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Plenty of people had tech-related hobbies as kids, but few have felt brave enough or had enough support to develop these passions into occupations they truly love. Practicum graduate Zachary "Rex" Rodriguez, however, belongs to that small group of people who managed to make this happen. A tech enthusiast and self-taught web developer, Zachary chose to pursue an education and career in the film industry, only to realize that opportunities within this field were limited. He reignited his passion for tech and, after completing the Practicum Software Engineer program, landed a job in the IT industry.

Taking a sharp turn

Like many millennials, Zachary’s interest in tech began when he started exploring computers as a child. "It was something that I just fell into," he says. "I've been using computers since I was a little kid, back when the internet was just a hobby that a few people had." However, very few people stick to their childhood hobbies when they grow up, and Zachary was no different. When it was time to decide on a career, he chose to study film. 

After graduating, though, he quickly realized it was a lot easier to land a tech job than get employed in the film industry. While still studying film, he took on small online tech projects and taught himself some web development skills — just enough to get hired by a real estate company as a Salesforce and Wordpress developer. According to Zachary, he could "basically get by doing that stuff as a beginner programmer", but soon felt that he wanted to do something more substantial. It was time to move on to the next level. "Salesforce is just Salesforce, that's all you can do with it. The next step was to learn how to be an actual full stack web developer, who uses JavaScript and HTML, CSS, frameworks, and stuff like that."

Zachary enjoyed web development and was excited by the problem-solving aspect of the job, "where you're kind of an abstract engineer that uses programming to figure out how to accomplish a task." Web dev gave him a sense of fulfillment, he shares. It felt nice when, after numerous attempts, his code would finally work. However, Zachary admits that he never got any formal programming education. "I felt like there was a lot I didn't know. That's why I started looking for a bootcamp."

Exploring a new road 

Coming across Practicum was a lucky coincidence. "I saw an ad, did a demo lesson, and I liked it. So, I just decided to keep doing it," he says. "But then once I took the course and looked at some other bootcamps later, I was like, 'Wow, I really lucked out going Practicum!', because everyone was super nice and helpful, and the curriculum was up-to-date." He liked Practicum’s user interface and enjoyed working with both program staff and other students.

Moreover, juggling learning and his other duties turned out to be rather easy. At first, Zachary had a remote part-time job where he taught coding to children (the business was shut down due to the pandemic.) "But then I just started finding my own students and doing everything remotely," he explains. Still, the learning didn’t always go well. Every topic or sprint consisted of three parts: reading up on theory, doing the coding exercises, and working on the project. He could do the first two at his own pace, but projects had to be submitted on time to unlock the next sprint. They got increasingly complicated. "You would send in the project and get your code reviewed, then revise it and send it in again. So, out of those three [steps], the revising would get progressively harder. The first round of code was easy, because you just had to make everything work. The third [round], when you got the feedback, was usually the hardest, because [code reviewers] would push you to make it better." 

Zachary recalls that he was frustrated with the process at first. "I was like, 'Ah, it was working before, and now I have to go back and do everything over again.'" Later, he realized that being pushed was good motivation and he improved his skills. "That's something that I really liked. Because then you feel like more of a professional. You didn't just take a class where they rubber stamp everybody, like 'Let them all go through.' [Practicum] actually tried to create good, competent students."

Just being in Practicum's environment, where he could communicate with both tutors and peers, was helpful. "After I graduated, it was fun to do the Hack-a-thon stuff and get to know people," he says. (Practicum's Hack-a-thon is an opportunity for students to apply their skills to a creative project and add it to their portfolio, as well as practice working on web development projects as part of a team.)  

He also leveraged Practicum's career resources to polish his resume and do mock interviews. "You can gauge where you are in comparison to others in a similar position. And if there are people ahead of you, maybe more experienced, you can study their code and learn from them. If there are people who aren't on your level, you can help them. Plus, you can put on your resume that you worked on a project with other people. That's important. [Employers] want somebody who can do that."

Destination found

Indeed, rewriting code again and again proved useful in the end. Zachary got two job offers after several months of searching. One of them was with Salesforce. However, he had always wanted to work for a smaller company. "It's just a nice environment. You feel like you're working with your friends," he explains. The other offer was from a multimedia firm, Curious Media located in Nampa, ID, that built websites and games. "They ended up being a really good company. First, when I did the sample project for them while I was in the interview process, they actually paid me for my work, which was nice. You could tell they were fair and took good care of their workers. They also liked that I did some teaching." 

Zachary accepted the second offer and is working on a Pokémon website now. He's not going to plan too much into the future, "because there are so many opportunities that you never expect," he says. Besides, in programming there is always more to learn, so Zachary figures he’d do the same job, but just on the back end. And his background in film didn't go to waste. "It comes in handy in web development. Especially in things like user experience, you have to have a feel for what is right and what feels natural to the end user, and what's aesthetically pleasing."

If you had a childhood passion that’s still glimmering in you, perhaps it's time to get back to it. Just like Zachary, if you want to breathe life into your tech hobby and turn it into a stable job, come join us at Practicum!

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