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Alumni Q&A: Emma Wilcox Talks Switching Into Tech

by SwitchUp

July 21, 2017

Emma Wilcox, web developer at CrowdComfort, attended Launch Academy’s 15th Boston cohort in winter 2016. In an interview with SwitchUp, Emma shares her experience switching careers from higher education to web development, and why she chose a coding bootcamp to advance her career. Check out the interview below, and head over to SwitchUp to hear what other Launch Academy alumni have to say.

Your previous experience was in higher education. What made you decide to become a developer?

When I was working in higher education I would occasionally help out with some of the data analysis for our office. I really enjoyed this aspect of my job and thought it might be a good way to transition to a new position, so I took an MIT edX course in Python. I enjoyed the process so much that I [decided to have] learning computer programming languages at the center of my career change. Web development requires a wide variety of skills from logic and creativity to organization, and I expected it would be a challenging but ultimately rewarding career path, which is what I was looking for.

How did you decide to attend Launch Academy?

I was quite intimidated by the prospect of attending a coding bootcamp. Because of this, I first started researching women-only coding bootcamps, primarily looking at one in San Francisco that focused on Python (which had been the language I was teaching myself). However, I ultimately decided that if my goal was to stay in the Boston area, then attending a local bootcamp would be better for my inevitable job search. I also knew I wanted a bootcamp that didn’t have multiple tracks and wanted to be exposed to the full stack. Launch Academy did just that and full-stack web development was also their main focus and primary offering. I went to an open house with a friend and afterward she told me that the entire time I had been fidgeting in excitement. I just remember what the alumni on the panel were saying really resonated with me, apparently so much I couldn’t even sit still.

Considering your goal was to switch careers, what were the pros and cons of attending a coding bootcamp?

Honestly, without the option of a coding bootcamp, I don’t know if I would have been able to make this career transition. Learning a programming language has its challenges, but figuring out what you can do with that knowledge, how to apply it to web frameworks and libraries, how to create, build, and deploy a website—that is overwhelming. I definitely fell into the category of “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Launch Academy gave me a goal, a path, a strategy, and a support system, which allowed me to leave my position and provided me with the building blocks to grow and learn as a web developer. Additionally, doing a full-time program surrounded by people who are going through the same process provides a level of motivation that would be really hard to find outside the on-campus bootcamp structure.

It’s important to note that a coding bootcamp can only skim the surface of what a full-stack software engineer needs to know, but Launch Academy did a great job with teaching me how to think about and teach myself web technologies, which is something a developer has to do every day on the job. Don’t expect to have someone sitting next to you walking you through everything—that is not what your experience will be, in part by design, but mostly because there is just too much to learn. A lot of your learning will be done on your own or with a fellow cohort member, with a staff member there as a guide. A bootcamp, or at least Launch Academy, is about developing a baseline of knowledge you can then take and expand upon.

Where are you working now, and what is your day-to-day role like?

I work at a startup called CrowdComfort, one of Launch Academy’s hiring partners. I had never worked for a startup before, and it has been a fascinating experience. The Director of Engineering values developing new talent and that has been very important for me in being successful as a junior developer. I started as a paid intern and was just recently offered full-time employment. I feel very fortunate that I get to go in every day and write code and that I am in an environment where we are constantly evaluating our tech stack and trying out new technologies.

Right now I am primarily working on the front end and after only a few weeks of teaching myself Angular 4, I was contributing and working on large features. It has been a great learning experience and I get to sit next to another Launch Academy graduate (who attended three cohorts before mine). I am constantly impressed by him and I am sure it is thanks in part to his skill and ability that the company considered hiring another Launch Academy bootcamp graduate.

How did Launch Academy prepare you for life as a web developer?

One of the most useful things Launch Academy did was have us complete a two-week group project. This is when all the pieces/subjects that Launch had been teaching started coming together, but more importantly, it gave us all the ability to work in an Agile environment, practicing things like continuous integration and version control, which made transitioning into an actual work environment so much easier.

What challenges did you overcome to get to where you are?

In large part I think the challenges are just beginning. I am at the start of a new career path, and looking ahead I am sure I am in store for a lot of uncertainty which comes from always having more to learn, but I enjoy the work. I have always liked a good challenge, so overall I am very happy.

Launch Academy provides this experience in a microcosm. I remember being stressed every Tuesday because I felt I was not grasping the concepts quickly enough, but usually by Friday something had clicked and I was feeling better. Launch Academy is a great practice in trusting yourself, knowing when to ask for help, and pushing yourself to learn more. It is tiring and stressful and you will only get out of it what you put into it, so be patient with yourself and others.

What are your goals and plans for the next five years?

Over the next five years, I would like to continue to develop my skills. I am especially interested in front end single-page responsive web libraries and frameworks like React and Angular. But this is like asking an eight year old what they want to be when they grow up. I am incredibly new to the field and there are so many directions I could go.

What advice do you have for people who are interested in attending a coding bootcamp?

Make sure you are ready, mentally and financially, then go for it! It is a great way to develop skills very quickly and it definitely can be a very good first step toward a rewarding career path. That being said, you need to make sure you are financially prepared for the commitment because there is no guarantee you will find employment immediately.

If you are unsure of your direction, perhaps hedge your bets and take an online course ahead of time. See if you really like coding and development before making the commitment. Also, assess your willingness to enter into the unknown and be flexible about it, because you may end up in sales, QA, or DevOps.

You have to be prepared for things not to go entirely as planned. You may struggle, and you will almost definitely at some point feel vulnerable. However, if you are looking for a career change, want to be in tech, and are ready for a challenge, then it is worth it!


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