Stories from the 2019 Code Labs Cohort: Jacob, Roy and Zack

Salaries for developers in the state of Missouri are 44% higher than the average mean salary of $45,000 - but only 0.56% of the workforce in Cape Girardeau are software developers.1 These high-wage earning community members have an enormous impact on our area’s economic health and well-being, and making sure they have the skills in hand to land these in-demand jobs is what Code Labs is all about.

Meet Jacob, Roy and Zack, all graduates of the 2019 Code Labs cohort.2 They're sharing how Code Labs impact them as applications are officially open for the 2020 cohort. This free, no-programming-experience-required class gave them a new career and changed their lives. Read on to see how it could do the same for you or someone you know.

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Codefi: What were you doing before Code Labs, what made you apply, and what did you hope to get out of the class?
Jacob Johnkoski: I was working at a factory. I was hoping the class would turn my self-taught coding experience into professionally transferable skills.
Roy Leighton: Before Code Labs I was working as a server in various restaurants. I applied to Code Labs because I was looking to make a career change and a friend told me that I should look into something in the tech field. Going into the class I was just hoping to expand my skill sets and find out if this was a field I could fit into well.
Zack Amis: I was an RN for about 8 years. I was tired of the 12-hour shifts and looking to do something different with my life. I always enjoyed computers and technical things. I was hoping that the class would jump-start my ability to get a job doing something I was already dabbling in for fun (programming apps, and websites).

Code Labs 2019 cohort education and wage demographics

What's your educational background, and what kind of coding experience did you have coming into the course?
Jacob: I had only one year of college and a small amount of personal experience coding from free online courses.
Roy: I have a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration for Accounting. I had no coding experience coming into the course.
Zack: I taught myself some very basic HTML, CSS and did enough YouTube tutorials to make a really basic Android app and a really terrible looking web page. My experience in Nursing taught me that I needed some help to get over the hump and really understand some basic concepts. I could follow along with a tutorial, but my mind would blank when trying to apply it on my own projects.

How did you feel going into the class?
Jacob: I was excited!
Roy: I felt excited to learn something new going into the class. I was a little nervous about it because I had no coding experience and I never really considered myself a “tech” person.
Zack: Optimistic and ready for the challenge.

Code Labs calls for 20 hours a week outside of class. How did you get all of that work in?
Jacob: It was hard. I stayed up late, got up early, worked through lunches and work breaks, and didn't give up.
Roy: The key to learning anything, in my opinion, is consistency. You just have to make it a priority in your life.
Zack: Coding became my only hobby. I had to stop playing video games, I barely watched TV or movies. I really enjoyed what I was learning because it was like a puzzle game.

What were your biggest bumps in the road? How did you overcome them?
Jacob: I worked heavy hours and have an ill family member to care for so it took a lot of commitment to get through. Other than that, I had some struggles with frontend tasks, like CSS and HTML, and I just worked at them until I felt comfortable and competent. Asking questions and getting help from others really benefited me.
Roy: Making time for the work was probably the hardest thing to overcome. I had some of my own side projects that I worked on to practice as we learned more and more.
Zack: Finding ways to use what I was learning in class to actually make something I cared about. It was easy to follow along, but the application of that when no one was holding your hand through it was painful and confusing at times. I found asking the teaching fellows in class about my problems helped me break down what I was not understanding and instead of giving me an answer, they gave me a path to explore or revisit. Oftentimes, when I would go back over the material again, I would realize I was not really understanding something that was important to the problem I was facing.

Code Labs 2019 cohort education and wage demographics

What's the most surprising thing you learned about yourself during Code Labs?
Jacob: How much I enjoy working with others. I always thought of myself as a bit of a loner but I really got value out of collaborating with others.
Roy: I was surprised to see how much I enjoyed it. I knew I would learn a lot but to be honest I never had a strong interest in anything related to Computer Science. I just thought that I would try something new and I’m glad that I did.
Zack: I learned that I love solving problems with creativity. I always thought of myself as being a non-creative type, someone who just copies the best known tactic and follows it, but coding unleashed a creativity in me, a creativity of logic and getting the computer to do what I wanted it to do.

How has Code Labs changed your career?
Jacob: It has taken me from being a factory worker to an associate software engineer. It's changed my life!
Roy: Code Labs helped me get a foot in the door of a tech company – Vizient. Taking the course gave me an excellent starting point. I am currently a Quality Engineer but it is my hope to use this role as an opportunity to continue learning and eventually transition into development.
Zack: I went from working in nursing which was fulfilling but overwhelmingly exhausting, to a job that I look forward to going to work every morning. I have the freedom to take my skills and develop my own projects and make more money on the side, all while doing what I consider to be a fun hobby.

What do the next few years look like for you?
Jacob: Hopefully I'll continue to advance my career and go from being an associate to a full developer at my current company.
Roy: Over the next few years I hope to continue learning as much as I possibly can. I am very happy with my new role at Vizient and it’s my plan to stay here for a long time.
Zack: Improving my skills, developing web apps for my career and on my own side projects. Helping anyone who also wants to learn to do this.

Code Labs 2019 cohort prior coding experience demographic

What advice do you have for people thinking about applying?
Jacob: Start learning now to get ahead of the curve.
Roy: I think that anyone who is interested in changing their career path or even just expanding their skill sets should apply. It’s an excellent course and it’s FREE. In my opinion, that’s something you can’t beat. I might also recommend taking what you learn and applying it to your own side project. The more interested you are in something the more you will learn.
Zack: There are so many good Youtube tutorials. Find a beginner programming tutorial and try it out. If you thought it was fun, apply for the class, it was literally a life-changing experience for me.

What advice do you have to help the incoming cohort succeed?
Jacob: Ask others for help, don't give up when you get stuck, and admit when you don't know something.
Roy: I would tell the new students to take it seriously when the teaching fellows say you need to be working 20 hours per week on this. You won’t be sorry that you did.
Zack: Ask questions like, “How does this work?”. I feel like my success was largely due to my curiosity and enjoyment of the material being covered. I took what I learned and tried applying it in many different ways. I tinkered with examples to see what happened and tried to understand why it worked the way it did.

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