for a job where they’re going to toss my resume in the trash because I don’t have a CS degree. I was very happy to be upfront with the fact that I was going through a bootcamp. So I walked through specific steps with screenshots in the book of how to look at the company and then see the education of people at that company. There’s a way to see how many people went to this kind of university or that. And then you’d see like, “Oh, there’s two people at this company who listed freeCodeCamp as part of their education or a coding bootcamp that I’m familiar with that’s in my area.” So then I was like, “Okay, good. This is promising.” And then from there, you can dive into kind of the people that had those backgrounds. And I found that those people were often more likely to have a coffee chat with me if I reached out to them and said like, “Hey, I saw that you went from a bootcamp to this job. That’s awesome. I’m trying to do the same thing. I would love to just kind of pick your brain and see if you have any tips.” And I felt like those conversations from me were hugely helpful. Even if I didn’t get a job from it, just talking and hearing how people navigated in my specific situation, in my specific city, I think that’s something that could be useful for everyone. And I like to look at like building a community, networking, whatever, we all want jobs, but if you look at it as an avenue just to build your community and to learn something from that person and make a new friend, then I think you’re going to feel a lot more fulfilled from those experiences versus if you just go into it thinking like, “I have to get a job out of this, and if I don’t, it’s a failure.”
[00:42:04] SY: So what is your advice for how to pick a bootcamp? Because one thing that’s very different from your bootcamp experience of a couple years ago and even bootcamp today versus bootcamps when Dev Bootcamp first came out many years ago is it feels like there’s just so many more options. There’s so many fees to learn. I mean, there’s literally freeCodeCamp, which is basically a free bootcamp. There’s the paid version. There’s online. There’s six months. There’s three months. There are just so many different ways that you can do it. Not to mention, so many different ways you can pay for it as well. So like payment plans. I don’t think that was an option when I first went to bootcamp. I think you just kind of had to have the money or you didn’t. And so now when people are contemplating this decision of, “Should I go the paid bootcamp route? How much makes sense? What kind of programs should I enter?” What are some maybe guidelines or things that they should think about when making that decision?
[00:43:01] CG: I think in general, my thoughts are listen to your gut in terms of like if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is to some extent. I think in general, coding bootcamps almost sound too good to be true. It’s like six months, $9,000. I got a great job in tech. That does sound a little too good to be true. But if someone’s saying like, “You can learn everything you need to get a job in three weeks,” I would be like, “Okay,” that I would be a little skeptical. That’s probably just not enough time for anyone. And also, what is the payment plan called where you like salary share?
[00:43:37] SY: ISA.
[00:43:37] CG: Yes. I’m skeptical of those as well. I think you can end up paying a lot more for that and I’ve heard some horror stories. And so I know that that is probably an option that feels appealing to a lot of people, but I would look into a lot trying. Maybe if you’re wanting to go that route, talk to someone else who’s done it at that specific bootcamp and hear their experience. But I would think that you might want to avoid that if you can. And then I think just looking online and trying to find somewhere that has a lot of feedback, a lot of positive reviews. I know there’s a board that reviews job placement rates. And just to ask around, I think, again, going to LinkedIn and finding people who took that bootcamp and see where they’re working now and even reach out to them and ask about their experience I think is a good idea so that you have some personal stories on top of just what their website is advertising to them.
[00:44:45] SY: Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Caitlyn, are you ready to fill in the blanks?
[00:44:51] CG: Yeah.
[00:44:52] SY: Number one, worst suffice I’ve ever received is?
[00:44:55] CG: Don’t worry about money. Do what you love.
[00:44:58] SY: Oh, tell me about that.
[00:45:00] CG: Well, I think that it’s important to do something that you don’t hate, but I was raised to just think that money doesn’t matter. You just follow what you love. And that is great in theory, but the older I’ve gotten, the more I realize that you need income to live. For me, it’s finding a balance between something that I love enough and gives me enough money to do other things that I love outside of work. And I think there’s a freedom in having time that is hard to get without having a certain level of income, at least, for me is what I’ve found.
[00:45:42] SY: Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:45:45] CG: It’s the journey, not the destination.
[00:45:48] SY: Tell me more.
[00:45:50] CG: This is something my dad probably told me every month for, I don’t know, the last 20 years, because I need to constantly be told it because I’m one of those people that really thinks into the future about what’s next and I’m a big planner. When I was in high school, I was just thinking about where I’d go to college. And then when I was in college, I thought about what I do after college. I have a little trouble living in the moment. And so I constantly need to remind myself that this is life I’m living it right now. I’m not waiting for the next thing.
[00:46:24] SY: Number three, my first coding project was about?
[00:46:27] CG: I made the Harry Potter quiz.
[00:46:29] SY: Nice, nice, nice!
[00:46:30] CG: Yeah, it was fun.
[00:46:32] SY: What did you make it in?
[00:46:44] SY: Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?
[00:46:48] CG: Nobody knows everything and everybody Googles.
[00:46:52] SY: Absolutely. Absolutely.
[00:46:55] CG: Yeah.
[00:46:56] SY: All right. Well, thank you again so much for joining us, Caitlyn.
[00:46:58] CG: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
[00:47:07] SY: This show is produced and mixed by Levi Sharpe. You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, email@example.com. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.
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