Brewin’ up a Storm

Rebecca and I started brewing beer. Years ago (2012) I started brewing beer with my friend Alex. I gave it up when I moved to South Korea since my apartment was so small. However, since back to America, I started brewing beer again, and Rebecca was happy to join in.

 

It’s a lot easier to get into brewing beer now. I remember four years ago having to scavenge on Craigslist for equipment. This time around I just went on Amazon and found a basic kit from Northern Brewer for $99, including a recipe for a beer (~$40 value). Our first beer was the White House Honey Ale. We spent a Saturday morning and afternoon brewing the beer. Once the active steps were done, we transferred the beer to a carboy to ferment for the next 2 weeks. Extract beer brewing (the sort that you can buy all-in-one recipe kits for) is pretty easy to do. Essentially it’s some variation on:

  1. bring 2 gallons of water to a boil
  2. put grain (look like oatmeal) into a cheesecloth
  3. steep in boiling water
  4. add malt extract (looks like honey)
  5. stir, add hops
  6. add enough water to bring total size to 5 gallons
  7. leave to cool
  8. transfer to a big white bucket
  9. leave to sit for 2 weeks
  10. bottle it

It can become a lot more complicated than this, and it often is, for example, there are usually specific amounts of time for many of these steps. An IPA might require adding hops in 15-minute increments for an hour. Sometimes you may also let the beer ferment an additional two weeks with some additional ingredients added to it. This second two weeks is referred to as a secondary fermentation. Coffee beers or anything with fruit in the name usually means it had a secondary fermentation with coffee or fruit added to it.

Following that beer, we also made a brown ale, a grapefruit IPA, and a Saison. The grapefruit IPA won second place at a beer brewing competition in Ridgefield, CT. The competition was judged by 2 brewmasters from Two Roads Brewery in Connecticut. The second place finisher didn’t get a trophy, but Rebecca’s dad had a trophy made for us online, which was awesome!

Rebecca and I at the beer competition

Raisin’ Branding

I’ve been at the small branding agency in Brooklyn for a few months. My first project was building a portal for students at a college in New York. The portal included sections for professors to post syllabi and other course material, a class directory, and a message board. It was a tough undertaking but I was able to complete it in a few days. The next project I had was building a site for an independent physician association for a major hospital in New York city. That project took me a few weeks.

Remote Control

The third project was building 3 sites simultaneously. At that point, I spoke with the founder and expanded the business from one junior developer to one project manager managing a team of remote developers.

I moved from a junior developer to a technical project manager and started working with a remote team. The team was based primarily overseas. My main focus was making sure the code was written up to our standards and fully customizable on the backend. I instituted a series of standards such as commented code, Foundation CSS, and standardizing plugins based on functionality such as trying to always use the same plugin for caching or for forms.

Let’s Get Analytical

This new role greatly expanded the business. Based on this new workflow, we were able to reduce website development costs by 30%, increase our bandwidth by 400%, and reduce our development timeline by 50%. I made it a goal of mine to revisit sites in the companies catalog and optimize those as well. I was able to reduce the page load time of older sites by an average of 20%.

Overall, I’m enjoying the work I do and the sense of ownership I feel over the projects as a whole. By working with more sites on shorter timelines, I’m also able to expose myself to more functionality and increase my WordPress knowledge at a faster rate.

Web Development Bootcamp

Recently, I decided to leave Korea after my contract ends. I debated staying for a third year, but in the end, two years seems like enough. I’ve had a great time here. I’ve met tons of friends. I’ve traveled all over Southeast Asia, and gotten paid to do it, but after two years, I’m ready to return to the states and so my journey begins. What will I do when I return to the US?

Before I left for Korea, I was a video editor for a well known TV network. I enjoyed it, but stable jobs in video editing are hard to come by. Many employers only want freelancers or contract work. That means a life of hustling for a job every few months and keeping an up-to-date demo reel at all times, just in case. Before that I was a project manager. I enjoyed the actual work, but my particular job involved traveling almost every other week. It was too much, I knew the hotel staff better than my apartment neighbors. Before all of that, I worked for a small startup in Gainesville, Florida. I really enjoyed it, but I wanted to be more involved in the actual product, not just the marketing. I handled social media and while it was fun, I was always an optional piece in the product equation. I wanted to become a developer and work with the actual product.

After learning about web development bootcamps on NPR, I decided to explore my options. The gist of web dev bootcamps is this. They cost $10-20,000, last anywhere from 9 to 16 weeks, and teach you the basics to become a junior web developer (HMTL/CSS, Javascript, Ruby, SQL). I became intrigued once again with this dream of working as a web developer. I finally felt like there was a clear path for me into this world, a very difficult path, but a path nonetheless. I began applying to as many programs as I could. I applied to RefactorU, App Academy, Software Craftsmanship Guild, Hack Reactor, Dev Bootcamp, and Flatiron school. I made it to the second step in the admissions process for every single academy I applied to. From there, I made it to the third step at 4 academies and I ultimately chose to pursue interviews at three of those four. I ended up choosing Flatiron school because I feel it’s the best fit for me, but I’d like to explain how I reached this point first. If you have questions, I’ll answer them in the comments below.

RefactorU

RefactorU

RefactorU looked like a great program. It was less expensive than the NY-based programs. It was in Colorado. They emphasized not wanting to burn people out. One thing that concerned me were the many typos on their site. It made me question how professional their program really was if they couldn’t check their own work. I often make typos here on my blog, but I’m not charging tuition. Their coding challenge was incredibly easy as well, even for me with little background in any sort of coding. I watched their graduate showcase on youtube and while some of the projects were incredible, some of them were just alright. Ultimately, I think RefactorU probably has a great program and they probably take people starting at a lower level than where I was starting at, but it’s not the program for me.

App Academy

appacademy

If the porridge was too cold at RefactorU, it was too hot at App Academy. App Academy is a bootcamp with campuses in New York City and San Fransisco. It has regular assessments as part of its curriculum and students who fail the assessments are asked to leave. I read stories of 4 out of 20 people in a cohort being asked to leave. App Academy has a very high salary and job placement rate as a result of cutting the stragglers in it’s program loose. They also charge only $3,000 upfront. However, they take 18% of your first year salary.

The First Challenge

I made it through the first coding challenge then was invited to a second challenge before I declined. Before the first challenge they suggested I create a Nitrous.io account and complete some practice problems on my own. I worked through those challenges. They ranged from checking a string to see if it was a palindrome to finding primes or greatest common factors. The first challenge was fairly manageable. I had 45 minutes to write a few pieces of code. I finished in about 30 minutes. The questions were easier than the practice problems.

The Second Challenge

After I passed, I was given a second set of practice problems to work on. These problems were meant to be written on my own computer and tested against some test cases on my computer. I completed about half of these problems but they were really difficult. I was constantly going back and forth between the solutions and my code trying to discover why my program wasn’t working.

Based on this experience I felt like I wasn’t ready for App Academy. I think they’re looking for applicants above my skill level. The application process also felt a bit unprofessional. After my second challenge I was asked to add the App Academy email account to my Google Calendar and pick out a day on their schedule. Something about this just felt off to me. I wanted the scheduling process to showcase the schools web development prowess, not just piggy back on Google Calendar. Other schools had nicely polished professional looking scheduling apps for their applications. The regular assessments throughout the program also seemed daunting. I felt like I would constantly be worrying about my assessment grades and unable to focus on my projects in the bootcamp. In the end, I politely withdrew my candidacy from App Academy.

Software Craftsmanship Guild

softwarecraftsmanshipguild

I applied to this small school in Akron, Ohio. From everything I read on Quora and Reddit, it seemed like they had a great program. Their instructors had a lot of experience and the tuition was only $10,000 plus a very modest cost of living in OH. They taught .Net instead of Ruby because as they said, that’s where the jobs are. I filled out an application and an assessment. Within 3 days I received a reply that was personally written to me. It even mentioned aspects of my previous experiences that I mentioned in my application.

Hour-long Assessment

The next step was scheduling an hour long assessment. I was looking forward to scheduling my interview when I saw that the earliest available interview was a month away. At this point I was already starting to receive acceptance emails from some academies, a month from now would be long after I was already into an academy. I replied to them explaining my situation and asking for an earlier assessment. I called twice as well. However, I never heard back so that’s where my application with them ended.

UPDATE: They wrote back several weeks later and were very polite. I replied that I’d already accepted a program. Following that they wished me the best of luck and offered to help out in the future if I needed anything. If they’d written back sooner, I might very well have ended up in their program.

Hack Reactor

Hack-Reactor

Regarded as the Harvard of web development programs. It’s $17,000 and 12 weeks of 12 hour days and 6-day weeks. Their website was really cool. To apply you had to write a short program and once the program passed you could fill out the rest of the application. The program was fairly straightforward. It was just storing your name and email address in an object if I remember correctly. I scheduled an interview and began prepping. All of the other applications I’d submitted at this point had been for Ruby programs so that’s all I’d been studying. However, Hack Reactor is Javascript so I was starting a bit behind.

Technical Interview

During my technical interview, I was asked to pair program with a “hacker in residence”, one of their students turned instructors. He wasn’t very sociable and the interview consisted of almost no questions other than “write this code”. There were no questions about what I wanted to get out of this or how I found out about the program. I’m sure this is just the Hack Reactor style, as it’s a very intense program, but the whole process felt very cold and robotic.

The first few programs I was asked to write went smoothly. I had to make a function, pass some parameters to another function, but at a certain point I was just lost. I tried to work with the instructor, but I just didn’t have the knowledge required. It was due to my lack of preparation.

I think Hack Reactor is a great program, and many reviews online attest to that, but it was too advanced for my level. I received a polite email from them about a week later informing me that I was not accepted. If you are interested in Hack Reactor, really study up on Javascript and make sure you have a little bit of experience. As they say on their website, it’s a 20-120 program, not 0-60.

Dev Bootcamp

devbootcamp

Dev Bootcamp is the program that started it all. It’s the first development bootcamp, hence the name. It’s like the first restaurant just being named Restaurant. They began in San Fransisco, then opened a second location in Chicago, and a third in New York City. The cost is $13,000 I applied and was asked to complete a technical interview with one of their staff members. The coding challenge was incredibly easy. Several of the questions could be answered in one line such as “make a variable”. I was hesitant based on that. I felt like it was way too easy.

The program was also 9 weeks online and 9 weeks in-person instead of 12 weeks, but about the same price as many other programming bootcamps in NY. I read about their engineering empathy program and while I enjoyed the idea of it, I heard accounts from people about crying or weird team building exercises. I think this is a great program for many people and their Engineering Empathy program may be a benefit for some people, but it’s just not my cup of tea. I really just want to learn coding. I can focus on empathy on my own time. Another concern of mine was with the New York campus. On their blog there was plenty of information about Chicago students doing this or San Fransisco students doing that, but almost nothing about their New York campus. I had a hard time finding student blogs from NYC Dev Bootcamp as well. I ended up being accepted into the Dev Bootcamp program, but ultimately decided on another bootcamp.

Flatiron School

It’s based in New York City. It’s $15,000 with the first $3,000 paid upon acceptance. They offer a great program right in Manhattan, not in the flatiron building ironically. They also offer a free program for New Yorker residents without a formal college education. The mayor of New York has endorsed them, their students have won several awards, they received a sizable grant from the city, and they published a jobs report.

Most of these bootcamps has some kind of job guarantee/statistic along the lines of “90-95% of our graduates are employed as web developers within 3/6/9 months of completing our program”. Of all of these programs, Flatiron was the only one that published an independently verifiable job report done by an outside agency. For me this was really important. They explained every factor in the claim and what constituted a job and what counted as a job seeking individual. It was all very reassuring to read. A staff member at Dev Bootcamp said they were working on a similar report but she couldn’t tell me when it would be available or what exactly it would include.

Interview, Coding Challenge, Final Interview

The initial step was just an interview, after that there was a coding challenge where I needed to make a simple two-person game over the course of a week or so (I won’t give away more information). The instructions were pretty clear, try your best, don’t copy it from the internet, and it’s better to submit a broken program than a working one. I got really close to making my program work when I reached the Friday deadline. I submitted my code and an explanation of what worked and what didn’t work, as well as my guess as to what was wrong. My interview to discuss my code was Sunday night (KST) and I spent the weekend working on my code with the intention of getting it working by the time the interview came around. With maybe 24 hours to spare, I managed to get my code up and working. The interview was brief, we discussed why I wanted to attend Flatiron, how my program worked, and what I could change to make it do A or B or C.

After passing the application process, I was notified a few days later of my acceptance into the program. I decided based on all the information I’d gathered about each program that Flatiron was the best school for me and accepted their invitation to attend.

UPDATE: What Happened Next?

After accepting at Flatiron, I had a week to send a $3,000 deposit to Flatiron. Then I started working through the Flatiron Prework.  A month ago, I was given a link to join a Facebook group, fill out a survey, and access the Flatiron prework program called “Learn”. Last week, I finished all of the prework. Seeing as I have 2.5 months until I attend Flatiron September 28th, I intend to work through as much of the Odin Project as I can.