March 20, 2020

Alumni Spotlight: Aaron Pennington | 2017 Web Development Bootcamp Grad

We love to hear stories of how bootcampers succeed. We had the chance to sit down with Aaron Pennington, a recent graduate from Devry Bootcamp. Aaron graduated from January 2017. You can find his work on GitHub, and read on to learn about his bootcamp experience.

Tell us a little bit about what you do in your current job. – OR – what will you be doing (or want to be doing) in your next/new job?

Before bootcamp I was enrolled in a graduate certificate program with Keller Graduate School of Management. I enrolled in the program because I was getting feedback from hiring managers for business intelligence analyst positions who kept telling me that I needed more programming experience. I also have a passion project that I have been working on for some time that would use technology to reduce loneliness for seniors that I wasn't getting anywhere with due to my lack of web development skills.

Why did you decide to attend the DeVry Bootcamp Web Development program?

I decided to attend the DeVry Bootcamp because the programming experience I was getting in the Keller graduate certificate program was oriented more toward managers than developers. They were offering a scholarship for Keller alums so I applied and got the scholarship. I'm very grateful for that because I remember thinking that I wasn't going to enroll in the bootcamp if I didn't get it. Missing out on this experience would have been regrettable, to say the least.

What challenges did you overcome to get to where you are?

Well, we aren't out of the woods yet but I would say that my greatest challenges come from daily struggles with self-doubt and over-confidence in almost every area of human interest. I have always avoided exercises that are meant to help me understand myself. I don't think I really understood the point of such exercises until I met Gary Boley, who was the career services director with the bootcamp at the time. He got me to reevaluate my position just by the way he carried himself and by some of the exercises he had us do.

What plans/dreams do you have for the next 5 years?

I showed my final project to some serial entrepreneurs and they think that it could land some first round funding in the next three to six months so in the immediate future I plan to put a team together and apply to startup incubators until I get into one. The rest of that 5-year period will be spent building and promoting the best loneliness suppression system for seniors that the world has ever seen.

Any advice for someone who wants to learn how to code and is considering a learning program like a bootcamp?

Just do it. Learning to code provides so much more than being able to write software. When you learn to code you don't just learn how to code. You also learn how to learn, how to think – both strategically and critically. You also learn how the world works when you force yourself to make things work. When you get there you realize you have also learned how to make the world better because you have learned how to improve existing things.

I started by teaching myself through books and video but if I could have started with a bootcamp I would have saved a ton of time.

What motivates you in your career?

The fear of doing something so lacking of beauty and purpose that my soul decides it's had enough and leaves me to go through the motions, pushing buttons and pulling levers until the end of my days. I'm being slightly dramatic but honestly, I am driven to have more control over my life and what I do with it. Knowing how to code provides me with a certain amount of leverage in that area.

What was the learning experience and instruction like? How would you compare it to your college experience?

The learning experience was quite refreshing. It was immersive meaning that we would go from 9 to 6ish and everything we learned was based on what we had just learned so I felt like I was able to retain things much more easily than in a conventional college experience. There were also no quizzes, tests or any of those archaic tools that learning institutions use to make sure you are putting in the work. You just get this set of coding exercises to work on that reinforce what you learned during lecture. But they aren't graded so if you are inspired to work on some other app, you can spend all you coding time working on your own project. And if your own little independent study fills your head with questions that seem somewhat unrelated to what the class has gone over, the instructors are seriously excited to go down any rabbit hole with you.

What application did you create for your final project? What inspired you to make it? What tools and skills did you use to create it?

My project was a video chat application designed specifically for seniors.

A couple of years ago I was asked to visit my great aunt Carolyn who was devastated by a stroke 10 or 15 years before. She could no longer speak, couldn't walk and could only use one arm. She had taken a turn for the worst and I was the only family member in town that could visit her. It was Christmas. Everyone was out of town. I had to stay for some reason. I was acutely aware of my duty but I had no idea what I should have been doing once I got there. After I awkwardly tried to offer some comfort I remembered that my aunt was visiting my grandma in Arizona, Aunt Carolyn's sister and my aunt had an iPhone like me so we could get everyone on facetime to say the things I couldn't think to say.

While I held my iPhone over Aunt Carolyn's face while her eyes welled up and the reflection of her family telling her they loved her flickered and shined off Aunt Carolyn's glasses I started to get a little angry that this is the first time she was able to use this technology. She sat there mute for years while waiting for us to visit every couple of weeks or so while the rest of us could just visit virtual face to virtual face whenever we wanted to.

It was then that I decided to make something that would allow someone like Aunt Carolyn to reach out and interact with her loved ones instead of having to wait for us to come visit.

For simplicity I decided the tool would have to be browser based but it would also have to incorporate adaptive technologies gesture and speech recognition. Most of the technologies I needed were already available in HTML5 or as third-party node modules. I used MongoDB to build a user database to save things like encrypted passwords, user names and phone numbers so that users could log in. The video chat service was built with a plugin that uses WebRTC, a real-time communication library also available to any developed familiar with HTML5. The system that would allow a user to identify who they want to call and send that user a notification or call invitation was possible with the use of the socket.io node module. The front end was built with AngularJS, CSS5, jQuery, and the materialize library.

What were the people and culture like at your program?

I was very impressed with all the people in my cohort. The instructors and support staff were absolutely stellar. I especially liked the numerous meetups they encouraged us to attend. Networking was strongly encouraged and I really appreciated that.

Any advice for recent graduates looking for a job?

Go to meetups. Keep going to meetups. Do hackathons. You have a new superpower. Go out and use it. Someone will notice. And don't forget, you are different now. You know how to manifest thought so think about what you want your life to be like. Really visualize it. Then design a system to get you there and execute boldly.

Finally, out of 5 stars - how many stars would you rate your bootcamp?

Five stars. Easy.

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