Giveaway Winner Spotlight: José Vila, Pursuit
SwitchUp is pleased to announce one of the winners of our gift card giveaway, José Vila!
José is a graduate of Pursuit, a four-year intensive program in New York City that trains high-need adults to become the next leaders in tech. José describes how he struggled to make ends meet before joining Pursuit, and the program seemed like the perfect opportunity to build an intellectually-challenging career and gain financial security.
For José, an important benefit of Pursuit is the program's income-share agreement, which enables participants to skill up without taking on debt. Throughout the program, José gained knowledge of Java, Android, Data Structures and Algorithms and other valuable skills, which he went on to use first as a Mobile SDK Engineer with Oracle, and now as an Android Engineer with Backbase. Pursuit programs have no upfront tuition; instead graduates like José make a "pay it forward commitment" to give 12% of their salary for 3 years back to Pursuit once they land a job earning $60,000/year or more. This policy allows Pursuit to help low-income and minority students break into Android, iOS, and Full Stack Web development without struggling to make ends meet along the way.
We sat down with José to learn more about his career change, what he loved about Pursuit, and how he leveraged his education to gain financial security and an exciting new career!
Tell me about your background. What was your educational experience before joining Pursuit?
I earned a B.A in Anthropology from Queens College, CUNY back in 2005. I then spent the following 10 years working in education, and various other odd jobs to make ends meet.
What made you decide to pursue a career in tech?
I was tired of barely scraping-by financially, and performing tasks that weren't intellectually challenging. Pursuit seemed like the best route for me to change my career for the better.
Why did you decide to attend Pursuit? What were your goals for the program?
I chose Pursuit because of their vision, and their promise - to give me, a member of an underrepresented population in tech, the opportunity to gain a new set of marketable skills, and to grow in a career which I felt I never had a chance in pursuing, but in which I always wanted to participate.
There are an increasing number of available bootcamps. Why did you decide to choose this program over others?
Coming from a place of financial insecurity - the last thing I wanted to do was sign up for a program that would force me to rack up a considerable amount of debt, without any real guarantee of success. Pursuit's Bond / income share agreement model helped me to avoid any unnecessary upfront costs, while giving me the opportunity to learn mobile development, with the understanding that I would only pay them back when those skills helped me get a better paying job.
For you, what were the pros and cons of attending a bootcamp?
Pros: lower costs when compared to a four-year CS degree, and a focus on actionable skills, rather than theory
Cons: the possible stigma associated with an unknown coding bootcamp - however, this ultimately proved to be a non-issue, since the tech community at-large tends to be skills-based, rather than degree-based when it comes to choosing the right candidate.
Tell me a little bit about the course structure. What did you like best about the environment and teaching style?
The course structure involved roughly six months or so of academic training - Java Fundamentals, Android framework and third-party library exploration, and Data Structures and Algorithm study, culminating in a cohort-wide hackathon, and a public presentation of a team capstone project, followed by about four months of soft skills preparation, solo projects, and additional job-readiness training.
The environment was very supportive, and always felt safe for groups commonly underrepresented in tech (minorities, immigrants, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community), and the teaching style was relatively structured, but still based on real-world tech skills, as they would be expected to be performed on the job (project management, version control, a career-current tech stack, etc.).
How did this program prepare you for a career in tech?
The program prepared me for not just one tech job, but multiple tech jobs (first Oracle, now Backbase). It did so by focusing on the kinds of skills usually found on job postings for Junior to Mid-Level Android Developers, while also exploring the topics that could set us apart from the rest of the hiring pool: Git knowledge, Scrum Agile methodologies, Solo Projects and Team Capstone Projects which we were encouraged to post on the Google Play Store, etc.
What challenges did you overcome to get where you are?
More than my fair share - financial and housing insecurity, growing debt, underemployment, and the common struggles that come from growing up as a member of the Afro-Latino community here in New York City. But my story isn't unique - most of Pursuit's graduates faced similar struggles, and all found ways to turn adversity into grit and inspiration.
Tell us about what's next. How do you plan to use your newfound skills as you build your career?
I'm grateful for the skills Pursuit helped me learn, and for the opportunity to land my first job in tech as a Mobile SDK Engineer with Oracle (!!!) - and I have leveraged both of those opportunities to land my most recent position as an Android Engineer for Backbase! Future goals include continued success in the mobile space, and possibly entrepreneurship, should I ever have the free time!
What advice do you have for people who are interested in attending a bootcamp?
Do it!!! However, do your homework - look into scholarship programs, or programs that offer income share agreements rather than upfront tuition, as well as respectable graduate-to-job placement ratios. Also, all programs potentially offer great training, but ultimately you get what you put into it - so don't be afraid to dig deep, both academically and emotionally - to learn as much as you can, and work on a number of portfolio projects to solidify new skills, or reinforce old ones. And never forget your "why", or the reason for transitioning to a career in tech - it will get you through the hardest times, and bring you closer to the job you want.
Are you a bootcamp student or alum? You could be our next giveaway winner! Write a review of your program, and you'll be entered to win an Amazon gift card.