A Day in Class With a Remote Career Changer

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For many students, enrolling in a career-accelerating bootcamp can be a daunting decision, especially when it’s conducted entirely online. How do students stay engaged and accountable while learning remotely? We connected with GA student Fletcher Jones to walk us through his day-to-day in our Software Engineering Immersive program. He graduated in July 2020 and landed a job as a software engineer at Safe & Reliable Healthcare shortly after.

Before coming to GA, I was an actor, a model, and a recording artist. I also had experience as a former student ambassador for the U.S. State Department, and after graduating from college, I worked as a marketing consultant. Later, I worked closely with Senator Bernie Sanders during his 2020 campaign for president.

After the presidential race changed, I — like many others — found myself out of the job. And that’s not all: At this point, the pandemic had begun, and the U.S. entered a tumultuous period of race relations. It was a difficult decision but I decided it was best to take on the challenge of a career change while spending some time at my parents’ home in North Carolina. I wanted a path with more job security that also strengthened my problem-solving skills — following my passion for computer science at GA seemed like the best solution. It was.

My instructor was based on the West Coast, so by being on the East Coast during the course (and being a night owl), this provided amazing flexibility. Given the time difference, my schedule probably isn’t typical for a GA student, but learning remotely at GA gives you even more control over your day and how you use your time when you’re not in class. Plus, all the sessions are recorded, so you can revisit at any point. For me, that was a huge benefit to learning online because the recorded lessons were so helpful for taking notes. Online learning was not my first choice, but it was definitely the best one. I’d absolutely do it again.

Here’s what my average day looked like during the course:

7:30 a.m. — Rise & Shine 

Given the noon start time on the East Coast, I was able to enjoy a relaxed morning routine. This really helped me start class with energy and a positive attitude every day.

8–11 a.m. — Morning Routine

I would start my day with a walk around the neighborhood — sometimes with my mom, and sometimes solo while listening to music. When I returned home, I’d eat breakfast and do some stretching, too.

11:30 a.m. – Check the Day’s Schedule

Every day, we’d have lectures on at least two topics concerning front-end or back-end programming. They would be split into a morning exercise, module one, lunch, and then module two. Here’s a sample of the schedule:

GA Alum Fletcher Jones’ Software Engineering Immersive Remote Schedule, Week 10

12 p.m. — Sign On for Coding Exercises

We’d often begin with a morning exercise (or afternoon in my case). These could range from an assigned coding challenge, to a quick lab exercise, or a breakout group discussing an engineering topic. After these exercises, one member would present the group’s learnings. Everyone comes into the class at different levels of experience, so these sessions were really valuable to learn from students who might have more background in coding.

Here’s an example of a coding challenge — I especially appreciated this one because it showed up on a technical interview during my job search! I was able to complete it in class and present my solution to the instructor for feedback.

12:30 p.m. — First Module Begins

Module 1 is a mix of instructor lecture and (depending on how intensive it is) related lab exercises. These are never solo — you’re always working in pairs or small groups. We would share computer screens using Zoom to work through these, in addition to other tools like our computers’ terminals, Chrome browser, and Visual Studio Code (or another preferred text editor).

The lectures on React really stood out to me — I instantly fell in love with them. It’s such a useful library that allows you to build out robust apps that remain scalable with relative ease. I’m grateful that Dalton, my lead instructor, did such a great job capturing my attention with React and the MERN stack because these are what I currently use at my job. Dalton was always eager to answer questions and would always make sure his students completely understood the topics.

These lectures started with a walkthrough of how React is implemented on Facebook (which it was created for). That visual was really helpful in understanding the fundamentals. Dalton would highlight specific parts of posts, comments, or profiles — things we were already familiar with — and explain to us how they were coded in React. Later in the week, we put all the basics together to create a fully functional app using React and other technologies from earlier in the course (MongoDB, Express.js, and Node.js).

1:30 p.m.— 15-Minute Break

Just the right amount of time to brew a cup of Yerba Mate to get me through the rest of the day. After, we would reconvene to wrap up Module 1.

3:30 p.m.—First Module Ends, One-Hour break

Here I would eat with my family, sometimes take a walk, or on really rough days…  take a nap! 

4:30 p.m. — Second Module Begins

For the majority of the course, the time allotted for second modules was usually spent in a lab to get hands-on practice and dive deeper into the ideas we learned during the first module. For instance, our first module on React was followed with a lab exercise that brought our app prototypes to life.

5 p.m. — 5-Minute Break

Sometimes our instructor would see people yawning, and we’d have a five minute break. Or sometimes we’d get a bio break if a lecture was really long. It’s nice that our instructor paid attention to little things like that.

6 p.m. — Presenting Group Work  

After a brief break, we’d present group work. Sometimes you’d get assigned into groups to work through an activity, or in Slack, you could use reactions to request teammates. Using Zoom’s breakout sessions, this kind of group work was engaging and motivating. It’s so valuable to troubleshoot with people from (seemingly) unrelated backgrounds to learn how they problem-solve.

One person from each group would agree to present. Sometimes, it was intimidating to see the progress others were making, but most times, I felt that I “got” a concept or solved a problem more quickly. Ups and downs are just part of the day-to-day, and everyone progresses differently throughout the course.

7 p.m. — 15-Minute Break 2.0

During these breaks, I’d interact with my family or just chill for a few minutes.

8 p.m. — Class Ends

Crushed it.

8 p.m. — Dinner

My parents would wait for me to finish class, and we’d sit down together to catch up on the day and what happened in class — easily the best part of my day.

9 p.m. — After-Hours Support

After-hours support is something students can take advantage of a few times a week if necessary. Adonis, our teaching assistant, was great and had wide-ranging knowledge in both front-end and back-end development. Adonis helped me get a better grasp on working on servers, specifically using MongoDB with Express. I was having trouble with the database for one of my portfolio projects, Notify, which was a streaming music service using the SoundCloud API. Adonis spent about an hour helping me figure out the bug.

10:00 p.m. — Start Homework

At this point I would complete any unfinished labs and review exercises that need more attention.

Midnight — Ideal Bedtime

Eight hours of sleep was everything. Sometimes, I wouldn’t get to bed until even later; it felt good to go to bed knowing that I did the best as I could, and that nothing was hanging over my head. I was actually doing something and making progress — with the pandemic and all, I hadn’t felt that in a long time.

Two other key areas where I spent time throughout the course were prepping with my career coach and working on my final project.  

Meeting With Career Coaches and Portfolio Development

Rashid Campbell, a member of the Outcomes team, was my career coach at GA. Rashid did more than just prepare us for our job search — he was our frontline defense against burnout and genuinely cared about how I was doing as a human being, not just as a student. Learning in an Immersive is intense to begin with, but during the pandemic there was added stress!

On Tuesdays we would meet for two to three hours to work on my resume, personal branding, job applications, and technical interview prep. Additionally, one requirement for students to receive Outcomes support was that we had to create a portfolio summarizing our five projects. I would make time for this kind of work toward the end of the course on many days.

The Capstone Project

For their capstone projects, students mimic a team-client interaction, collaborating to build and deploy a full-stack application that fulfills provided specs. The final result integrates functionality from a third-party API. Instructors urge students to choose a capstone project grounded in a personal passion or a problem they’re excited to tackle.

During the last week of the course, the schedule was very open to allow for deep focus on your project. Any lectures were mostly optional, and we could take breaks whenever we needed. We had an open classroom policy — almost like a workplace environment — so that we could focus solely on the project.

My Final Project

My capstone project was inspired by my background in acting. A lot of people in the arts lack a centralized place to find fellow creatives to collaborate with on projects or events (or promote them). I created a wireframe for a website called Accolade, which helps creatives and artists stay connected and collaborate. Creatives can post and spread the word about their upcoming performances, showcases, or premieres on the site. They can also post an ad looking for actors, models, photographers, or videographers, and more.

First, I had to draft a wireframe of what it would look like and document its features, user interface, and tech dependencies — like a map API to display event locations.

On the day of presentations, students would give praise and “grows” — constructive criticism grounded in an empathetic understanding of how hard it can be to put yourself out there. This approach helped some students feel more comfortable with having their work in the spotlight.

Learning remotely at GA offered more support from fellow students than I ever expected. Everyone was so understanding when there were two deaths in my family during the course. When I got my job offer, Rashid helped with salary negotiations. I still keep in touch with students from my class as they get started on their new career paths. This was a period of my life that I will never forget — through the people I met. It was an authentic milestone.

Over the years, I used to feel anxious about all my loose ends. I have done so many things: I earned a journalism degree after 4 years of college; I jumped from entertainment, to politics, to whatever paid the bills. I looked at my peers who stuck to one thing and admired how far they went. After this experience, I realized that my diverse experiences are my superpower. I can literally do anything I put my mind to.

And you can too.

Take the Leap Into Software Engineering

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