For most of his life, Joshua believed it would be unreachable for him to get the credentials needed to succeed in the software engineering field. “Most fields in computer science require you to have a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, but I’ve never had the time or money to do that,” he said.
Six years ago, Joshua got his commercial driver’s license. He left his home of 24 years to begin an independent journey working as a commercial truck driver. Joshua maneuvered semis all over the country before finally settling in Tennessee. There, he secured a job with Discover Granite, a small company that delivers marble and granite slabs used to make countertops. With a little extra cash and self-confidence, Joshua realized that education was finally an option—and coding boot camps were an affordable way to get the skills he needed to break into the technology industry.
Joshua enrolled in the part-time Vanderbilt University Coding Boot Camp, powered by Trilogy Education—and gained a truckload of knowledge and even more confidence.
Driving lessons home
Joshua’s boss was receptive to the idea of a part-time program. After all, he could help Discover Granite upgrade their software and implement more advanced code across their systems.
“My boss gave me the freedom and support I needed,” Joshua said. “If I finished my work early, he’d let me leave to go study. If there was downtime during the day, he’d let me work on my projects. It made a big difference for me to have that flexibility.”
This agreement smoothed Joshua’s transition into boot camp. He was able to dive straight in with prior coding knowledge under his belt, and he got off to a strong start. He found himself familiar with a lot of the material in the first half of the course, but the added structure of the lessons allowed him to learn things in a more efficient way.
“Discovering new and better ways of doing things I had already taught myself—and having a whole new reservoir of resources I hadn’t used before—was really eye-opening for me,” said Joshua.
Navigating bumps in the road
As the material advanced, Joshua felt more and more challenged. But the TAs, instructor, and fellow students provided a network of support he’d never before experienced.
“My instructor Alec Down was undoubtedly the best teacher I’ve had in my entire life,” said Joshua. “No matter how difficult or technical what we learned was, Alec made it fun and engaging. He connected with us students in a way that made even the most daunting things seem doable.”
Joshua remained driven despite any hurdles. “They warn you that you’re going to have several ups and downs,” he said. “There are some topics that catch on right away, and then there are some that make no sense at all—and feel like they never will. But they also warn you that those feelings will pass, and they’re right.”
Joshua enjoyed being surrounded by like-minded individuals who shared his passions. They were all there for the same thing, but everyone came from different backgrounds, “There were people from all walks of life,” he said. “It was really invigorating for me to be a part of it.”
Tackling projects on his own
Joshua opted to work on his final project alone instead of in a group. “I felt like if there was something I didn’t know, it would be too easy for me to push it off to a group member,” he said. “Working alone forced me to tackle every aspect of the project—and synthesize everything I’d learned over the course of the program.”
Joshua pushed himself, but the end result wasn’t as sophisticated as he hoped. So directly after finishing boot camp, he moved onto his next solo project. With one and a half months until the next demo day, Joshua created a parent-teacher dashboard for daycares. The platform would enable teachers to input all the information that they typically collect in daily paper reports—how the child’s mood was, what they ate, etc.—and allowed parents to access it online. The program took this information to build graphs of children’s progress over time.
“When you learn a new or more efficient way of writing a code, you should always implement it right away,” said Joshua. “I believe you should take every opportunity you have to make your work better and more efficient, even if it’s after the fact. Nobody will ever fault you for that. In fact, companies look for efficient code.”
Embracing the road ahead
Now, Joshua is using his new skills to build an inventory system for Discover Granite. He continues to work on personal projects, keeping his skills sharp and staying current with all the latest updates and technologies. One day soon, he hopes to fill a full-time software developer role.
“One of the biggest lessons I learned was that the boot camp wasn’t designed to teach us every code,” said Joshua. “It was meant to teach us how to learn to code. In the end, you’re supposed to learn to understand the concepts behind coding, ask for help, and use your resources. Once you graduate you’re only at the beginning of the road. But you’ll know how to learn from there on out.”
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