Coding Dojo Spotlight Graduate: Kendall Dalton
Coding Dojo isn't just a place for software engineers to hone their programming skills, it's a place where students with little to no background in coding can embark on a new journey. We are proud to be able to help our students launch into a new career and look forward to showcasing Coding Dojo alumni who have successfully made the transition.
Kendall Dalton graduated from Coding Dojo's Seattle bootcamp in February 2015 and, after a lot of leg work, found a job a month later contracting as a Technical Producer for front-end development at REI, the popular outdoor retail corporation. We recently spoke with Kendall about her experiences before and after bootcamp as well as what sparked her transition from a communications background into a new career in coding.
LIFE BEFORE CODING DOJO
Q: What did you do before attending Coding Dojo?
I got my master's degree in integrated marketing, which is a very broad degree covering account management, video production, graphic design, web design and marketing statistics. After I graduated, I worked in a few public relations jobs since it seemed like that was the path my degree was heading. I discovered that I had skills to be a jack of all trades, but master of none, so I floated between departments.
After a few career moves and a round of layoffs at my last company, I took an honest look at my life and realized I didn't have the passion needed to be successful in public relations. However, I knew I really enjoyed working with the graphics and web teams in previous roles and thought there might be something in that realm that I could pursue.
Q: Why did you make the switch into programming and did you have any previous coding experience?
Being laid off was a wakeup call because I had to make some quick decisions. I wanted a career that I could grow with and could imagine working in for a long period of time. I was always interested in coding and watching the web development team at my agencies work, as I did project management for them.
After researching the possibility of going back to school and doing a cost-benefit analysis, I realized that I didn't want another degree. I just wanted to be immersed in the coding aspect and to learn what I needed to quickly. It was then that I realized that coding bootcamp was the right thing for me. It also helped that I had some basic coding experience with CSS and HTML, and knew that it was something I enjoyed.
GEARING UP FOR CODING BOOTCAMP
Q: How did you decide on a coding bootcamp?
Being in public relations, I searched Google to see what media coverage different coding bootcamps had received and I found that Coding Dojo had the best track record. I couldn't find anything negative said about it, so I applied for the program and asked a lot of questions as I went through the application process. It also came down to the overall reputation of the company and the timing of when I needed it to start.
Q: How did you prepare for coding bootcamp?
I applied a week before the bootcamp started, so I used that time to complete the prep work. Completing the prep work was challenging, but definitely helped the first day at Coding Dojo to go more smoothly. Familiarizing myself with the materials before jumping right in reaffirmed that coding bootcamp was the direction I wanted to head. If I didn't like doing the algorithm prep, then I wouldn't have continued.
I also had to prepare mentally for what I was about to experience over the next couple of months. Needing to be present for 60-70 hours a week is hard, and I knew that going in. The good thing about Coding Dojo, and the experience I had with my cohort, was that everyone became very close and were supportive of one another. Coding Dojo does a really good job of screening its applicants and accepting people that don't just care about their own success, but everyone else's around them as well.
Q: What did you expect from coding bootcamp? Did anything surprise you?
What Coding Dojo offered – and what I was hoping it would offer – was the structure needed to come and really focus on coding with people that would help guide me. With a coding bootcamp, you certainly get out of the experience what you put into it. The instructors are there and knowledgeable, but what students take away also depends on the amount of time and focus they commit to the work. I came in ready to learn with an open mind, which went back to my mental preparation. My expectation was that I would be able to leave and get a job, and that expectation was met.
Q: If you could do the experience over again, would you do anything differently?
I had a really good experience, but I don't know if I would change anything over again. If I did, I think I would have a more realistic view of what my brain is capable of. A lot of my cohorts came from a technical background in engineering or mathematics, which maps well to the curriculum's focus on back-end development. I think more in terms of front-end development. My brain wasn't all the way primed to accept the knowledge taught at the bootcamp, but I'm going to continue learning to increase my knowledge of the back-end and possibly become more of a full-stack developer.
Q: How do you continue to learn after Coding Dojo?
I try to brainstorm projects that I want to build or focus on improving a project we worked on in class. I'm interested in continuing my Ruby on Rails education, so I've been following blogs and making sure to work on projects I want to do. You have to make sure that you don't stop looking at the language, because if you don't use it, you lose it.
GETTING THE JOB
Q: How long did it take you to find a job after graduating? When did you start looking?
It took me about a month after graduation to get a six-month contract-to-hire job. A lot of my classmates also started their post-graduation jobs as contractors to hire. As far as the job search, I graduated on a Friday and started building my portfolio site the following Monday. I've been through the job hunting process before, so I was ready to jump right in. I updated my LinkedIn on the first day and started applying to ten jobs a day, just flooded the market, because I knew I had to start getting my name out there. I also signed up on different job boards that Coding Dojo recommended to us and started talking to recruiters and consulting agencies.
Q: Was it hard to get a job without any prior work experience in coding?
It's not always just about the coding. A lot of what employers are looking for has to do with what other skills you can bring to the table, like how well you communicate and whether you can you be a client-facing developer or if you should stay on the back-end. In this sense, my communication background and ability to interface with people was a huge draw.
Employers I interviewed with wanted someone with that multiple skill-set where they could speak to back-end developers about what was going on and have knowledge and respect for what they do, and still be able to do the technical side of coding. Not everyone comes into Coding Dojo with that background, so it's more about whatever that individual brings into their job search.
Q: Did you have to do any coding tests for your job interviews?
Q: How did Coding Dojo prepare you for interviews and your job search?
Every day we did algorithms and the instructors would tell us different ways that we could complete them during an interview. After we graduated, those in my cohort went through resume workshops and we worked with each other to prepare for a lot of very technical-based questions. All throughout the bootcamp, our instructors would share information with us about things they had experienced or heard about in coding interviews; and on graduation day we all received a book about how to crack a coding interview.
Q: What are you doing now?
I'm going to be interfacing for the graphics and design teams at REI, doing the e-commerce and coding of promotional banners and any other visuals you see. It's a really interesting blend of all my previous work and educational experiences.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
I want to stick with this. Computer skills are forever skills and will always be marketable for me. Plus, coding languages change so rapidly, and Coding Dojo taught me how to learn things quickly, so I'll always look forward to learning in this career path.
Q: If you could give current or future students one piece of advice, what would it be?
One piece of advice I would give is for them to know that there will be ups and downs, some days you'll feel smart and some days you'll feel dumb, but know that it can be done. Don't worry and remain optimistic – your pace may just be different than the person next to you!
Kendall is currently a front-end developer at REI and a Coding Dojo graduate. If you have any specific questions about her journey to become a developer she can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via LinkedIn.