Q&A with Codesmith student Isaac Durand

By: The SwitchUp Team
Last Updated: March 21, 2016

Isaac is currently a software engineering student at Codesmith, a 12-week immersive program in Los Angeles teaching full stack JavaScript. Based on the Oxford University educational paradigm of immersive independent learning combined with mentorship, the curriculum is primarily project-based, using pair programming to create a unique environment of "guided problem solving." Students explore Computer Science, full-stack JavaScript (notably React and Node), and software architecture required for mid-level engineering positions and above. The course also features preparatory material, extensive recruitment preparation, and ongoing support with students' job searches.

Hi there, Isaac! Thanks for chatting with us. First things first: How did you decide to make the switch into software?

For as long as I can remember, I've been really interested in how people learn. When I graduated from college, this passion led me to a job in education technology, even though I'd never considered myself a "technical person." Part of my job was to synthesize feedback from teachers and students and share it with the engineering team. I really enjoyed learning more about our users and how we could serve them better, but I was frustrated that I couldn't do more. Without programming knowledge, I couldn't actually implement their feedback. Gradually, I realized that I could have more impact if I learned how to build software myself. And as I got to know the software engineers around me and learn more about the kind of work they did, I realized that I'd really enjoy it too.

What shocked you when you first attended your schools?

When I first met my classmates, my biggest surprise was how diverse our backgrounds were. From healthcare and mechanical engineering to finance and film, we come from a wide variety of academic and professional backgrounds. This diversity of perspectives enriches the learning experience for all of us, and since we do a lot of pair programming at Codesmith, we really get to know and support one another. We all benefit from seeing different ways to think about the same problem and from helping each other on our learning journeys.

Now that you're in the middle of the program, what are you looking forward to in the second half?

During the second half of our time at Codesmith, we focus on building production-level projects. I'm really excited to apply the skills I learned in the first half of the course to build new things, and to deepen my understanding of key programming concepts along the way. I'm also looking forward to learning more about the technology scene in Los Angeles and preparing to apply for jobs. It will be exciting to see where all my classmates and I end up!

What type of prep work do you recommend prospective students complete before applying to schools?

I think the most important thing is to get into a mindset of continual learning by programming regularly. Find a routine that you can commit to, whether it's an hour every day after work or a few hours each weekend, and spend that time building your skills.

Fortunately, there are a ton of great resources available online and in print, especially for beginners. I started my programming journey with Khan Academy's free Intro to JS course, and I'm a big fan (though having worked at KA, perhaps I'm a bit biased). The course is accessible to all ages, and it teaches JavaScript in the context of drawing and animation, using the ProcessingJS library. This means that you can see the results of your code right away, and you start to get a sense of how creative programming can be.

I also really like how the course combines coding challenges that reinforce basic programming concepts with open-ended projects that encourage exploration. And of course, the fact that everything on Khan Academy is free is a big plus. Outside KA, I benefited a lot from the free lessons on Codecademy and Code School, though both sites require a paid subscription for full access. I also found Jon Duckett's books HTML & CSS: Designing and Building Web Sites and JavaScript & jQuery: Interactive Front-End Development helpful, as well as the first few chapters of Marijn Haverbeke's Eloquent JavaScript.

You can't learn everything before bootcamp, because there will always be more to learn - that's one of the things that makes programming so exciting. But you can build a strong foundation.

Words of advice for people in your age group who are considering a switch?

You can do it! It's easy to box yourself in - to convince yourself that you're destined to keep working in your current field, or the field you studied in school. And in the short term, it might be more comfortable to stay put, even if you don't love your job, because at least it's familiar. But that's not a recipe for long-term happiness. You're going to spend years and years of your life at work, so you owe it to yourself to find work that you love.

If you're interested in programming in particular, give it a try, working through some free online lessons on your own. Better yet, go to a programming meetup in your area. The people who run these meetups do it because they're passionate about helping others learn to code, and chances are they'll be more than happy to welcome you into the community. Finally, reach out to friends or acquaintances who work as software engineers to learn more about their jobs and the paths they took to get there. Talking to other people my age who hadn't studied computer science in school but had made the transition to working as engineers really helped me build up the confidence to go to bootcamp.

What types of jobs are you interested in after the program?

I'd love to find a job related to either education or entertainment, two things I'm really passionate about. But I'm certainly open to other possibilities. The most important thing I'm looking for is the chance to tackle interesting problems and build products that benefit people. The company culture also matters a lot to me - I want to be part of a team where engineers support one another and where continued learning is highly valued.

Five years from now, where do you want to be?

In five years, I'd like to look back on the products I've helped build and feel proud of the impact they've had on people's lives. I'd also like to give back by mentoring new engineers and working to expand access to computer science education. Coding is incredibly empowering, and I'd love for more people to experience that empowerment.

How did you find out about your program? What was your research process? What about it was appealing to you?

I used Google and Course Report to find a list of computer programming bootcamps in the Los Angeles area, and I applied to several of them. A big part of my research process was talking to friends and acquaintances who'd attended bootcamps, asking them what factors they considered when picking a program and what they did and didn't like about their bootcamp experiences. These conversations helped me pin down what I wanted in a program. For example, I realized that I wanted to attend a full-stack JavaScript program because I wanted to learn one language at a deep level rather than several languages superficially.

Codesmith appealed to me for two main reasons: the rigor of its program and the dedication of the staff. During the application process, the Codesmith team expressed a genuine interest in who I was and what I wanted to learn, and they were very responsive to my questions. I got the feeling that they would push me hard but also give me the support that I needed. Visiting the campus in person and reading student reviews on Yelp and Course Report confirmed that impression. In short, I felt that Codesmith was where I'd learn the most, and I'm very happy with my decision.

What did your friends and family say when you told them you would attend a school?

My friends and family responded with overwhelming support, and I can't thank them enough for that. Some people were surprised at first, but when they saw how excited I was about learning to program, most of them got excited too.

Some of my biggest cheerleaders were my colleagues at Khan Academy, who'd piqued my interest in software engineering in the first place. It was a difficult decision to leave Khan Academy to study programming full-time, because being part of that team meant so much to me. But when I told my teammates my decision, they were incredibly supportive. They encouraged me to pursue my passion, and that meant the world to me.

Isaac Durand is a software engineering student at Codesmith in Los Angeles. Before Codesmith, he worked on the communications team at Khan Academy and supported teachers in using technology to personalize education. Before that, he studied theater at Yale University, which explains why he sings show tunes in the shower.

A true Angeleno, Isaac enjoys drinking coffee, doing yoga, and geeking out about theme parks. You can follow him on GitHub, Twitter, and Medium. He promises to post more regularly once he graduates.

Person thinking

Need help making a decision?

We'll match you to the perfect bootcamp for your location, budget, and future career.