How to combine your passions with a coding career

If you’ve finished uni but you’re not sure if what you’ve studied is actually where you want to go, that’s okay — there’s still room to change lanes. At Enspiral Dev Academy, we’ve had students do awesome things by combining their old jobs or interests with their newly-minted coding skills from one of our programming bootcamps. Learning new stuff is awesome — but there’s no need to head back for another four year degree just to try something new. Here’s the story of a Dev Academy grad who’s found his sweet spot.

Geordi Dearns had just finished a Commerce degree with a double major in management and marketing at Otago University. He had marketing experience, working in the Dunedin startup scene, and a linear career path beckoned. But he looked around at his mates in the tech sector — being paid to learn new stuff; getting to be part of a more relaxed company culture — and had some serious career envy.

Working with startups had given Geordi a taste for tech, but he didn’t actually know technical details. He knew, however, that he wanted to be in a career in tech within the next two years; going back for another several-year slog at uni to learn IT wasn’t an option. A chance meeting with one of Enspiral Dev Academy’s founders, Joshua Vial, at a startup conference in Wellington, led to Geordi’s decision to apply for and join a Dev Academy bootcamp. The courses train industry-ready web developers in 18 weeks.

“It was one of the defining events of my life,” Geordi says. “It sounds like a cliche, but it’s true. I knew going in that I was going to pivot into a new career at the end of it.” Geordi saw friends working in tech who were learning on the job, and getting home keen to get back online and learn more outside of work hours. “When you see that, it’s something special,” he says. “As soon as I saw my friends doing that stuff, and once I was part of EDA, it just clicked for me.”

That’s not to say the accelerated learning course was easy. Geordi was challenged emotionally, and in terms of work — he took up the option to roll back through parts of the course to make sure he’d got the most out of it. That extended his graduation from EDA slightly, but he says it was worth it to wring every drop of knowledge from the programme. He says the support network within EDA was what got him through the hard parts.

“I’m now 10 months away from EDA but whenever I step back in it feels like I never left,” he says. “The community that’s based around Dev Academy and Enspiral (EDA’s parent network) feels like a massive family. Sure it’s about learning to program, but you meet new people here and instantly make new friends. It’s about building relationships with the people around you, and places like this where you have this level of learning and sharing of knowledge are unique.”

Geordi rationalised the upfront financial commitment of the Dev Academy course fees as something that would pay off in the long run — and it did. “In terms of the return over time, the financial aspect works out to be minimal,” he says. “A lot of people invest in other aspects of their lives, like holidays and stuff. I wasn’t fully convinced about the career path I was going down so I decided to invest in my career path and EDA was the solution to that.”

The payoff came in the form of a smooth transition to a junior web developer role right after he graduated. During the boot camp, Geordi was encouraged by Dev Academy staff to network and attend industry meetups, and he learned soft skills on the course, like interacting well with others, which helped. “Your knowledge of tech might be basic, but you take what you know and go to meetups at different companies and use that knowledge to have conversations you never thought you could have,” he says.

One of those conversations was with the CTO of Carnival (now a Sailthru company), who Geordi reached out to again after graduating from EDA — and landed a job at a business he’d been admiring for a long time. As a software developer, the skills he’d learned across both front and back end development at EDA came into play (Dev Academy teaches full stack Javascript). Geordi primarily does front end development — a lot of the user interface, as well as taking the data from the back end of the web application and turning it into something that users can interact with. But his broad skillset means he can also jump into the back end and do some of the API integrations with external services like email. As well his background in marketing has allowed him to merge his interests and focus on marketing automation — a big draw in attracting him to work at Carnival.

The skills he learned in his bootcamp come into play almost every day.

“You get told you’ll learn a lot on the job and you do, but the skills you leave EDA with can be utilised straight away,” Geordi says. “It started on my first day — I was asked to do stuff that I’d seen before so I could jump straight in. You feel comfortable with the tools — sure you grow into it, but you hit the ground running.”

Since Geordi started working there, Carnival, a mobile marketing automation platform, has been acquired by the United States-based Sailthru. It’s a large email marketing platform that enables brands — particularly ecommerce and media brands — to use email as a solid outreach channel to get to their customers. Geordi says despite being the team’s newest member, he was never worried about his job; internal communication was strong and he found the time of change as the two companies merged exciting rather than scary.

“We knew that merging with another company meant that we had availability of resources and the ability to grow our team, and take a load off developers who’d been spread thin,” Geordi says. “So now it makes me feel more comfortable that I’ll get further mentoring from senior developers who were under the pump for a while.

“It’s great to meet a whole new team and slowly integrate with them and learn each other’s processes. The different time zone can be difficult at times, but all in all it’s been an awesome experience and something I’m interested in terms of my background in business and how it’s converged with my interest in code.”

Geordi has encouragement to give to people thinking of studying programming.

“You can rest easy if you’re thinking of coming to Dev Academy, that you’ll get the support you need to learn.” he says. “Even if you’re learning something you never expected, which was my situation when I came here, it’s great just having that space to be able to be yourself and learn while engaging with motivated, like-minded people from a range of different backgrounds. You know you can come here and find common ground with people, which is really comforting. It’s the community around the place that makes EDA special.”