AJ Agrawal is the CEO at Alumnify and a Coding Dojo graduate. We get a peek into his entire programming bootcamp life cycle from making the switch, how he did his research and what it takes to survive 12 weeks of intensive learning. Aj also gives insightful advice to budding entrepreneurs who are looking enhance their programming skills and help their start-up succeed.
MEET THE GRADUATE
What did you do before the bootcamp?
Before I came to Coding Dojo, I had just graduated from an accelerator program called Velocity.SI. I graduated from the University of San Diego in May 2013 and began my journey as an entrepreneur right after college.
Why did you make the switch into programming?
During my time at Velocity.SI I noticed how much of a disadvantage my co-founder and I had, because neither of us were programmers. We had to rely on outsourcing, which really hurt our funding and time that we needed to build the initial product. After we graduated from our accelerator, we decided one of us had to understand the basics of development. We decided I was the best one for the job, and that’s when I decided I needed to start learning programming.
THE RESEARCH PROCESS
How did you choose and decide on a programming bootcamp?
I knew that to learn the basics of coding, I needed to take time away from my business and really dive all in. Programming bootcamps are perfect for that, because they force you to just concentrate on learning development most of the day. In addition, it would’ve taken me years to learn the development I needed to, if I were to do it on my own. Instead, I decided I wanted to have the necessary skills in a few months, which is one of the main reasons I went with a coding bootcamp.
I was in an interesting spot when I was deciding on a coding bootcamp because I wanted to be able to build my own company, as opposed to getting a job when I left the bootcamp. I found that Coding Dojo was by far the best program to helping entrepreneurs build their initial products at a bootcamp. This is true for a couple of reasons. First, they focused a lot of their curriculum on group learning, which is extremely helpful for making connections and building your team. Second, they strongly encourage you to build your own projects, so you have time to learn in a creative format. Third, they also are open to students going on different paths with their curriculum. I knew I would have to learn different skills while at the bootcamp then people who weren’t entrepreneurs, and Coding Dojo helped me through my own path. Finally, Coding Dojo promotes their students' creations when they leave the bootcamp. They help make introductions, and are usually willing to let their students test their solutions in their own classrooms. For all these reasons, I knew Coding Dojo was the right bootcamp for me.
How did you prepare for the bootcamp?
I took a lot of courses on Codecademy and Treehouse. I think that preparing before hand is crucial for anyone going into a coding bootcamp. The course will move so quickly, and if you aren’t always a little bit ahead, you’ll see yourself falling behind very quickly.
What did you expect from a bootcamp and what surprised you?
I expected that I would learn basic website building, make a few friends, and then leave the bootcamp with just the fundamentals. In reality, what I found was that by the time I left I had make more than friends than I could have imagined, and even found a team member for my company. Also, we ended up building the version 1 product for our company during the bootcamp. Right when we left, that product got us into the TMinus6 Accelerator in South Carolina. We never imagined that the company would grow that fast right out of the bootcamp, but a lot of it had to do with the amount of time we were able to build and learn while at Coding Dojo.
What’s the best advice you can give to a potential student?
Go into the bootcamp looking to meet great people, not just focusing on learning how to code. So many benefits of being in a programming bootcamp come from being able to work with amazing people who are just as hard working as you. If you just spend all your time going through the lessons you’ll miss out on some of the biggest reasons why coding bootcamps are such a good idea.
What was the career day like at your bootcamp?
Career day at the bootcamp was a giant celebration more than anything else. There were several employers there, but my team member and I were in a unique situation because we weren’t looking for jobs. While career day had a lot to do with meeting employers, it also was a celebration for all the hard work that we had done together in the bootcamp. We all gave each other pat on the backs and congratulated one another, and it was really great to be able share that experience with the people I had grown close with during the bootcamp.
Your start-up is called "Alumnify." Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Alumnify is an alumni engagement company that builds white label mobile applications for universities, high schools, and companies. 2 days ago, the company completed a seed round of $425,000.
How did Coding Dojo better prepare you to lead a start up?
Coding Dojo taught me about leadership by having be work in team projects. In addition, it also let me discover the proper ways to communicate with developers. This helped with recruitment, fundraising, and product strategy.
Do you have any specific advice for entrepreneurs who are about to attend a programming bootcamp? What are skills they should pay attention to?
They should try to network as much as possible during the bootcamp. Making connections is one of the advantages coding bootcamps provides rather than just learning at home. I would advise anyone going to a bootcamp to also be familiar with Ruby on Rails. It's great for start-up entrepreneurs, and it is popular in the valley.