A Startup Founder’s Journey With Code

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2015-04-23 17.19.51

James Ingallinera, far right, is the co-founder and CEO of Founder House, a co-living network for creators. He recently graduated from GA’s Web Development Immersive in New York City. 

The Problem

I got sucked into the exciting world of tech startups about four years ago while I was a rising senior at Notre Dame. Like many college students, I had an idea for a web app that I was itching to build, but there was a problem—I didn’t know how to code.

Over the next few years, my inability to code led to many more complications as I worked to get my startup off the ground, raise a seed-round of funding, and grow the company. The following are some of the specific problems that I kept running into because I did not understand the technical side of the business:

    1. Web development projects costing more and taking longer than they should have.
    2. Not being able to identify good developers/code when making hiring decisions.
    3. Having to rely entirely on developers for any technical needs of the business.
    4. Difficulty relating to and effectively managing software developers.

The Solution

After a year of working with contractors, student developers, and full-time developers to get the web app built and launched, I knew that I would have to make a serious commitment to learning how to code. Even though I was the non-technical founder of the startup, I still felt handicapped managing a tech startup without having a solid understanding of the technical side. At the beginning of this year, a window of opportunity opened that enabled me to really put my head down and learn the technical side of the business, so I started looking into what options were available for learning how to code.

Why Coding Bootcamps?

After evaluating my options, I decided to go with the full-time coding bootcamp model for three primary reasons:

      1. Coding bootcamps offered the fastest pace of learning available. I wanted to learn as much as I could as fast as I could. I decided that I would rather go all out for a couple of months instead of half-assing it on the side of something else for an indeterminate amount of time.
      2. Bootcamps offered the best foundation available, given my time constraint. I didn’t just want to learn how to code—I wanted to learn how to code WELL. I wanted to have a solid foundation before embarking on my life-long journey of learning new programming languages. I knew from my startup that programming languages were constantly evolving, therefore the foundation was far more important than any one language that could become outdated in a matter of years. I wanted to learn from experts rather than take the risk of teaching myself and not being aware of best practices.
      3. Coding bootcamps emphasized the practical instead of the theoretical. I wanted to be able to build the first version of a web app, instead of just learning the theory behind it. From all of my traditional schooling, I had always found that the vast majority of my classes were focused on theory instead of practical use or application in the real world. I had also heard similar complaints from many computer science majors from different schools who knew the theory extensively but couldn’t actually build anything. I wanted to be able to build things as opposed to merely understand the theory behind them.

General Assembly’s WDI Program

Once I started looking into the different coding bootcamps available where I was living (New York City), General Assembly seemed like the most compelling option for a few reasons.

      1. Their program had been through the highest number of iterations. General Assembly was the 800lb gorilla of coding bootcamps in New York City. They had been around for the longest and had gone through the most iterations of their program. I knew from my startup experience that the number of iterations a product has gone through is critical for quality assurance. After each iteration of the product, the company receives a ton of customer feedback and then makes dramatic changes to the offering.
      2. They had a massive network and vision that was focused on lifelong learning. General Assembly emphasized that they were building out a global network of talented people that members could tap repeatedly throughout their careers to keep growing and learning. I really liked GA’s added emphasis on the network, which other bootcamps did not have, because I saw the bootcamp as only being the first step on a lifelong journey of mastering programming languages, as opposed to being a one-stop-shop for getting a job as an entry-level web developer.
      3. They were very welcoming of entrepreneurs. General Assembly was very accommodative and encouraging of prospective students who had alternative objectives for their bootcamp. While the majority of students do take the course to land a job as entry-level, full-time web developer, GA also welcomes people who are taking the course for other reasons, such as wanting to build out a prototype for an idea, or just wanting to learn the technical side of web startups. In other bootcamps, students with alternative objectives were typically not welcome, so this was obviously a major factor in my decision.

Life After General Assembly

At this point, I’m about two months out of General Assembly’s WDI Program. All in all, I got exactly what I was hoping to get out of the program.

I now know exactly how much web development work should cost and how long it should take when I hire contractors because General Assembly taught me the skills needed to be a web development contractor.

I can now identify great programmers and weed out the mediocre ones whenever I’m building a team because I spent 12 weeks straight coding alongside 23 other peers with a wide variety of backgrounds, strengths, and skill sets.

I can relate to and effectively manage programmers because I have spent 900+ hours coding over four months, and have experienced the ups and downs that come with being a full-time programmer.

I can build the first version of most web-based apps and can code as needed on projects without having to rely on developers, the result of three week-long self-directed projects during which we built fully-functional prototypes of web apps and extensive coding assignments after class that would typically fill the remainder of each class day.

I have a solid foundation for learning and building on top of new programming languages throughout my career because General Assembly taught me timeless best practice principles for learning new programming languages.

I learned the most material at the fastest pace that I could have within reason—far faster than I ever would have been able to on my own, and several orders of magnitude faster than I ever learned anything in traditional schooling.

And finally, all of the reasons that I chose General Assembly specifically—for their experience, for their network, and for their flexibility—proved to be warranted as well. I have already tapped their network many times post-WDI to learn trades beyond the scope of computer programming, and have been able to connect with many helpful people in the NYC tech scene through GA’s expansive network.

Overall, I would highly recommend GA’s WDI course to any non-technical person who is serious about a career in tech startups, as this skill set will only become increasingly important for non-technical founders and employees. If you don’t have time for an immersive course, try Web Design Circuit to learn web design online.

Explore GA’s Web Development Immersive Program