Q&A with Codesmith student Isaac DurandBy: The SwitchUp Team
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.
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?
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.