Hacking Into the Industry as an Entry Level Engineer

If you listen to our podcast, you know we’ve been sharing origin stories from various software engineers at Rocket (see here and here). And you also know that these stories tend to be all over the place. That’s because there are many paths to becoming a software engineer. Some folks decide that getting a Computer Science degree is the way to go. Others decide to teach themselves and freelance their way into a permanent position.

Then there is that rare breed of Engineer that decides to go to Bootcamp. That’s where my story begins.

As an aspiring software engineer with little to no experience in the field, I found myself looking around for a way in. I had friends that were engineers but none that had done it without a college degree. I considered going back to school and getting a 4 year degree in Computer Science, but when thinking about how long that would take, I would get sick. 4 years was too much for me and I knew there had to be a way to get there sooner through my own efforts.

I had started doing things like watching YouTube tutorials and reading books at the library, and while those things were great, I still felt I was lacking something: collaboration. I, and many others, am a very communicative person and thus, need to be able to hear my own thoughts and the reactions to them. I knew I needed some type of in-person interaction. That’s where I found my coding bootcamp, Launch Academy. I went through the program and felt it was finally time to become a developer.

Life after coding bootcamp was tough. I had about 12 weeks of learning experience and only about 2 weeks of real development work. After graduation, I still felt very weak in my skills. The interviews I was taking were awful and I could barely speak to the subjects we were discussing. I eventually decided to buckle down and force myself to work hard on my code every single day. I built my skills up to a point where it was second nature to share them in an interview and it was then that I finally found my first job 6 months after the program.

Coding bootcamps like Launch Academy are a great starting point for many developers, but after having this experience myself, I thought it might be useful to share some thoughts on the challenges with coding bootcamps and with what happens to a developer after they finish one.

The advertisement

Bootcamps advertise themselves as a program that once you complete, you are instantly going to get a job. A lot of people leave their programs feeling entitled to the same pay and positions that others have worked YEARS for and this all goes back to how they were told for 12 straight weeks that this was the reality when it simply isn’t the case.

The short timeframe

Many bootcamps and bootcamp graduates think the program is all they’ll need. Oftentimes these programs don’t really have much of a post-graduate curriculum to follow, or career advisors that will help push the student over the edge and into their first role. It takes a lot more than 12 weeks to become an engineer, and it really shows that some graduates think they are already at that level. This thought process can seriously hold you back during the interview process.

The little amount of experience you actually get

The course itself is only 3 months long on average. Some people spend YEARS as developers and STILL are looking to improve. After only 3 months, it’s hard to compete with that crop of candidates when all you have to show for is a project you spent 2 weeks on.

So What Can You Do?

Pick a new project/start fresh

Once bootcamp lets out you’ll likely have completed a “capstone” project. Pick a new topic and dive into that fresh. If you continue working on the same known project, you won’t discover anything new for yourself and won’t see much more improvement in your skills. That’s a great way to plateau once you finish the program.

Start a group project

It’s likely that a lot of your classmates will also not have jobs right off the bat. Take full advantage of that and organize a group project that will hold each of you accountable to one another. Maybe even try volunteering your group for a project at a smaller local company, then you all would be able to meet in the office and simulate a work environment.

Step outside your comfort zone

It’s easy to continue to do what you already know, especially when starting out as a developer. DON’T. If you truly want to expand your skills as an engineer then seek out other projects to work on. Brainstorm ideas and maybe pick a different technology to build it in rather than the one you’re comfortable with. Oftentimes technologies will be built using the same principles and seeing those principles implemented in a different language may help you understand them much better and help you pick up more languages in the future much quicker.

Reach out to seniors in the field

See if they’d have some time for a cup of coffee. Treat them as the wealth of knowledge they are and learn from them. Don’t take an interview with the goal of getting a job. Walk into an interview with the goal of learning from the senior engineer you’ll have direct one to one face time with and ask them as many questions about their story as you can. See if they’d be open to discussing the topic they’re asking you about. This type of experience can go a long way and help you really learn what’s out there.

And remember...

There is so much you can do, now you just have to do it.

Coding bootcamp graduates can easily fall into the trap of entitlement without ever realizing how truly difficult the job actually is. Those that stay humble and continue to seek out knowledge from their seniors will experience growth and success in their career the world over.