Matt Upham is a talented software developer with a great Youtube channel! I spoke with Matt about how he learned to code, got hired and his tips for newbie coders. Matt was able to get a sought after fintech job as a software engineer so there's lots to learn here. Enjoy!
Hey, thanks a lot for doing the interview! Tell us about yourself.
Hey! I'm Matt. I went to college for industrial engineering near Boston (no coding involved). After doing 4 internships in different industries (3D printing, water, jet engines, outdoors) I realized I really didn't like what I was doing.
What first got you interested in programming?
I dabbled a tiny bit in college, but nothing passed the basics. I actually took a class and did horribly in it (I didn't know it was a class to filter people out of a major, ridiculous that they still have those because it closes opportunities). I met someone who built websites for a living after college, and it seemed pretty interesting.
So I started learning the basics on Free Code Camp. Then, needing to figure out the next steps in a career, I took the plunge into full-time learning and then went to a coding bootcamp.
I believe you went out to the West Coast after college - can you tell us what happened and how you made your first steps into coding?
I was pretty lost after college in 2017. I ended up taking a job after college that I quit pretty quickly. I took a month to sell pretty much everything I owned. Using that money, I was able to live on the road for a while. So I packed up my car and headed out west with absolutely no plan.
I couch-surfed and camped to save money for a few months. Finally, I landed in Las Vegas, and a friend from college who was out there let me crash on his couch while figuring out the next steps. That’s when I really decided to buckle down and learn how to code. I spent 3 months studying at his place (Aug ‘17 - Nov ‘17), then moved to SF for the coding bootcamp (Nov ‘17 - Feb ‘17).
Can you tell me about your experience at the Hack Reactor bootcamp?
I thought it was really challenging. Definitely more difficult than most of my college experience. Still had a startup feel, so they were iterating a lot on their curriculum and the interview process was a bit messy. But overall it was a great environment to learn.
Ultimately they don’t teach you much, but they give you the exact tools and steps you need to learn on your own and with other students in their environment. Even though bootcamps are costly, it cuts out all the fluff and really speeds up the process of getting your first job. Personally I think I paid to speed up the process, and it was totally worth it from a return-on-investment standpoint.
Can you talk us through the process of getting your entry level Software Engineer job?
I knew it was going to be an uphill battle, so my goal was to start as early as possible and play the numbers game. I started applying halfway through my bootcamp, which they told us not to do, but I really wanted a job. For my first search, I sent out about 150 applications.
I used a mix of Angel List, LinkedIn, Indeed, Hired, and GitHub repos of easy-apply jobs. I knew most online applications are usually thrown off into black holes, so I had a rule that for every online app, I would send a direct message to an employee at the company (via email or LinkedIn).
I also tracked my job search in Streak CRM, for every company/contact, which helped keep the process extremely organized. Once I had a few companies in the pipeline, I went all out and above/beyond at every step of the interview. I landed my first job 2 weeks after the bootcamp ended.
What made you want to start a Youtube channel for programmers?
I kept having friends and acquaintances ask me how I got into the industry without a relevant degree, so I thought that many more people would have similar questions. I also saw a bunch of people struggle to get their first jobs, so I wanted to also provide some tips/tricks on getting the first job in the industry. If you want to learn more about coding or the tech industry, feel free to subscribe here
Has your lack of Computer Science degree ever been brought up when looking for jobs?
Yes, it definitely came up during my first job search. I would usually spin it to be: “yes, I don’t have a formal education in software, BUT I took the initiative to learn this in an alternate route and spent a lot of focused time learning the skills where I can be proficient in a role like this.”
If anyone continuously nitpicked on the fact that I didn’t have a CS degree, I would politely tell them that I wasn’t interested in the role any more (and honestly, would you want to work for someone like that?). I think we’re in the process of a huge industry shift from credentialism to skills-based hiring.
Can you tell us what a typical day for you looks like just now?
Right now, because of coronavirus, I’m working remotely like a majority of people in tech. I usually start my day with a quick bike ride, then get to work around 10 am. I spend a lot less time in meetings now, which is great, but I do miss the in-person interactions.
Working from home does give a bit more flexibility though, which is really nice. Most of my day is spent planning, coding, and fixing bugs. I’ll occasionally take an exercise break at lunch too if I need an energy boost.
Do you have any tips for people that are looking for their first job in web development?
Control what you can. Get really good at data structures and algorithms, create a solid portfolio with 3 or more projects, and apply to many places. Most people I know in my bootcamp applied to 150-300 jobs. In my opinion, a job search is both a numbers game and a quality game. You can control how many jobs you apply to, and how good your skills and portfolio are.
I found that for every online app I submitted, emailing a person at the company alongside that helped a lot. I used Streak CRM to track my job search, and Clearbit Connect to find emails of people at that company. Automate the monotonous parts of the search with those tools, and put all your effort into everything else!
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What’s the most fun thing about your career switch to coding?
Every day I get to learn something new, and I’m never bored at my job. Being paid to learn is a total dream, especially in technology! You’re really working on things that real people are using, and it’s cool to see the impact that you can have! It’s also been a blast to be able to create content around this online. If you want to connect, here are my social channels:
Thanks for the interview!
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