We’re catching up with some of our alumni and they’re sharing advice for our students and recent graduates.
When a student considers attending NSS today, many of them spend a lot of time researching the school. They look at reviews on Course Report, read our blog, comb through every page of our website, and talk with our graduates. But five years ago, none of that existed…well we had a website with a few blogs that read more like social media updates than blog posts, but there were no reviews or graduates to talk to. In fact, even the idea of a coding bootcamp was still a new concept. So who were these early adopters that decided to take a chance on NSS as part of our very first cohort?
Today we’re chatting with Sam Walton, one of the brave students from Cohort 1. Prior to NSS, Sam had already spent several months reading books on web development and learning Rails on his own. When his position managing a production art group for a marketing firm was eliminated, he knew web development would be his next career path.
Continuing on his own, Sam spent several days trying to build his first web app. He found himself burning through time trying to do the simple things. He had already experienced the difficulty of trying to learn development on his own when he heard about John Wark starting NSS and using Ruby on Rails for the back-end of the program. Any doubts Sam may have had were removed when he learned that Eliza Brock would be leading the back-end. Sam had attended every Ruby on Rails meetup, which was lead by Eliza, since moving to Nashville. He stated, “(I was) impressed by Eliza’s knowledge and gravitas. I recall thinking at the time that if NSS could get someone as good as Eliza to teach it, that reflected well on NSS.” Sam took the leap and patiently waited for classes to start.
We asked Sam about what it was like during Cohort 1. NSS’s first classroom was in the NBIC building right next to the railroad tracks. Sam reflected, “I can remember the first or second day when John brought in a new coffee maker, having unboxed it from a trip to the store, that I assume he bought out of his own pocket. We had a room full of people like me who were going to try something new, something they heard from others that had a lot of potential for employment, often with great benefits. We used WordPress as our front-end project because it was mature and capable. Even though it was PHP, it was accessible and we had a market in need of WordPress developers. The light at the end of the tunnel was the potential employers coming in to pitch their businesses. This became real to me that there was a potential market for a junior like me coming out ready to be employed.” (Read more about the history of our Demo Day.)
NSS prepared Sam for a job as a junior developer in ways self-learning could not. As a self-learner, he understood the definition of concepts like “objects,” but struggled to grasp how to apply the concepts and why you would use them. NSS provided context for these concepts, real-world examples, and peer to peer learning that would help illuminate concepts in a new way. Before NSS, Sam lacked the confidence to apply for jobs because of his limited experience. But after NSS, Sam had the confidence to find his first job as a junior developer.
That first job search wasn’t easy. Sam shared, “I could have tried to go back to my previous career, but I was having too much fun creating apps.” Throughout his search, Sam kept coding and attending meetups. It was his persistence in the job search and keeping his skills fresh that eventually landed Sam his first development job with a company culture that was a fit for him.
With each job since NSS, Sam has been able to expand his knowledge base. In his first job, he built a case for eventMachine, an asymmetric set of classes for Rails. In another job, Sam learned to script Excel and then built a Rails app that is still in use today. His current job has him learning Drupal, an open-source content-management framework.
Outside of work, Sam has been exploring IoT (Internet of Things) which has helped him on the job. He explained, “I’ve set up a remote weather station near my house that is entirely self-sufficient with only a long-distance wireless connection to my home network and web server. I’m fascinated by tools that are remote and bulletproof, so to speak. This helps me in my day job as my team’s DevOps person by building in ways to enable logging and alerts to troubleshoot when it malfunctions and isn’t acting ‘bulletproof.’”
Sam has stayed involved with NSS and the Nashville developer community over the years. Local meetups provide him with a chance to connect with other developers and get the scoop on the latest technology. He enjoys meeting other NSS students and graduates at these meetups. Their shared experience of committing to and completing NSS’s six-month program transcends just being fellow developers.
In addition to meetups, Sam has participated in several hackathons, including the very first NSS alumni hackathon this past August. The alumni hackathon gave him a chance to work with fellow alumni and current students across cohorts.
I’m always looking out for the success of NSS and its graduates as it grows.
Sam encourages recent graduates to remember that Nashville is a dynamic market with new opportunities and technologies appearing everyday. You won’t all follow the same path and you don’t need to stick to the language you learned in school. Sam emphasized, “Having graduated from NSS, I can find ways to start building solutions in practically any new technology today and not be on the outside looking in.”