One of our Full Stack Web Development Grads, Ben Simmons,reflects back on his Bloc experience. As an employee-sponsored apprentice, Ben shares his advice for anyone thinking of enrolling in a bootcamp with a full-time job.
Ben’s Experience and Advice as an Employer Sponsored Apprenctice:
Coming into Bloc as an employer-sponsored apprentice, what goals did you have for yourself?
I already had a job that I liked, and I was already an experienced Java Developer. My goal coming into Bloc was to become an expert in Ruby on Rails. My company owns half of a start up, TrophyTrips, and they wanted me to create a website. So, I went out and my employer paid for it. I wanted to finish the bootcamp and learn everything I possibly could. I wanted to bring it back to the company and hire other developers to help us build this product, that we are now, by the grace of god, about to launch!
So overall goal: to become an expert in Ruby on Rails specifically. Chris (my mentor) let me do my own thing. I did half the curriculum in a week and a half. He also let me ask questions on more advanced topics, and he was extremely knowledgeable.
Now a Bloc graduate, if you could go back into time and give yourself one piece of advice as a Bloc student, what would it be?
Take advantage of Bloc Overflow- the Q&A forum where students can ask questions. I used to beat my head against the wall going crazy looking for answers! Also, don’t be afraid to take breaks. That goes for development in general. I’ll become invested, and want to meet a certain goal by the end of the week, and force myself through it. But don’t do that. Instead, you should just take a walk or do something else. Studies suggest that companies that allow people to take walks, or do something physical for a minute have more productive workers. So I’ll take walks with my wife or son, and sometimes the solution to my problem just comes to me. Sometimes I was more productive when I wasn’t successful, and that would lead me to taking breaks.
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to an incoming student?
I would say that students should make sure they enjoy doing this. This is true for any job; If you’re just doing it for the money, you’re going to change your career path eventually. You won’t actually be the best at your job if you don’t truly enjoy it. For me, and a lot of developers, we’re able to get more work done because developing is our hobby. If this wasn’t my job, I would be doing it in my spare time anyway. I’d also say that just because you like technology, doesn’t mean you’ll be good at a job like this. I once wanted to be a writer because I loved reading. But then I realized I didn’t like writing as much. Same goes with technology and a technical career.
How should someone prepare themselves for a course at Bloc? Can you name a few resources?
I would definitely encourage them to use a free resource like Treehouse or Codeschool to get some basics going into Bloc. It’ll make the fundamentals section so much better; it’ll be a review and they will get more out of it.
Considering you came into Bloc with some experience how did your mentor influence your experience?
This influenced me a lot. I’m a very methodical person, so I read every mentor profile. Not only did Chris take the extra time to make sure I understood context that were integral to how rails worked as a platform, but he went a step further and always explained the “why” factor. I also was building TrophyTrips during Bloc, and questions would arise from that. I mean, I was leading other developers, and wanted to make sure I was leading them in the right direction. Luckily, I had Chris as a resource. I would give him the scenario and paint the picture for him, and ask him what to do. He really helped me in real world situations.
What do you think your experience would be like had you not had a mentor?
I mean, it would be exactly like Treehouse or Codeschool or any tutorial online. Having a mentor is what makes Bloc worth it. I can pay for tutorials online for $70, and it’s worth it, but when you have someone to ask questions to, there’s no comparison. I used to approach people who I thought had a pretty good grasp on programming, but it got to a point where they couldn’t even answer my questions. Not only did my mentor answer my questions, but he led me down a path without heartache.
How did your boss influence your Bloc experience?
He helped me pick my mentor-My boss and I ended up picking a mentor together, and decided that Chris was right for me. We set up a meeting with Chris to see if he was comfortable with treating a student like me, and luckily he did.
How did you handle taking a developer bootcamp while working full time?
Well I liked it a lot. I was working a full-time job in development, but still had to get my hours in for Bloc. So I probably was working 80 hours a week including Bloc, and it was totally worth it. Since it’s also my hobby, it didn’t feel like I was really working. I have my work day, and then some family time, but after they would go to bed I would work on Bloc. If there was a key to my success, it would have to be the fact that I loved doing it, therefore it made it easy to find time to be successful.
Did you ever feel like quitting? If so, how did you keep yourself motivated?
No, I did get discouraged early on though. I was frustrated with Rails in the beginning; I could see the pieces but wasn’t able to put them together. But the best thing I ever did was take breaks. I just had to get into my own groove.
What phase of Bloc did you see the most personal growth and how were you able to work through it’s challenges?
Figuring out Ruby on Rails, but Tails is this whole other thing- it’s not a language, but a platform. The terminology also confused me. Sometimes I don’t get the simple concepts at first. Early on I definitely asked stupid questions! Overall, I didn’t understand Rails as a platform because I didn’t understand the theory behind it.
Do you have any study tips for someone who is thinking of enrolling in an online bootcamp?
Don’t be afraid to skip around big references and use Google. It pains me to do things out of order, but I’ve realized that sometimes I have to skip around to find the answers. If you’re studying something in-depth, books are good! I’m reading a book on Angular Js right now, and it’s really helpful because I want to understand everything. But if you want to only understand one thing, just use Google.
Google is easy enough, but if you really want to get the best results, there’s a lot of things you can do to search better. Make sure the phrase is exactly the way it needs to be. So if you couple your message in quotes, it’s going to look for that actual phrase. There’s cheat sheets on sites for all these things, so make sure you’re Googling correctly! It spares a lot of time.
I think the most important advice I can give someone would have be to take the plunge. I was nervous about it but finally did it. It goes by faster than you think, and it’s going to pay off big time. It’s completely changed my life.
What Ben Is Doing Now:
After completing Bloc, Ben returned to his company as a Ruby on Rails expert. He now passes on everything he has learned to his colleagues, and is about to launch trophytrips.com, where you can book high-end hunting and adventure trips for one of his companies start-ups in February.
Check out Ben’s story on our Alumni page!