One year ago today, I got a 0/20 on Assessment 0 on my first day at App Academy.
One year ago today, I opened up my first terminal session. Ever.
One year ago today, the most complicated piece of code I had written was a matrix transposer. And all the code I had ever written I wrote on repl.it.
A year ago, I would have told you that Cassandra was a character from Greek tragedy— one of my favorites. And I would have told you that *nobody* called her c*.
A year ago, I could have sworn I heard somebody talk about “sharting” data…lol.
A year ago, C and C++ were grades I was writing at the top of 8th grade science tests.
A year ago, I didn’t know I was going to meet some of the most interesting and brilliant people I have ever known, who come from all walks of life, who approach problems in ways that had never occurred to me, and who are all very good at what they do.
Not so long ago, I don’t think I would have believed you if you had told me the things that I would have the power to do today. I think I would have laughed in your face if you had told me I was going to work as a backend software engineer. At Uber? That’s crazy-town. I would have told you that you were nuts if you had told me that I would be discussing the advantages and drawbacks of data storage alternatives with the most badass engineers I know — and that they would take my recommendations seriously. I would never in a million years have believed you if you had told me how much I was going to love it, or that I would feel so seen and known and appreciated there.
It hasn’t been easy. In fact, it has been enormously difficult. It’s involved late nights and long hours. It’s involved being brought to my knees by some of the most conceptually difficult problems I’ve ever confronted. It has been humbling. It has been an exhausting roller coaster between crushing self-doubt and frustration on the one hand, and the intense gratification of building something that works on the other.
And in all honesty, I have barely scratched the surface. It’s only been a year, right?
As one of the rudest interviewers I have ever had phrased it to me, I have “spots of knowledge” in “an abyss of unkowningness.” He said that hiring a bootcamp grad was very unlikely to bring any real value to the company. He said that the real value was of hiring us was going to be “giving back” to the community.
I think that has been the thing that has been hardest about all of this: the amount of prejudice people have when it comes to “bootcamp grads” like myself. I suppose that interviewer wasn’t wrong. I didn’t know a whole lot when I started. I came in to Uber’s apprenticeship— to people who were used to working with interns from top computer science programs—with the bare minimum of knowledge, a strong problem-solving framework, and a mission.
A lot of my friends from App Academy hide the fact that they learned to code at a bootcamp. I don’t blame them. My resume got a lot more responses when it didn’t have App Academy on it than when it did —I know, because I A/B-tested. But I try to wear it as a badge of honor. I don’t mind taking on the extra work of changing people’s minds.
I’m not saying that hiring a bootcamp grad isn’t going to be an immense investment. I’m not saying that sometimes that investment, as all investments have the potential to do, won’t pay off. I think what I’m saying — and forgive my not-so-sophisticated reference—is more in line with the conclusion of the movie Ratatouille: that “The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. [But] the new needs friends.” The new needs mentors, and teachers, and time, and investment — something I think that the Bay Area, with all of its start ups and VCs, ought to appreciate.
The critic’s monologue continues on to say “Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist can come from anywhere.” Talented, driven, and exceptional minds come through bootcamps. They have been teachers and professional poker players and bartenders and biochem majors that just changed their minds (I’m looking at you, Jared). They won’t all be “great artists” if you will, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be. I believe that a great engineer can come from anywhere.
The landscape of how people penetrate the software engineering field is changing. This new mode of education isn’t perfect yet, but it isn’t without merit either. If you’re waiting for someone else to be the first mover, the risk taker, and the big better on this new talent pool…well, frankly, I’d say that that’s very un-San Francisco of you.
Whatever that interviewer had to say, I think my team would say that I have been able to contribute. That as much of an investment I have been to them, that I have been able to pay that forward, and that I have brought something worthwhile (if different) to the table.
In fact, I know what they would say about me. I know that they would say they are “extremely proud to have [me] on their immediate team.” (p.s. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be able to return the favor: I am truly honored to say the people I work with are on my team)
I *know* they would say that a bootcamp grad can be worth it. I may not have been a safe bet, but I think the risk was worth the reward.
In this last year, I feel like I have learned a life-time’s worth of theory and trivia, of abstract data types and concrete implementations, of whosits and whatsits galore. I have amassed a sprawling collection of patterns, conventions, best-practices, and style, and from it I have begun to cull a sense of self as a software engineer.
From what might seem like information overload, I find myself not only empowered, but actually excited to learn more — thanks to the tools and schools and people who gave me access to what seemed like such a forbidding and impenetrable field.
A year ago today, I don’t think I would have recognized the person I have become.
One year from now, I hope to be able to say the same thing.