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How to Leverage Online Coding Courses to Land a Job

“Many companies now give coding challenges that are time-constrained for interviewing practices instead of traditional whiteboarding practice changes…And the coding challenges at each company will be different because the language used at various companies differs. A code challenge often uses specific testing software such as Mocha and Jest.”

Arthur D’Amato, Instructional Associate at General Assembly

There are plenty of online coding courses aimed at helping users upskill and land higher-paying jobs, but what do you do once you’ve completed your course?

We spoke with a coding educator about what learning at a coding bootcamp looks like, what resources are available to students, and how to leverage and showcase these new skills to position yourself for success and land a job in the competitive tech hiring market.

Meet the Expert: Arthur D’Amato

Arthur D’AmatoArthur D’Amato, Instructional Associate at General Assembly
Arthur D’Amato is a software engineer and instructional associate at General Assembly for the company’s coding bootcamp programs.

D’Amato has extensive experience working in education and holds bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and kinesiology from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, as well as a master’s degree in kinesiology with a focus on neuromechanics from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Q & A with D’Amato on Coding Bootcamps & Employment What made you decide to enter a coding bootcamp?

D’Amato: The reason why I originally wanted to enter a software engineering bootcamp was because I had lost my job due to COVID-10 in September 2020.

I wasn’t sure what I would want to do, but I’d worked with a lot of software engineers and I was impressed by the amount of creativity that they were able to have in their work. To be frank, I was also very jealous of the lifestyle that they got to live because of the number of hours that they got to work each week, as well as the sense of autonomy they had since they were already able to work remotely before the pandemic. That is what made software engineering attractive to me.

I was already interested in software engineering and I had taken coding classes in high school, as well as logic and math courses in college. It had been years since I’d really been able to do any real coding as a daily job. I felt very rusty and I wanted to enter a bootcamp as a refresher.

I also knew that I would be able to build contacts while in the bootcamp. Then, it would expose me to things that I didn’t already know about. This is that classic paradox where if you don’t know something, you don’t know how to inquire or where to look for it, and so on—the Meno Paradox.

And so I knew the bootcamp would expose me to programming not just languages but also to frameworks that I would have never thought to even look up in the first place. How was learning to code online? Were there any challenges or advantages to the online learning process?

D’Amato: There were quite a number of changes and quite a number of advantages.

Coding bootcamps are a lot of hours in a given day—9:00 to 5:00—and then there is the assumption that you have homework every evening. I would take it upon myself to do the TA hours one hour before the bootcamp and then the three hours after the bootcamp. So I was coding typically for 12 hours a day.

And you know, luckily it was during the pandemic, so it didn’t matter that I didn’t have a social life at that point. And that’s just the amount of stuff that’s getting thrown at you.

As I said, it’s very intense, so having good study habits and having a good work-life balance is crucial for people that want to be successful in the coding bootcamp.

One of the advantages of taking a bootcamp online, in my opinion, is that the speed of teaching is actually more efficient and you get more examples for learning. Case in point, if I were in a physical classroom and a fellow student had an error on their machine when writing up snippets of code, I would not be able to see what was going on as a teacher.

But in a Zoom room, someone can share their screen, or copy and paste codes into a Slack channel, and that allows me to learn from their errors because I might run into the same thing the next day, two days, or maybe a week down the line.

That, I think, is the best learning tool for coding in general: just seeing the code. You learn to read it. It helps you to read the errors that you could be getting, and then you’re watching the bugging procedures live. That was the biggest advantage of the online courses, in my opinion. How have you leveraged your new skill to pivot your career since completing the bootcamp?

D’Amato: So currently, I’m an instructional associate for the same bootcamp that I attended: General Assembly.

As for my skill-set before taking on software development, I had a lot of experience teaching. In my past, I have taught experiential education through summer camps, through universities during my master’s program, and then as a strength and conditioning coach and exercise physiologist.

There’s a lot of education in what you are doing teaching in a coding bootcamp. And so I am distinctly aware that I have a skill set in teaching and have been applying that to software development while I am still working on building my own portfolio. I’m also looking for other work as a full-time developer for hopefully a very large company or another program. From your perspective now, how can students really prepare for success entering the job market while still in the program, and after leaving the program?

D’Amato: A lot of these bootcamps like General Assembly have programs throughout the week to help students prepare for the best learning outcomes. They have job coaches that are coming in and helping people curate their LinkedIn, curate their portfolios, and develop skills for doing interviews.

I think that one thing which was a surprise to me and to a lot of other people coming out of the cohort is how things go in an interview. Many companies now give coding challenges that are time-constrained for interviewing practices instead of traditional whiteboarding practice changes.

If you don’t know the difference, a whiteboard challenge would have been someone in a room with a marker on a whiteboard talking through their thought process about what to do and how to solve a given problem.

What I’ve been seeing a lot more lately is that companies are giving coding challenges and interviewees will have to try to solve them under a time limit. And the coding challenges at each company will be different because the language used at various companies differs. A code challenge often uses specific testing software such as Mocha and Jest.

So one thing I would highly recommend is that students who are currently in bootcamps familiarize themselves with the testing languages and the testing software that might be used on a job application. Mocha, Chai, and Jest for JavaScript, and I’m sure there’s going to be other ones that are more Python-based.

But if you’re unfamiliar with those, they can really throw you for a loop when you’re going into an interview process. Any other advice you have for people seeking to upskill and change industries?

D’Amato: Yes, I think one of the biggest things that you can do going into a bootcamp is doing research on languages that you intend to be studying in that bootcamp, and then tailoring what things you’re going to learn to the kind of job that you would like.

So, for example, companies like Epic Software, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon all used different sets of languages and different frameworks when making their software. Therefore, if you are more interested in working at Amazon versus Epic, there’s going to be an entirely different set of languages that they are posting under LinkedIn sites for job applicants. If you want to work at Amazon, pick a bootcamp that’s going to focus on those languages. And then in your spare time, whatever languages aren’t taught in your bootcamp you’re going to have to learn on your own.

I am interested in Zillow personally, and there’s a framework called Redux that is not taught in any bootcamp but is posted about a lot of job listings. So, on my own time, I have learned how to do Redux and I’ve tried incorporating that into my own programs.

Chelsea Toczauer

Chelsea Toczauer is a journalist with experience managing publications at several global universities and companies related to higher education, logistics, and trade. She holds two BAs in international relations and asian languages and cultures from the University of Southern California, as well as a double accredited US-Chinese MA in international studies from the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University joint degree program. Toczauer speaks Mandarin and Russian.