March 20, 2020

Alumni Spotlight: Scott S. of Codesmith

Scott Schwartz is a front-end developer at ScaleLab, LLC. Before attending CodeSmith, he worked at two private equity firms. He's from Los Angeles and went to school at UC Berkeley where he received his BS in Business Administration. He's a hopeful ping-pong champion, dog lover, writer and youth soccer coach.

We sat down with Scott to learn more about his journey and why he chose Codesmith to launch his career as a front-end dev

Codesmith

What were you up to before you attended Codesmith? Tell us a bit about where you worked before, and what challenges you've overcome to get to where you are.

Before attending Codesmith, I was in the financial world working at a private equity firm. I had always wanted to start my own business and so I got an undergraduate business degree but then spent the next four years on "wall street". For my first three years, I worked at the same firm where my job was to find, quantify and recommend software businesses the firm would be interested in purchasing. I've always been a self-proclaimed "geek" so despite the mismatch between myself and the culture/environment of private equity I enjoyed what I was doing.

However, after learning the ropes and getting a few deals done the work became routine. I would come home exhausted from not having been challenged all day (and there are only so many blue links on Reddit). I spent another year at a different firm only to come to the conclusion that this was not what I was meant to do.

How did you get started in programming? What made you decide to pursue coding as a career?

I had been making websites since elementary school in 2002. I wasn't programming per se, but slicing up PSDs and coding the HTML/CSS. I made a dozen of these sites over the years, mainly focused on video games and music. I had volunteer writers, received review copies of games, got linked to from Xbox.com and eventually sold many of these sites.

When I realized that working in the financial world wouldn't make me happy I already knew what was next for me. I "went back to 2002" and decided that coding would be what made me happiest. I yearned to be doing something creative, challenging and where the learning never stopped.

There are quite a few bootcamps to choose from - what made you decide to attend Codesmith? What were your goals for the program?

Like any millennial, I did plenty of online research before deciding on a bootcamp. I was so impressed with what Codesmith had to offer that I didn't even apply to any other bootcamps because none of them seemed up to snuff in comparison.

Codesmith only had one campus at the time and they were truly focused on not only turning people into great engineers but creating a community. It sounded more rigorous than other programs - a coding interview, a pre-coding interview, longer hours (including Saturday) and a more difficult curriculum. I could tell that these were things that would not only help me achieve my goal of switching professions but that would allow me to make lasting connections with those in my cohort (it reminded me of pledging but without the alcohol...well maybe a little alcohol). The hiring day and continued support for alumni factored in as well.

For you, what were the pros and cons of attending a bootcamp?

Attending a bootcamp is an intense experience. Upon completion, you realize that you can and have accomplished things that you never thought you could. Create something from scratch during a 24-hour hackathon? Done. Make a developer tool that is still being used today? Done. Find a new community/family? Done. Learn (in three months) the skills needed to find a great job? Done!

But none of that negates the intensity of attending a bootcamp. I was definitely forced to sacrifice some things - Be ready to adjust everything in your life: many of your relationships will be put on hold or tested, your sleep schedule will get out of whack, and at least once a day you'll question your own abilities and decision to attend. The imposter syndrome is real, but having others around you to go through it with helps.

Tell us a bit about your experience and the day-to-day during the course:

The first six weeks of the program were broken up into two-day "sprints" where we learned about a piece of technology (React, Angular, Node, etc.) or computer science fundamentals (data structures, recursion, etc.). Within each sprint, there were several lectures by a 20-year seasoned developer. During a sprint, we would pair program through a set of increasingly difficult challenges related to the topic. It was rare to completely finish a set of challenges as they were designed for you to fail - because how else do you learn? The last six weeks were spent creating a final project with a small group and being prepared for the job search.

There were 18 other people in my cohort and they were from all walks of life - former accountants, bartenders, oil field works, salespeople...We were all pretty close together in age which helped make bonding easier. Everyone worked hard and was always there to help one another out. I never heard anyone's voice raised during my entire time at Codesmith.

A Codesmith day started out with a "hack hour" - ~45 minutes to solve a coding challenge/algorithm and then fifteen minutes to review the previous day's hack hour. Next up would be a lecture followed by working on the sprint's challenge. There would be another lecture later in the day to build upon what we had learned earlier.

That sounds like a very full schedule! What was most helpful about the environment and teaching style at Codesmith?

The support offered by the Codesmith staff and fellows was unbelievable. It was common to see fellows staying late into the night (when they weren't being paid) to guide us towards solutions. My hand was never held and I was never told "do x to solve y". I was asked guiding questions that led to me figuring out the solution on my own.

You attended Codesmith last year. Can you tell us a little bit about what you have been doing since then?

A month after I graduated from Codesmith I received an offer to work fulltime as a front-end developer at one of the largest MCNs. I decided to join a small team so that I could get my hands dirty and aside from Javascript have been able to work on/with PHP, DevOps, backend, design and more. I still hang out with friends from my cohort and even attend hackathons with them.

Did you feel Codesmith prepare you for the job search, and if so, how?

Codesmith did a great job preparing me for the job search. There was the standard resume help and whiteboarding techniques but also more. We did mock interviews with alumni, hiring companies and each other. We gave solo and group presentations in front of 50 people to help build our confidence in talking tech. And then there was the hiring day where we presented our final projects to 15 companies and interviewed with them. One of my friends accepted an amazing offer that day. After the program ended we were encouraged to come back to campus as often as possible for job hunt and interview support. As well there was a dedicated staff member that would help us with negotiations.

Do you have any advice for recent graduates looking for a job?

Don't take an offer just because of the money. You've only been coding for a little while and you can and will receive similar offers in six months or a year. Instead, find a company where you see yourself fitting into the team and where you think you would thoroughly enjoy working on the product they are building. Don't give away your services (many people will promise you things they don't have), you are certainly worth a pretty penny. Instead, think of your first job as a continuation of your bootcamp and find a company where you will be able to continue learning every day and be supported through the process.

And finally, Is there anything else you'd like to share?

If you're thinking about doing a bootcamp but aren't sure about it or don't think you can do it you're feeling something almost every bootcamp grad has felt. Start your coding journey online - there are tons of free resources out there that can get you going. Once you start that experience you'll know if programming is for you. And apply to Codesmith!


You can follow Scott on Github. Our biggest congratulations to Scott. Want to share your bootcamp story? Send us an email to accounts@switchup.org

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