May 19, 2021

Bootcamps: Becoming a Software Engineer


Episode Highlights

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We connected with Hirewell alumni, Paul Luhrsen to discuss his transformation from IT Recruiter to Software Developer extraordinaire. Paul walks us through how he decided on the right bootcamp, what he had to do to get in, the time commitment, and how well he feels it prepared him for the competitive job market. Paul now works at Enova in a Software Developer position and is a true success story. Interesting to hear how Bootcamps played a role in his transformation.

Episode Transcript

Welcome Paul Luhrsen, joining me , Zac Colip here at Hirewell  you know, wanted to just catch up with Paul. He used to work for Hirewell, a great alumni of ours, really successful there, ended up  actually taking the route towards development and jumping into a developer position.


He did take a bootcamp to get there, so we wanted to get his perspective on what that whole story looks like.  Thanks for joining me Paul. 


Thanks for having me, Zac. 


Awesome. Well hey let’s kick it off by just kind of getting a better understanding of how you ended up taking the bootcamp route and jumping into a developer position.


Sure. Like you said, I used to work for Hirewell. I didn’t really know what software engineers were until I started working as a technology recruiter there. I think pretty quickly, I kind of realized that this could be something that could be interesting for me. Yeah, I was the kid growing up that I was tech support for my family, you know, setting up computers, doing anything in that regard.


And then also, I absolutely love puzzles. And so really when I started looking into it a few years down the line, I realized that this was something I really wanted to do and would be a bit more passionate about on a day-to-day basis. And so I looked at a bunch of different bootcamps. I was lucky enough to be the recruiter, so I also had familiarity with what boot camps were. Probably most viable in the Chicago market, which ones were going to set me up for success. Not only that, I also kinda understood what languages, what skillset companies were looking for. So I had some advantages in that regard but I also had a close friend who had recently done a bootcamp.


And so having talked with him and having done some research, I was able to settle on the one that felt like the best for me. I ended up going to the Full Stack Academy. Then it’d be a great experience, it was full stack, JavaScript and Node and I was able to kind of just touch every part of the development life cycle and really figure out what, where my strengths, maybe even some of my weaknesses and kind of figure out what I was most passionate about and ended up really having a great experience with it.


Awesome. And then how long was that program for you?


 Okay. So I want to say it was, it was like eight weeks. Eight weeks in person. However, I probably on the whole spent about six months  deciding to get into development to finishing the bootcamp was about a six month process right? You know, basically every day I was doing things online, doing research and I had to learn enough engineering to pass the entrance exams and tests for full-stack and a lot of the good ones will have to some sort of exam to just make sure that you’re serious about this.


Then from there, you know, we also had, I want to say it was like two months that I was doing remote kind of like prove it work for the organization before even going in onsite right? So there was like a series of tests I needed to pass to show that, hey, not only am I like understanding what the development aspects of this are, am I picking it up at a quick enough pace that I can not be a detriment to the class. If they were to bring someone in that just isn’t able to stay at the same speed as everyone else right? Cause if someone’s really falling behind it’s unfair to the rest of the class to have the teachers kind of rely on keeping them afloat when everyone else is needing, their help as well.


Cool. How hard was that like test or exam that you had to take to kind of get into it? Did you have to spend a lot of time preparing for that? 


They have material, you know, like a lot of them will have material like, Hey, you know, here’s kind of a sample exam type of thing. I probably spent a month or two alone just trying to prepare for that.


Maybe I went a little, I prepared maybe a little bit too much.  But I don’t know in this case, like the amount you’re trying to learn that you really can’t err too much for it, but I think it’s something you definitely need to do a little research on and spend some time and really devote yourself before even trying to get in because you need to really be able to at least point to some things that you’ve been doing and working on.


And if you say, Hey you know, I’m serious about this and you know, here’s what I’ve learned so far, and here’s what I’m hoping to accomplish  by joining this organization or joining this school. 


Okay, gotcha. And then what was the requirements as far as like your schedule? Was like two hours a night or when were the classes?  


There’s a lot of different routes with this. I mean it depends on the school or organization you end up joining.


Ultimately, I have found that the best way to learn software development is to do it every single day and be totally committed and it’s like learning a language, right? Like you can study an hour a night and try to pick up Spanish but if you go to Spain, you go to Mexico and spend like a month or two there, you’re going to have a lot better time picking it up and be able to do it quicker.


 I ended up doing in-person, it was, I think five days a week. It was basically like a regular 40 plus hours a week in person that we were working as a class, you know, doing a mix of exercises, lectures, paired programming with your peers.  That was really invaluable to me at this point.


It’s probably a bit different with the pandemic, but with technology it’s really not too different, like being there in person versus being just connected and using Slack, using Zoom and Google meets, like you can still accomplish a lot of those things still and I found it very valuable.


 Great and then at the end of this whole thing, was there like test or something that you had to pass in order to like kind of graduate? 


Yeah, so I can speak in regards to full stack. Full stack Academy, which they have an office here in Chicago. For the onsite, you know, it’s broken down into two parts.


There’s one part where they’re teaching and helping you get, you know, kind of the basics of the full stack. And then there’s a second part where you’re creating projects and capstones to have things to show to potential interviewers or to companies and your potential companies that are looking to hire you to be able to say, “Hey, I’ve learned this, and this is what I can do.


And this is what I’ve done so far” as like a, you know, a sample or a proof of concept that, “Hey, I was able to do this. I think I can continue to expand and extrapolate that to what you guys are doing” and so to move to phase two, because you have to know working on teams of either two or three or four, you need to be making sure everyone’s kind of on the same page.


So there is a test at the end of phase one to move on to phase two and I think most people end up ultimately passing it but there were people in my class that didn’t, that, you know, stayed back and had to retake it to be able to move forward. So it is something you really do need to take seriously.


And then you need to keep hitting these check marks along the way to be able to progress and actually graduate. 


Gotcha. And then do you get like a Github or something that you can like take to, you know, possible interviewers and say, “Hey check this out. Like. I can do this”? 


Oh yeah, absolutely.


At least with full stack, you know, you’re going to have a fully built out GitHub, you know, all of our projects and exercises we’re practicing that every day, you’re pushing stuff up into repos and you’ll have all of your projects up on GitHub as well. So you’re going to have a fully built out Github by the time you were to finish a program like this and be able to not only show the visible sides of some of the applications that you built or smaller applications that you’ve built, but you’ll also have all the code bases to be able to show potential employers like, “Hey, here’s what I’ve done”.


Awesome, that’s amazing. Now when you graduated and we’re kind of moving towards the interview process, how confident did you feel with like your skill level at that point? Were you feeling pretty good about it or 


That’s the million dollar question, right? So there is definitely going to be imposter syndrome with any developer that comes from this background, right?


Like you’re going to kind of be thrown into it and saying, wow, can I really do this? Like now the training wheels are a little bit off once you actually leave the school. So you’re going to have those doubts, but obviously I’m going to present myself in a very confident way to employers.


So there’s still always going to be a little bit of that insecurity and doubt like, Hey , can I do this? But it should give you enough confidence like, Hey, like I’ve been able to get this far and I’ve been able to do this. Like if you’re able to look back and just kind of realize how far you’ve gone at that point, like, you should have the confidence level to be like, okay, Hey, I can keep doing this.


 Awesome and I’m sure it helped to have that like kind of recruiter mindset and understand the entire process and how that stuff all worked. 


It does not hurt. 


Good. Cool and so then you approached the interview stage here. I mean, now we know the end story  right?


You ended up at a great place, you know, working at a Enova now. Super impressive. You know, how did you feel going through their interview process specifically, as you started going through it, were you building confidence and then when you got to the end, I mean, obviously like amazing to like end up at a place like that.


 Can you kind of walk me through that a little bit? 


Sure. Well, you know, Enova first and foremost, it was absolutely amazing throughout the interview process. I was on familiar terms with some of their, you know, people team, some of the recruiters that they have and I was lucky enough to be able to go in and speak with some of them before truly starting the interview process and they were great at setting the expectations. They said, Hey, you know, right now we’re not really going to look at you for like a software engineer level one, even type of role but, you know, we have this program and it was amazing. I was able to find that they had an apprentice, a software engineering apprentice program and a capstone and this full  program all built out.


 So it ended up being a perfect fit for my experience level and so I was having set that expectation like, Hey, this is what we’re going to be looking for you and understanding what this program was going to do for me as far as just getting me acclimated, getting me familiar with their code base and getting me just familiar with what a day-to-day life as a software engineer in actuality is like what the day in day out seems like was amazing.


So it was about a three or four month process that I did with another apprentice. So their interview process was amazing. They were transparent throughout, everyone I met was  great. So, you know, total props to them. There was night and day from any other interview process that I went through personally for coming out but I also think that almost all the other roles I was looking at were you know, full-blown engineers where I could be competing with someone that had a year or two of experience. And so I think if you’re lucky enough to find apprentice programs and are lucky enough to be in a situation where you can afford to take that for, you know, whether it’s three, six months, that’s just going to put you in a better position to succeed.  The worst thing to do is take the first role that comes and might not truly put you in a position where you’re going to be able to expand your skills in working with technology that isn’t going to make you marketable going forward. And so they just had the best of everything that they were able to offer.


So it just ended up working. 


Fast forward, what like a year now, or give or take and I know we had been discussing like right before this call. Now you’re in the weeds, you’re coding, you’re involved in like the heavy lifting projects. So like just super impressive, amazing story.


You know, working with many clients on the tech side, and I know you, you did the same, you know, when you worked at Hirewell, you know, we run into clients that sometimes are less inclined to interviewing candidates from bootcamps. You know, there’s also some that they don’t care where they come from as long as they have the skills right? After this whole story, do you think your like, perception has changed on that? Do you feel like, you know, like boot camps definitely prepare you and maybe clients should be considering them moving forward? 


Oh yeah. You definitely can do it. You know, I think it’s always, you’re trying to bet on the person right?


Like is this person going to be interested, good employ and can they learn on the job and are they going to want to be a team player and just kind of do whatever it takes to help the organization forward? So you have to do obviously your general due diligence with any hire, but yeah, the people that are coming out of these bootcamps, they can definitely do the job.


We’d have expectations, right? Like it would have been probably difficult for me to be thrown onto a team of, you know, seven to 10 or, you know, organization under 50 people that didn’t have any structure in place as far as onboarding or just, you know, getting you set up for success like that, it would have been challenging.


I think it’s doable. But I think there needs to be an understanding of, you know, from the organization if you’re going to be open to bootcamp candidates, you need to know that, hey this could be a three to six month investment, and then they’re going to be able to start paying dividends, but you also might be willing, you know, getting under market, you know?


Right. Like you can pay a little less for that less experience and you’re also -the one thing I can promise is almost every single boot camp hire that you’re going to find, we’re going to be extremely motivated and enthusiastic about what they’re doing is because they were doing other careers and they could have been successful elsewhere but they’re choosing to do this. They’re choosing to do this because they’re passionate and so you’re going to end up getting better long-term employees if you’re willing to put a little bit of upfront investment. 


  Awesome. As far as like recommendations or words of advice to anybody out there that may be considering, you know, looking at bootcamps, do you have any words of wisdom?


Use LinkedIn look at  you know, alumni from bootcamps, you know, who is getting hired coming out of these boot camps, try to find the most recent class and then are they getting jobs right now? Right? Like you can kind of figure it out pretty quickly. Like, okay, this class of 12 people graduated six months ago.


Two of them have titles that are software engineer, five of them have, you know, tech support and six of them still have that they’re student at this company at whatever school it was. Like maybe I need to keep looking or seeing, you know, Hey, is this going to be the right place for me?


You know, the nice thing about full stack is you know, not only I worked with people as a recruiter that had come from this specific bootcamp and had made the successful transition into good engineers, I also had a personal friend that had only done it a year before and was working at that time as a software engineer.


So the confidence level of being able to go in and say, okay, if I just work my butt off at this, I can have opportunities coming out of here. And I think that’s really the key. Almost every bootcamp is going to say they have some sort of job help or being able to set you up with, you know, even interviews or interview help and prep like that.


That’s great but you can’t rely on just that alone. You need to be able to do your research and understand how to go about finding jobs and selling yourself and it sometimes takes going above and beyond to be able to differentiate yourself between you and the other people in your class because in actuality, you’re competing against all of them when you come out and that’s something that you want to at least keep in the back of your head, when you start it. 


Awesome. Good deal. Well, Hey Paul, I appreciate you jumping on here. This is just an amazing story, like so awesome to see you doing so well.


Never had a doubt, we knew you’d be good at anything you kind of jumped into. So just wanted to say thank you for joining me here and let’s stay in touch.


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