Practicum graduate Colin Maretsky craved a career change while teaching English throughout Southeast Asia. Though he wouldn’t have described himself as a computer person, he found himself immersed in the world of software engineering – via Practicum’s practice-oriented Software Engineering Bootcamp. And just three months post-grad, Colin became a front-end engineer at a company that helps U.S. cities get more transparency on their budget. Learn how Colin traveled his way into a new career!

A teacher turns to tech

Colin was far from anything software engineering-related - both professionally and physically. With a psychology background and a career as an English teacher, Colin taught across several Southeast Asian countries pre-pandemic. He had no clue that one day he’d enter tech.

“I was never really a computer person,” he admits.

However, he had wanted to make a career change for a while, so when COVID hit, he felt it was his chance to break out of his routine. At home, Colin started researching new career tracks and set his eyes on the digital sphere. “I ended up settling on digital marketing or software engineering, I was deciding between the two. I decided on software engineering because I thought maybe there's less competition in the market.” He started discovering bits and pieces about HTML - the basic software engineering language. “I didn’t know much about it. I learned a bit about HTML, I liked that it’s like a puzzle that you put together, and also I liked the idea of working from home. So I decided to give it a shot,” he recalls. “I never expected that I would go this far.”

Originally, Colin decided to make his new interest a gig, taking on a freelance contract here and there just to help him pay the bills. However, the more he learned, the stronger his curiosity got. So, he started searching for software engineering courses. First, he tried some free online resources, but quickly discovered they needed to be more theoretical for his liking. “There are no deadlines. There are no teachers. It just gives you articles [for] learning. I didn't really understand what I was learning, I was just learning it. I didn't know how to use it. But I just kept reading about it.”

Colin needed more accountability and guidance. With a basic understanding in tow, he started looking for something more structured and practical.

“I remember googling coding courses, and there's a couple of websites that will rank different courses and tell you which ones are good [and bad, and the reasons why]. I remember seeing Practicum – it was a pretty new course with some good reviews. I thought it seems more serious than the other courses, it seemed more demanding… Practicum seemed like they want to take you all the way, so I thought I would take a chance.” So Colin enrolled. 

A teacher becomes the student

The learning was better than Colin expected. Having to stay at home with no students to teach, he could truly zero in on his studies. “It was sort of a sabbatical in a foreign country with a bit of learning ingrained,” he laughs. 

At Practicum, all programs are split into sprints – two or three weeks long periods that cover separate technical topics. Each sprint includes theoretical material, unlimited coding exercises, and practical assignments. Colin could read and practice at his own pace, but assignments had deadlines that he had to meet to unlock the following sprints. 

However, even with the abundance of free time, taking in so much new information was quite a challenge. “They take a lot of information and squish it into one year… [Practicum] has high expectations for [its] students. Just keeping up was a big challenge for me, with each new thing. I kind of like learning why we needed to do things and how all the pieces fit together.”

The program was tailored to ensure students understood how to apply their new skills while gaining insight into the fundamentals of software engineering. “I think sometimes you get lost in the information and you're like, ‘Wait, why am I doing this again?’, and you have to kind of go back and keep all the pieces in your head together. Because you need to know how to explain it, and this structure of knowledge is very complicated.”

“Another challenge was we learned the same thing more than one time. [First, we’d learn in a basic way]. Then we would go back and learn it again, like using it together with a framework that we were going to learn. For example, we would learn something like vanilla JavaScript – how to make a website with only JavaScript [...]. And then the next two weeks, we would go back and do the same website, only we were going to make it with React this time... I think this is a good point because a lot of courses will just teach you React. And they'll say, ‘Okay, you know, React, you're good to go.’ But Practicum made sure that we knew the fundamentals of how these things work, and not just how to do it with the easy library. Even if we didn't have the library, we could still do it.”

“Practicum did a good job teaching us,” he says, “I thought we all came out well-prepared for our first job in the market.”

Persistent student bares the fruit

Once Colin graduated, he took a well-deserved break for a few months! During this time, he took on small freelance projects. Together, with the things he did at Practicum, he created a solid portfolio that convinced potential employers of his skills and experience.

“The mix of Practicum [and freelance projects] was a good thing. Especially having a portfolio like my website that they can look at. It's important, because with a bootcamp, [employers] don't know what you can do, because they don't know what kind of bootcamp you came from… Projects are helpful to make viewers think, ‘Okay, this person knows what they're doing.’”

As a result, Colin found a job in just three months! 

He started by targeting specific industries or companies that he liked, but being too selective didn’t bear fruit. “In the beginning, I started by doing that. But then I found that it was tougher than I thought. So I ended up just going on LinkedIn, and applying to a lot of jobs. Pretty much any job that matched my skill set, I would apply to.” He got interview invitations from about 5% of those companies but aiming for a wider range of opportunities eventually worked in his favor. He got an offer from GovInvest – a private company that helps U.S. cities get real-time access to their financial data to check and plan how much and in what ways they spend, and compare themselves to other cities across the country. He applied for a senior position hoping that even if he was right for the role, the company might offer him a lower position (and his plan worked!)

“[The interview process] went very well,” says Colin. “Funny enough, it was easier than a lot of the other interviews that I have done… They gave me an interview project and two days to do it. I brought it back, and [my interviewer] said he liked it. Then he wanted me to talk to his boss, and I chatted with her. She liked me, so she wanted me to talk to the CEO of the company. And so I talked to him, and after that, they offered me the job.”

“I applied as a senior. And they said, “We like you, we don't quite think you're a senior, but we'll give you one level below.” So now I'm working as a front end engineer. So I'm the one who's building the [financial] dashboard [for cities]. All the graphs, the bar chart, the line chart, everything. I'm building that right now.”

Congratulations, Colin! If software engineering sounds like your ideal career, look no further. Take a look at our top-rated program here and switch your career today!


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