Some in the tech industry may call me an “alternative candidate.” I don’t have a computer science degree, and I’ve never had an internship at a tech company. A year and a half ago, I wasn’t even working in a field involving computers. Instead, I was doing biology research at a major university.
I was only two years into my laboratory career when I realized that I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, and that the prospect of spending the next 40 years there was disheartening at best. During this time, I was working in Seattle’s tech-centric South Lake Union neighborhood, and had a front seat to the rise of the programming bootcamp industry. Hearing the bootcamp’s bold claims to make a programmer out of anyone, I thought back to the single Java class I took years ago in college, and how I had unexpectedly both enjoyed and done well in it.
Buoyed by those thoughts and lacking any better plan, I quit my job, moved to San Francisco, and jumped off the deep end.
I joined the Galvanize Web Development Immersive Program in the heart of San Francisco. While there are many bootcamp choices these days, I was drawn to Galvanize by the length of their program (six months) and the community they have created. They aren’t just a bootcamp, but a tech hub with workspace for companies and event rooms where they regularly host talks from industry leaders. There were even organized lunches for students to mingle with industry professionals. Many of my instructors had industry experience, and were able to offer insight into new technologies, interviewing, and career development.
There are a lot of articles and accounts about bootcamps, often singing their praises of how they open up the tech elite to the rest of us. None of them, however, prepare you for the sheer amount of work it takes to be successful. Seven-day, eighty-hour work weeks were the norm, and there was that ever-present anxiety creeping along the periphery that maybe this was all a giant mistake and the desolation that would bring if it was. In order to get a job, I was going to have to know computer science concepts that traditional candidates had years to learn. It was very different from my traditional college experience. At Galvanize the focus was on learning practical skills needed to hit the ground running. Through all of this I also had my steadfast friendships with classmates, several of whom I feel like I’ve known for years.
Six months later, there I was, a newly minted web developer with a biology degree, no practical experience, and six months of project work focused on technologies that Redfin didn’t use. A lot of companies are wary of hiring bootcamp grads since they’re unproven, and many job descriptions required CS or related degrees and/or experience in the field, neither of which I had. Redfin didn’t require any of that; they were more interested in a candidate that was motivated and self-driven with the capacity to learn and become a successful developer. That the job description was more inclusive of non-traditional backgrounds really resonated with me and drew me to the company.
Beyond the job description, Redfin also offered a lot of what I was looking for: a company large enough that its future wasn’t always up in the air, but small enough that I knew I could make an impact and get recognition. The teams are small, so you’re working in a close-knit group. And since starting, I’ve experienced how much the company cares for its employees–coworkers and management actually cared that I was happy, and if I got stuck on something, someone would invariably help within minutes. There are opportunities to work with mentors and hot new technologies, and I feel like I’m advancing my knowledge as a developer every day. I feel like I’m being set up for success.
Redfin has been the realization of all my hard work at Galvanize. Every day I’m here, I feel like I’m making an impact, and that’s really why I entered the industry in the first place.