From Sales to Software Development in Six MonthsBy: Aaron Fazulak, Thinkful
After spending years doing sales for the tech industry, Thinkful graduate Brian McMinn started getting drawn towards working in a technical role. Once he decided that web technologies were the most promising, Brian enrolled in Thinkful's Full-Time Web Development Bootcamp.
Upon graduating the course, Brian leveraged his sales skills to ace his job search. In roughly a month, he had already landed a remote job with a company in San Francisco. It goes to show that a combination of ambition, technical skill, and prior career experience can be the perfect recipe for breaking into the tech industry.
Here's our interview with Brian:
You started in sales then jumped into web development. What did you do in sales, did you have any coding background?
I spent about 8 years doing business to business sales, both as an individual contributor and in management roles. I had no coding experience. That said, I sold to engineers most of my career and always wanted to be on their side of the table. So, one day I decided to do something totally different with Thinkful and become a web developer. Maybe one day I can combine the two skill sets somehow.
How did you end up in sales and what were those 8 years like?
Years ago, I got a business degree from San Jose State U with a concentration in marketing. I didn't really have a reason for doing it back then — I was 18 and it seemed like a good option — but ended up liking it. When I was younger, I was more technical and hands-on, so I always missed out on some sort of engineering and computer science and felt that way through my career.
I ended up getting a job at Cypress Semiconductor here in the San Jose area, did some product marketing and business development for them. Generally, I was doing sales support. Later on, I went into sales with another company — Fairchild Semiconductor — one of the earliest transistor companies. It's possible that none of us would be here without them.
While I was more on the hardware end, I worked with a lot of cool tech companies as clients, like GoPro and FitBit. I related really well with the engineers and got excited about their projects, then found myself wishing that I could be at companies like that doing that type of work.
As I found myself enjoying the technical aspect of sales, I was drawn to tech. Even though I was a solid salesman, I found myself getting burnt out on sales from travel, I decided it was time to go to a technical role and develop a skill doing it. That's how I came across Thinkful. My main goal was personal growth and doing something exciting and new.
What would you say is the most exciting thing about software and the software industry?
The world is going to software. Everything is now on the web, Amazon is basically putting retail out of business, so if you're not in software you're going to be left behind. That's part of the exciting part for me, you're not in one of these industries where everything is dying, you're in the growth industry. That's just from a business standpoint.
From a programming standpoint, it's really cool to see your work materializing instantly. When you set up a page or an API call, it's something that you see working and then make it visible to the user fairly quickly. Seeing an idea come together quickly is incredibly fun to do.
You mentioned that you had very little coding experience before the bootcamp. How was it in the course?
Well, I did a little HTML twelve years ago so I understood what a header was… that's about it. In Thinkful's bootcamp prep course, that's where I declared my first variable. It was my first intro to any kind of real code.
It felt like I didn't get anything for a long time, maybe a month before things really started to click with me. I understood what a loop did, a variable did, a function did, but how it all came together was confusing to me. It was frustrating for a while.
When it finally came together, we were working on our first quiz app. I could see on an event listener, that if a person clicked somewhere, then a function would fire. It seems basic now, but the idea that a user calls different functions by taking different actions on the page was crucial to my understanding.
Once I got the basics, that lit a fire in me to code as much as I could after class, do CodeWars, build my own little applications. It took a lot of practice to go from not understanding what a variable was to understanding algorithms. In the full-time program, it was pretty easy to get that practice in seeing as you're coding all day long.
I was definitely out of my comfort zone and doubted that I could even do it. When you're on day one and you don't understand the basics, you wonder if you'll ever code a full application. But here I am, today, looking at my new company's code libraries, and I can make sense of them.
When you ran into that trouble at the start of the bootcamp, what did you keep in mind to help you persevere?
Being very frustrated in the beginning, I naturally questioned my decision to pursue this. I could not wrap my head around many basic concepts for weeks, especially simple algorithms. I practiced every night, did YouTube video tutorials, read through the material again. I didn't give up until everything started to click for me. I felt comfortable solving more complex problems and could implement applications much quicker.
So that's the negative side, let's talk about the positive. What was your recipe for success as a student?
I learn by doing, so code as much as possible. Build as many little apps as you can if you don't understand a certain problem. Also, do Code Katas on sites like Codewars. They are frustrating at first but helped me grow immensely throughout the process. There is no substitute for overcoming real world problems. Also, get to know your classmates and try to work together. It really helped to know that I had a community of people who were in this together.
Check out Brian's portfolio of web development projects
What did you think of the cohort experience and working on a team with other students?
The experience was great. I was lucky to have a great cohort. Everybody was extremely helpful and easy to work with. I think my capstone project team was surprised at how smoothly our 3-week project went. We didn't have any major conflicts and made decisions relatively quickly.
Now let's talk about your success in the job search. How much hustle should someone put into land a job?
It was a full-time job for me. I spent most of the day researching companies and positions I wanted to work in. I also tried to open as many doors as possible. I attended meetups and connected with as many people on LinkedIn as possible. And by connect, not just hit the connect button, but sent out a personal note to over 200 recruiters and managers to just say "Hi, I'm Brian and I'm in the market."
I ended submitting about 30 applications. With every application, I crafted a customized cold e-mail to start. I usually would not get a response right away. I decided with every application I would contact the company by phone or email every day until I got some type of response. I would usually contact C-level executives for a company size below $50M in revenue. For large companies, I would try to find Directors / Managers to contact. This lead to about 15 interviews/coding challenges all within about 2 weeks. I was surprised how high the success rate was.
What happened after you got the interviews?
I heard from Theresa that you weren't afraid to sell yourself to companies, e.g., go all out and do cold calling.
Yes, I think too many of us hide behind e-mail. I believe the best way to get someone's attention is still trying to get them on the phone. It's easy to say no to an email, but harder for people to say no once you get them talking in a 1 on 1 conversation. I know it's scary if you are not used to it, but it can pay large dividends and usually, people are friendly and appreciate the call. Typically I would just call the front desk and ask for the CTO. You would be surprised how many times they forward you right to their desk phone and they pick up.
Did your sales background help you?
I think it definitely does because I have had a lot of practice in this area. However, I think everyone knows how to communicate effectively on some level. I believe it is fear of rejection that discourages most people from taking these steps. If you can get past the rejection and look at it from purely a numbers standpoint, it will pay off. I try to look at it as if I call 25 people at least 1 or 2 will lead to a real opportunity. Those numbers are good enough for me because all it takes is 1 person to give you a chance.