Samantha Wessel learned to become a Software Engineer at Codesmith coding bootcamp. She had decided that law wasn't for her and wanted a career change. She now works at NPR and today she has kindly shared her story about working in web development without a CS degree.

Hey, so can you give us a short introduction for people who want to know more about you?

I am currently a Software Engineer at NPR at their headquarters in Washington, DC. Before that I was living in Los Angeles. My path to software engineering was a bit twisty. I went to law school and moved to LA from the Richmond, Virginia area to practice entertainment law. But I quickly found that law was not for me, so I started producing digital shows that aired on platforms such as SnapChat.

Meanwhile, I was working a part-time job where I was working with vanilla HTML and found my interest piqued. So I began learning more about potential career paths in coding, all while continuing to produce. When my contract ended at my final producing job, I decided it was time to go all in and began to teach myself JavaScript.

How did Codesmith help you learn to code?

It got to a point where I felt I’d reach my limit of what I could learn on my own, and that’s when I found Codesmith. I loved the program at Codesmith. I was challenged in a way I’ve never been challenged before, and found such a supportive community. There were days where I felt like I was never going to “get it,” but I knew I could turn to anyone at the program and I’d get through it.

My mentor, Victoria, who I’m still very good friends with, was a genuine sanity saver. On the days where I thought I had no business being in the program, she was able to remind me that I had what I needed to be an engineer which is basically tenacity and drive. The mentorship program at Codesmith was one of the things I appreciated most. And before I knew it my time at the program was over and I was very proud of what I’d accomplished.

What does a typical day as a software developer at NPR look like for you?

If I’m currently working on a feature, I check my list from the night before to see where I left off. I then spend the next hour and a half working on the feature. Everyday at 9:45 we have team standups to talk about our progress from the day before, our plan for the current day, any upcoming tickets or features that may be assigned to us, and anything blocking our progress.

After that meeting, I get back to work. If I get stuck on something during the day, I reach out to one of my teammates to see if we can’t pair program a bit to sort through it. Occasionally, I’m asked to do more experimental type tasks where I’ll be asked to look up different libraries and test them against our code to see if they work and make more sense as a solution for a problem we’re encountering.

Once I complete a feature, I’ll send it in for code review, and once it passes, I’ll merge my code in and send it to our QA team for testing. I’ll then check out another ticket/feature and get started. When I’m done for the day, I’ll make a list of the priority things to knock out in the morning and make note of where I left off. It’s a pretty standard 8 hour day which is really nice.

What first got you interested in coding?

As I mentioned, I’ve been working with very basic HTML for a part-time job I’ve had for many years now and I enjoyed that work. As my frustrations with the law and entertainment industries grew, I knew I wanted to do something that was challenging but also offered a lot of flexibility in the types of companies I could work for as well as where I could work. The digital nomad life is something that appeals to me, so I started looking around at potential careers that could get me there. When I realized that my part-time job might hold the answer, I began to dig more into what languages may make sense for me to start learning. I started tinkering with the Codecademy Web Development path and found that I really enjoyed it. After that, I was all in.

What was the application process for the Codesmith coding bootcamp like?

It wasn’t easy. One of the things that attracted me to Codesmith was that you had to have a level of knowledge to be accepted. And I’m someone that once I make my mind up about something, I’m all in. So I started spending as much time as I could teaching myself Javascript through various online tutorials. I took the Codesmith CS Prep course, and then I decided to try applying for the immersive program. I was so nervous during my technical interview; my brain completely froze and I could feel myself starting to sweat. It was like everything had left my head. But I did well enough to be accepted to the program!

How did Codesmith help you learn to code? What were some of the highlights of your bootcamp experience?

Codesmith throws you in head first. Again, you need to have more than a basic understanding of Javascript to even be accepted to the program, so they expect you to kind of hit the ground running. It is a firehose of information once you’re in the program, and there are days you feel like you’re not picking up anything. But then you’re set up to pair program and work through the unit together, and you realize that your brain did actually manage to soak up the information.

For me, the biggest thing that helped was the production project in the second half of the course. It is a deep dive into a technology to help build a developer tool. When I started the program, I thought there was no way I would be able to meaningfully contribute to a group project of that nature. Sure enough, 6 weeks later, my group and I started cranking on a dev tool. Once you start working in code like that, you really are able to piece together all the things you learned. Plus, I got super tight knit with my group which was nice.

How did Codesmith help you get your first job as a software engineer?

The last couple weeks of the program are focused on hiring. They really help you get your resume ready, as well as working through interview prep with you. While there is nothing quite like going on an actual interview, Codesmith does prepare you for the types of questions you’re likely to get, and they give you helpful feedback.

During the job search, they’re there for anything you need: resume review, cover letter review, mock interviews, etc. But what is really helpful is the alumni network. If there was a job posting I was particularly interested in, I reached out to the alumni network to see if any fellow Codemsith alumni worked there or had tips on how to get my resume seen by the right people.

How has your life changed since learning to code?

Attending Codesmith completely changed my life. I have changed careers to something I enjoy and that is very challenging and rewarding. I feel proud of what I was able to accomplish and while there are days software engineering can make you feel crazy and like you know nothing, once you’re able to solve the problem, you feel like a genius. It’s really nice.

I’ve relocated for the job at NPR, so that’s been a big change. I’m now back on the east coast which is exciting but was a difficult change. My job has allowed me to improve my quality of life immensely. I no longer dread going to work. I don’t feel like I’m wasting my days away. And if I’m being honest, the money isn’t too bad either.

What are your coding dreams for the future?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently and realizing that my dreams are constantly evolving, particularly as the Coronavirus pandemic has had me re-evaluate if working remotely 100% of the time is right for me (learning a new job, codebase, and framework while being remote from your team has not been the easiest thing in the world.) So I would say that my current dream is fairly simple, and that’s really just to become a great engineer. I want to continue to learn new frameworks, and maybe even onboard a new language or two, and just continue to grow as a software engineer.

Thanks for the interview!

About Codesmith

Codesmith is a Software Engineering Immersive program offered onsite in Los Angeles and New York City (full-time) and in a fully remote environment - both full-time (3 months) and part-time (9 months).The curriculum at Codesmith is expertly designed to give students a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of Computer Science, full-stack JavaScript, and a host of other in-demand technologies, such as React and Node.js.

According to most recent CIRR reports, Codesmith is one of the leading software engineering programs in job placement and median starting salary with its alumni landing roles as mid- and senior-level engineers at some of the top companies, including Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn.