Writer to Coder: Jeff in Kansas City

First he Wrote Fiction, Now He Writes Code

After getting a BA in English Lit, Jeff supplemented his writing career with various middle-man business jobs, but he grew tired of a job in which he wasn’t a creator. The draw of a career in which he was able to build and create brought Jeff to LaunchCode. Now, Jeff is a writer again, but this time he writes code.

How’d you first hear about LaunchCode?

I read about LaunchCode in a blog post in October of 2013 when I was researching the term “Silicon Prairie”, looking for a way to break into the tech industry. It was in St. Louis, but I hoped that it would make its way to Kansas City. This was before there was a class, only apprenticeships. I’d been keeping an ear to the ground for news of it since, but still managed to not notice the KC classes until the second round. Since I’d been laid off not long before, I immediately applied.

Tell us a little bit about your background before LaunchCode?

I’ve worked a lot of weird little jobs, a mix of freelancing, entrepreneurial endeavors and part-time work at an office. I was able to get business jobs easily enough, but I find being a middleman very stressful and unfulfilling. Instead, I usually tried to preserve my time and mental energy for writing. I have a BA in English Lit and an MFA in Creative Writing. I’ve had quite a few novels and novellas published, including one that was briefly #2 in its genre on Amazon. These are under pseudonyms, so don’t bother looking. I was always climbing for that summit, imagining that type of success would lead to writing fiction full-time. When I (almost) reached the peak, I saw it was unsustainable and I needed another plan. I had to get a good job, either making something or inserting myself between people who make things and people who buy things. So, when given the opportunity by LaunchCode to learn to make things, I knew that if it worked out it would be the answer I was looking for.

When given the opportunity by LaunchCode to learn to make things, I knew that if it worked out it would be the answer I was looking for.

Congratulations on landing your new job! What is your position?

Thanks! I am an apprentice back-end developer for a content management system / e-commerce site, using C#, .NET and Episerver. I mostly fix bugs, but also develop some small new features.

VML is one of the largest and most successful marketing agencies in the world. They are #5 on Ad Age’s 2017 Agency A-List, and had multiple commercials in the 2016 Superbowl. They were responsible for spurring the most retweeted tweet ever (#nuggsforcarter). I’ve always been passionate about creative endeavors, so it’s amazing to work at a place packed with so many creative people.

I’ve always been passionate about creative endeavors, so it’s amazing to work at a place packed with so many creative people.

What is your job environment like?

Free La Croix. What else needs to be said? VML is an incredibly fun place. The work is difficult, but very rewarding. My team is so patient and everyone I’ve met has been so kind and willing to help. I’m learning an incredible amount. I go home with my head feeling literally full, and then I dream about programming all night. I work side-by-side with another LaunchCoder, Hakim. Several other LaunchCoders were hired to other departments. I feel very lucky to have people to go through this with, because I know most don’t. Hakim and I sometimes pair program and sometimes divide tasks, and often discuss different approaches passionately, which might be interpreted by others as arguing.

I go home with my head feeling literally full, and then I dream about programming all night. Click To Tweet

Which course did you take at LaunchCode? Do you think it prepared you well for the workforce?

I took the LC101 class. My supervisor knew what he was getting with a LaunchCode apprentice, so yes, I was well-prepared. I felt very nervous about the sort of reception I’d get from programmers who’d taken a more traditional route to their jobs. I know there are people with CS degrees who don’t appreciate people like myself cutting in line.

I felt very nervous about the sort of reception I’d get from programmers who’d taken a more traditional route to their jobs.

But I think LaunchCode does a good job of letting employers know the situation. I’ve gotten support from developers at my job with the CS Bachelors who say that they think that LaunchCode provides an equally legitimate path as a degree. Whether you have a CS degree or go through a program like LaunchCode, most of the learning is on the job. In every story I’ve heard, a junior developer / apprentice / intern feels like they’ve been dropped in the deep end when they first start. Graduating from LaunchCode gives you a good foundation in the practical basics and – at least as important – demonstrates that you’re able to learn very quickly. Regardless of which path is best, I don’t have the luxury to get another Bachelor’s degree at this stage in my life. I do find computer science interesting, though, and with all the great online learning tools available, I’m now going back and trying to fill in the theoretical knowledge I missed by not getting the CS degree. With the pace this industry moves, no one can get away with feeling satisfied with what they already know. If you’re not learning, you’re falling behind.

Whether you have a CS degree or go through a program like LaunchCode, most of the learning is on the job.

What are your thoughts on VML bringing on a group of LaunchCoders all at once? What have they done to support you?

I don’t think the situation has had any disadvantages. It’s been really nice having other people in the same situation to band together with. VML has been incredibly supportive. They found great people to mentor us, so that I’ve felt comfortable even while being challenged like I’ve never been before. And they’ve given me so much free La Croix.

What is the one thing you learned in class that has proven most useful on the job?

To push through frustration. I don’t feel like the natural at programming that I am at some things. But going through the program showed me that if I put the work in, I’ll eventually have a breakthrough. Being a natural really only gives you a bit of extra incentive to put in the practice that makes the real difference in skill level. In the long term, I think the initial boost of talent is negligible when compared to grit. You’re pretty gritty if you make it through LC 101 and then push on.

But going through the program showed me that if I put the work in, I’ll eventually have a breakthrough. Click To Tweet

Overall, how was your experience with the LaunchCode?

It was great. Once the class was done, the aftercare meetings to practice white-boarding, review our resumes and work on our projects helped bridge the gap between the class and the apprenticeship. I got some great direction at my LaunchCode interview. I felt I had people in my corner.

I felt I had people in my corner.

The process was way, way faster than I expected. I thought I’d have a lot longer to work on my project before going to an interview and then getting the apprenticeship. Not that I’m complaining!

What would be your advice to someone interested in signing up for LaunchCode’s apprenticeship or job placement program?

Sign up, even if you don’t think you’re ready. You might not be, in which case you’ll get the direction you need to keep from spinning your wheels. Or you might be ready.

 

/// Ready to write your tech dreams into reality? Head over to launchcode.org/get-started to see how to start your own LaunchCode journey. 

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