Q&A with Cynthia Kellogg, a Thinkful gradBy: The SwitchUp Team
Hi, Cynthia! What were you up to before the course? What were your goals coming into the course?
I ran into a situation common in the startup industry. Both of my technical co-founders left my consumer-based gift giving app for various reasons and I had an immediate need for technical help. I didn't have the experience to evaluate any talent but found myself hopping between networking events to find the perfect technical co-founder. At this point, I was left with three options: 1) shut everything down 2) hire somebody at an affordable rate 3) learn to code myself. I decided to try out the latter and enrolled in Thinkful's Frontend Web Development course. A month or two in, the more intensive Career Path had just started up so I immediately switched over to that.
How did you balance this with your schedule?
Because I had part-time jobs that were paying me during the days, I made sure to structure my whole week around the course. I would dedicate three specific days a week to focus exclusively on my Thinkful work. Although my time commitment fluctuated by the week, I'd say I spent 20-30 hours a week learning web development. Having three sessions a week was critical in making sure I didn't get behind and was held accountable for my weekly progress goals.
Awesome - let's hop in the course now. Where did you spend most of your time in the course?
Customizing my projects. My mentor made sure to strongly emphasize that with me. The Thinkful curriculum has a ton of projects you have to work through, but it's important that each student iterate on each one with new features or improved design when they learn a new skill. One project I enjoyed working on was called beerquest.io. The idea was simple (press a button and find local breweries near you) and easy to build on. At the end of the day, this is what's exciting about learning to code - making things of your own. You can build something that can get you revenue. You can make something truly unique.
Super cool. How were your mentor sessions? Any advice on getting the most out of them?
Yes - focus on learning how to learn. Programmers have to constantly learn new skills to stay up to date with the field. At some point, they'll get to a place where learning a new language is simply a matter of picking up new syntax. Until you get there, however, you'll need the help. You'll need a mentor that doesn't just give you the answers but guides you along the problem-solving process. I get it when people ask "Why don't you just watch these videos?". I really do - code school is great. The thing is, I want to talk to people about them. Switching careers is so much more than learning a skill. You have to immerse yourself in the community to develop the developer's mindset. Your Thinkful mentor sessions provide the perfect opportunity for that. Make the best out of it.
Great stuff. How was the student community?
Thinkful provides a way to learn for many different learning styles. You have the community on Slack where you can get questions answered in real-time. I was pretty nervous at first - definitely a passive user. That was over after I started posting questions. What I learned was that many of the times I'd figure out what was wrong with my code as soon as I posted it. Asking the question itself was a learning exercise. Besides that, there's a ton of group mentor sessions happening every week in the form of Q&A sessions and workshops. As I mentioned before, you're offered knowledge and help in multiple vehicles beyond your 1-on-1 sessions. Just remember that next time you find your stuck in the next rabbit hole.
Any advice on the job hunt?
Yeah - just go out there and talk. You have to be ready to pounce on opportunities. The demand is strong. Every single conference says I need a developer. As soon as I updated my LinkedIn to reflect my new skillset, my profile started blowing up with messages from recruiters. The only way you can become a developer is to immerse yourself in that mindset. Go to the meetups, join that hackathon you were nervous about, create a local study group. Thinkful will have you thinking about your job hunt earlier than most coding bootcamps so make sure you heed their advice.
Talk about your new company and what you're up to now!
I'm working for Cirrus Identity, a startup that's going through 500 startups accelerators. The company needed a brand new website and the founder, through mutual connections, knew that I was going through this coding class. I started with Squarespace at first because the whole user experience needed refactoring and I wanted to focus there at first. That was an amazing project to learn from - I had to work with various folks on the marketing, engineering, and product teams to build something with a great user experience and funnel. My other big project was building the testing framework that powers our technical marketing today.
Besides my day job, I continue to work on side projects. It's incredible helping other entrepreneurs who were in my position just a few months ago. I can explain to them how to define the scope of a project, how to pick between different framework, and how to evaluate new talent.
Anything else for readers?
Keep learning! I still listen to the same podcasts I would as a student, I still lurk in the Thinkful community. I'm still working on building side projects, improving my portfolio, and picking up new skills. That attitude should never stop as long as you're an engineer, which I'm proud to call myself today :)