Alumni Stories

From Campus Minister to Software Developer in Cincinnati

Online Alumni Spotlight: Michael Casciato

Flatiron School / 14 August 2017
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This article originally appeared on Course Report – head there to read the full post, or check out an excerpt below. 

Finding a tech job in San Francisco? Easy. Landing a tech job in Cincinnati, Ohio after learning to code online and switching careers from campus ministry? Sounds harder! Michael Casciato did just that with the help of Flatiron School, and shares his journey with us. He’s now a Software Developer at CRäKN, using the Rails and JavaScript skills he learned at Flatiron School’s Online Web Developer Program. Learn how Michael found success despite being new to online learning (and why he chose an online bootcamp), how Flatiron School guided him through his job search in Cincinnati, and his advice for every future bootcamper.

Q&A

What were you up to before Flatiron School?

My background was drastically different before starting at Flatiron School. I received my BA and MA from Xavier University in Theology, and previously served as a professional college campus minister for a local, private Catholic University.

What motivated you to change career paths and do a coding bootcamp?

While I loved working in ministry, I hit a point where it started to become repetitive and unchallenging. I did some soul searching, and turned to another passion of mine – technology. In the past, I had learned some very basic HTML and CSS in my downtime, so I had somewhat of a foundation, albeit a small one. I decided that a future as a software developer would be both an exciting challenge and the best career path for my growing family.

Campus Minister to Software Developer: that’s quite a career change! Has your previous background as a campus minister been useful in your new job in tech?

I’d say the biggest skill that has carried over is understanding how people feel, behave, think, and act, and being able to effectively communicate this understanding with them. It’s really crucial for any job, if you think about it. However, making a career switch amplifies the need and importance for such communication.

Did you research other coding bootcamps or did you have your heart set on Flatiron School?

Yes, I did research other schools. I took part in a couple of other informational webinars prior to investigating Flatiron School. However, Flatiron’s approach to education, their commitment to community, and their breadth of curriculum won me over.

Why did you choose to learn online instead of attending an in-person bootcamp in Cincinnati?

Being able to learn online was a key factor for me in my research process. I wasn’t able to drop everything and move away from my family for a few months to do an in-person bootcamp. While there may have been some in-person opportunities in Cincinnati, none of them were with Flatiron School, nor were they as affordable. And again, I wasn’t in a position to be able to immediately quit my job as a campus minister and do the bootcamp full-time. So online it was.

Yes, learning online was daunting at first. I had never taken an online course before – all my previous education was face-to-face. And yes, it was a risk for me. I didn’t know how I would adjust to such a change in learning style and environment along with such a big change in content (ministry vs. tech). However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that Flatiron School was so uniquely set up to accommodate people in similar positions as myself. The online community of fellow Learn-ers (Learn is the name Flatiron School’s online platform) and instructors made the transition smoother than I anticipated. I definitely believe that without them, I wouldn’t have been as successful.

Since Flatiron’s online program is self-paced, how long did it take you to complete the course?

When I started Flatiron School, I was still working in my previous career. Thankfully my superiors were incredibly understanding, so they let me go down to part-time so that I could do Flatiron part-time. I learned at this pace for a few months, then went to full-time learning when my contract was up (I was a 10-month employee, off during the summer). By the time I graduated, I was a student for 9 months – 3 part-time, and 6 full-time.

Is there something you’ve discovered every Flatiron School online student must do to be successful?

First and foremost, don’t be afraid to ask for help! There will most certainly be times when you get stumped to the point of wanting to throw your computer across the room. Fight that instinct, and use your better judgement – consult the Flatiron School community. No matter the difficulty of the question, an instructor or fellow student is always willing to lend a hand. This degree of attention was a lifesaver for me, and shows how much everyone at Flatiron cares about your success. Some people may be able to do it alone, but you’ll be missing out. Even just having casual conversation with the community can give you a different perspective and will definitely reinforce your love for coding!

How supported did you feel by instructors and other students at Flatiron School?

I really felt valued not only as a student, but also as a person in general. Aside from the help with the coursework as I previously stated, the community at Flatiron School held regular weekly check-ins to see how we were overall – we could share highs, lows, or anything we wanted the community to know. It’s an open and accepting place that made me feel like I truly belonged.

How is Flatiron School different from the other online resources you’ve used in the past?

I’ve tried some courses on Codecademy. The major difference is the quality of the content. On Codecademy, it wasn’t difficult to get a hint or even the full solution if you ran into a roadblock. It wasn’t a challenge. However, with Flatiron School, the quality of the curriculum is evident. In turn, you really have to put in some effort to match the curriculum. There isn’t a “hint” button. You have to do the work in order to move on and eventually be successful. It’s a great mirror of life in general, come to think of it. Those free online resources can be good to supplement your studies, but I wouldn’t advise relying solely on them.

Because you’re based in Cincinnati, how did Flatiron School help you find a job despite living in a slightly smaller job market?

I’ll admit there were some moments during my search when I wished I lived in a larger tech hub like New York or Chicago. But my career coach gave me some great networking advice and strategies which put my mind at ease. She was confident that I’d find a job and remain eligible for Flatiron School’s money-back Job Guarantee.

Throughout Flatiron School, I had two mock interviews: a cultural/HR interview and a technical interview. Even though I had been through many interviews in the past, they were a great experience and gave me some useful feedback to better myself for actual interviews. My advice to bootcampers, whether in tech hub cities or not, is to network. Get yourself out there – attend meetups, schedule informal coffee meetings, go to conferences. In my experience, the leads you’ll gain through networking are far higher quality than simply emailing a resume/cold applying for a job.

READ
How to Get a Programming Job in a City with No Bootcamps

Tell us about your new job! What is CRaKN and what’s your role there?

I’m a software developer with CRaKN. CRaKN develops proprietary software for the death care industry, a.k.a software for funeral homes and directors. “Interesting…” you may be thinking. But, everyone needs software, and CRaKN helps the death care industry manage and simplify their daily operations.

What are you working on day-to-day? Is this what you expected when making a career change into tech?

I work primarily on the back-end, in Ruby and Ruby on Rails, but I do occasionally help out on the front-end using EmberJS. I help tackle issues with our app as they arise, and assist in adding new features, too. It’s a great mix. I couldn’t be happier at CRäKN. We’re small, less than 10 developers, which I really appreciate for my first job in tech. My team is very willing to help, which is beyond encouraging for someone new to the field.

How did you get your job in the end?

Remember how I stressed the importance of networking? Well, I was on my way to a local JavaScript meetup and ended up riding the elevator with the speaker. We got to chatting, and I passed along my contact info. Pretty standard. A few weeks later, I got a call from the CTO of CRäKN to schedule an interview. It turns out that the person I met that day was a former employee, and he passed on my info to CRäKN. The rest is history!

What advice do you have for people making a career change through a coding bootcamp?

Trust yourself and don’t be afraid. If you choose to go the Flatiron route, you’ll find a welcoming community who can make your dream of a career in tech a reality. Is it a risk? Of course! But, for me and likely for you, the reward is worth it! Oh, and good luck and happy coding!


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