Ask A Graduate: Avi Gilligan of Metis

By: The SwitchUp Team
Last Updated: August 8, 2014

There are many preconceptions of coding — that it's uncreative work, or a solo act done in a dark and musty basement. Avi Gilligan, now an apprentice at the design and development firm thoughtbot, clearly disagrees. "You're never developing in a vacuum," she says of her own experience.

Avi first encountered coding through PHP before attending the Ruby on Rails course offered by Metis, a bootcamp jointly organized by Kaplan Test Prep and thoughtbot. We spoke to Avi about her time at Metis and her thoughts on learning to code.

Avi, why did you decide to to attend Metis?

I was working as a PHP developer, and while I enjoyed it, I really wanted to know more and do more. The position I had at the time wasn't offering those opportunities, and I knew the reputation Rails had in the web world, so I decided that a Rails bootcamp would be the best way for me to push my career forward.

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

I was a physics major in college, and had only a very minimal knowledge of computer science and web development on graduation. Nonetheless, a week after I doffed my cap and gown, I moved into a position as a developer where I had to learn a lot in very little time and still be productive. This was quite a challenge, though the accelerated pace at which it forced me to consume knowledge was rewarding. That experience was mirrored when I entered Metis, and definitely made me more prepared for the rigor of a bootcamp than I otherwise would have been.

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

Keep learning of course, and start giving back to the community. I'd like to contribute more to open source projects (or start some of my own!). I'd like to make my way into the Rails community, and the web development community at large — go to conferences, give talks, participate online and the like. And most of all, I want to keep learning. I have enough knowledge right now to know what I don't know — and that's a lot of stuff. I want these next five years to be as intensive a learning experience as the last six months have been.

What motivates you in your career?

Making stuff and learning stuff. And you can't really have one without the other, especially as web developer. The complementary processes of creation and discovery give me a beautiful feeling of clarity and purpose. You're never developing in a vacuum. You're building on top of code that a lot of people have written over many years. In a way, you're touching their personalities, learning from their successes and failures, and using the knowledge you gain from that to create…whatever you want really. Background job processors. Data scrapers. Works of art. The whole range of creative possibilities is open to you, and that is intoxicating. Plus, it's hella fun.

Do you see bootcamps replacing college for parts of the population?

I hope so. I went to a liberal arts college and I do see value in them. But it's no secret that there are huge problems with the education system, the rising cost of tuition being a big one. Bootcamps are relatively speaking affordable and give you immediately applicable skills. Seeing a segment of education industry shift into the bootcamp model might help alleviate some of the pressures the system is currently facing, and hopefully provide opportunities to people who weren't able to participate in the traditional education model.

What were the people and culture like at Metis?

In a way, it felt like I was back in college for three months. A college with only one, very long class each day. We would hang out after class, go to bars, go on long walks, play sports together. There was a real community feeling that definitely made the whole experience more enjoyable.

Any advice for students looking to join a bootcamp?

Don't go in blind. You're going to be spending three months in an intensive learning experience, so make sure that it's something that you want. Play around on Codecademy. Look at open source projects and glance over source code. Look through API documentation. It doesn't matter if you understand it enough to use it, but look at it and ask yourself, "Does the possibility of making stuff like this make me excited?". If it does, then a bootcamp is probably the right place for you. It's going to be grueling, especially if you have no prior programming experience, so making sure you are excited about the material is key.

Any advice for recent alums looking for a job?

Keep coding! Seriously, try to write code every day. Reinforce the skills you have. Learn more things — there are tons of resources. Each new interview you walk into, try to have something new and different to show to the person you are talking to.

Metis offers 12 weeks of intensive on-site courses in Ruby on Rails web development, Product Design, and Data Science in New York and Boston. Visit Metis on SwitchUp for course details and alumni reviews.

Physicist by training and a philosopher at heart, Avi enjoys learning about new technologies as much as she likes board games. She was working as a PHP developer before attending Metis and is now a developer apprentice at thoughtbot. In her free time, she enjoys writing, hiking, and ice cream.

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