I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time…at first I was not sure this is real life when I got this opportunity, and since then I have been keeping so busy I haven’t taken the time to write. But I was sitting here using FCC to refresh some concepts I need for my job, while listening to FCC Radio on YouTube, and realized FCC is still way too important a part of my life and career to not make the time to do this. So here we go!!!
Where I am now:
I am two months into a 4 month paid (uhhhh…well paid) apprenticeship at Microsoft called Microsoft LEAP (http://www.industryexplorers.com/) It’s for people coming from a non-traditional learning path and as far as I know, Microsoft is the only company that offers this. Generally, there are two ways to get into a company like this… college hire (internships) or industry hire (people who already have years of experience). Granted, I have read about people who kicked butt and were able to compete against industry hires and pass the interview process, but until LEAP, there was no way for someone who was self-taught or went through boot camp to come to a major company like this with some skills and aptitude under their belt, still has a way to go to learn and grow, and just need an opportunity to prove themselves.
Besides the initial ‘ZOMG IM AT MICROSOFT!’ this has been a most incredible experience, I’ve learned so much, and already I have reached my goal to be a more valuable developer coming into this than when I started…and I’m only halfway through. To give you an idea of the intensity of what it means to be here… for my cohort, about 750 people applied, around 80 of us were selected to interview, and about 35 people were accepted.
Impostor syndrome is real y’all!!! I spent the first couple weeks scared someone would find out I somehow slipped through the cracks and don’t belong here …everyone else seemed like a genius compared to how I felt. Then I started really talking to others, and found out most of us felt the exact same way. Go figure! So in my weakest moments, I remind myself I’m here cause LEAP believed in me, to stop coming down on myself, focus and start believing in myself too.
The first five weeks were training, mostly to learn the tools and working style commonly used at Microsoft. So the focus was on Visual Studio, C#, Azure, Azure DevOps (formerly known as Visual Studio Team Services) and some random stuff in-between. It is not a bootcamp, or like a bootcamp where they start slow and ramp up from there…there’s a lot you’re expected to know, or at least have the aptitude to learn quickly. After that, which is where I am now, training ends and you go to work with your team, which may bring with it a whole other set of things to learn. I know of people in my cohort who are learning C++, R, Machine Learning etc. We all have a project we personally have to complete and will present at a showcase at the end of our apprenticeship. And then! The team I have been working with has the opportunity to extend an offer to interview for a full time position. Side note: Wish me luck y’all… I love my team, what they are working on seems really interesting to me, I’d learn and grow so much here and would really be happy to work there with them full time. Thanks in advance!
Where I started from:
Okay soooo what got me to this point?! I was working as a sale rep for a manufacturing company and when I started, it was to design their website. A chance event had them realize I’m pretty good at sales and thats what they ended up hiring me full time to do. Along the way I developed a proprietary CRM, cause I hate doing paperwork. Oh, lemme back this up for one second…I actually started my interest in programming in high school, but then joined the Army. I thought web design was interesting and taught myself HTML and CSS. My main focus was on my sales job, which I traveled a lot for, so I didnt have a lot of time to hone any decent dev skills, but always felt like if I had the time, I could. That’s where my heart has always been.
From high school up to this point, everything I knew was from reading books… Pluralsight was the first online course Id ever done (and I found out too that videos are not my learning style. At all. He does have his books on github btw though, and those are an amazing resource!) What is my learning style though is hands on, and immediately applying what I’ve learned to do things and create things. Back when I started, FCC had 3 certs, Front End, Back End and Full Stack. I got to working through the Front End, and felt like champion of the world when I got my certificate, cause it was haaard! But I finally really learned JS, and the projects I did were something I could really be proud of. I’m constantly referring back to projects I did, heck, just this morning while discussing API’s with someone I showed them my Weather App as a reference, and they were super impressed with it. It seems so simple and basic to me now, but…kinda puts things into perspective, yannow? Simply put, the FCC projects really do a lot for your portfolio and resume. Put effort into them and use them!
Another thing is, because I did all my learning from books, I’d never actually worked with or talked to anyone else about development. The FCC community is so incredible, that I felt comfortable asking questions, or showing off my truly horrible solutions to challenges and ask for help to make it better. I also really appreciate that people here generally dont jump to just giving the answer, but offer tips and nudges in the right direction, so that you actually learn something, and be able to apply it to other problems.
I ended up going to a bootcamp because, the more I learned the more I realized there was to learn. Once I finished my FCC Front End Cert, I sort of went hog wild, simultaneously working on the Back End Cert while taking a million courses online and becoming overwhelmed (the CS50 course on Edx is amazing though…and is why I know I want to get my CS degree regardless of what happens in my career). I needed focus, and also after getting a taste of talking to other devs, I wanted to get some experience working side by side with them and also get more involved in my local dev community. I also ended up getting an offer to work as a teaching assistant which was awesome…I learned a lot while helping others, and I learned a lot about myself too…I never considered myself a teacher but the experience not only changed my view about my ability to teach others, but I now also have the goal to be able to one day give talks at tech conferences and continue in some way to help others reach their goals.
It was through contacts at my school that found out about jobs and even got my first job offer through a personal referral (which I did not take, but still! Job offer!) and it was an alumni who told me about LEAP and took a vested interest in helping me out any way she could to help me with the application process, so I just wanna give a shout out to Wyncode Miami for being awesome. I could not have asked for a better instructor, teaching assistants, students to work with, environment to work in and alumni to turn to . There were people in my cohort who came from all over the country, and even the world… there were 3 people from Sweden just to attend Wyncode. Worth it? Uh yeah, I’d say so!
I will say this though, even if bootcamp is not an option for you, all is not lost. In hindsight, I really, really wish Id gotten involved in the FCC local meetup, I hear a lot of great things about it, and it’s also a great opportunity to work on a dev team. Also just checking out MeetUp, you’ll be able to connect with people. Networking is a HUGE part of this industry, and discussing the latest trends in tech, things to know and keep up to date with, and doing it with someones face is way more involved than just reading and writing about it online. Personal contact is what will get you the opportunities that will get your career going.
My project for LEAP is a React App, using Azure DevOps for automatic build and release, deployed to Azure Web App Services. I had only just learned React before coming here, so right now Im going back through the FCC React course, and planning to do the Redux, and React Redux courses next. I’m pair programming with a guy on my team…he only does back end work, doesnt know React at all and needed a refresher on JS so I sent him over to FCC. And I have to admit, its really kind of cool to think…Im sending a guy who works at Microsoft to FCC to learn something…Woah, right?!
I don’t know what will happen from here, if I’ll get the full time job at Microsoft and will be able to legitimately say “I got my first dev job!” But, I do know, where I am right now, I feel super fortunate and grateful. Sometimes when talking about it, people are surprised when I say Quincy sends out newsletters of courses that are staring each month. While I am loyal to FCC because of what it has done for me….and still doing for me, I really appreciate its not with the condition I neglect the other things that helped pave the way. The point is to learn, reach your goals, have a community that will help you along the way, and give back to the community to help others.
Hope this helps and inspires someone…. If you ever want to reach out, please do! As for specifics on the LEAP program, I get a lot of question about it so I’m putting my notes together to write some blog posts on my website about the application and interview process. I wish you all the very best, I’m still plunking along in my journey so send me some good wishes too! Thanks for reading!!!