From Dancer to Developer in 17 Weeks
There's nothing like talking with an alum to get the real story behind the coding bootcamps you've got your eye on, and lots of programs offer alum panels where you can do just that. But in case you don't have a few hours to spare or you're completely changing careers and don't know anyone in the tech industry, we've got you covered with our quick alum interviews. This time around, we sat down with Fullstack Academy grad Kevin Ho who went from professional dancer to professional developer in 17 weeks--and has never been happier.
Thanks for joining us, Kevin! Can you tell us a little about what you were doing before attending Fullstack Academy?
Before Fullstack, I was actually a professional dancer in New York City for ten years. I also taught the craft--from technique to theory to partnering classes, and I even taught this great course for dancers called "Applied Human Anatomy." Dance was my passion and my life, but the older your body gets, the harder it is to stay in the game, so I actually retired from dance in 2015...and then I had to figure out where to go from there.
So you transitioned to programming?
Not at first, actually. I first tried digital marketing, but it wasn't exactly what I was looking for. So when the company I was working for got acquired and shut down my office, I took the opportunity to reassess.
When I was growing up, my dad was a developer for Oracle, so I had always been aware of tech and stayed up on it. I learned visual basic, a little bit of Java, and some C++ when I was younger and had taken AP Computer Science in high school.
So I made two decisions: I decided I would pursue my affinity for tech and programming specifically, but I also decided that to really be successful, I would need to fully commit and educate myself in the field before trying to find a job. I didn't want to just jump into another career without first building the skills to be successful.
What made you decide that a bootcamp was the best way for you to get that education?
Personally, I'd already been feeling my age as a dancer, so time was a big factor for me. I didn't want to spend four or even two years away from the workforce, especially if my education was going to turn out to be more academic than practical. I wanted to be able to get a job in the industry ASAP.
Money was also a factor. I realized after researching that going to a bootcamp, where I was confident I could learn exactly what I'd need to get hired, would only cost as much as--or, in some cases, far less than--a single semester of graduate school. Bootcamp just seemed like more bang for my buck, no question.
So what drew you to Fullstack Academy specifically?
Honestly? The vibe. I felt like Fullstack was keeping it real in a way that other schools weren't. Some other schools I visited looked really polished, but in an über-curated way that made me feel like they were always trying to sell me.
Whereas when I visited Fullstack--it was a nice campus, don't get me wrong--but something about it just seemed like they had put a lot more of their time into the actual substance of the program. The instructors were there to teach and didn't have big egos. The people on the admissions team were helpful and genuinely excited about my being a part of the program.
I was so certain Fullstack was the right fit, I didn't apply anywhere else.
Did the program live up to your expectations?
Definitely. I enjoyed the experience so much, I stayed on for three additional months as a fellow, which means I got to mentor the next cohort of students and do my part to amplify all the things I liked about Fullstack in the first place. I made sure, for example, that the students knew I was there for them and that none of them felt alone.
The Program Leads--who are responsible for student experience, which includes everything from social outings to professional development to emotional and organizational support--were the ones who did that for me when I was a student, and I can't even tell you how helpful it was. I remember after every project getting a Slack message from our lead congratulating me on my work, or letting me know how much she enjoyed my project. It made me feel like I wasn't just a number, but that lots of people other than me cared about my success--and not just my success after graduation, but my growth during the program.
Because it turns out bootcamp is an incredibly intense experience and you need that support. You're learning so much every single day, and not all of it is going to click right away. We had regular checkpoints throughout the program to make sure we all had a handle on what we'd been learning, and they were of course stressful, but I actually relished the sense of accomplishment I felt every time I did better than I expected to do.
I think you just learn so much and in such an integrated way that a lot of the time, you don't even realize when concepts have sunk in. You think, "Oh, no, I don't remember this!!" but once you think through the problem, you realize you don't have to remember it because you just know it.
And sometimes the learning process is the complete opposite: You think you understand something--and you probably do, in a superficial way--and then one morning you wake up and realize that all of a sudden, you really get it.
It sounds like your programming skills are in a great place. What about your career skills?
I feel really confident about my ability to get a job. I mean, I launched my job search two-and-a-half weeks ago, and I've already reached final interview rounds with multiple employers. Two-and-a-half weeks!!
It has truly been a pleasure working with the whole Career Success team at Fullstack. The vibe I got before I enrolled was borne out across the program, but nowhere more so than in my work with the Career Success staff. They will always keep it real with you--how strong your resume is and how you can improve, how to approach a certain recruiter or employer, whether you're following through with each opportunity the way you should be--but they are also totally on your side.
When you're excited, they get excited with you; when you're frustrated, they help get you back in the game. They're watching people change their lives every day, but instead of taking it for granted, every new success inspires them all over again to give the next group of graduates 110% of their energy.
I also want to recognize the instructors. They not only teach, but hold daily office hours, drill you on technical interview questions (Reacto), and are accessible when you have questions. One of your instructors stays with you through the whole 13-week on-campus process, while your other instructors rotate after the first six weeks, and the instructor who stayed with me happened to hear that I was interested in a certain company, so he scoured his LinkedIn for a connection, made a warm introduction, and now I'm in process with that company!
Having been in the workforce prior to coming to Fullstack for longer than a lot of my classmates, I already had basic interview know-how, but the networking skills and the network itself that I built at Fullstack are already serving me incredibly well.
What's one piece of advice you'd give anyone considering bootcamp?
Be patient with yourself. One thing I learned is that when you change the way you think--in my case, I transitioned from thinking like a dancer to thinking like a developer--what you're really doing is rewiring your brain and creating new pathways. New physical pathways. And that physical change takes time.
You think you're just changing careers--which is already a lot--but what you're actually doing is changing something physical in yourself. Your neurons are adapting to a new way of processing and synthesizing information. It's powerful to think that my brain worked differently by the time I graduated than it had 17 weeks before. So yeah. Be patient. Give your brain time to change and trust that it will.
Kevin Ho is a fullstack software and mobile engineer with a background in digital marketing and professional dance. He believes coding is an artisanal craft, and he wants to create technology that helps humans be more human, not less. He's interested in joining a diverse developer team with a global mentality. Connect with him on LinkedIn or check out his gitHub, and head over to the Fullstack Academy website to read stories of other successful grads.
This post was sponsored by Fullstack Academy.