We’re pleased to announce one of the winners of SwitchUp’s gift card giveaway, Sarah Morris!
Sarah is a graduate of Nashville Software School, and previously worked as a project manager at a tech company in Nashville. After receiving encouragement from colleagues, she decided to build a stronger foundation in computer science, and enrolled at NSS.
Typical of many women in tech, Sarah was hesitant to study Computer Science in her undergraduate education because it was dominated by men, but her “passion for logic” and problem-solving, combined with support from her workplace gave her the confidence to develop new skills and embark on a new path as a QA Engineer at a tech company in Nashville.
We sat down with Sarah to learn more about her career change, what she loved about Nashville Software School, and her new role.
Tell me about your background. What was your educational experience before joining Nashville Software School?
I went to Belmont University for my undergraduate degree and double majored in Music Business and Marketing. I went to Belmont for law school right after that (with the intention of becoming an entertainment lawyer) and two months in, knew I wasn’t cut out for lawyer life. All throughout that first year of law school, I found myself on teamtreehouse.com and codecademy.com and freecodecamp.com instead of studying contract law. I quit law school after successfully finishing a year, and started learning to code more seriously on my own. After about a year of soul searching and working as a project manager, I decided to go to Nashville Software School to get a good foundation and learn things that might’ve taken me years to learn on my own.
What made you decide to pursue a career in tech?
I have always loved computers and used to build them with my dad as a kid. While in college, computer science wasn’t really anything that I thought I could study. All throughout my undergraduate career and beyond, I’ve had a passion for logic and the kind of problem-solving that is involved with computer science. I started working at a tech company in Nashville as a sort of project manager/coordinator and worked closely with a fantastic tech team that took me under their wing. They kind of convinced me to go to NSS to get a better foundation, and then hired me back after I graduated!
Why did you decide to attend Nashville Software School? What were your goals for the program?
I decided to attend Nashville Software School so that I could have a career that was focused around personal and professional development, and be able to work from anywhere. The tech scene in Nashville is still booming and it’s a great time to represent females and minorities in the industry. My main goal was to figure out my best way to learn and read different programming languages so that I could use that knowledge in the future. I wanted to explore the different teaching styles that are offered at NSS in order to figure out what worked best for me because I knew I would be learning every day on the job (for pretty much the rest of my career)! I also was hoping to be able to build a full-stack app by the end of the course, which I did!
There is an increasing number of available bootcamps. Why did you decide to choose this program over others?
I chose Nashville Software School because they offer ample financial help and scholarships, and the alumni give back to the Nashville community pretty frequently as a non-profit. I wanted a full-time program that was affordable but thorough (I.E. longer than 12 weeks). My mentor (now he’s my boss) suggested Nashville Software School because he had experience hiring previous NSS students, and said he was impressed with their abilities and knowledge. So I went!
For you, what were the pros and cons of attending a bootcamp?
Truthfully the only con I’ve experienced thus far is the lack of architecture knowledge that you gain from a computer science degree (usually). However, I was able to double my salary from the job I had right before bootcamp, to the job I had right out of bootcamp. It would’ve taken me much longer to complete another four-year degree program, and I felt like I was already past the point of going back to college.
Tell me a little bit about the course structure. What did you like best about the environment and teaching style?
Our six-month course was split in half with the front-end for 3 months, and the back-end for 3 months. We met Monday through Friday from 9 am to 4 pm, and usually spent the first half of class listening to lectures, and the second half working through group or solo projects. We had at least 5 or 6 big group projects throughout the entire course, worked on a solo front-end capstone at 3 months, and a solo full-stack capstone at 6 months. I liked the flexibility that gave us to work with multiple people and different communicators, as it really taught us how to work with coworkers in the real world. Sometimes it was difficult asking questions to each other because you didn’t want to sound dumb, but we learned pretty quickly that everyone has questions about different things, and it’s only beneficial for everyone to feel confident enough to speak up.
How did this program prepare you for a career in tech?
Nashville Software School was able to teach me programming basics, helped me discover my learning style and how to read/write code that I’m just starting to learn, and how to interview well. Their career development team was extremely helpful when I started editing my resume and networking in the area. The six-month program trains students on so much more than you could possibly learn (well) in a 12-week course. You get a healthy mix of front-end and back-end knowledge, group work, solo work, interview training, whiteboard training, resume feedback, and more. That’s not to say I went into my first job feeling uber confident - I didn’t (and you likely won't either), but I went in ready to tackle new challenges and confident enough to ask the right questions. And more than that, I still keep in touch with the friends I made from the class, so we all have a sounding board for questions we’re too afraid to ask our bosses!
What challenges did you overcome to get where you are?
Most of my battles were fought before deciding to go to bootcamp - if you, reader, are already considering it: you’re over halfway there! Dedicating plenty of time and energy to school full-time was difficult but definitely doable. I think one of the most difficult parts of being a female in the industry is just working through (and understanding) imposter syndrome and how you can combat it with confidence and help from your team. I’ve dealt with my fair share of feeling like the least smart person in the room, but if you can actively remember that everyone has a different depth of knowledge (and your knowledge base might be more rooted in your previous career), you realize that you’re comparing apples to oranges. Use your previous experience to help boost your career, and don’t forget what you’ve gone through to get here.
Tell us about what’s next. How do you plan to use your newfound skills as you build your career?
I’m currently working as a QA Engineer at a tech company in Nashville, and enjoy working on open source projects on the weekends. I’m also still a firm believer in teamtreehouse.com for additional job training!
What advice do you have for people who are interested in attending a bootcamp?
My biggest piece of advice for someone looking at bootcamps is to contact alumni via LinkedIn or Twitter and meet with them over coffee! I did that with a few different Nashville Software School grads and ended up deciding to go because they all had such great experiences. Do your research on what’s out there and what’s available to you locally. There are tons of great smaller bootcamps that don’t get much attention! And of course, if you’re in the middle-TN area, let’s grab a coffee - look me up!