Bootcamp students come from all walks of life: some start in marketing and sales, others are entrepreneurs looking to build a prototype, and many just looking for a solid skillset to start their career. Roberto Quezada is a former Marine who spent over a decade working in IT, nursing a passion for web development. In his free time, Roberto found himself researching web apps and even building some as in-office side projects.
After months of consideration, Roberto decided to take the plunge and join Thinkful’s Full-Time Web Development Bootcamp. Within 2 months of graduating, he was hired as a web developer at a health startup in Denver. We caught up with Roberto to share his story with you:
Hey Roberto, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us. Let’s start by talking about your background: what was your first experience in the workforce?
I grew up in Boston, MA then joined the Marine Corps after high school. In the Marines, I spent four years working as an engineer and equipment operator. My work involved building bridges and runways and playing in the dirt a lot. The work did require you to take a logical and methodical approach and my mind already worked in that fashion, so it made sense to me.
How did you start moving towards tech when you left the military?
My journey started right after I got out the military. It’s a pretty funny story how I got into web dev and tech in general. The summer I got out of the military, I built a website for my clan on a first person shooter game on PlayStation. That was my first stab at HTML and CSS. I started looking into how to come up with the website and began to learn the basics. Next thing you know, 4 hours had passed without me noticing. I was sucked in.
A year later, I decided to move back to San Diego (where I was stationed), and pursue a career in IT. I went to college at night and took IT courses to help jumpstart my career. I landed my first job as a tech support agent at a telecommunications company. I ended up moving around and serving different roles within the company, from a help desk technician to an Ops engineer. I ended up learning a ton while with the company.
For a while, I was in and out of web development, self-teaching a bunch of different web technologies, even learning to build small-scale web apps with PHP and jQuery at my job as internal side projects. That was a great learning opportunity.
Before we get to your decision to become a full-fledged developer by attending Thinkful, let’s talk about your other skills. What else did you do in your IT career?
I’ve always served a mentor role for many people in my life both professionally and personally. Having gained great leadership skills while serving in the Marine Corps, I naturally gravitated into leadership roles. About five years ago, I made a decision to get into IT management. Fruitful as it was, I realized I ended up trading my command line for spreadsheets. I wasn’t as excited about what I was doing on a daily basis and felt I didn’t have the opportunity to express my creativity and be constantly challenged.
I realized that I was looking forward to getting home from work so that I could actually write code. Coding was a hobby that I wanted to do professionally, so it was clear that I would be a lot happier doing this full time. So last year, I decided to make the jump and pursue a career as a developer.
So you decided to go to a bootcamp. What was that decision process like?
As you know, there are a handful of bootcamps out in the wild these days and for the most part, they provide similar offerings but they are not all created equal. For me personally, the major factors in my decision were:
I did my due diligence and researched them online, even looking up the online reviews on sites like SwitchUp! I knew going into this, regardless of what bootcamp I settled on, it was going to be a long journey and would require a ton of dedication and personal sacrifice.
I finally settled on Thinkful’s online full-time web dev bootcamp. One of the things that really attracted me was their class sizes. They kept them small and I’m sure that’s deliberate. This ensured a higher level of individual attention to each student when they needed. That was really important to me. You need that 1-on-1 mentorship and attention to get over those learning humps.
Lastly, and most importantly, I wanted some security of landing a job. Yes, most of this would be purely on your own efforts but I wanted a bootcamp that felt confident in backing up their program and career services that they would put a money-back job guarantee on it.
A few years back I had taken a handful of Thinkful courses and had a positive experience. After doing the prep work for a different school, I reached out via Thinkful’s Slack community (which I was already a part of) to see if anyone could tell me about the Full-Time Web Development Bootcamp.
I met the bar and made it into the cohort just in time. I was pumped to get started!
Once you were in the bootcamp, you had to succeed. What was your routine?
The routine and approach I took were similar to what I was already doing. Every evening, I’d spend time learning theory and then I’d practice by actually writing code. I had a formula that I’d put into play every day. It was a 70/30 split. 70% of the time I was actually writing code and the other 30% was learning new concepts and reading up on things. Practicing was really where things came together. In the bootcamp, I had someone to hold me accountable, which was really important to me. They also had a very structured schedule. Coming from the military, those things work really well for me.
I am of the belief that your success is really defined in your “off-hours”. You have to put in the extra effort outside the “normal” hours. Be it from work or school. That’s really where you make your money. What you do with that time is what will determine your success.
So now it’s been over 4 months since you officially got started, built a handful of web apps, learned a full stack, and graduated from the Bootcamp. It was time for the job hunt — how did that go?
Before you go and start a bootcamp like this, you start testing the waters and get an idea of what the job market around you is like. I lived in Las Vegas at the time. I had started looking around to see what the job market looked like out here. Unfortunately, it became clear to me pretty quickly that the tech scene, including startups in Vegas, had begun to dry up a few years ago.
After the bootcamp and a month of job searching, I was going on 6 months with no income, and I knew that I needed to make a move quickly. I had lived in Denver before and knew the tech job market was hot. After speaking to my wife, we decided it was the best move for us and gave me the best chance of landing a job as a developer.
With the help of my career coach and Thinkful’s services, I revamped my resume and focused my job search in Denver. Three weeks into my new search, I landed a job interview with a digital health startup and eventually a job offer!
Not bad at all! How did you interview for the role?
The interview process consisted of a total of three rounds. My first two interviews were remote — the first was over the phone, the second was a coding challenge via Google Hangouts with one of their engineers. For round three, they flew me out and the onsite was a half a day event.
It was a really quick turnaround. I had interview on a Wednesday and they asked me “can you be here next Thursday?” for the final on-site interview. Needless to say I said yes.
I met with some engineers, my new manager, and product manager. The engineers asked me more general technical questions and did another code test. The other questions were more behavioral and was mostly about determining a culture fit.
By Friday, I was back in Vegas getting ready to plan our move. To my surprise, I got a call later that afternoon from my future boss letting me know that they would like to extend an offer to me. I was stoked!
Well done. I’m sure there are a bunch of readers who’d like to follow in your footsteps. What tips would you give to someone who wants to become a developer today?
One thing I learned the most and would remind anyone who is on this journey: don’t sabotage yourself. Don’t doubt yourself. I wrote an article awhile back about imposter syndrome. It’s real: Even today, in my new job there are times that I start doubting myself. Then, I go ask a senior dev if I’m on the right track in solving a problem, and they give me a thumbs-up. It’s reassuring, but there was never a reason to be worried in the first place.
Over the course of this journey, you’ll go through tons of periods of suffering, self-doubt, and moments of despair. Just remember It’s a learning process and it won’t bet easy, but stick with it.
Give yourself breaks! Figure out how to balance coding and the rest of your life or you will burn yourself out. If you learn how to balance and pace yourself, it’ll sink in more anyway. Set a sustainable pace and you’ll have more success.
Get involved in your local tech meetups. It really helped me build a network and more importantly boost my confidence. I once presented a couple of my projects at a meetup and people were impressed — I was even approached for a couple of jobs. They weren’t the right fit, but it’s still awesome to get recruited just from going to a meetup.
Lastly, be yourself! Don’t be afraid to show your personality. Smile a lot in interviews. Be confident but humble. Be someone people want to work with!